Bologna may not be as well known as some of Italy’s other famous cities, but it is definitely the best place in Italy for food and one of my favorite culinary destinations. As the capitol of the Emilia Romagna region, Bologna has earned several nicknames throughout history – La Dotta (‘the learned one’ – for its university – the oldest in the world), La Rossa (‘the red one’ – for the terra cotta rooftops throughout the city) and La Grassa, or “The Fat One,” for Bologna’s legendary cuisine. Bologna’s perfect blend of culture, food, and history along with the fact that it’s not as “touristy” as other destinations make it a popular city for food travelers looking for something more authentic and off the beaten path. If you’re planning a trip to Bologna, here’s a guide on where to eat, what to see, and where to stay.
Bologna Italy – A Food Lover’s Guide
WHERE TO EAT
I’ve spent a couple of summers in Bologna and it now feels like home each time I go. But there are so many good restaurants, it seems there’s always a new one to try! Here are a few of my favorites:
Osteria dell’Orsa – This casual osteria is pretty popular and will often have a queue forming outside just before they open. Located by the university, Osteria dell’Orsa is known for traditional Bolognese comfort food like tagliatelle al ragu, tortellini in brodo, and inexpensive (but delicious!) local wine sold by the carafe. Address: Via Mentana, 1, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy | osteriadellorsa.com
Trattoria Ana Maria – Also located near the university, but slightly more upscale and family-style, is Trattoria Ana Maria. This trattoria has been around for over 30 years and the walls have interesting stories to tell as it’s covered in photos and cards from friends, celebrities and politicians. Trattoria Ana Maria is known for traditional Bolognese food. I recommend ordering the lasagna verde, and zuppa inglese for dessert. Address: Via delle Belle Arti, 17/A, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy | trattoriannamaria.com
Osteria dei Grifoni – Tucked away on a quiet street in the middle of a neighborhood, this is the type of place where locals go for weeknight meal. It’s quaint, almost cellar-like, and the other diners might strike up a conversation to ask how you found their neighborhood osteria. The menu is simple, rustic. The pasta – amazing. Wine selection is primarily local. Address: Via de’ Griffoni, 5/2a, 40123 Bologna BO, Italy | osteriadeigrifoni.it
Ristorante Osteria La Traviata – Another local favorite that serves fresh, handmade pasta. Can one really ever eat too pasta in Italy? I don’t think so. This restaurant focuses on incorporating seasonal ingredients into the menu, things like porcini mushrooms or white truffles. The ossobuco is amazing and the desserts are a must. Address: Via Urbana, 5, 40123 Bologna BO, Italy | ristorantelatraviatabologna.it
Al Sangiovese – This restaurant was actually recommended by fellow food travelers Tommy and Meg. It’s located on the outskirts of the historic city center, but definitely worth the walk. The menu offers a pretty extensive list of traditional Bolognese food. Try the passatelli, a regional pasta made with bread crumbs, eggs, and grated Pargmigiano Reggiano cheese. You can have in in brodo (in broth), or seasonally it is served simply with butter and sage. Address: Vicolo del Falcone, 2, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy | alsangiovese.com
La Bottega di Via Montegrappa 13 – This is a great place to go for an aperitivo (kind of like Italian happy hour) and fresh cut local meats and cheeses, or a simple glass of wine and handmade pasta. The owner, Elisabetta, also offers pasta making classes by reservation. Address: Via Monte Grappa, 13, 40121 Bologna BO, Italy | facebook.com/BottegaMontegrappa
Pizzeria Due Torri – If you’re in the mood for a quick bite and huge slice of pizza, look no further than Pizzeria Due Torri. Even though near a tourist attraction (the main towers), they serve surprisingly amazing pizza with fresh ingredients and really large slices for about a euro for a single slice. Address: Str. Maggiore, 3, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy | pizzeriaduetorribologna.it
BOLOGNA’S BEST GELATARIAS
The very first commercial gelato machine was made in Bologna in 1927, and three of the top 7 gelataria’s of Italy are located in Bologna. Many Bolognese consider Bologna the capitol of gelato, but as you’ll discover when visiting Italy, that title is always up for debate. One thing is for sure, though, Bologna has some damn good artisanal gelato. The Bologna Welcome center in Piazza Maggiore offers seasonal gelato tours of the city that I’d definitely recommend. In the meantime, here’s a list of Bologna’s best artisanal gelatarias if you want to explore them on your own.
