Best attractions in Bologna: Top 25

Not many cities in Europe have such a harmonious combination of modern achievements and historical monuments. The famous sights of Bologna silently tell about the glorious history of the city, which the locals are proud of. Given that the city is associated with a cheerful student life, delicious Italian cuisine and special architecture, every tourist will find something to see in Bologna when traveling.

What to see in Bologna first

As Bologna is a major transportation hub, it is easy to get here by any means of transportation. To see interesting places in the city, any of them is good, the main thing is to set a goal.

1. Neptune Fountain

Neptune Fountain opposite the entrance to Palazzo Re Enzo

Looking at the sights of Bologna on the Internet photos with names and descriptions, you invariably pay attention to this giant, which the inhabitants of the city are proud of. Majestically towering on the square with the same name, a bronze Neptune with a trident is looking at passersby. By the way, there is an opinion that the trident was the prototype of the logo of Maserati company. Because of the “naked” look of Neptune, the fountain is called “shameless”.

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2. Piazzas Maggiore and Neptune

Piazza Maggiore and Neptune at night in downtown Bologna

The Piazza Maggiore, founded in the 13th century, was originally a market square where, in addition to trade, jousting tournaments and mass festivities were held. Here the laws and decrees of the authorities were read out to the people. Today it is the front face of Bologna. It borders with Neptune Square. On both squares there are several palazzos with magnificent architecture of historical value. Around the area are excellent hotels in Bologna, where guests are always welcome.

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3. University Palace

The building of the Faculty of Law of the University of Bologna sailko

The palace has a rich history and is considered the oldest in Europe. You can’t miss a trip here - it’s worth seeing the luxurious interior, with its lecture room, reading room and many library rooms. Be sure to visit the anatomy museum (for a fee, with Russian annotations) and the courtyard with memorable inscriptions, coats of arms and emblems of students and professors, which later became famous. Also of interest is the Italian press exhibition with exhibits from the 18th century.

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4. Towers of Asinelli and Garizenda

High stone towers: the Garizenda Tower on the left and the Asinelli Tower on the right in the center of Bologna

These are the landmarks of Italy that need no introduction, although they have not yet achieved the glory of their Pisa “sister.” The Garizenda, which is lower, tilts more, but the Asinelli is almost twice as high. The angle of inclination of the latter would not be noticeable if this tower were low. At 97 meters high its top deviates from the center by more than 2 meters! The deviation of the Garizenda is slightly less. By the way, Garizenda was mentioned by Dante in his Divine Comedy. From the top you have a stunning view of the beauty of Bologna, but note that there is no elevator.

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5. Anatomical Theater

Anatomical lecture and demonstration hall on the University of Bologna campus Rob Oo

Located on the campus of the University, the theater has received the most worthy recommendations from tourists. The wooden interior, with its marble table on which operations and scientific research were conducted, and the complete authenticity of the design fully convey the spirit of the Middle Ages. Today lectures are given there for students and the library is equipped with modern facilities, which makes it possible to hold online conferences there.

See the beautiful sites of Bologna in this great video!

6. Independence Street

Shops in open arched galleries of houses along Independence Street

What a trip without a profitable and interesting shopping experience! The busiest street is full of stores and souvenir shops where you can choose anything you need for yourself and your friends if you’re thinking about gifts. The first floors of the buildings placed in the streets are made in the form of arcades - arched galleries, the walk through which even a downpour will not spoil the walk.

7. Palazzo Rae Enzo

The facade of King Enzo's palace overlooks Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

The palace is shrouded in many mysteries and legends connected with the name of Enzo, son of the emperor, captured in the struggle for the papal throne. He was kept a prisoner here until his death. For a long time the palace served as a prison. Its exterior is very beautiful, and inside it is decorated with ancient frescoes. The building is known for strong acoustics, so even a whisper sounds deafeningly loud here.

