Italian Adventures Part II: Bologna
Finally, the time has come. Welcome to Italian Adventures Part II: Bologna!
Boyfriend introduced me to the gorgeous city of Bologna not long after we got together, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why it holds such a special place in my heart. On our first trip there, I fell head-over-heels for the city & ever more smitten with Boyfriend. We’ve been back several times since that first visit, & every single time we dream of uprooting everything we have here in Dublin & running off to the Emilia-Romagna capital. It’s romantic, quaint, and peaceful. It miraculously remains somewhat untainted by tourism, and it’s the birthplace of one of our favourite meals: the mighty ragu.
Bologna is known as ‘La Grassa’ in Italian – which translates to ‘the fat’ in English – & it isn’t hard to see why: you will be extremely hard pressed to have a bad meal in the city. Although I’ve included a list of our favourite restaurants below, think of it more as a guideline. Get out, and find the places that work for you – we’ve eaten at a hell of a lot more restaurants than are listed here, but these are our old faves. Wherever you find yourself, try to seek out two special local dishes. Tagliatelle al Ragu & Gramigna alla Salsiccia are both specialties of the city and should not be missed! You can thank us when you get home.
As with our Italian Adventures Part I: Florence guide, there is a huge amount of recommendations in this post. To make life easier, I’ve streamlined everything into six sections: Stay / Coffee / Eat / Drink / Museums + Attractions / Places to See + Things to Do. The difference between the last two sections is an entry fee; Museums + Attractions are all paid entrance, while the Places to See + Things to Do are free.
Happy travelling, friends!
where to STAY
Airbnb // we stayed in the most fantastic apartment on our last visit. The flat – Silent Bright Apartment – is located a stone’s throw from Strada Maggiore. It was honestly the best Airbnb experience we’ve ever had. Spacious, clean, with a balcony overlooking the blazing rooftops of the city. The kitchen was extremely well equipped for cooking, the bed was amazing, and there was a bathtub in the bedroom. The location was about an eight minute walk to the main square in the city. Basically, it was perfection. Added bonus: there was a totally adorable turtle roaming free in the courtyard below! We named him Sporo and had a really hard time leaving him behind.
Albergo delle Drapperie // if you’re looking for something more central, you can’t really find anything better than this boutique hotel. It’s quite small, and it literally overlooks the bustling market stalls of the old town. If I remember correctly: the hotel is across the road from a beautiful flower shop, around the corner from Tamborini, and a further few minutes walk from Osteria del Sole, which is kind of exactly where you want to be.
where to get COFFEE
Caffe Zanarini // the only cafe worth going to. Great coffee, even better pastries. The space has that super Italian feel to it that just warms my heart. We normally nab a spot along the bar & enjoy our breakfast the true Italian way, but once in a while we treat ourselves to the somewhat extortionate prices for a table outside on the square. Let me tell you, it is always worth it, if even just for the people watching. A must-visit.
where to EAT
Trattoria Serghei // three words: gramigna alla salsiccia. After ragu, this is the dish of Bologna, and Serghei do it extremely well. It’s a small, traditionally run family joint that we find ourselves returning to time and time again. The food is always exceptional. We normally go for the ragu & the salsiccia pasta dishes to start, and then share a big hunk of meat as a main. The last time, it was an insanely tender pork shank that was about the same size as Boyfriend’s head. Amen to that! A must-visit.
Osteria de Coltelli Da Biagio // a tiny bit further than some might be willing to venture, but the food is worth it. The dishes are on the larger, heartier side of things, and the meal as a whole was outstanding value for money! … That said, we did notice the staff favoring the locals over tourists like us, but the quality of the food was high enough for us to let this slide.
La Capriata // wandering along a covered archway off Strada Maggiore one day, we stumbled across LC & decided to stop in for a lazy lunch. We ate in the most beautiful sun-drenched courtyard, surrounded by lemon trees. The food was outstanding. It was super fresh – we had an amazing caprese salad that was beyond delicious – and perfectly traditional. I had an unforgettable ragu with homemade pasta served in a Parmesan bowl. A bowl made of Parmesan = the stuff of dreams!
Pizza Regina // sometimes, you just need a pizza and you need it to be reliable. We opted for the less traditional take-out option and brought it to Osteria del Sole so we could have it with a beer. We ordered a custom-made n’duja + mozzarella pizza and devoured it within five minutes. It was amazing!
