Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, is often overlooked as a city to explore in Italy! A lot of people head to Tuscan cities, or to Venice and Rome. But Bologna is an authentic and very interesting city to visit with kids and is still untouched by mass tourism. The red city, La Rossa, as Bologna is often referred to because of the terracotta color of its buildings, is an important student town and home to the oldest university in the world. It has a lively urban scene of street musicians and artists, long and beautiful porticoes, medieval towers, and delicious food! Bologna’s city center has a limited traffic zone which makes walking around the city center with kids a lot easier!
Top things to do in Bologna with kids:
Walking the porticoes
Bologna really has a lot of beautiful porticoes, in total, you could walk 38 kilometers of porticoes in the city! Perfect when it rains, but they also protect you from the sun on hot days. We loved walking around under the many porticoes where you will find little shops, bars and cafés, or little bakeries where our kids love to choose their breakfast. Bologna’s porticoes have been nominated a UNESCO World heritage site.
There used to be around 100 towers in Bologna, a sort of Manhattan of the Middle Ages. Most of them did not survive through the centuries, but there are still a few in Bologna. Two towers, ‘Le Due Torri’, still proudly stand right in the center of the city and make for the most recognizable landmark of the city. The tallest of the two towers is the Asinelli Tower which is 97.2 meters high. The Asinelli tower can be visited if your kids are up to the climb of the 498 steps. It definitely is one of the highlights of visiting Bologna with kids as the view over the Red City from above is absolutely beautiful! The stairs that go up are at some point a bit steep, so keep that in mind depending on your kids’ age, but it is really worth it! The smaller sister of the Asinelli tower is the Garisendi tower which stands right next to it. Although both towers are leaning, this is really clearly visible when you look at the Garisendi tower.
Ticket price to visit the Asinelli Tower: 5 euros for adults, 3 euros for kids. You can buy your tickets for the Asinelli tower at the Bologna Welcome Center, but it is often quite busy there, so if you would like to avoid to stand in line, you can order your tickets in advance on: www.duetorribologna.com.
For most people, this central square is the starting point of a visit to Bologna. The square has some major administrative buildings on it, the Clock Tower, and the San Petronio Cathedral, the Duomo of Bologna. The Duomo of Bologna is most known for its unfinished façade.
Fontana del Nettuno
Adjacent to the Piazza Maggiore is the Piazza Nettuno with its Fontana del Nettuno. When we were there, the fountain was unfortunately under construction.
Food, and the streets behind the Piazza Maggiore
From Piazza Maggiore you can walk through the narrow streets of an area called ‘La Quadrilatero’ where the old medieval market used to be. Those lively and odorous streets are filled with little shops selling the most delicious foods, and with restaurants where you can eat while watching people pass by. We had a declicous Tagliere for lunch at La Baita, Vecchia Malga (Via Pescherie Vecchie 3A). A Tagliere is a big platter with local hams and cheeses to share, often served with bread and mozzarella. We also had delicious artichokes on the side.
Little Train to San Luca or Hop on Hop off Red Bus
In case the kids are tired of walking. From the same Piazza Maggiore, you can take the little train ‘San Luca Express’, to go to the Basilica di San Luca which lies just a bit outside of town and which is one of Bologna’s must-sees. The road to the Basilica will lead you next to the city’s longest portico!
Another way to explore Bologna if your kids are tired of walking is of course on one of the Hop on Hop off Red Busses.
Not in the city, but close by is the Carpigiani Gelato Museum. Learn all about the history, the culture and the process of making a Gelato here. They offer different tours and cooking classes suitable with kids! We didn’t take a gelato class here this time, as we had recently done a Gelato class in Rome, but it is definitely on our list for our next visit to Bologna! More information about this museum: https://www.gelatomuseum.com/en
FICO Eataly World Bologna
FICO Eataly World is a park where you can learn all about the culture and traditions of Italian food and agriculture. You can learn all about different regional specialties, reserve tours or experiences, watch shows of Italian food being made right in front of you, visit the animals, take cooking classes, and, since the site is quite big, you can either hop on a park train, or on special three wheeled bikes equipped with a fridge to explore FICO Eataly Food and agriculture park!
You can check their calendar of experiences or activities and plan your visit through their website: https://www.eatalyworld.it/en/what-is-fico
Museums and playgrounds in Bologna
The Bologna Welcome Center has a cool map for visiting Bologna with kids, which includes a playground in the Margherita Gardens, and museums like the Museum of History of Bologna or the Museum of Zoology.
You can download this map here from their website.
What to eat in Bologna
Bologna, and the region of Emilia Romagna, has a very important and well-known food culture, as a lot of typical Italian delicacies have their origin here. From Bologna, or close to Bologna are: Mortadella Ham (baloney), Parmigiano Cheese (from Parma), Grana Padano cheese (often made in the area of Piacenza), Parma Ham, Piadina flat bread sandwiches from the region Emilia Romagna, Balsamico vinegar from Modena, and more of these local delicacies. Bolognese sauce is known worldwide and often a favorite pasta dish for kids, but in Italy, the sauce is known as ‘ragù’ and looks slightly different. In Bologna, they hardly ever come with spaghetti, but more often with Tagliatelle.
Parking close to the center if you visit Bologna only a day:
If you come by car and you would like to park near the city center, we were lucky to find a small parking in the street Viacole San Damiano where they park the car for you and you can then easily walk around in the city.
Day trips from Bologna:
- Ravenna, the beautiful town itself, or to go to the beach and see the authentic fishing huts on the Pier.
- Verona, City of Love and of Opera. Stroll the colorful streets of Verona and admire the different styles in architecture. Visit the fantasy setting of the house of Juliet of Romeo and Juliet. Check out what we loved to do there in our article on Verona:
- Ferrari museum Modena, visit the old, small city of Modena and the close-by Ferrari Museum.
- San Marino, micro-state, visit the principality of San Marino with its well-maintained buildings, views over the hilly country side.