Bob and I have been to Bologna many times, including on our honeymoon. While we always enjoyed our trips, they were too brief for a variety of reasons – including the time we got a traffic ticket for driving in the Old City without a permit.
On our most recent trip to Italy over New Years in 2014-15, we decided to actually settle down and spend 3 days in Bologna. The city has a very different feel than other well known Italian cities such as Rome, Milan, Florence, or Venice. It has a much grittier, urban vibe than the others, which is why Bob took these photos in black and white. (That’s me at the far left of both photos, and Noah eating potato chips in the photo on the right.) As the primary city in the region of Emilia Romagna, Bologna is the market center for the area’s delightful and well known foods. These include parmigiano reggiano and prosciutto from Parma; balsamic vinegar from Modena; many types of filled pasta (tortellini, ravioli); and, of course, Bolognese sauce.
There are 3 main markets in Bologna. The one considered to be the gastronomic center of the universe is Mercato di Mezzo. It’s the oldest market and lies in the Quadrilatero, the medieval area next to Piazza Maggiore. Besides amazing sandwiches, we loved the calamari and truffle burgers we found in local eateries. There are many famous macellerie (butcher shops), salumerie (grocery stores), and panetterie (bakeries) in the area, including A.F. Tamburini (Bob spent an hour there). Prices tend to be a bit high, as it’s busy and a primary destination for both locals and tourists. With much of the Old City closed to traffic, take a look down once in a while. The ancient pavers and patterns will amaze you. (They amazed Bob, anyway. Here’s one of his favorite Bologna streetscapes.)
Best time to go to the market: Weekday mornings. It’s closed on Sunday.
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Favorite Eats: Where to start, where to start… Favorite Hotel: The Grand Hotel Majestic “già Baglioni” is in the heart of the old city, just cinque minuti from everything. It’s the top rated hotel in Bologna, according to Trip Advisor. (It’s gorgeous and no, we haven’t stayed there.) Look For: Anything that tastes good. Watch Out For: Overzealous polizia looking to give traffic tickets to unsuspecting tourists. Read this from Trip Advisor!
Noah’s Travel Tips:
- The food here is unbelievable! Try everything. Look for truffle-flavored hamburgers and fried calamari in the Mercato.
- On Sundays, you can find clowns, mimes, and street artists in the Old City. Some have monkees!
- Two words if you’re thirsty and tired: Hot chocolate!
- Stop for a drink at an outdoor cafe. They serve free stuff like potato chips and mini-pizza slices.
Travel Tips: If you have a car, park outside of the Old City. Both the train station and airport are relatively close by. For an easy and enjoyable stroll, visit the University of Bologna, open since 1088! Also visit the former Jewish ghetto, which is nearby.
Masthead photo: Porchetta Sandwich (Bob) Note: This is a typical sandwich found throughout Italy. This one was shot in Monteriggioni in Tuscany at the Bar dell’Orso (Bar of the Bear), a local hangout and favorite.