Bologna is regarded as ‘La Grassa e La Dotta’ translated as ‘The Fat and The Wise’ due to the cities’ contribution to cuisine and education. In Bologna you will find a plethora of food across the many bars and restaurants. The university, founded in 1088, is the oldest in the entire world. These two elements make up the famous saying.
We took a day trip to Bologna and compiled this guide to help out any tourists thinking of a trip to this wonderful city. Below, you will find out exactly how to get to Bologna, what to see and where to eat the famous Ragu alla Bolognese.
Getting to Bologna
Set in the region of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna lies around 118km from Florence and 215km south of Milan. We were based in Florence during our time in Italy and handily there is a high speed train from Santa Maria Novella station to Bologna. With a journey time to Bologna Centrale taking an incredible 35 minutes on the Frecce service, this makes visiting the city very easy.
Regular trains from Milan take just over an hour direct to Bologna Centrale and services are as regular as every 10 minutes. Tickets can be as low as €14 each way from Florence and €24 from Milan when booked in advance.
Tickets can be booked online through TrenItalia
This huge square in the centre of the city is used by many locals and visitors alike. The square reminded us a lot of the Piazza del Campo in Siena with similar architecture. This is an area of Bologna that is perfect for people watching.
Pull up a chair at one of the cafes, grab a cappuccino, something sweet and just watch the world go by. If you don’t fancy paying out for a seat, many people park themselves by the fountain or on the steps leading to the large library.
Italy is famous for its piazza’s and Bologna boasts one of the finest. This area of the city was one of our favourites to just take a moment away from the madness and relax. It is also one of the rare squares in Italy that you won’t get any hassle from hustlers or beggars in.
The University of Bologna
Following a coffee and a slice of cake in the Piazza Maggiore, do go and see the oldest university in the world. Right here in Bologna. Admittedly, if you are not a student it may be tricky to see all of the buildings. However, it is hard not to appreciate the architecture of the central campus along the main Via Zamboni.
It comes as no surprise that this area is inhabited by a large student population, which actually creates a buzz. Murals are painted on the walls of the campus buildings, some dedicated to the history of the university, others are more urban expressions of artwork.
The Two Towers
Pisa doesn’t in fact contain the only leaning tower in Italy. Bologna decided to see Pisa’s effort and raise it by two, resulting in not just one leaning tower but a pair of them.
Not only are there two leaning towers but the shorter tower, the Garisenda, leans over the city at 4 degrees beating Pisa’s effort that is just 3.97. The taller tower, the Asinelli, is open to the public to climb up resulting in a spectacular panoramic view over Bologna.
If you fancy the climb of 498 steps, the price is just €5. A great option for both fitness and your travel budget.
Where to try authentic Ragu alla Bolognese
One of the most universally replicated dishes of all time has to be Spaghetti Bolognese. A riff on the famous Ragu alla Bolognese created right here in Bologna. Unlike a wet effort out of a jar, the authentic version is a lot more dry in terms of the sauce texture.
We searched long and hard for a restaurant serving this dish with good quality. We ended up at Ristorante Il Tinello, just a stone’s throw from the main Via Zamboni. This is a restaurant which is authentically Italian where no or very little English is spoken.
The dish is listed on the menu as Tagliatelle al Ragu. A deceptively small pile of fresh tagliatelle pasta with a ragu sauce made from pork, beef, vegetables and red wine. Parmesan over the top brings all the flavours to life and it is a taste of Bologna that you will never forget.
Ristorante Il Tinello is situated down the Via De’ Giudei. Menus and reservations (In Italian) can be found here.