Perfect Day Trip to Bologna from Florence: What to See, Do & Eat

June 9, 2023

One of the top advantages of having Florence as base during your trip to Italy is the ability  to visit other equally beautiful and fascinating destinations in just one day. A top contendor? The magical and captivating Bologna.

Bologna is a city full of history, culture, and art. And this is in addition to boasting the oldest university in Europe and having one of the most influential gastronomies in Italy! A day trip to Bologna from Florence will surprise you with its beautiful squares, architecture, porticoes, towers, delicious food, and much more.

people walking outside building

Bologna is famous for its storied history, beautiful porticoes, and delicious food. Photo credit: Maria Bobrova

Getting to Bologna from Florence

Getting to Bologna from Florence is fast and easy. You can take the train or bus, depending on your preference.

By train

Taking a train from Santa Maria Novella Station to Bologna Centrale is the most common and fastest way to get to Bologna from Florence. Two train companies run this route, Trenitalia and Italo. If you choose Trenitalia, you have the choice between a 90-minute regional train or a 38-minute high-speed train. Just keep in mind that the cost for the faster option can be double the price of the regional train.

Alternativley, with Italo, you only have the option of fast trains with a duration of 38 minutes and prices that vary. However, if you buy them in advance, you can find tickets that are just as affordable as the regional Trenitalia option.

By bus

Another way to get to Bologna from Florence is with the bus company Itabus. Although it is not as common as the train, it is an excellent option if you want to save money. Bus tickets will only cost you a few Euros, with the exact price depending on the day and hour.

commercial structures during daytime

Traveling from Florence to Bologna? By taking the high-speed train, you can be here in less than an hour. Photo credit: Thaddaeus Lim

What to see in a day in Bologna

Piazza Maggiore

Start your day by exploring the vibrant Piazza Maggiore, where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy its charming atmosphere. The center of Bologna, this square is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the Bolognese culture.

Pay close attention to every detail that surrounds you, taking a moment to admire the stunning architecture of Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo dei Banchi, and Basilica di San Petronio. One thing that makes this square unique is its red and white mosaic pavement, commonly called Crescentone as the locals relate its rectangular shape to the crescente, a typical Bolognese focaccia. If you don’t immediately notice the mosaic, you can spot it from the top level of the Palazzo Comunale.

people walking near Bologna's Piazza Maggiore under blue and white skies

Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore is the perfect place to start your visit. Photo credit: Maria Bobrova

Piazza Maggiore is also home to many events throughout the year, such as concerts and festivals. The most important of these is Sotto le Stelle del Cinema (under the Stars of Cinema), where movies are shown during the summer, being one of the most anticipated events of the year.

Basilica di San Petronio

In the same Piazza Maggiore, you will notice one of the most remarkable architectures, the Basilica San Petronio, known for its unfinished facade. This church is one of the most important in Bologna, as it is dedicated to the patron of the city, San Petronio.

This basilica is one of the largest of the Middle Ages, and is one of the best places to see art in Bologna. You can appreciate its magnitude from the inside with its 22 chapels, some of them adorned with frescoes by influential artists such as Giovanni da Modena, Jacopo di Paolo, Giacomo Francia, among others. Definitely, a visit to this church, besides visiting a religious temple, is like admiring an art gallery.

A Devour guide in Bologna leads guests in front of the church of Basilica di San Petronio, in Piazza Maggiore

Make sure to soak up the architecture and atmosphere in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore. This includes the church of Basilica di San Petronio, which is shown here.

The leaning towers: Asinelli and Garisenda

If you thought that the leaning tower was a phenomenon only to be seen in Pisa, Bologna confirms that this is not the case. Ainelli and Garisenda are the city’s two leaning towers and the iconic landmarks of Bologna.

These towers are a reminder of the city’s rich culture and history. Despite their age, they stand tall thanks to impressive engineering techniques to prevent them from falling. Among the best things to do in Bologna is climbing both towers, which offer a spectacular view of the city. If you love beautiful views, this is a must-do on your visit to Bologna from Florence.

Insider’s tip: Looking for more activities in this charming city? Check out the Devour Tours guide to the best things to do in Bologna.

aerial view photography of Bologna from the tower

Even on a short day trip to Bologna from Florence, climbing one (or both) of the city’s towers is an ideal activity. Photo credit: Bogdan Dada

La finestrella di Via Piella (Canal windows on Via Piella)

Opening a window and finding a magical and beautiful world behind it seems like a fairy tale, but visiting the window of Via Piella in Bologna is the real thing.

La finestrella di via Piella is a small window that allows you to contemplate the beauty of Bologna. The window overlooks the old town, with its beautiful buildings and a canal that gives the impression of being in Venice. This hidden treasure in the city offers an unforgettable experience to visitors from all over the world.

Tiny window looking out onto the canals in Bologna

This area of the city is known as “little Venice” for its beautiful canal views. Photo credit: Adam Gritco

Bologna’s Porticoes (Portici)

Bologna is known as the “città dei portici,”or city of porticoes. This is because it is the city with the most porticoes in the world. Among them, 12 have UNESCO Heritage designation, and others have records of being the tallest in the world. For example, there’s the San Luca portico which stands at 3,796 meters; the widest, as the church of Santa Maria dei Servi; the highest, as Palazzo Acivescovile at 10 meters high; and the Via Senzanome, the narrowest at just 95 meters.

The porticoes were initially born thanks to urban planning; citizens were required to expand their apartments on the upper levels, leaving the lower level for public use. Residents soon learned that the porticoes provided the ideal way to get around the city during rainy or hot days. Even when the weather is nice, you’ll still want to explore the stores, cafes, and restaurants that line them all.

Quadrilatero and Mercato di Mezzo

Crossing Piazza Maggiore through the Palazzo dei Banchi is the Quadrilatero and Mercato del Mezzo area, the magical world of Bologna for foodies and shopping lovers. This area has been the trade center for centuries and the pulsating heart of the Bolognese. It is home to countless shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, galleries, and other attractions, where you can find everything from fresh produce to artisanal products.

In the Quadrilatero and Mercato del Mezzo, you will discover several historic stores that are still active in which to immerse yourself in the history of Bologna and its culture. This is also the ideal place to taste the flavors of Bolognese cuisine via the many food, drink, and street food stalls.

Guests on bologna food tour eating pasta and drinking wine at a restaurant

Want to explore Bolgona’s incredible culinary scene with a local? Do just that with our Tastes & Traditions of Bologna: Food Tour with Market Visit! You’ll taste recipes passed down through generations and meet the proud locals behind them as you discover Bologna’s beloved foods firsthand.

by Yareli Parra

View more by Yareli ›

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