This finest city merits more than just a one-night visit. Bologna (pop. 422 000) has gardens, museums parks, fine buildings, churches and miles of shopping streets and don't forget the great food. Sometimes called Bologna the fat this city is a great place to indulge yourself. Other names for Bologna include Bologna the learned and Bologna the red. The first refers to the presence of the oldest still existing university in Europe, founded in 1088 AD. The presence of the university is quite noticable, in terms of cultural activities, bars, and general life. Bologna the red officially refers to the red roofs of the city. If you climb the Torre degle Asinelli you can see it for yourself. However, the intellectual left had also a strong presence in Bologna, which could be another explanation of the name.
The city is alive and it is changing from year to year. It has known quite a turbulent past. In the fascist era, some awful buildings were planted in the city. Moreover, the area around the train station was bombed extensively during the war and some of the beautiful nineteenth century houses were lost. Fortunately, Bologna is actively restoring it past and these past twenty years have been good ones. In the year 2000 Bologna was a European Cultural Capital.
Pick up a good map of the city before you begin your explorations.
You can get them from any bookstore (Rizolli on Via dei Mille, open until 2am in the morning, or another halfway on Via Indipendenza that is open till late as well).
We suggest you start by climbing the Torre degle Asinelli for a great view. Most of the sights are clustered around the Piazza Maggiore, which makes a great starting point for your explorations. For just a taste of Bologna, visit the seven churches of Santo Stefano, the 16th-century Neptune Fountain whose penis had to be adjusted by its sculptor, Europe's oldest university (its museum exhibits 16th-century art). Afterwards walk along Strada Maggiore in the well-preserved medieval town center. The Pinacoteca which has an excellent collection of Italian Renaissance art. For a taste of modern Italy visit the Museo Morandi on Piazza Maggiore (opened in 1993) which houses more than 200 works by 20th-century painter Giorgio Morandi. Thirty miles northwest is the town of Modena which has an impressive 28-ft/88-m Ghirlandina bell tower. Modena is also the home of tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the Ferrari and Maserati auto companies. Further to the West is Parma, famous for its food. An hour South of Bologna is Florence and an hour East is the ancient capital of the Western Roman Empire with its magnificent Byzantinian churches, Ravenna.
Some general(izing) comments about Italy. Be careful while driving. It is a country that loves its cars and people are happy showing their top-speed off (without wearing seatbelts). However, as pedestrian you are very much respected, so most of you won't have any problems. Smoking: a high percentage of Italians smoke. As a guest in this country, you'd better learn to live with it -- I try, at least. Coffee: if you go to a bar and order a coffee (Un caffe, per favore) remember two things, (i) they don't try to cheat on you with this little cup. It is normal. un caffe is what most other countries call an expresso. If you want a normal coffee ask for a caffe lungo or a capucino. (ii) if you have a sit down service, you pay more than if you stand at the bar. Since almost everyone drinks his coffee at the bar, be aware that staff may not notice you sitting down. You may have to order at the bar anyway...
Information office of Bologna
On the central square of Bologna there is a good tourist information office with loads of leaflets and with helpful staff to get you going. A good thing to look out for is the guided city tours. Ufficio Informazioni e Accoglienza Turistica