Bologna is a well known city in Italy, and recently it has bean to become a must-visit city amongst tourists and visitors from other countries too, and we hope that our travel tips for Bologna will help you understand why.
We are both totally in love with Bologna’s portici which are listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites. They are scattered everywhere in the old city center, and together with the red terracotta bricks buildings, make Bologna look very unique and incredibly special. We enjoyed walking through Bologna’s portici and narrow streets, trying to take in all the amazing architecture, the play of shadows and lights which are especially gorgeous when the sun is shining, the various perspectives and always changing columns with decorative capitals. It’s a real pleasure to get lost and simply enjoy the urban landscapes without thinking too much about which direction to go.
Bologna is a popular university city, therefore it’s always very lively and has an active nightlife too, a city that – like many others – never sleeps. It is also known for being home of the oldest university in the Western world, but the main reason why it’s attracting more and more visitors is its delicious and traditional food. Bologna is in fact the home of the fresh stuffed pasta tortellini the now universally-loved bolognese sauce; not forgetting all of the varied delicatessen, making it clearly a great destination for food lovers. Don’t panic though if you are vegan (like us) or vegetarian, there are still plenty of delicious food choices that can accommodate everyone’s taste, just as we discovered for ourselves.
It’s difficult to get bored in Bologna, there is always a new street to walk to, plenty of portici and historical buildings to admire, museums and famous landmarks to visit. As usual though, in addition to the conventional sites, we also like to explore the more off-the-beaten path areas and try to find some hidden corners that aren’t necessarily famous or aer simply less known. We like to shares our discoveries to others too that might enjoy the same things we do, so that’s why we put together these travel tips for Bologna based on things we personally experienced and enjoyed. It has been very difficult to pick only five tips for Bologna because there is so much to love about this city, but here they are, let’s hope you like and find them as interesting as we did.
Tip #1 – Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini
Whilst walking without having a real destination in mind, we spotted from an half ajar door what looked like a nice courtyard, so we entered to have a better look. We soon realized we were in a music conservatory that used to be a convent. We couldn’t believe our eyes! The courtyard is fantastic and a great example of classic architecture from Bologna with its red coloured walls, the lovely arches and the traditional arcade structure surrounding the garden in the middle. It’s a nice place to see to have a better understanding of how these old buildings are structured from the inside. G.B. Martini Conservatory is one of the oldest public music schools in Italy and it’s still operating as we could tell by the lovely music being played whilst we were in its courtyard.
This conservatory is not one of Bologna’s tourist attractions, but we strongly recommend poking your head in if you are close by to enjoy the site, and if you are lucky enough you might even listen to some nice melodies too.
Tip #2 – Gelateria Belfiore
Being in Italy and not being able to have an artisan ice cream is a crime, so we went hunting for some vegan gelato. We did a little research and found a few places in Bologna where you could get some suitable for our lifestyle, but they were still closed when we arrived. Fortunately, whilst walking in some unknown streets, we randomly bumped into a sign saying ‘lactose-free ice cream’ so we entered to investigate.
Gelateria Belfiore is a family run business where everything is made fresh with high quality and certified ingredients and we loved it so much because they have one of the best gelato we’ve ever had, no joke! In fact they make a vegan and gluten free ice cream with rice milk that is incredibly delicious. The owner said he was just making ‘fior di riso’ that would be ready in about an hour, so we decided to return later to try the four vegan flavours available at that time: pistachios, dark chocolate, fior di riso and hazelnuts – and I’m so glad we did. It was so good and honestly we couldn’t tell the difference between it and the typical milk based ice cream we’d eaten before.
The owners where lovely, made us feel very welcome, and answered all of our questions and curiosities. Apparently in the summer they also make vegan ice cream cakes, the fruit flavours are also vegan, and they can potentially make any flavour with rice milk that you might want. If only we could go back there every day.
This ice cream parlour isn’t in the central tourist area, but it’s not so far and that makes it feel all the more special and totally not commercial. We strongly recommend it not only to vegan ice cream seekers like us, but to everyone who likes a great handmade gelato, it’s so worth it!
Tip #3 – Làbas
Not too far from the ice-cream parlour Belfiore is another great find that we accidentally stumbled upon that we couldn’t not put into our travel tips for Bologna. Làbas is a community project run by students, locals and people with unstable jobs that put their energies and free time into something beneficial for the community. They occupied what used to be a military station and have since been organizing events, live music, and meetings. There even is a pizzeria there which apparently offers vegetarian and vegan pizza as well as the more typical cheese topped ones, but we didn’t have the pleasure to try unfortunately as we arrived far too early.
The reason why we poked in was a sign indicating a market, in fact, we found out that every Wednesday from 17:30 till 20:30 farmers from around Bologna sell their home-grown bio products and handmade breads, biscuits, jams, cheeses, and more. We even found some vegan products too. There is also some street art in the courtyard where the market takes plac,e but it was already dark when we arrived so we couldn’t see it properly. Làbas is a nice alternative place – the type that we enjoy the most – where everyone is welcome.
What we loved about Làbas is that it’s a completely local and community based project where we were the only two foreigners. We like to mix in these kinds of realities away from the crowds, plus we haven’t been to an evening market in such long time that we were quite a surprised to see it, and walking around it made us both happy to see it, but sad that it’s so rare outside of Asia. If you want to pop by make sure to check if they are open, because apart from their weekly market it’s not always open.
Tip #4 – Centro Natura
Whilst in Bologna we were on the hunt for vegan food and the first place we walked in was the one we liked so much that we returned to it twice. Centro Natura is not only a restaurant but also a health and spa center where people can practice yoga, for instance, but in all honesty we were only interested in their food.
We soon liked the fact that even if Centro Natura is right in the center and literally two steps away from the main square Piazza Maggiore, it’s full of locals no matter if it’s lunch or dinner time. The restaurant has a canteen looking set up with a buffet counter and the food is all bio and mainly vegan, with a couple of vegetarian options too, that changes every day for both lunch and dinner. The dishes are made with local products and cooked in healthy way.
We couldn’t resist the look of a vegan lasagna so we picked a couple of other things including a delicious dessert and dug straight into it. Definitely one of the most genuine and delicious food we had in Bologna with a local touch, it was also not expensive compared to typical Bologna standards. If you are looking for some nice and healthy food without walking away from the city center, Centro Natura is a great place to go.
Tip #5 – Salaborsa
Opening in 2001, the Salaborsa is a cultural and multimedia center located in what used to be the old town hall and it’s placed right on the main square, Piazza Maggiore. We entered because we were both attracted by the archaeological excavation open to the public before then realising how lovely the whole building is, a great find for two architecture lovers like us.
But not only that, if you fancy a rest in a quiet and also beautiful place then there is a nice public library with plenty of desks, seats and spaces where people study or do their research. We stopped there to check our emails, in fact the internet is totally free and everybody can access it, how awesome is that?