Bologna in one day – amazing itinerary in Italy food capital

Visit Bologna_Mortadella
One day in Bologna – Mortadella made Bologna towers

A one day walking itinerary to explore Bologna, a fascinating medieval city, still ignored by main stream tourism. Spending one day in Bologna will allow you to discover Bologna amazing art and culture, its lovely porticoes and its delicious food. 

Top reasons why you should absolutely visit Bologna

Surprisingly enough, the vast majority of tourists see Bologna only from the window of a high speed train, moving from Venice to Florence and vice versa. A real pity for them, indeed. So why should you spend one day in Bologna?

Though neglected by  the mainstream touristic flows, Bologna is home to the oldest university in the Western world. It offers lavish porticoed walkways and squares, a fascinating medieval center and a bustling night life.

Bologna is also one of Italian food capital. Its food tradition includes amazing pastas such as tagliatelle, lasagne, tortellini. But also delicacies such as Parmesan Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar and some of the finest cured meats in Italy.

All this makes Bologna a perfect off the beaten path destination for the savvy traveler. Wandering under the ancient porticoes and discovering  architectural masterpieces from a long forgotten past (while tasting from time to time to local delicacies) could be one of your Italian trip major highlights!

How to get to Bologna

Bologna can be easily discovered in one day. It is located just 45′ minutes from Florence on the Venice-Florence train line and thus could makes a great half a day / one day stop-over. In this post I’ll share a walking itinerary aimed at discovering Bologna highlights in less than one day. Of course, if you have more time you may spend one or two nights in Bologna, using it as a hub to visit nearby points of interest such as Ravenna, Ferrara or Modena and / or to enjoy a cooking class.

One day in Bologna suggested itinerary

Here is my suggested itinerary, click here to access the interactive google map.

One day in Bologna - one day walking tour map
One day in Bologna – one day walking tour map

The itinerary starts from the railway station. If this is a stop over from or to Venice,  you can use the convenient left luggage office. Just walk out of the station, cross the street, turn left to Piazza XX Settembre and there right in via Indipendenza.

Follow the Porticoes and you will get to the very center of Bologna in no more than 10-15 minutes.

One day in Bologna - one day walking tour map

Piazza Maggiore

You’ll know you are arrived when you reach the Neptune fountain. The bronze figure of Neptune is a work of famous late renaissance artist Giambologna, completed in 1567.

One day in Bologna -_fontana_del_Nettuno
Bologna – the Neptune statue in Piazza Maggiore

A few steps ahead will lead you to Piazza Maggiore, the heart of Bologna, surrounded by the most important buildings of the medieval city.

To the west of the square stands the Palazzo Comunale, also known as Palazzo d’Accursio. It features the imposing clock tower and the 16th century bronze statue  of Pope Gregorio XIII.

One day in Bologna -Palazzo d'Accursio_Torre Orologio

One day in Bologna -_Palazza d'Accursio 2

In front of the Palazzo del Podestà rises the unfinished facade of San Petronio.

San Petronio

San Petronio is the biggest church in Bologna and the 5th biggest church in the world. It also features the longest meridian line, with a length of 66.71 meters. The basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Petronius, who was the bishop of Bologna in the fifth century.

The first stone of construction was laid June 7, 1390 but never really ended, since no agreement about the facade project could be find (despite projects from famous architects such as Andrea Palladio) . Thus the facade remained partially unfinished.

In the initial plans, San Petronio was supposed to reach almost 224 meters long and 150 meters wide. This would have made it the the largest basilica in the world.

Unsurprisingly, the pope didn’t approve the idea of a church larger than St. Peters and thus in 1650 decided to build the Archiginnasio on a site immediately adjacent to the Basilica. In that way, he made it impossible to proceed with the execution of the overambitious plans. Eventually San Petronio ended up “only” 132 meters long by 66 meters wide.

One day in Bologna -_San Petronio_facciata

The interior is astonishing , with 45 meters high Gothic vaults, and its twenty-two side chapels contain countless works of art.

One day in Bologna -San Petronio_Inside

The most fascinating one is probably the Cappella dei Magi, number IV on left side. In the year 1400 Giovanni da Modena painted  magnificent frescos representing: “The Heaven” and “The Hell”, “The Kings Magi’s stories” and “The St Petronio Consecration”.

One day in Bologna -San Petronio_Cappella Bolognini

After visiting San Petronio, walking right  to the west side of Piazza Maggiore you will find the  16th century Palazzo dei banchi. Here bankers and money changers lived and worked .

Walk under the porticoes and a few meters ahead you will find the Palace of the Archiginnasio.

