Accomodation: Hotel Holiday
I stayed at Hotel Holiday, which is pretty centrally located. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the Two Towers and Piazza Maggiore, and a 15 minute walk to the central train station. It offers a small complementary breakfast buffet. The bed was large and the shower was amazing! I think the room was very decent for the price and location.
These two leaning towers are the most famous towers in the city. Each towers name derives from the families originally credited with the construction. The shorter, more leaning tower, is called the Garisenda. Originally, 60m high, it was lowered to 48m for the unstable ground in the 14th century. The Asinelli Tower (the taller one) takes its name from the wealthy Asinelli family who built it. After it was acquired by the city of Bolonga in the 12th century, it served as a prison. You can climb the Asinelli Tower to get a nice view of the city. However, the timeslots are every 45 minutes and you must purchase your tickets in advance. I tried to go first thing in the morning, but when I arrived, I was told that I could not purchase tickets at the tower and had to go to the Welcome Center in Piazza Maggiore to obtain my ticket.
When I got to the welcome center, I found out that the next available time was 5PM, which wasn’t ideal since the sunset at 4:30PM. However, I still wanted the experience so decided to purchase it anyways. The ticket is 5 euros. I’m glad that I did, because the view at dusk was still very nice. It was incredible seeing all of the city lights from above. It took 498 steps to get to the panoramic view at the top. Everyone with the same time stamp goes up the narrow steps together, so the pace is pretty slow. You then have about 15 minutes to explore the top before having to go back down.
Basilica of Santo Stefano
Not far from the towers is the Basilica of Santo Stefano, which is located on Piazza Santo Stefano.
This central square is one of the busiest areas of Bologna. The Northwest corner opens into Piazza del Nettuno with its Fontana del Nettuno, while the Northeast corner opens into the narrower Piazza Re Enzo. The Welcome Center is in this square, which is where you will need to purchase tickets to the towers and other tours and activities in the city.
At night, the Piazza was filled with people walking around. This is where you can find street artists. I was lucky enough to be there on a night when a dance performance was going on. I enjoyed watching it as I ate my gelato, which you can get at a couple places right by the square.
Basilica of San Petronio (Terrace)
This church dominates Piazza Maggiore. The basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Petronius, who was the bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. Construction began in 1390 and its main façade has remained unfinished since. If you wish to take photos inside the church, you will need to pay 2 euros to get a wristband that allows you to take as many photos as you’d like.
I highly recommend going around to the back of the church and paying 3 euros to go up to the terrace on top of the church. This offers an amazing view of the city! This was my favorite viewpoint in Bologna. You can take the elevator or stairs up. I decided to take the stairs, which wasn’t that bad.
Fountain of Neptune
The Fountain of Neptune is a monumental fountain located in the busy square, Piazza del Nettuno, next to Piazza Maggiore.
This is one of the gates that was in the medieval walls of the city. It was built in the 13th-14th centuries, and by 1334 it was provided with a drawbridge crossing a moat.
Sancutuary of the Madonna di San Luca (Monastery)
The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca is a basilica church situated at the top of a forested hill 300 meters above the city. While a road now leads up to the sanctuary, most people reach it along a 3.8 km monumental roofed arcade consisting of 666 arches, which was built in 1674-1793. It was meant to protect the icon as it was paraded up the hill.
A yearly procession from the Cathedral of San Pietro in the center of Bologna to the Sanctuary goes along this path. It takes roughly 25 minutes to reach the base of the hill from the city center. From the bottom of the hill, it took me 50 minutes to reach the monastery, although I took 3 breaks to sit and catch my breath. The way down only took me 20 minutes.
At the top of the monastery, you can pay to get a view of the city from the dome. However, since I was already seeing other city views that day, I opted not to.
Basilica of San Francesco
This basilica is a historic church, which was founded in the 13th century. When I went, they were having a market inside selling miscellaneous items. You should go through to the courtyard.
The Glossatori Tombs
Right outside of the Basillica of San Francesco, these 13th-century gravestones are dedicated to the first university teachers.
On the way to the railway station, I strolled down the main street of the city. It is packed with shops. Although they are all closed early in the morning, this was a nice street to walk down at night. The entire street is lit up with Christmas lights in December.
The Park of Montagnola is a public park which was originally construction under Napoleonic rule. The base of the park contains the ruins of the 14th-century Castello di Galliera, which then leads to a scenographic staircase. The stairs are decorated by sculptural reliefs and statues inspired by the history of Bologna. Throughout the park are numerous statues with a pond at the center. Although I don’t think the park is well-kept, it was still a nice walk to get to the other side of the block.
This was a gate or portal of the former outer medieval walls of Bologna. It is the most ornamented of all the remaining gates. In 1330-1333, the Cardinal Bertrand du Pouget ordered construction of a castle near this gate as part of a siege. By the twentieth-century the walls were torn down, and the gate isolated.
On the way to the train station, I noticed a tall domed-building in the distance. I thought that I would check it out before going to the train station. It turns out that it is an institute.
Bologna Centrale railway station is the fifth busiest in Italy in terms of passenger movements. It is, however, one of the busiest, along with Rome Termini Station, for the number of train movements per day. I took the one-hour train ride from Bologna to Rimini, where I caught the bus from there to San Marino. The train to Rimini cost 10 euros.
Where to eat: Regina Sofia
One of the suggestions that I was given from one of the local workers for a place to eat pizza close to the two towers was Regina Sofia. Although my order came out wrong at first, they were happy to fix it for me and once corrected, it was very good. The wine was also not my favorite, but they did offer for me to try it first and change it. I’m just stubborn and didn’t want to choose another wine that I wasn’t sure if I was going to like any better. All in all, the location is great since it is right by the main square and the staff was friendly.
If you have more than just a day in the city, I recommend doing a food and wine tour, which you can purchase from the Welcome Center. They also had other tour options that you can look into. Other places that I wasn’t able to get to or wasn’t interested in include: Certosa of Bologna, Ducati Museum, Industrial Heritage Museum, San Colombano, San Mattia.
A wonderful old romantic town !
Thank you, Madam ! Very instructive article ! What puuzles me are the leaning towers !
“The Leaning Tower has a frightful look, and yet it is most probable that it was built so by design. The following seems to me the explanation of this absurdity. In the disturbed times of the city, every large edifice was a fortress, and every powerful family had its tower. By and by the possession of such a building became a mark of splendour and distinction; and as, at last, a perpendicular tower was a common and every-day thing, an oblique one was built. Both architect and owner have obtained their object: the multitude of slender, upright towers are just looked at, and all hurry to see the leaning one. Afterward I ascended it. The bricks are all arranged horizontally. With clamps and good cement one may build any mad whim…” (Goethe 1786)