An Insider's Guide to Bologna: Terracotta Towers and Tortellini


Tortellini. Lasagne. Mortadella. Bologna is a city which has earned its accolades as a gastronomic paradise by giving the world some of Italy’s best loved dishes, including that glorious rich meaty ragù we’ve all come to know and love as ‘bolognese’. There is a reason one of the city’s many nicknames is ‘la grassa’ (the fat one); it is where diets come to die. Thankfully, it’s not difficult to work up an appetite here, with over fifty museums and galleries, towers with as much lean as Pisa, some forty km of UNESCO protected porticos snaking their way around the historic centre, the oldest university in Europe, an animated nightlife, markets, cafes and bars galore.

Meander Around the Medieval Streets


Bologna is bursting with medieval and renaissance architecture. Start in the spiritual heart of the city – Piazza Maggiore – which has been the political and social hub of the city since the 13th century. The vast square is lined with red stone portico, flanked by impressive medieval palazzo and dominated by the sprawling Basilica di San Petronio, one of the largest churches in Italy. Linger here for a coffee in the sunshine or for an aperitivo at dusk and don’t miss the ‘secret’ whispering gallery, which is located just under the portico on the north side of the piazza.

Wander further north to the ‘former Jewish Ghetto’, one of Bologna’s most charming quarters. It’s a jumble of red bricks, narrow alleys, bridges and pretty piazzas which are brimming with artisanal craft shops, small galleries and independent retailers.

Mosey around markets 

Bologna markets

Bologna is a treasure trove of fresh and artisanal produce. Emilia Romagna has blessed the world with cured meats like parma ham and mortadella, cheeses like parmigiana reggiano, and aceto di balsamico (balsamic vinegar), all of which can be found in the ‘Quadrilatero’, a tangle of medieval streets behind the piazza maggiore. Stop at Tamburini, a traditional delicatessen in the heart of the Quadrilateral for an inexpensive tray of fine cheese and huge hams. Or, pop in to Bologna’s largest covered market, Mercato del’ Erb, for fried fish or Pizza al taglio (pizza slices). To sample local produce at astronomically cheap prices, head further afield to Mercato del Novale di Piazza Carducci, which takes place every Sunday morning and for the antique aficionados amongst you, the antiques market, which sprawls out of from the Piazzo Santo Stefano on the second weekend of every month, is a must.

Eat like a local

Tortelloni - Bologna

Bologna is a place of epic culinary consumption. It’s not hard to find good food in Bologna but to sample some of the best culinary delights Bologna has to offer, try Trattoria Anna Maria. Anna Maria opened this gem some forty years ago and now, well into her seventies, she still paces around the restaurant, greeting new patrons and old faces. She remains fiercely protective of her recipes, which have been passed from generation to generation and remain entirely unchanged.  

Fine ribbons of fresh tagliatelle are veiled in the traditional Bolognese pork and beef ragu, lasagne here is served verde (green, from spinach leaves), enormous pasta pouches of tortelloni are stuffed with fresh ricotta and spinach and smothered in butter and sage, and tiny tortellini come stuffed with local mortadella and parmigiano reggiano, floating in a rich capone broth. Pasta is made fresh, by hand, a few doors down from the restaurant in a small workshop where you can meet the sfoglina (pasta maker), who  lovingly rolls out the pasta into table length sheets, nimbly twisting them into the tiny ‘navel’ shapes of tortellini or carefully slicing each into ribbons of tagliatelle and pappardelle. The unassuming All’Osteria Bottega, is another culinary hotspot– try the classic Gramigna a la Salsiccia, washed down with a glass of Lambrusco (the region’s signature sparkling red) and finish it off with off with the best tiramisu in town.

Take in a view 


Make the most of the post-carb rush and take a hike. Le due torre –  Le Torre degli Asinelli and Le Torre Garisenda–  are iconic, and the latter looks like it could topple over at any moment. Climb the 498 steps of Torre Asinelli for an uninterrupted view of the whole city and a (slightly sweaty) selfie shot. From here it’s not difficult to see why another of Bologna’s nicknames is ‘La Turrita’, city of towers. Twenty towers remain today but in its heyday the city was something of a Medieval Manhattan, boasting over 100 towers (to finish reading this article, head to the Ryanair website)