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8. Palazzo Comunale

Palazzo Comunale or Palazzo d'Accursio in Maggiore Square Georges Jansoone

Where to go in Bologna to admire the creations of talented Italian architects to the full? You can’t miss this palace, located in the city’s main square, but it’s also elevated so you can see it from everywhere. Inside the majestic, powerful structure used to be Bologna’s City Hall, but today it houses a library and museums. The palace includes the Giorgio Morandi Museum, where his works are kept. The façade is decorated with a monument made of bronze to one of the popes. The small chapel, decorated with frescoes, located nearby, is also worth seeing.

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9. Palazzo della Mercancia

Palazzo della Mercanzia or Palace of Commerce, built of dark brick at sunset in Bologna

There was once a customs building here. Through the efforts of an Italian architect, the Palazzo della Mercancia was built on this site at the end of the fourteenth century, in the solemn Gothic style. The battlements on top of the wall may suggest that they belonged to a fortress structure, but this is a tribute to the architectural direction. The city Chamber of Commerce is also located here.

10. Palazzo Podesta

Palazzo Podesta is the city's first palace in Piazza Maggiore, illuminated at night

The medieval palazzo building, decorated only with arches and split teeth on the walls, is a tourist attraction in Bologna. Externally it also resembles a fortress, and today it hosts exhibitions. In front of the palace in the square stands a monument to Paul V. The lower floor, furnished with arches, serves as a double passageway with fashionable stores.

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11. Isolani House

Facade of the three-story Isolani House Antenor81

A three-story mansion built in the 13th century with three wooden columns (during the last restoration they were reinforced with two brick ones), which support a kind of balcony. It is these columns that attract the eyes of tourists and the building itself is a masterpiece of Parma architecture. On the building hangs a plaque informing that the house belongs to the Isolani family.

12. Bologna History Museum

A modern interactive museum of Bologna history in an ancient palace - Pepoli Palazzo

Advice on what to visit in Bologna from unconventional attractions. The concept of this museum, opened in 2012, is focused on interactive technology. Entering the futuristically designed lobby, you enter the world of 3D technology reigning in 34 themed rooms. Arranged in chronological order, they tell the story of Bologna with an initiation into a variety of interesting nuances not found in tourist guides. The museum is located in Pepoli Palazzo, occupying 3 floors there.

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13. City Archaeological Museum

Yard at the City Archaeological Museum of Bologna Sailko

A small museum in the city center with an interesting collection of artifacts that once belonged to the Etruscans gets the best reviews from travelers. The place is an archaeology fan’s paradise. Many of the exhibits (mostly weapons) are complete with diagrams of their making. The Ancient Egyptian exhibition is the best in Europe. The exhibits are still being added to today.

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14. Medieval Museum

A pair of glass flasks with the coats of arms of Bentivoglio (right) and Sforza (left) in the Medieval Museum sailko

Another museum in an ancient building in the center with a display of medieval artifacts. There are costumes, household items, and jewelry. Particularly impressive is the collection of ancient weapons and well-preserved tombstones with scenes from life in that period, an exhibition of porcelain and earthenware.

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15. Palazzo Poggi Museum

Anatomical wax figures of man, his skeleton and organs at the Palazzo Poggi Museum Palickap

Given the beauty of this museum, one wonders about the purely symbolic fee to enter it. If you don’t know what to see in Bologna in 1 day, be sure to come here. The museum is located in the old part of the university, which allows you to visit the courtyard, the anatomy museum and other objects nearby at once. The original purpose was to collect advances in astronomy. Today the displays include many collections relating to geography, natural history, anatomy, and the exact sciences.

16. Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

Halls with exhibits from Bologna National Pinacoteca sailko

The works of the masters of the Bolognese school are located in the former abode for the Jesuits. Among them are works by Perugino, El Greco, Giotto, Tintoretto, Vasari and Raphael. The small size of the gallery and the cozy atmosphere allows you to quietly consider the creations of the great artists.

17. The Comunale Opera House

A view of the Opera Theatre Comunale or Public Theater, opened in the late eighteenth century in Bologna

Coming to this city, it would be a crime not to see Bologna’s best attractions. One of the prominent opera scenes of Europe in general and Italy in particular, it gives 8 operas per season. Before the fire in 1931, the hall was shaped like a bell. After reconstructions it was remodeled and the bell was transformed into a horseshoe. When inside, one should be struck by the ceiling: the pattern on it imitates the open sky, creating a feeling of airiness and freedom.

