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Thoughts on Bologna and ?

My husband and I are frequent travelers to Italy. In our younger years we moved around a lot on our travels. Now that we are retired, we tend to stay 4-6 weeks, renting an apartment which we use as a home base. Sometimes we take day or over night trips, other times we find so much to do where we are staying that we never leave the city. We have done this in Sicily, several times in Rome, and in Florence. We enjoy museums, public art, architecture, ruins, ambiance, street food, like to shop at local produce markets and enjoy just wondering around and hanging out.
We are currently thinking about a trip for next fall, late September and October.
We are looking for a smaller city or town, with decent transportation connections and are considering Bologna. Having never been there I would like to ask others if they think the city would be a good fit for us given the information above. The only city in Emilia-Romagna that we have been to is Ravenna which we loved and intend to return to on this trip. I would consider staying there, but my husband feels it might be too small. I would love to hear opinions from those of you who have spent time in the area.
Right now we are totally open to other options as well, pretty much anywhere in the country, if you want to share your thoughts on favorite mid to small size cities.
Thanks for your opinions and input!
We used Bologna as a stopover night during a short swing through the area for a balsamic wine tour and a cheese factory tour. We were only there for an afternoon/evening, but thoroughly enjoyed the town center and squeezed in a visit to the Ferrari Museum. We then went to Acetaia Villa San Donnino, outside Modena, and continued to another overnight at Reggio Emilia before a tour of Latteria Sociale La Grande on the road to Parma. The tours were great (my wife put a huge dent in my wallet shopping at the balsamic vinegar shop and came close to making our luggage overweight with cheese packed to bring home). Very much enjoyed both Bologna and Reggio-Emilia for sights, strolling, and food.

As to "other" cities -- my wife's family home is near Lucca and we spend 2-3 months a year there now that we're retired. We've never run out of things to do in the area (have been traveling there together for over 30 years; my wife, on her own, since she was in high school). Lucca is pretty much a pedestrian only city inside the walls; is about 30 minutes from Pisa; an hour from Florence by train; 45 minutes to the beaches at Viareggio and Lido di Camaiore (don't think they close until early October); near the hill towns of Bagni di Lucca, Barga, and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. Also within reach of Carrara, the arts community of Pietrasanta, and day trips to Portovenere or Cinque Terre -- Volterra and San Gimignano if you want to go a little further. Can also treat yourself to a thermal pool and spa day at Monsummano Terme. There are many local fairs and celebrations in the Lucca area in September and October (pretty much as in the rest of Italy, I'm sure).
Thanks for your reply Alpinista. It’s good to know your impressions of Bologna were positive.
We actually spent a few days in Lucca way back in 2004 and enjoyed it quite a bit, although I would imagion it has changed a lot in the intervening years. I would definitely enjoy a return trip. Thanks for bringing it back onto my radar. How lucky you are to be able to spend so much time in the region!


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I think Bologna would fit your needs for home base for your next trip. I love Bologna. Each time I spend time there, I always wish I could stay there longer. There is so much to see and do. The food is amazing. The people are very friendly and helpful. It is a bigger city than some of the other places in the region, but the transportation connections are probably the best from Bologna. I also loved staying in Modena, but staying there would not make it as easy for day trips if you plan to travel by train as staying in Bologna. You would have to do more connections to get to some places. ENJOY!! I wish I was going back soon!
We've been to Bologna twice and I can't recommend it enough. One of the most outstanding features of Bologna for us retirees is the approximately 24 miles of porticos. This means regardless of the weather, you are dry!

You can easily spend a week here exploring and still not cover everything.

We also went to Acetaia Villa San Donnino as Alpinista mentioned. We just finished the balsamic vinegar the vinegar jelly (treated it like gold). If you guys go there, bring some back for me, I'll pay you a king's ransom for it! :D
Thanks Susan. I started reading about Modena in my guidebook. It sounds charming, if not as a place to base, perhaps as a city to visit. In many ways I like the idea of a slightly smaller town, even though transportation is more difficult.
Hey, NoSpin. I could use a kings ransom! How many bottles would you like?
Wouldn’t have thought to try vinegar jelly, but should it sounds like I will have to!
I would add my thumbs up to staying in Bologna. I visited for a few days in 2016 and am returning next spring. I really enjoyed how it seemed like a busy, vibrant city but not as chaotic as other bigger places. There are many things to enjoy in Bologna itself and lots of places to visit by train as day trips.
Less chaotic is what I’m looking for Susan. All of you are making me excited about seeing Bologna and the surrounding area. Thanks! I enjoy the planning part of traveling!


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We were 5 days in Bologna on a first time visit, two months ago at the beginning of October. We came back absolutely charmed by the city, even though we weren't so thrilled that we're already dreaming of a return visit. Our hearts are usually longing for the Piemonte region. The only other cities we have spent a few days in each time we visited are Torino and Genoa, so my experience in Italian cities is very limited.