La Sorbetteria Castiglione – A short walk just outside the city center (and underneath one of Bologna’s original city gates) is a local favorite – La Sorbetteria Castiglione. If you go on a weekend, expect there to be a wait. This award-winning gelataria is known for their trademarked flavors like Dolce EMMA (fresh ricotta and egg with caramelized fig) and Cremino GUGIELMO (marscarpone, expresso, and cocoa ). And their dark chocolate gelato won 3rd place in a world competition. La Sorbetteria Castiglione also has a few diet-friendly flavors too such as gelato made with organic rice milk and low sugar fruit sorbetto. Address: Via Castiglione, 44 d/e, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy | lasorbetteria.it
La Torinese – Located right in the heart of historic downtown Bologna near Piazza Maggiore, this is the oldest continually running gelataria in Bologna. They take pride in offering handmade artisanal gelato with unique flavors like honey and rosemary, or lactose-free buffalo milk. The honey and rosemary gelato was definitely one of my favorites, and I confess, I may have had more than one. Address: Piazza Re Enzo, 1/C, Bologna BO, Italy | latorinese1888.com
Cremeria Santo Stefano – One of the best gelataria’s in Bologna, Cremeria Santo Stefano was awarded the coveted “Tre Coni” or “Three Cones” award from the Italian culinary guide, Gambero Rosso. Owner and master gelato maker, Mattia Cavalleri, considers Cremeria Santo Stefano a sort of laboratory of flavor, using high quality seasonal ingredients to create unique flavor combinations. My favorite was the Cremea Quick walk near the 7 churches. All seasonal flavors with locally sourced ingredients. Intense flavor … chocolate cherry.
Cremeria Cavour – Tucked away behind Basilica di San Petronio near the luxury mall, Galleria Cavour, is another local favorite — Cremeria Cavour. There always seems to be a line here, but the wait is worth it. Grab a piccolo cone of your favorite flavor and sit in the small park across the street and talk to the locals there. Address: Piazza Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy | cremeriacavour.it
Gelateria Islanda – If you plan on making the pilgrimage up the 3.8 kilometers climb to the Sanctuary of San Luca, plan to make a stop at this gelataria which is located right near the start of the famous hill-ascending Portico di San Luca. Known for their vegan line of handmade gelato flavors, my favorite here was their seasonal bright and floral lavender gelato and the Crema Bolognese. Address: Via Saragozza, 65, 40123 Bologna BO, Italy | gelateriaislanda.it
When visiting Bologna, one of the top food cities in the world, you simply must walk through some of the markets. I have them listed in order here in order from oldest to newest.
The “Quadrilatero” – The Quadrilatero covers and entire city block (from Via Farini, to Via Castiglione, to Via Rizzoli, to Piazza Maggiore) where in mideval times all the butchers, fisherman bakeries, and produce stands were located. Today, you’ll find most of the action along Via Pescherie Vecchie amid the same historic architecture which makes it feel like a step back in time. Arrive early before the crowds, grab a cornetto at Caffè del Mercato, and take stroll through the market stalls and shops.
Mercato di Mezzo – Right inside the Quadrilatero and accessible from Via Pescherie Vecchie mentioned above, is Bologna’s very first indoor market – Mercato de Mezzo. It includes three floors packed with food stalls, including a brewery! Take a walk through and look at everything before deciding on what to eat. I suggest sharing a few plates with friends to try a variety of different traditional Italian dishes. | BolognaWelcome.com
Mercato Delle Erbe – This indoor market historically only used to sell vegetables, but now offers meats, cheeses, olives and a food court too. When the weather is nice, you’ll also find tables set up outside in the small courtyard behind the market. While you’re here, be sure to also check out the famous pasta shop, Le Sfogline. | mercatodelleerbe.eu
FICO Eataly World – FICO is brand new, modern, and is one of the largest food halls in the world. I’d consider it sort of an Italian food playground or museum, featuring artisinal foods from every region in Italy. Located just a short drive outside of Bologna’s city center and is easily accessible by taxi or by bus. Check out our complete guide to FICO Eataly World to find out more.
If you feel inspired by all the delicious food in Bologna and want to learn how to make fresh handmade pasta or gelato, here’s where you can take a cooking class during your visit.