Bologna Archiginnasio

The seat of the ancient university and now the seat of the Municipal Library, the Archiginnasio is one of the most important buildings in the city. It was built in the sixteenth century when Pope IV called for a drastic re configuring of Piazza Maggiore.

One day in Bologna -Entrance of Archiginnasio

On the inside of Archiginnasio is the unmissable Anatomical Theater. Built in 1637, the paneled amphitheater was dedicated to anatomical studies. It allowed students to conveniently gather around the white table in the center of the theater where the dissection of human or animal bodies took place.

The room has fascinating statues in various anatomical positions which represent some famous physicians of Ancient times (Hippocrates, Galenus, etc.) and of the local athenaeum.

One day in Bologna -Archiginnasio_teatro anatomico 3

The two famous statues of the “Spellati” (skinned) carrying the canopy surmounting the teacher’s chair are a fascinating mix of science and art.

One day in Bologna - Archiginnasio_teatro anatomico1

One day in Bologna - archiginnasio_teatro anatomico-2

The Pescherie Vecchie district

Coming back down the porticoes and turning right in via Clavature, your next stop is the sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita.

The Confraternity of the Battuti (Flagellants) of S. Maria della Vita founded the church in the second half of the 13th century. It displays an elegant elliptical plan and contains the famous sculptured group of the “Pietà”, locally called “compianto”.

It’s an absolute masterpiece! Nicolò dell’Arca carved it in the second half of the 15th century. It is a unique, vibrant master piece, and one of the most vigorous and expressive works of Italian Sculpture.

The “humanity” of the saints expressions, overwhelmed by pain and desperation, as well as the dynamism of their postures, make this group of statues one of the most touching masterpieces I’ve ever seen.

One day in Bologna - Santa Maria della pace


Getting out of Santa Maria della Pace, loose yourself in the delightful street market around via Pescherie Vecchie, the most lively and picturesque in central Bologna.

One day in Bologna - Via delle Drapperie Market 6

One day in Bologna - Via delle Drapperie Market 7


One day in Bologna - Via Drapperie Market 3

One day in Bologna - Via Drapperie Market 1

This bustling pedestrian area could be a good place to stop and have a glass of wine and a taste of local cheeses and cold cuts. My favorite place is Tamburini, were you can sit in the outside terrace on old barrels and indulge with a glass of Sangiovese, while  looking at the bustling street life.

One day in Bologna - Tamburini_tagliere misto

Climbing up torre degli Asinelli

A few meters from Tamburini you will find one, if not the, most famous landmark of Bologna: the Torre degli Asinelli and the Torre Garisenda.

Bologna, like San Gimignano in Tuscany, used to be dotted with up to a hundred towers, power symbols belonging to the richest families of town, but also important mean of defense against military attacks. Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda are the most famous among the twenty or so that survived to time, wars and city development.  They are both leaning, but curiously in opposite directions.

Torre degli Asinelli was built in the 11th century. Named after the family that commissioned it, it is over 97 meters, making it the tallest in Italy.

One day in Bologna - Torre degli Asinell1 1

Finding it was easy (you can spot it from nearly everywhere in central Bologna). The next step, much more challenging,  will be climbing on it (if you dare…!). It is a 498 steps climb up  to reach the top. However, once there you will have Bologna at your feet!

One day in Bologna - Torre degli Asinelli2

Visit Bologna_Torre degli Asinelli3

One day in Bologna - Torre degli Asinelli 6

One day in Bologna - Torre degli Asinell5


Piazza Santo Stefano

After getting down the tower, head along Strada Maggiore, one of the main streets of Medieval Bologna, towards Piazza Santo Stefano. It’s a 10 minutes walk, along nice porticoes and posh cafés and boutiques, until you get to Corte Isolani,  a covered passageway, recently opened to the public, that connects Strada Maggiore to Piazza Santa Stefano.

One day in Bologna - portici 4

One day in Bologna - Portici 2


The impressive wooden doorway to the Casa Isolani is one of the most interesting examples of Roman-Gothic architecture (note the medieval arrows planted in the roof). Inside Corte Isolani a succession of courtyards, with restaurants, shops and art galleries will lead you to the most beautiful square in Bologna: Piazza Santo Stefano.

One day in Bologna - Corte Isolani

Piazza Santo Stefano is a charming pedestrian square, with a river stone paving and surrounded by splendid ancient buildings, culminating in the facades of Santo Sefano complex. Once per month (the second Saturday and Sunday of the month) Piazza Santo Stefano hosts a delightful flee market.

One day in Bologna - Santo Stefano square
Bologna – Piazza Santo Stefano flea market

But the real reason to come to Santo Stefano is the breathtaking religious complex of the “Sette Chiese” (seven churches), an interweaving of seven religious buildings surprisingly interconnected and one of Bologna most romantic and interesting monuments.