Lindt // I’m kind of a bit sorry/not sorry for including this in my list. Listen, just hear me out: we had delicious chocolate gelato in the most amazing chocolate hazelnut dipped cones and it was worth every single penny. I regret nothing.
La Sorbetteria Castiglione // for a more authentic gelato experience, we always trek a little bit out of our way and it never disappoints. Our faves are the pistacchio and nocciola!
where to DRINK
Osteria del Sole // definitely one of our favourite places in all of Bologna. According to my notes, it’s the oldest osteria in the region – 1465 apparently! – and it is so bloody brilliant in it’s simplicity. You make your way through the market, buy some antipasti goods, bring it into Osteria del Sole, buy a drink, and have your lunch picnic style alongside locals. It is fantastic. An experience not to be missed. A must-visit.
Bar Senza Nome // a fantastically vibrant bar, located on a buzzy street lined with heaps of similar places. However! This one, apparently, is the only bar in Italy that is run & managed by deaf people. It’s amazing! The walls are lined with how-to sign language photos for ordering your drink! If you aren’t brave enough, the barmaids read your lips and that’s equally as amazing. Such an experience! Added bonus: you can eat your weight in free monkey nuts while drinking extremely cheap spritzs! Probably our favourite bar in the world. A must-visit.
Enoteca Italiana // a beautiful wine shop that has a small amount of barrels & stools for dining on. We enjoyed some wine with a delicious meat & cheese platter on one of our first visits, and have since returned for breakfast & coffee.
RosaRose // located on Via Clavature, this is a fantastic spot for people watching. Boyfriend & I sat outside for hours one evening, listening to a nearby musician, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the platter of food that came with our spritzs, watching the sky change from blue to pink to dusk. Perfection. To experience the true Bologna vibe, this is a must-visit.
Birreria Popolare // a hipster craft beer place that was located conveniently near to our apartment. We were drawn in by the beer emoji sign out front, and we sampled some nice Italian beer. Added bonus: if you’re lucky enough to visit at the right time, you get a free platter of food with your drinks!
Le Stanze // I kind of liked the thought of this bar more than I actually enjoyed our experience there. It’s located inside an old chapel from the 16th century, and there are original frescoes still lining the walls & the ceilings. It was cool to see the artwork, but there was nothing distinctly Italian about the place. It was overpriced, and too touristy for our tastes.
MUSEUMS + ATTRACTIONS
Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio // one of the most magical, dreamlike buildings I’ve ever visited – somewhat reminiscent of Hogwarts. Boyfriend & I spent ages wandering back and forth along the arched passageways, but the real draw is the wooden Teatro Anatomico. It dates back to the 17th century, when they used to hold anatomy lessons there. Worth the €3!
Santa Maria della Vita // the lure of this church, although pretty beautiful in its own right, is actually a fantastic group of wooden sculptures hidden in the back. They charge €4 to see the group, but it’s certainly worth it. The scene depicted is the moment that Jesus dies, and honestly they are some of the most expressive pieces of art we’ve seen.
La Due Torri // yes, it’s very steep, and yes, it’s claustrophobic.. but it’s worth it for the breathtaking views over the terracotta rooftops of Bologna. Added bonus: it’s super cheap! A must-visit.
Palazzo Fava // a renaissance palace & art gallery space. The very first time we went to Bologna together, we saw an amazing Edward Hopper exhibition here, so it’s definitely worth checking upcoming shows just in case!
Museo Civico Archeologico // fantastic archaeology museum to wander around if you find yourself looking for something to do. Particular highlights for us were the beautiful building itself, and the Egyptian exhibition.
PLACES TO SEE + THINGS TO DO
Market shopping // wandering along the tiny streets around Via Drapperie and Via Pescherie Vecchie, you get a real feel for the Bologna lifestyle. The flower shops, the fish stalls, the butchers, the cheese-mongers, we love it all. Our favourite places to stop into for some goodies are Tamburini & Simoni, both of which are reliably great. Definitely a must-visit.
Basilica di San Petronio // the central basilica in the middle of Piazza Maggiore. A beautiful internal space, much bigger than it looks from the outside. Note: if you want to take photographs inside the church, you have to pay a small fee.