A Road to Bologna
Discovering Bologna, Italy
I sat on the computer staring at the screen mapping out my Italy trip with my wife. I wanted to visit Ljubljana and San Marino, Venice and Rome. I wanted a major city with sites and history. I discovered Bologna by accident – and not in a good way.
The seventh largest city in Italy was conveniently located in the north of the country. It was a bigger city, had lots of options and an old section of town with loads of history. Still, when I mentioned stopping in Bologna and using it as a hub for an Adriatic adventure, I was met with several well traveled friends who said, “Well… Uh… Bologna. Americans don’t go there.”
They didn’t say it was terrible; they just didn’t have a selling point for the place based upon popularity. Without a great reason, the convenience of the place won out. It was an educated gamble – and really when is exploring a new place in Italy ever really a gamble?
Bologna is the Cross Section of Italy
So when it became clear Bologna sits smack in the middle of Florence, Padua, Verona, Rimini and Milan, with access to all major roads for touring, and a bullet train away from Rome, Bologna became a great hub for day trips. I have used Enterprise in the past and it has worked well for me.
I am a big fan of renting a car and driving. Roads in Italy are generally good, especially around Bologna, for going to and coming from larger cities. However, some coastal routes (no where near Bologna) in Italy can host windy, cliff side adventures.
Sure Bologna is convenient for an overnight stay before heading to elsewhere, but is it worth really visiting? My answer is YES! Here are several examples of places to stop in Bologna that I loved – still popular with less Americans.
Keep an Eye in the Sky
I was told was to look for was the two towers to orientate myself, which are visible from many locations, and are situated by the entrance of Porta Ravegnana Square. The two towers, also known by their real names Asinelli and Garisenda Towers, are excellent examples of Medieval architecture and Bolognese icons. Only Asinella Tower is accessible for visitors (€3).
Still looking up, the porticoes, as an architectural accent, are everywhere. Expect to see a lot of archways over almost every sidewalk in the city, as evidence of the vast merchant wealth that built Bologna. Archways also adorn the churches, cathedrals and other traditional buildings throughout Bologna, protecting you from sun and rain as you stroll through the historic city.
At the base of the medieval towers I found myself in the middle of the action, tourists, and otherwise in Bologna. For me the main spot was Piazza Maggiore, which is spilling over in history, medieval architecture and restaurants galore. It is also the home of the tourist information, a modern room in an old building.
Where it all Happens in Bologna
Sitting in the middle of Piazza Maggiore is Basilica San Petronio, the most iconic cathedral in Bologna. Construction for San Petronio began in 1390 and took hundreds of years to complete and used the talents of numerous designers and artisans.
However, I personally recommend visiting Palazzo D’Accursio, which is the base of the town hall and offers the city art gallery, which houses plenty of modern art, for free. The Palazzo is located across from the Fountain of Neptune, a perfect place to sit and watch people, in an alcove and uphill. Yes, you will have to do a little exploring.
On a final note there is a Jewish Quarter about ten minutes by foot from the main square. However, sites of interest in this location are scant.
So, whether as a destination or a hub to explore Italy, Bologna has something for everyone. And the best part of it all is that Americans really have not found this place.
This post was done in partnership with In The Know Traveler and Enterprise Rent-a-Car but they had no input on the content. All opinions are my own.