12 Tasty Food Things To Do In Bologna, Italy’s City of Gastronomy
Looking for the best culinary experiences and foodie things to do in Bologna, Italy? We’ve got them here!
When you first visit Italy, it's hard to imagine just how good the Italian food is going to be. No matter what part of the country you visit, even the worst food is generally really good.
But if you’re looking for some of the best Italian food in Italy, head to Bologna in Emilia Romagna, widely considered to be the gastronomic capital of Italy — certainly one of the best food cities in Italy.
Experiencing the food and wine of Bologna and Emilia Romagna is an important education for Italy foodies, and it will change the way you look at the food of Italy.
Emilia Romagna: Food Capital of Italy
The food scene in Bologna is fun, a fact not lost on the Bolognese. They make food approachable, and seem to enjoy it as much as the rest of us.
If you love all things Italian food and wine and are thinking of building an entire vacation itinerary on Italian food, stop thinking and do it! There are enough great restaurants, food events and attractions, culinary activities, food tastings, and food tours in Bologna to ensure Bologna more than lives up to its nickname of La Grassa, La Rossa, e La Dotta (the Fat, the Red, and the Learned).
Now is the perfect time to go and explore Bologna, Modena, Parma, and other food cities in Emilia Romagna. And here are 13 gastro-inspired things to do in Bologna, Italy that every foodie will love — but we know you'll find more!
Nervous about getting off the beaten path at Italy’s local restaurants?
Be sure and read our Essential Guide to Italian Food Phrases for ordering food in Italian!
Food Things to Do in Bologna
1. Aperitivo Every Day
No one does Happy Hour like Italians, unless you're on a cruise somewhere and don't care about starting your happiness before it's 5 o'clock somewhere. Otherwise, you're good to go in Italy every day around 6:00pm, so get in the spirit.
The work day in Bologna begins winding down in late-afternoon, when the chairs and tables come out and friends start to gather for Aperitivo. Local restaurants have Aperitivo specials for a nominal fee, which usually includes a small plate of snacks and a cocktail or two, and can often make a filling and satisfying dinner for the evening.
If you're feeling fancy, opt for an Aperol Spritz, arguably the Italian cocktail of choice. But if the bright orange Aperol liquor is too bitter for you, try an Hugo Spritz (pronounced OO-go) made with elderberry liquor instead of Aperol.
It's popular in northern Italy and originated in South Tyrol. It’s my new favorite cocktail to drink in Italy!
2. Taste Pignoletto in Bologna
If you love wine - or even if you don't - you should try the unique wines of Emilia Romagna, and become a new fan. Visiting the region's many wineries is a great way to see and sip your way through Emilia Romagna.
What I love most about the wines of Emilia Romagna is that they're as unpretentious as the people who produce and enjoy them. Winemakers here are open to innovation and willing to experiment...it all comes down to making and drinking good wine, and it they just happen to be some of the best Italian wines we’ve ever tasted.
Try a small group Bologna wine tour like the half day Bologna Wine Tour we took to three well-known and unique wineries. You'll taste Lambrusco, the wine Bologna is known for, but also innovative twists on classic wines like sparkling Barbera.
A big star among Bologna wines is Pignoletto, made from the pignoletto grape, a crisp, medium bodied Italian white wine with a slight fizz and a beautiful straw color.
It's so drinkable, which is very good....and very bad!
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3. Shop For Food In The Bologna Markets
The Bologna food market Mercato delle Erbe is a slice of Bologna life and a great place to visit if you want to feel local. It’s one of the most authentic and traditional food markets in Italy.
You'll find plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, spices, pastas, olive oil, and balsamic for a perfect meal. You'll also see a lonely equine vendor, off by himself in the corner away from other vendors as mandated by law.
Many Italians still enjoy lean and iron-rich horse meat in their diet and we eventually tried it as air-dried carpaccio over fresh arugala. It didn't have a lot of taste and I admit it was hard for me to get the mental picture out of my head. But we eat what the locals eat, even if it's not always our thing.
Bologna is also home to some of the oldest food markets in the world still in operation, and a stroll through them is the most delectable history lesson ever. The Quadrilatero, the oldest market in Bologna, was formed during the Middle Ages and housed the main craft guilds of the city within its confines.
The goldsmiths, butchers, fishermen, “Salaroli” (workers who salted meat to cure it), barbers and the Society of Painters were all based in this area. Most of the guilds were located along the street once called Mercato di Mezzo, known today as via Rizzoli.
But today, this Bologna food market lies in the heart of the Quadrilatero, renovated in 2014 and reopened as the first indoor market of the city. The three story Mercato di Mezzo is open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. until midnight, with a traditional pizzeria, Baladin Bologna artisanal beer pub, and tasting events.