Le Sfogline – Sisters Monica and Daniella are legendary for their homemade pasta and have been getting media attention around the world, including a recent feature in the Netflix series, Ugly Delicious. I had the opportunity to take a pasta making class with Monica one summer and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a kitchen. Le Sfogline (which, incidentally, is the name given to those who prepare handmade pasta) offer pasta lessons in summer. Definitely call in advance to book. | lesfogline.it
FICO – If there is anything in Italian cooking you want to learn, you can learn how to do it at FICO. From pasta, gelato, chocolate, cheese, and bakery treats, they have on average 25 different classes offered throughout the week. Be sure to check FICO’s educational calendar and book in advance. | eatalyworld.it
La Bottega Di Via Montegrappa – La Bottega offers pasta making classes in the quaintest of shops. It’s also a great place for an apperativo and fresh cut meats and cheeses. Call ahead to book or contact them on their La Bottega Facebook page.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN BOLOGNA (BESIDES FOOD)
Since there is so much delicious food in Bologna, here are a few ways you can work up an appetite in-between meals.
The Two Towers – During Medieval times, Bologna was a city of stone skyscrapers. There were over 100 towers and modern day speculation (guesses) that they were built by rich families wanting a higher view than their neighbor. Today, there are a handful of towers left. The two most famous of those, Garisenda and Asinelli, are the symbol of Bologna. You can climb up to the top of Asinelli for a great view of the city. And the 498 steps is a great way to burn off all the hearty pasta you’ll be consuming. You can purchase tickets to climb the tower at the Bologna Welcome Center in Piazza Maggiore. | duetorribologna.com
Sanctuary de San Luca – Religious devotees (as well as fitness aficionados) climb the 3.8 km under 666 portico arches — the longest stretch of porticoes in the world — up to Basilica San Luca. Some say the number of arches and the way the path winds up the hill like a snake represents the Madonna overcoming the devil. It’s a pilgrimage that’s worth the views. Once there, you can now also pay an entrance fee to climb up to the attic for a panoramic view of historic Bologna. If walking up is not your thing, you can take a taxi or ride the San Luca Express train, and then walk down. | sanlucabo.org
Archiginnasio of Bologna – Originally a part of the University of Bologna, the Archignnasio of Bologna is fascinating to walk through. It houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library and as well as the Anatomical Theatre. The library is stunning and houses antique and rare books, and the theatre was built in 1636 to teach anatomy lectures for the growing field of medicine in the fifteenth century. | archiginnasio.it
Ancient Churches – Of course, because it’s Italy, there are grand churches with breathtaking architecture to visit. The biggest, Basilica di San Petronio, sits right along Piazza Maggiore and offers guided tours. What I found most fascinating about Basilica di San Petronio is that there is a meridian line that measures the day of the year and is one of the largest astronomical instruments in the world. It was installed by Giovani Cassini in 1655 as he was teaching astronomy at the university. There’s also Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro which will occasionally open its bell tower for visitors to climb; and the Basilica of Santo Stefano, also known as the Seven Churches.
WHERE TO STAY – BOLOGNA HOTELS
Hotel Corona D’oro — For a small, luxury, boutique hotel stay in the city center, but on a quiet street, I recommend Hotel Cornoa D’oro. It is located right next to the famous Caffe Terzi, a perfect place for your morning coffee. Address: | hco.it
Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni — When it comes to location, you really can’t get any closer to the center of town than being on Via dell’Indipendenza . This is a bigger hotel on a main street in the city center and walking distance to just about everything you’d want to see and do. Address: Via dell’Indipendenza, 8, 40121 Bologna BO, Italy | grandhotelmajestic.duetorrihotels.com
Halldis — Live like a local and stay in an apartment in the center of town with Halldis. The best part about and apartment stay is that you can cook up some of your delicious market finds in the kitchen. Hallids has different sized apartments available, from studios to thee and four bedrooms. | Halldis.com
HOW TO GET TO BOLOGNA
Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport – BLQ is an international airport close to the city of Bologna. However, flying from the United States you will likely have a connection in Rome or Milan, in which case you would also have the option to take the train into Bologna from either of those two cities.
Train from Milan – Taking the traain from Milan Airport to Bologna is quite easy and cost effective. There is a small train that shuttles between the airport and Milian Central Station, Malpensa Express. It runs about every half hour and you can purchase your tickets right there at the airport. From Milan Central, FrecciaRossa 1OOO is a high speed train that will take you all the way to Bologna Central. One thing I have to mention about Italy’s train stations, they’ve changed a lot since the first time I visited! They make it very easy for tourists to navigate as most stations now have signage and announcements in both English and Italian. It’s a fun way to travel. | trenitalia.com