If I had to a pick a favorite Italian city, second to Florence, it would definitely be Bologna. As the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna is often overlooked for its more touristy counterparts. But this city actually has so much to offer with half the amount of tourists! Also, why would you not want to visit a city nicknamed La Grassa ("the fat one")? Just from that, you already know the food here is amazing. So if you're looking to visit another charming Italian city and switch up the usual the itinerary a bit, here are 7 reasons why Bologna should make the cut:
1. It's home to the oldest university in the world
Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is the first and oldest university in the world. Visit the anatomical theatre where students once witnessed live dissections of human bodies.
Piazza Galvani, 1, 40124 Bologna
2. Bologna has some of the best food in all of Italy
The Emilia-Romagna region is known for being a gastronomic treasure, and as the capital of the region, Bologna is definitely for food lovers. Some dishes Bologna is most known for are tortellini and tagliatelle al ragù. This would also be a good place to stock up on parmigiano reggiano from Parma and balsamic vinegar from Modena.
For a quick lunch break, stop by Mercato di Mezzo (Via Clavature, 12, 40124 Bologna), which has a more modern take on Bolognese cuisine, or Tamburini, which is popular with the locals (Via Caprarie, 1, 40124 Bologna).
3. You can find charming little windows
Once upon a time, Bologna actually looked a lot like Venice with a network of canals. While most of the canals were covered up to make way for new construction, you can still see one of the remaining ones through the finestrella ("little window") on Via Piella. Definitely worth a stop by for some picturesque photos!
Via Piella, 5-9, 40126 Bologna
4. There's hidden secrets to be discovered
Near Palazzo del Podestà is a vault area called Voltone del Podestà. If you and a friend stand at diagonally opposite corners of the vault and speak into the corner, you'll be able to hear each other perfectly even if you whisper. The curvature of the vault creates an interesting acoustic effect and carries your voice so that only the person at the opposite corner can hear. It's the perfect place to whisper sweet nothings to your significant other or divulge your deepest, darkest secrets.
5. You can't beat the views from above
Fun fact: the tallest leaning tower is actually found in Bologna, not Pisa. There are two leaning towers here: Asinelli and Garisenda. While Garisenda is more tilted, Asinelli is the taller one at 97 meters. For 3 euros, you can climb the Asinelli Tower all the way to the top for an impressive 360° view. A fair warning though, it's a steep climb and you will be out of breath, but it's totally worth it!
6. The stunning architecture
One thing you'll quickly realize as you're walking around Bologna is that there are a lot of arches. These are actually porticoes, and they are a distinctive part of Bolognese architecture. Plus, they're great for avoiding the summer heat or if you get caught in the middle of a rain shower!
But my favorite thing about the architecture in Bologna is the color palette. The shades of red, burnt orange, yellow and brown creates such a warm, welcoming feeling, even in mid-January.
7. It's perfect for a day trip
Bologna is not particularly too far from Milan, Venice, or Florence, which makes it perfect for a day trip. Because the historic center isn't too spread out like Rome, it makes Bologna a super walkable city. You could easily see the majority of it in a day without feeling overwhelmed, and it's not quite as crowded compared to other cities in Italy.