Bologna is an epicurean's Eden, a history buff's heaven and an art lover's wonderland.
Bologna might not have quite the same dazzling reputation as the cultural powerhouses of Rome, Venice and Florence, but you need only look at its moniker 'La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa' (The Educated, The Fat, The Red) to grasp that this Northern Italian city has more than its fair share of history, foodie appeal and distinctive architecture.
1. Bologna is the original university town
Università di Bologna is considered to be the oldest university in the world, opening its doors in 1088. And you can thank the city for justice and healthcare too, as the university established the first law faculty in the Western world and one of the earliest recorded modern medical schools. Famous alumni include Pope Alexander VI, Divine Comedy author Dante Alighieri, Italian poet Petrarch and Thomas Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury. Today, Bologna still has a lively student-town vibe so you'll see plenty of bustling students rushing about, by day with espresso in hand, by night with wine in hand.
2. The architecture is molto cool
Bologna is a traditional medieval city. Its streets are lined with porticos which date back to the XIth and XIIth centuries and are particularly useful when you forget to bring your umbrella in winter or suntan lotion in summer. Coming in at just under 4 km, Bologna has the longest portico in the world which runs from one of the city’s medieval wall doors up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca which sits proudly in the Bolognese hills.
3. There's plenty to keep a culture vulture happy
Boasting beautiful churches, museums and art galleries aplenty, Bologna is packed to the rafters with cultural attractions. Start at Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main square, and you'll be surrounded by majestic buildings such as the San Petronio Basilica whose potential grandeur once threatened to surpass the status of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Just across the piazza sits Sala Borsa. This public library was once a stock exchange building and is renowned for its beauty. Of particular note is the ornate ceiling and you can even see carefully preserved Roman ruins through the glass floor below. In the middle ages, Bologna was a city of towers and you can still see a few standing today. Climb the narrow staircases of Torre Asinelli for a mere three euros or so and enjoy priceless sweeping views over the red roofs of the city.
4. There's always something going on
You won't find a month when this lively city hasn't got something special planned. With a packed social calendar, Bologna hosts events and festivals pretty much all year round. Fans of street food and craft beer will enjoy the Finger Food Festival in April; chocolate lovers can indulge at Bologna’s Cioccoshow in November and jazz enthusiasts can get groovy at the Bologna Jazz Festival in October and November. Each summer, residents and guests are treated to evenings of al fresco film in Piazza Maggiore where movies are shown sotto le stelle (under the stars).
5. The food
With a nickname like 'La Grassa' (The Fat), there's little surprise that Bologna is famed for its cooking. Bologna is especially known for its stuffed pastas, lasagne, tagliatelle al ragù and cured meats such as Mortadella. You'll find artisan shops selling the freshest pasta all over the city but take a stroll down the alleyways located next to Piazza Maggiore for the best stuff. If you want to try the true Bolognese sauce (ragù), rustic restaurant Osteria dell’Orsa is the place to go.