The Italian City that Must Not be Missed

It's been something like four months since I started this blog and it's a sin that I have yet to post anything on my Bologna, my hometown in Italy. With so much to say about the city and with limits on my time, I will have to write a little bit at a time.

So, let's start with something very simple. If you're going to be in Italy and you're heading towards Florence, make it a point to go to Bologna. If you're on your way to Venice from Rome, make it a point to stop in Bologna (your train will stop there). Why? Bologna has so much to offer - perhaps the best food in Italy, amazing history, a well-preserved (and rather large) historic center that is extremely walkable, a vibrant social scene (it is a university town, after all) and much more more. Trains to Venice pass through Bologna and the city is only 50 minutes by train from Florence. Even if you stop just for a day, it is worth it.

Now, in this entry, I'm going to mostly focus on hotels in Bologna as there are many options but many tend to be expensive. Why? Bologna is known as a culinary city, a college town and many other things including a convention town. Outside of the city is a large convention area so hotels can sometimes fill up. That being said, there are plenty of options in the city with prices truly running the gamut.

Over 20 miles of colonnades
line the streets of Bologna

As you can imagine, most of my personal experience in Bologna is not in hotels. Being born and raised in Italy, we didn't spend too much time in local hotels. I have stayed in a couple since we moved to the states, though, and can recommend some others based on what I've seen/heard. That being the case, do some fact-checking on each hotel but these should get you off to a good start:
  • Gran Baglioni - Bologna's most luxurious and choicest hotel.
  • Hotel Orologio - One of four historic hotels owned by Bologna Art Hotels. Three others include Hotel Corona D'Oro, Hotel Novecento and Hotel Commercianti. Pricey but very reputable.
  • San Donato - Located right by the University and a three minute walk from Piazza Maggiore, the four star hotel is now owned by Best Western.
  • Starhotels Excelsior - I typically don't recommend anything by a train station but Bologna is not your typical city and the Excelsior offers a great central location by the station.
  • Hotel Re Enzo - Also a Best Western property, the Hotel Re Enzo offers reasonable room rates for a hotel located about a 10 minute walk from Piazza Maggiore. Small rooms but... well, that's Europe.
  • Sterlino Hotel - a budget hotel in a nice Bologna neighborhood, this hotel was a few minutes away from our house. The hotel has a great neighborhood restaurant below.
Piazza Maggiore at Night

Once in Bologna, you'll find that the city offers a wealth of sites to see, from great museums to amazing churches. Even with a day, there's plenty you can fit into your schedule. In fact, simply walking along the collonades of Bologna (more than any other place in the world) is worthwhile. Places you shouldn't miss include:
  • The Basilica of San Petronio - scheduled to be larger than the Vatican until the pope made sure plans fell by the wayside. The church is largely unfinished but massive and very impressive. Check out the chapels where you can come across some amazing masterpieces including a dark representation of heaven and hell.
  • Piazza Maggiore - The heart of the city and an architectural masterpiece.
  • Santo Stefano - A series of seven churches dating back to the 5th century - each church is built "on top" of the other. The square in front of the church is a pleasure.
  • The Asinelli and Garisenda Towers - two of several remaining towers. Up to 180 once dotted the 12th and 13th century skyline of Bologna. The towers have been ingrained in my memory since I was a small child.
  • Mercato di Mezzo - Dating back hundreds of years, this market is home to dozens of vendors. This is where you can get a feel for the culinary prowess of Bologna.
  • Museo Civico Archeologica di Bologna - Dedicated to history and architecture of Bologna.
  • The University of Bologna - The oldest university in Rome lends an academic air to the city as well a vibrant nightlife.
Of course, you can't think of Bologna without thinking of great food - Bologna and Emilia Romagna are home to mortadella, ragu', tortellini, prosciutto and tagliatelle. It's no surprise that Bologna is known as "La Grassa" or "the fat one". To get a good taste of the city's cuisine, visit Da Cesari on Via De' Carbonesi 8.

If you have any money left over after eating, the city offers great shopping. Bologna is the birthplace of the fashion brand Furla - you can't walk too far without passing one of the company's several boutiques. Personally, I also recommend Al Balanzone, a great stationer and gift store located on Via Farini 7. We've been friends with the proprietor of Al Balanzone since I was a little squirt attending school at San Luigi. We always make it a point to visit when we go to Bologna - you should, too.

Shopping at Furla

At the end of the day, just remember this... if you're in Florence or you want to come up with an interesting trip, go to Bologna. The city is an easy train ride from Rome and Florence but a world away in character.

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