A lovely sunny day in Bologna, Italy Photo: Peter J Sampson

Lots of backpackers overlook the charming little city of Bologna in favor of the big-name cities like Rome, Florence and Venice. But it’s a big mistake. From its great food, to its attractive old streets and its wonderfully relaxed feel, Bologna showcases much of what makes Italy so attractive.

Budget accommodation options in the city are excellent. Bologna hostels include the city’s youth hostel, the highly reasonable Hostel Due Torri San Sisto, while a couple of B&Bs – the Ducks B and B, and Cristina Rossi B&B – offer comfortable beds that don’t break the bank.

Outside the city, Agriturismo Cavaione offers something just a little bit different. Surrounded by rolling hills and row after row of grapevines, it’s a rural idyll that’s still just a stone’s throw from the heart of the city.

Top Language Students’ Destination

Whether it’s a part of your university course, a quick couple of weeks before you strap on your backpack again, or a lengthier sabbatical, like fellow Italian cities, Genova and Padova, Bologna is almost uniquely suited to the demands of the language student.

The University of Bologna is the oldest in Europe, and is held to be one of the most prestigious modern seats of learning. Many of the older campus buildings (worth seeking out for their grand porticoes) are in the Old Town between Strada Maggiore and Via Oberdan.

For European students, the Erasmus Centre (on Via Zamboni) will almost certainly be the first point of call for handy settling-in tips. Quite a few American universities, meanwhile, offer students placements in the city, and there are any number of excellent private language schools to choose from.

Offers for ‘intercambios’ (language exchanges) where Italian English language students want to practice their English in return for some precious Italian oral practice are commonplace, and phone boxes and university notice boards are often plastered with contact details.

And the university helps keep Bologna nightlife buzzing. There are a host of places around Via Zamboni where you can go to practice your Italian, or drown your sorrows at your lack of progress!


Away from the books (and tongue-tied conversation!), Bologna has a raft of great sights. The city even has its own ‘Leaning Tower’ in the uneven form of the Torre Garisenda, which, soaring mightily above the city, makes up half of the Due Torri, or Two Towers, that are the city’s landmark sights.

Churches and palaces abound on and around the two central squares of Piazza del Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore. The city also has a cluster of good museums and galleries in the Museo Civico Archeologico, the Museo Davia Bargellini and the two art galleries in the Palazzo Comunale – the Museo Morandi and the Colezoni Comunali d’Arte.

Bolognese Cuisine

But what really makes Bologna stand out is (arguably) its food. From swanky restaurants to the more humble (but no more delicious) ‘osterie’, the city – and the surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna – is considered outstanding even by Italian standards.

Top quality local produce – that simply must be tried! – include the prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham), parmigiano-regiano (parmesan cheese) and tortellini (stuffed pasta), washed down with one of a handful of excellent regional wines.

So, whether it’s a couple of months stay learning Italian or a fly by night backpacking stopover, Bologna fits the bill. It’s quite simply the perfect place to sit back on a balmy summer evening with some great food and a glass of wine, and watch the constant spectacle that is Italian life unfold around you.

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