bologna in a day tours

One Day in Bologna: An Italian Adventure for the Senses

What if I told you that in just one day, you could taste the finest pasta in the world, walk through old university halls, and immerse yourself in history? I had an opportunity to do just that recently, in one of Italy’s famous cities – Bologna. 

Nestled in the heart of the beautiful region of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna offers a trove of historical treasures, artistic legacies and culinary delights that satisfy any traveller. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to spend here, you can get the best of Bologna in one day with organized tours that highlight the city’s culinary and cultural heritage.

A brief bite of Bologna’s history

Bologna’s origins predate the Romans, and it’s believed it was founded by the Etruscans around the 6th century BC. Throughout history, the city flourished as a strategic crossroads for trade, culture and learning. Bologna’s location on the Via Emilia, a major Roman road, further boosted its significance.

food map of emilia romana region

During the Middle Ages, Bologna flourished and became a center of scholarship and education, earning it the nickname La Dotta or the Learned. Bologna is home to one of the oldest continuously operating universities in the Western world, founded in 1088. Scholars from all over Europe came here to study law, philosophy, and theology, shaping the city’s intellectual identity.

In addition to its scholarly reputation, Bologna earned the nickname La Grassa or the Fat One, thanks to its rich culinary heritage. Renowned for its delicious cuisine, Bologna is the birthplace of iconic Italian dishes like ragù alla bolognese (Bolognese sauce) and tortellini. You can find the iconic tortellini almost everywhere in the city, including the markets and shops.

fountain of neptune bologna

Bologna is also known as La Rossa or the Red One, a nickname that’s a nod to the distinctive terracotta-hued buildings and its historical association with leftist politics. During the 20th century, Bologna became a stronghold of progressive movements, earning a reputation for its political activism and vibrant cultural scene.

Discover Bologna through food

If you’re short on time, the best way to learn about Bologna and its people is a culinary walking tour. After all, if you’re in a city famed for its culinary history, why not learn about it with a local expert? That’s exactly what I did when I came to Bologna on a short visit. 

veggies at a market in Bologna

Living in Italy has taught me that if there is one thing that Italians love more than food, it is talking about it. In many ways, many Italian dishes have stories of how they came about and what makes them so unique. Whether you’re a foodie or simply food-curious, Bologna is the place to explore local cuisine and better understand the traditions behind these dishes. 

Tastes and traditions of Bologna culinary walking tour

Our tour started with a visit to one of the oldest cafes in Italy—Pasticceria Gamberini. Here, we had traditional sweets, including the rice cake (torta di riso), which has a long history in Bologna. It was called torta degli addobbi (cake of the decorations) and had connections to religious feast days. The good news is that these days, you can have it at any time. 

One Day in Bologna: An Italian Adventure for the Senses

We then explored Bologna’s bustling food market, Mercato delle Erbe, where we sampled 24- and 48-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses. Here, I discovered that adding a dab of aged balsamic vinegar (known as the black gold of Modena) on top of your Parmigiano chunk is an experience I didn’t know I’d been missing out on. 

One Day in Bologna: An Italian Adventure for the Senses

At the market, you can also marvel at the gorgeous produce while you sample seasonal fruit and veggies before moving to the tortellini and mortadella. The hand-made (naturally!) tortellini is filled with ricotta and sage and served with light butter and sage sauce. In my opinion, it’s absolutely worth the hype. 

One Day in Bologna: An Italian Adventure for the Senses

A food tour of Bologna wouldn’t be complete without a stop for some tagliatelle with that famous ragu. The sauce, which is made with meat and served with a flat tagliatelle noodle, not spaghetti, is believed to have originated in the Middle Ages. If that wasn’t enough, we ended the tour on a sweet note with a traditional cookie and full bellies. 

Who’s the tour best for?

The Tastes and Traditions of Bologna: Food and Market Tour is a great introduction to the flavour and traditions of one of Italy’s famous food cities. Whether you’re a foodie or just want to learn more about the dishes from this area, you’ll enjoy this tour. The best part is that the tour can be customized for vegetarians and those with dietary restrictions. The tour runs about 3.5-4 hours, which gives you enough time to learn about the culinary traditions and taste the local specialties and flavours. Don’t miss this opportunity the next time you’re in Bologna!

Discover Bologna’s history with a walking tour

I spend the second half of the day on a walking tour. When you have a local guide taking you around, you really don’t have to worry about getting lost or figuring out where to go. You can simply enjoy being in the moment and soaking up all that history around you. 

One Day in Bologna: An Italian Adventure for the Senses

One of the first things you learn about Bologna is that it’s a city of porticos. There are about 8 km (24 miles) of them within the historic center alone, and the number reaches up to 53 km (33 miles) if you include those outside the medieval walls. They are a symbol of Bologna and are quite handy for getting around, especially in inclement weather.

Another thing you’ll learn about Bologna is that it once had a vast network of canals used for transportation. The canals built between the 12th and the 16th centuries were also used to power the mills and machinery. Over time, they were built over, but you can see glimpses of the canals if you know where to look or have a guide who will take you there.

One Day in Bologna: An Italian Adventure for the Senses

The walking tour also takes you to see the key attractions in Bologna, including: 

  • Piazza Maggiore: The heart of Bologna, with stunning architecture like the Neptune Fountain.
  • San Petronio Basilica: One of the largest churches in the city.
  • Piazza della Mercanzia:  This ancient market area offers a glimpse into Bologna’s rich history.
  • Archiginnasio’s Courtyard:  The University of Bologna building is where you can find the beautiful Anatomical Theatre, where human corpses were dissected for anatomy students.
  • Piazza Santo Stefano:  Home to the Seven Churches complex, a fascinating religious site.
  • Due Torri (Two Towers):  The iconic leaning towers of Bologna.
One Day in Bologna: An Italian Adventure for the Senses

This is a perfect tour for first-time visitors who want to get a feel for Bologna’s culture, history and architecture in a short amount of time. Your guide will also give you insider tips, including where to find the best Bolognese cuisine!

Disclosure: I was invited to Bologna by Walks and Devour tours, however, all opinions shared here are my own.

So, why take this tour? It’s a fun and informative way to see the must-see sights of Bologna and learn about the city’s fascinating past, all with a local guide who can answer your questions.

Other walking food tours in Italy you should try

Looking to experience other Italian food specialties? Try these walking culinary tours and learn from the locals what makes their food unique to the area. I’ve had a great experience with both Walks and Devour tours and can confidently recommend them to anyone travelling to Italy and looking for an authentic experience.

Tastes & Traditions of Rome: Testaccio Food and Market Tour

The tour dives into the Testaccio neighbourhood, beloved by Romans for authentic eats. Led by a local foodie guide, you’ll explore a market, learn how to navigate the food scene and indulge in tastings of coffee, pastries, pizza, cheese, cured meats, pasta and gelato.

Ultimate Naples Food Tour

Get to know Naples like a local with this ultimate food tour that takes you on a culinary adventure. Learn about the history and culture of Naples as you sample local food, wine, limoncello, and, of course, coffee. Come hungry and get ready for an unforgettable experience.

Tastes & Traditions of Venice: Food Tour with Rialto Market Visit

Explore Venice’s unique cuisine and culture. Sample iconic dishes like cicchetti (small plates) and prosecco, all while learning about Venice’s food history at the Rialto Market. The tour includes 8 food tastings, 4+ drinks, and enough food for breakfast and lunch. Your local guide will also recommend the best places to eat like a local expert.

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