Real talk. Our motivation for going to Bologna was purely food driven. As the center of a region known for some of the best Italy has to offer (Modena- balsamic vinegar, Parma- ham and parmesan cheese, and, of course, Bologna- bolognese sauce), we couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit. Outside of the food, we weren't really sure what we were getting ourselves into history and activity wise. In conclusion, Bologna had way more shopping and a larger downtown than we expected, but over all less activities, something that we didn't necessarily consider a bad thing. After spending several days cramming the most activities into the least amount of time amongst a large amount of tourists, it was nice to have some quieter down time where we could stroll around, still have a few things to do, but overall take in more of the actual city, buildings and general life. And let's not forget the food, because, after all, that was the motivation for the visit. The food definitely did not disappoint! In fact, it may have been some of my favorite from the entire trip. I will get into it more below, but know this, if you too are being motivated to visit Bologna for food reasons, you're being correctly motivated ;)
Bologna was chilly at night but warmed up nicely during the day. A trench coat or a long sweater, paired with a scarf, was more than enough to stay warm. On the one night we went out to dinner, I simply layered an additional sweater on. The one spot where I couldn't seem to get warm was actually our apartment. It was so cold I thought for sure I was going to get frostbite. But, because the city controls the heat and it was considered too early for them to turn it on, there wasn't much we could do besides pile on the layers (definitely thought if I turned into the Michelin man in Italy it would be because of the pasta and gelato NOT piling on all the layers I owned).
Gamberini (Breakfast/Pastries) || This is the oldest bakery in Bologna and the spot where we got pastries and treats on more than one occasion (it was right around the corner from our apartment). They have everything from pastries to gelato to lunch options, all affordable and all delicious. If you need a place to work, this is a good spot to post up (if you can grab a table). There were many people working away on their laptops, taking advantage of the free wifi and good food every time we went in.
Caffè Terzi (Coffee/Tea) || One of our favorite coffee stops in all of Italy; the cappuccinos were super delicious and they had such a variety of flavors, everything from chestnut to hazelnut to typical caramel. They're also well known for their chocolates.
Osterio Marsalino (Lunch) || One of the top meals of our trip and a reminder that you can research your heart out, but some of the best gems are the ones you stumble upon. That is exactly what happened, we were walking around, got hungry, saw this place, checked out the menu, decided it looked good (with good prices) and the place seemed full of locals (always a good sign), so we grabbed a table. The meal was so good, we almost ordered a second round. But then the owner (??) brought us shots (of a sumbuca-like drink that was not sumbuca) on the house...at 2 pm...in the middle of the week...and I was like "Yup, this is why I love Italians!". They focus on local, organic ingredients used in creative ways so their menu changes frequently. Since we were there in the fall, the pasta I ordered had a pumpkin sauce and it was unlike anything I'd ever had before! Plus, the entire meal was less than 20¢. Seriously, don't skip this place!
Risorante Grassilli (Dinner Out) || One of my distant relatives who lives in Bologna recommended this spot to us and it did not disappoint. It's small and they don't take reservations so get there early to snag a table. Be prepared to have your tastebuds wowed by traditional cuisine (Bolognese) as well as unique dishes (like blueberry risotto).
Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup (Dinner In) || For our night in, we settled on recreating a dish traditional to region. Of, course you don't have to be in Bologna to make it, but, with just a few simple ingredients, it's an easy meal to make if you're visiting and staying in a spot with a kitchen.
Our Airbnb in Bologna was very nice, minus the whole heat (aka no heat) fiasco. The place was newly renovated, very clean, nicely decorated and centrally located, allowing us to easily walk to everything. The train station was a bit of a hike, but anytime you're lugging the amount of bags that we were over cobblestone streets, it's a bit of a hike.
We also really appreciated how nice the owner was and that he took the time to not only show us the apartment but actually even sit down with a map and explain where points of interest were, restaurants to check out as well as areas to avoid.
Basilica di Santo Stefano (aka the Seven Churches; one of the coolest things I'd ever been in, it was quite literally many churches within one big church, almost like the matryoshka doll of churches. We went at dusk and walking through such ancient and sacred ground as the sun was going down was an incredibly peaceful and calming experience. I highly recommend it.)
Towers of Bologna (We opted not to do it, but for a good view of the city, do the climb to the top of the towers)
Window into the Canal (Truly, a window in a wall on Via Piella that is supposed to look into part of the old canals of Bologna. However, much to our dismay, when we looked through the window, the canal was almost non-existent. Water or no water, it was still cool to peek into an old world system that is almost entirely covered up now and Osterio Marsalino was right around the corner so the walk over to see the canals wasn't a complete waste of time.)
University of Bologna (You'll see quite a few college-aged people in Bologna due to the schools located there, the most important being the University of Bologna. It was founded in 1088, it was the first ever university and it is the oldest in the world. We didn't check out the campus, but I'm kind of wishing we did. Can you imagine going to school somewhere that old?! Crazy!)
All's I really have to say for tips is this- if you're a foodie, this spot is not to be missed!