If I had to pick one thing that stood out for me, it was the feeling that there is some sort of element of "pride of place" that keeps the character of the city ticking. I think there are two things that made me get this impression. One was the centrality and beauty of Piazza Maggiore : it seemed to be a magnet for people - not only tourists - and a type of open space that makes you stop and appreciate where you are. You don't just pass through this space with your eyes on the ground, it is truly the heart of Bologna.
The second was the vibrancy of the streets in the center - people milling around constantly, cafes, restaurants and shops bristling with action. The city having one of Italy's major and oldest universities, you see tons of young people, and student-minded activities.
And all this over a relatively small area in Bologna's center, that is easily accessed on foot.
So your interest in ambiance that you mentioned might well be pursued in such a fine city.

As NoSpin mentioned, the sheer amount of porticoed streets is very convenient in hot or rainy weather. But they are also a feast for the eyes - really, where in the world can you be pampered by row after row of beautiful columns almost everywhere you turn, even in backstreets? I'm no expert on architecture, but the cathedrals, Towers, palaces and the university are also quite stunning.
We are not museum goers, but we visited the astronomy museum (Museo della Specola) and the mineralogy museum, and enjoyed them. This doesn't even scratch the surface of the number of museums and galleries that can be visited.

We had a small AirBnB apt. smack in the Quadrilatero - so the food shops, cafes and eating places were all around us. We haven't been anywhere in Italy where the food is nothing short of amazing, and Bologna is no exception. Although we prefer regional events in the countryside, and have three visits to the Torino biennial Salone del Gusto (Slow Food Fair) in our touring history - the stores and food in this city are, as is well stated in any resource on Bologna, simply fantastic. The fresh market was a slight letdown with regards to varieties of produce, but still impressive in quality. There are a couple of weekly markets, too - worth a visit for one or two special finds, but again - we've seen better in Piemonte and Liguria.
The list of good restaurants is indeed long - we dined out twice in the five days of our visit, and thoroughly enjoyed the meals, both places being "typical" but each also special in some way.

Of course we came back with a bottle of balsamic vinegar - the price naturally varies according to how aged it is, and if it maintains certain standards of production, the strictness of which determine the "ransom". Shop around a bit, and be aware that the stores in the Quadrilatero might be a bit more expensive because of the tourism factor. The city is certainly a showcase for typical Emilia-Romagna products and cuisine.
In this respect, we were pleasantly surprised by the knowledge of English in the city - not difficult at all to manage if you don't know Italian.

Personally, I can't see us spending a month in a city - we love the Italian countryside too much - and we don't like entering and exiting a city for day trips. So it's hard for me to say if Bologna is suitable for a month's stay. But it most certainly is a very fascinating and enjoyable place to experience - at least it was for us.



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Joe, thank you very much for your thoughtful and detailed response. And for the lovely photos. Excactly the type of input I am looking for.
A number of years ago, we had time to wander around & went to Ravenna, then Florence, then up to Bologna, then Parma and lastly Milan. We had intended to spend a night in Parma, but wound up there for 3 nights, wishing we had more time. I recommend it, especially if you find some small cheese and/or ham producers to visit (get some advice on where the tour busses don’t go). We loved each of these cities, but Parma was definitely the pleasant surprise of the trip.
In Italy, we've done it both ways but, on this trip, we were driving. We knew that we wanted to see Ravenna (which was stunning -- I love mosaics) and that a car would be fine there. We made some adjustments in cities where cars were not needed (nor desired) & rented hotel rooms just outside the inner cities and with parking . In Parma, there are several places you can do this, as a car is useless inside the old city, but absolutely needed to explore the countryside and to get to the production venues that are small and out of the way (& without group tours).
Bologna + apartment is something that has worked very well for us, especially as we've not had huge success with the Bologna restaurants (though sette tavoli a short walk south west of the two towers is an honourable exception and I also like the concept as a way of keeping the cooking fresh). The food shops are a joy and not just in the criss-cross of streets between piazza Nettuno and the two towers, as there are some great places dotted elsewhere e.g. on via Oberdan.

Where else? Well the easy transport connections doesn't take many places out, so nearby Parma, Modena and Reggio nell'Emilia would all be the easiest of transfers. However my suggestion would be Ferrara, as somewhere markedly different in feel, yet also with good food (and here we've had better luck with the restaurants, whilst there are less food shops, but standards remain high in the ones they have). It's a bus or taxi from the train station to the centre (about 50 mins walk), and once there the pedestrianised streets make for a good experience, albeit it can take a few days to remember to look out for bicycles. The evening passeggiata is good, again on pedestrianised streets. A weekly central market impressed more than the larger one on the edge of town. The castle and moat (with some big fish - presumably carp) are impressive. It's also not in thrall to tourism, and the effect on the city remains modest, though I can't believe it will remain under the radar forever. I don't know if you'd feel comfortable cycling, but the area is almost pan-flat, so it's easy to cycle around the city walls which remain almost totally intact, and the route is mostly on a cycle path along a tree-lined route making it very easy and pleasant. Day trip options include Padova and even Venezia to the north, plus Bologna and other E-R cities to the South. We never made it to Comacchio, but it sounded appealing (except for their love of eels). That's not too far to the east and I think there is a bus service.


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