You enter the “Sette chiese” complex through the Church of the Crucifix. Of Lombard origin, it dates back to the 8th century. It has a single nave with a raised presbytery reached by a stair and a 14th century crucifix that gives the church its name. Under the presbytery stair is a splendid crypt.

One day in Bologna - Santo Stefano front

A side door leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the oldest building in the entire complex. It held the relics of San Petronio that had been recovered here in 1141 (they are now in the cathedral).

The little door of the tomb used to be opened for one week year. During that day it was possible to crawl inside and pay one’s respects to the saint’s remains.

A door on the opposite side leads to the church dedicated to Vitale and Agricola. A master and servant, they both lost their lives, in 305 AD, victims of Diocletian’s persecution.

Inside you can admire the remains of the mosaic floor. In the two small apses at the side you can find the two sarcophagi of Vitale and Agricola.

Also to be visited in this astonishing complex are the “Courtyard of Pilates”, so named in memory of the place where Jesus was sentenced, the church of the Trinity and the splendid Medieval Cloister.

One day in Bologna - Santo Stefano_01

After your visit you could indulge in Santo Stefano square sipping an Aperitivo at the caffè Sette Chiese. The nearby Ristorante Cesarina, a landmark in Bologna restoration serves some of the best Tortellini in town. You can eat outside on the square in the summertime.

San Domenico

If you don’t have a train to catch, you could now have a short walk to San Domenico.

This is the basilica which hosts the remains of San Domenico, the founder of the Dominican order. It’s one of Bologna main churches and its definitely worth a visit, especially to admire the Arca di San Domenico (this is were the saint remains are buried).

The exquisite shrine is Nicola Pisano, Arnolfo di Cambio and Niccolò dell’Arca masterpiece. Actually one of the angels has been carved by a young Michelangelo.

One day in Bologna - San Domennico_Navata

One day in Bologna - San Domennico_Arca San Domenico3

San Domenico chapel is extraordinary, and its beautiful marble shrine is one of the purest creation of the plastic Italian art. It justifies on its own the visit to this church!

One day in Bologna - San Domenico_Arca San domenico 3

Last stop of this long tour is San Francesco, twenty minutes walk from San Domenico.

The Basilica was built  in the French Gothic style following a visit by St. Francis of Assisi in 1222. Unlike many such ancient churches, its insides were not completely revamped in the Baroque period.

One day in Bologna - San Francesco_Navata

The beautiful marble altar inside dates from the late 1300.

One day in Bologna - San Francesco_Altare

Of particular interest are two free standing tombs on its grounds. They  represent a truly unique construction as examples of such mausoleums have almost never been found in Italy.

Built in the 13th century, the one pictured here houses a “glossatore” – a 12th century scholar of ancient legal texts.

Enjoy your one day in Bologna!

Bologna can provide you with all kind of great experiences! Click here to check your many options, from guided tours to shopping, food experiences and more!

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12 Replies to “Bologna in one day – amazing itinerary in Italy food capital”

  1. Love your photos of the churches in Bologna. I believe that some of the best art in Italy can be found in their churches. In addition to the food, beautiful architecture, gardens and a vibrant cultural life makes this a great city to visit!

  2. Ciao Jean, thank you for this amazing article about Bologna, have to go there end of November to my photos exhibition and will have with me all your tips, mille grazie!!

      1. Hi Jean, the exhibition will be at The Galleria De Marchi :-), I’m still working on details and arrangements with the gallery, but the release date will be on November 25th! I’m looking forward to it, if you want to follow my journeys and experiences, take a look at my instagram fabiolla_loureiro, I have 2 trips before Bologna ahead of me beginning in September. More news about my photography coming soon!

  3. Casually walking the suggested route would take about how long. Not stopping for lunch. Train departs at 4:44pm. Can arrive in Bologna from Rome either 8am or 10am. Planning this around December 9th.

    1. Hi Michael, the walking itineray takes 3-4 hours, enjoying the old streets and walking at a relaxed pace. You have to add to this the time to visit the different sites, you can count 30′ each (San Petronio, Santo Stefano, Archiginnasio and Santa Maria della vita are must. You should also have enough time to get an aperitivo (glass of whine served with cured ham and cheese at Tamburini for instance) or a Piadina (local sandwich).

  4. I only had one day in Bologna and this post was all the advice I needed. Thank you for putting together such a thorough and informative itinerary! It was the perfect way to see the city!

    1. I Marina, thanks so much for your comment.
      I’m glad to know that you found my post useful, feel free to contact me should you need any additional travel advice.

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