18. Salabor’s Library

Visitors at the Salabors Library Palickap

The sea of open space, the freedom of access and movement, and the ability to get here directly from the central square of the city attracts tourists. When choosing tours in Bologna, try to get here. The museum will delight you with beautiful interiors, elaborate information room, underground museum with excavations visible through the transparent floor. The impression of openness, which always covers everyone at the entrance, is provided by a glass ceiling. The realization of the idea of combining the location of the ancient artefacts with the modern organization of the interior space is amazing.

19. Mercato di mezzo

Huge storefront with gastronomic products on Mercato di Mezzo Juan Antonio Segal

So, what to see in Bologna bright, colorful, uplifting? Take a walk to this market, hidden in the narrow streets. The open stalls offer a variety of goodies. The place is crowded on any given day, allowing you to eat in the company of the locals and immerse yourself in the colorful Italian atmosphere. Coffee, desserts, beer, and freshly cooked food make for a real gastronomic feast.

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20. Santo Stefano Complex

The monastic complex of St. Stephen or Santo Stefano on the square of the same name in Bologna

It is simply amazing how many valuable and interesting things guides in Bologna will show, especially in its center.The complex consists of seven churches built during the early Middle Ages. In outline it echoed the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to historians, the reconstructions made subsequently over the years have been detrimental to the building, so great is the contrast between the present and the original appearance of the buildings. Nevertheless, the complex is still today the best replica of the temple in Jerusalem.

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Bologna sights: what else to visit in Bologna?

It is difficult to list the main attractions of Bologna briefly, each of them worthy of a detailed description. We suggest a few more places to visit that are worth setting aside time for.

21. St. Peter’s Cathedral

The sculptural group "The Mourning of the Deceased Christ" in St. Peter's Cathedral of Bologna Didier Descouens

The architecture reflects a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles, and the interior is decorated in Baroque style. According to tourist reviews, in addition to services, organ music concerts are often held here. If you are lucky enough to be here on a Saturday, for an extra fee you can climb the bell tower with a three-ton main bell, which is the pride of the cathedral. It is famous for a certain “Bolognese” sound. Inside the cathedral there is a treasury museum.

22. Church of the Madonna di San Luca

The Church of the Madonna di San Luca stands on top of the wooded Carausal Hill

The Catholic church on Caravan Hill was erected as early as the twelfth century. Its high rating ensures the pilgrimage nature of the visits: the church houses an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Child painted by St. Luke. It is worth bearing in mind that walking up to the temple is not easy and requires stamina. Or you can drive up to the place on a steam train coming from the square in the center. The panoramic view from the top is out of the question, as you can only see the side of Bologna from there.

23. San Domenico Basilica

Inside the monastery of the Basilica di San Domenico in Bologna

The Dominican order settled here. Like its monks, the basilica has an imposing and austere appearance. Located on a hill, it immediately catches the eye with the monumental outline of the red-brick structure. Today, the church houses works of art. Pilgrims from all over the world come here to lay their hands on the relics of Saint Dominic.

24. San Petronio Basilica

Basilica San Petronio, Palazzo Comunale and Piazza Maggiore in the morning twilight

Bologna’s large ancient church, 132 meters high, can hold 28,000 worshippers. An interesting detail: in the floor of the left aisle of the church are mounted sundial in the form of a meridian, which is worth seeing. The building is dedicated to the patron saint of the city.

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25. Certosa Cemetery

The monumental cemetery of the Carthusian monastery in Bologna Matti.happy

The most famous cemetery in Europe with burials of Bologna’s most influential and famous families. The statues and bas-reliefs on the tombs create a solemn and tragic mood, causing an association with the museum with ancient works of art.

After seeing the beauty of the day the first evening in Bologna will make you forget about the charms of other cities. The soft light diffused by the many street lamps creates a romantic mood that embraces everyone regardless of age. It’s your turn to experience it for yourself! Read also about sights of Verona and be inspired for further travels in Italy.

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