Although our stint in Bologna is short and sweet, it doesn’t take long to get a feel for this Northern Italian epicenter of food and culture. We eat, we wander, we drink, we picnic, and after less than a week in, we collectively declare that Bologna is the coolest city in Italy. Now, we definitely don't take that statement lightly and neither should you. Which is why we have plenty of evidence to back it up. So if you’re ready to have your mind blown with Italian awesomeness, please, read on.
At the beginning of the 12th century, nearly 40 kilometers of porticoes (roof structures built over walkways and held up by columns) were built throughout the city to support the recent population growth spurred by the newly founded University of Bologna. Not only are these porticoes very cool to look at (tall archways in various colors and heights), they’re also incredibly practical. Shielding residents from rain in the winter and the blistering summer sun, portico lined streets are a beautiful symbol of this unique city.
Close proximity to Parma (Parmigiano Reggiano), Modena (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar), and Tuscany (um, wine!), means that Bologna is essentially surrounded by the world’s best ingredients. And the city’s food scene might just utilize that bounty of riches, as well as many other flavors, better than anywhere else in Italy. From fancy white table cloth restaurants, to modern and innovative eateries, to the most mouthwatering takeaway fresh pasta you’ve ever had, the options for amazing food are limitless.
Summer movie nights
One of our single best experiences was joining thousands of people spread out among the church steps, chairs and cafe tables of Piazza Maggiore at midnight in the center of Bologna to watch Grand Budapest Hotel under the stars. Every single night throughout the three months of summer the echoes of classic films played on a massive screen in the historic piazza creates a feeling that's impossible to replicate. (Oh, and did we mention it’s free?).
Aperitivos, a northern Italian tradition, are spectacular in Bologna. Similar to the Spanish tapa but enjoyed before dinner, aperitivos are drinks served with an assortment of free snacks. Sometimes this means green olives and potato chips, while other bars and restaurants may include pizza, focaccia and even more elaborate bites. The fact that they're so commonly shared in the fading sunlight of a beautiful piazza in Bologna, puts this drink/snack combo over the top.
Bologna is so cool, one of the neighborhoods just outside the city center is named Bolognina. It’s like Bologna’s younger sister, looking up to it’s cool older sibling, desperately wanting to hang out with the big kids. But seriously, it’s an awesome multicultural neighborhood with a totally local feel that’s worth checking out. It’s also where we rented an awesome flat through AirBnB.
Asinelli, the tallest tower in Italy
Standing 97.2 meters high (that’s just under 319 feet) is Asinelli tower, the tallest in Italy, looking proudly over the rest of the city. Built in the 12th century, it was once one of hundreds of towers representing the wealthiest families of Bologna. For only a few euros you can climb the winding wood (sometimes tilted) stairway to the top for an incredible view of the city.
Unlike the rest of Italy, it doesn’t cost more to drink your cappuccino at a table
Sitting down to enjoy a cappuccino in most Italian cities will cost you, but not in Bologna. Here you can enjoy this beautifully foamy drink at a cafe table for the same price you’d pay at the counter. Cutting out the (pricey) service fee charged almost everywhere else just adds to this amazingly pleasant experience.
The oldest university in the world
Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world, which is pretty rad. With over 80,000 students, it has a major influence on Bologna’s young and vibrant culture.
Now, to be honest, we were completely unaware of Caffe Correttos before arriving in Bologna and have since learned that they are available in other places too. But we discovered them in Bologna so they make the list. What, you ask, happens with a caffe corretto? Booze happens. That’s right, you get a nice little shot of liquor on top of that creamy espresso (for practically the same price). A lot of people go with Grappa, but we recommend sambuca, which we’ve quickly became addicted to. Just imagine a black licorice and espresso jelly belly combo and you get the idea.
We’re still not sure why Bologna hasn’t made it on the Venice-Florence-Rome Italian city circuit and to be honest, we’re a bit hesitant to spread the word. It’s slightly less traveled, a lot less touristy, and a really amazing choice for a cool Italian city vacation. Just promise you won’t tell your friends.
In case you aren't convinced, here's more proof...