Throughout the Mercato di Mezzo and the streets within the Quadrilatero you'll find wine bars, restaurants, and food vendors selling everything from fresh baked breads, cold meats and cheeses, and hand made tortellini, to the freshest seafood catch of the day. The area has also preserved the historic architecture, making it a genuine artistic treasure as well.
Shopping for lunch is a great way to spend the afternoon here. Grab some cold cuts, cheese, bread, and wine, and head for the nearest piazza or better yet, L'Osteria del Sole.
4. Dine at Emilia Romagna's Michelin Star Restaurants
Not too far from Bologna in Modena is the world-renowned Osteria Francescana, a 3-star Michelin establishment and perhaps the most famous restaurant in Italy. Chef Massimo Bottura skillfully reinvents the cuisine of Emilia Romagna and the experience is one you'll never forget.
But that experience comes at a price so if you don't mind splurging, reserve your table — at least three months in advance.
There are several other excellent Michelin restaurants not far from Bologna worth traveling to. Trattoria da Amerigo in Savigno, home of the annual Savigno Truffle Festival in November, is a cozy, unpretentious place with hearty portions — we love it there. Try the reasonably priced tasting menu.
Just south of the city is Ristorante Marconi in Sasso Marconi, a Michelin honored restaurant since 2008. Ristorante I Portici, in the heart of Bologna on Via dell'Indipendenza with food as elegant as the historic 18th century theater it resides in.
5. Have Lunch In The Oldest Pub In The World
If you not only love food but history and culture as well, the oldest tavern in the world (or close to it) will definitely strike a chord, and you'll want to bring the bundle of food you bought in the Quadrilatero to eat here.
This place dates to 1465 — 1465! Can you just imagine the people who’ve had a beer here!
L'Osteria del Sole oozes so much history, that if these walls could talk you'd surely hear Galileo and Da Vinci in tantalizing conversation over beers! Order a beer or wine at the bar, then settle down at one of the large community tables and enjoy your lunch.
They don't serve food (you have to bring your own), but the birra and vino are plentiful, and its all about the company you keep.
6. Take A Bologna Food Tour
A dedicated Bologna food tour is a great way to get to the heart of this foodie city, and we've taken several good ones since our first trip to Bologna. One very good Bologna food walking tour winds you through the historic city noshing on some of Bologna's most iconic foods and pastas like tortellino al passegio (in a to-go-cup!)
Several local tour companies take you on day trips from Bologna to food factory tours in Parma, Modena, and Brisighella in Emilia Romagna, while others take you on tasting tours to some of the best restaurants in Bologna.
No matter which one you choose, there's no better introduction to the amazing cuisine of Emilia Romagna.
7. The Ultimate Emilia Romagna Food Tour
Three of the most notable Italian foods come from Emilia Romagna: Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic di Modena, and Prosciutto, and they're all produced to exacting standards - government-imposed regulations that ensure such a high quality (#DOP or protected designation of origin) that no imposters stand a chance against them. Trust me (and forgive me) when I say you'll be ruined forever when you try them here!
You can read all about how they produce parmigiano reggiano (the King of Cheeses), authentic Balsamic di Modena, and prosciutto and think that you can buy all three at your corner grocery store. But then you'd miss out on some of the most food fun you can have in Bologna.
We recommend you take a Modena food tour for the full educational and tasting experience - and guarantee you'll be a #DOP disciple for life.
8. Take A Cooking Class In Bologna
Your whole Italian food repertoire is going to change once you try the food in Bologna. Taking a cooking class in Italy is a great experience for anyone who loves Italian food, but even better in the gastronomic capital of Italy.
At Le Sfogline in Bologna’s historic centre, you can learn to finger-twist your own tortellini and roll out a mean tagliatelle in their tiny storefront. In between customers impatient to buy the best pasta in Bologna, you’ll learn the tricks of the trade from Monica, a pasta making legend in the city!
Several other cooking schools will teach you to create one of the most famous Italian dishes — a classic Ragù Bolognese — to go with the pasta you rolled out with Monica, so you can recreate these dishes when you get home.
The Culinary Institute of Bologna gets high marks (although it's pricey), and the Bologna Cooking School with Big Carlo is also favorite.
We also love the concept behind Le Cesarine, a network of carefully selected home cooks throughout Italy with the aim of safeguarding and sharing their knowledge of authentic regional food traditions, recipes, and hospitality by opening up their homes so you can connect with local Cesarinas and their families through food. Food is AMORE!
9. Go Truffle Hunting
Throughout Italy and other parts of Europe, black and white truffles, those exquisite lumps of earthy goodness, grow wild. In the Emilia Romagna region, it's possible to accompany a local truffle hunter and his specially trained truffle dog (nope, by law, pigs are no longer used in Italy) on an afternoon truffle hunting tour in the woods to search for these culinary delights.
Even better is that most tours include a truffle dinner featuring your day's find prepared for you by a local Chef. Can you think of a more perfect farm-to-table foodie experience in the culinary capital of Italy?
10. Bologna's Fall Food Festivals
Since 2013, the October Tortellino Festival is a popular one evening foodie event by local organization tOur-tlen celebrates the tortellino, Bologna's most signature of all foods — a perfect reason to craft your Bologna vacation in early October.
Talented local chefs and restaurateurs come together for an evening of fun and friendly competition to create the tortellino of their (and our) dreams characteristic of their city. There's just two rules: the dough must be traditionally rolled using a wooden rolling pin and must be shaped to the classic small tortellino.
It's one of Italy’s unique culinary events that honors the cultural heritage of Bologna. For visitors, it's a delicious way to see the local food scene in action!
On the first three weekends of November, the hot food ticket in food festivals is the Savigno Fall White Truffle Festival, celebrating one of the world's most exquisite foods.
Nearly 50,000 truffle lovers attended in 2017 and the last three festivals have brought national recognition. Today it ranks among the top truffle events in the country.
11. Picnic In The Parco (Giardini Margherita)
Just a few blocks from Bologna's city centre is the Margarita Gardens, or Parco Giardini Margherita, a lush urban oasis, and the largest and most popular park in the city. Walk south on any through-street from the historic centre, cross the street and enter the gorgeous wrought iron gates to the Park.
Late afternoon when the sun is setting is a great time to come. There are a few concession stands and often good food trucks near the entrance. During the warmer months we recommend grabbing a table at the Greenhouse, bringing a bottle of wine or buying one there, and ordering some food to go with it.
On most nights you can enjoy live music, poetry readings, or lectures, and the charming market lights create such a cozy setting that you may never want to leave.
12. The Sweetest Ending: A Gelato Tour
Like many cities in Italy, the Bolognese end their day with a cup of their favorite gelato (though many eat several small cups throughout the day). So, as the saying goes....when in Bologna.
There's practically a gelato shop on every block, so you'll soon find your own personal favorite. Before you know it you'll have created your own Gelato Tour that you can add to through the years... because you will, of course, always return to Bologna!
13. Visit FICO Eataly
The newly opened FICO Eataly World is among this list of Gastronomic Must-Dos in Bologna. The commercial 25-acre ginormous agri-food park promises visitors “a discovery of all the wonders of Italian biodiversity" under one roof, and they deliver.
While it may not be the authentic travel that’s right on the farm, it’s certainly a unique foodie experience to try.
The City of Food is safe and easy to navigate on your own, and there are plenty of local tour operators, restaurants, and event organizers to help you explore the local culture and food of Bologna, even if your time is limited. Experiencing the heart and soul of Bologna, Modena, and other cities in Emilia Romagna through a local tour, tasting, cooking class, or other food experience is one of the best ways to savor this part of Italy.
We hope we've provided enough links and resources to get you started, and encourage you to explore Bologna in a slow and local way!
WHERE TO STAY IN BOLOGNA, ITALY
We recommend staying within the historic city centre of Bologna, close to the main attractions - inside the outer highway loop that circles the city. You'll find luxury hotel rooms and quaint B&Bs, all within steps of your favorite piazza. We love these hotels:
Centrally located in the historic centre down a quiet street is the Hotel Touring, a family-owned and operated hotel with a homey feel, but one of its best features is a panoramic rooftop terrace. Simple, ultra comfortable, and just a few minutes’ walk from Piazza Maggiore.
If you're looking for modern elegance, Portici Hotel is a good choice. Located within walking distance to the city center near the University, one of the best parts about staying here are the cooking classes through Bottega Portici!
Hotel Corona D'Oro
The city's only 4-star luxury is at the Hotel Corona d'Oro, super close to the Piazza Maggiore.
The Viennese-style Hotel Novecento on Piazza Galileo has gorgeous contemporary rooms & suites with marble bathrooms. Some rooms also have outdoor terraces with great views!
Art Hotel Orologio
Simple, elegant, and generally under $100 USD/night, the Art Hotel Orologio is a great value in the heart of the city centre.
The Hotel Metropolitan is a great choice if you love chic elegance in a great location (just a few blocks from Piazza Maggiore), with a beautiful outdoor space.