It has Europe’s oldest university and is one of Italy’s loveliest city breaks, but people come to Bologna for one thing: to eat. Since Medieval times, the food scene here has mesmerised visitors with Italy’s signature pasta dishes: tortellini in broth and tagliatelle in meaty ragù, all smothered in that cheese from nearby Parma. Today, Bolognese restaurants rarely innovate; instead, they prefer to perfect the dishes they’ve been working on for centuries. Make sure you’ve brought elasticated waistbands… Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.
Let the fresh veg stacked outside lead you into Da Nello, whose tiny upstairs opens out into a yawning, vaulted basement area. Just off main drag Via Indipendenza, you’ll find all the Bolognese classics, but Nello’s real high point is its seasonal dishes – whether that’s game in winter, platters of grilled porcini mushrooms in autumn, or delicate cheese-and-pear combos in summer.
Innovation is thin on the ground in Bologna – why alter one of the world’s finest cuisines? But near the Mercato delle Erbe food market, Oltre is a trailblazer, taking the city’s best-loved dishes and running them through a hipster filter (even the door is obscured by cooler-than-thou stickers). Try the ramen-like tagliolini in parmesan-soaked broth.
Another innovator, this tiny, seven-table restaurant started by serving food from a different Italian region every month. Having gone through all the regions, it’s now morphed into a modern Bolognese restaurant with inventive, pan-Italian additions – like the carbonara-stuffed tortelloni. A brilliant, imaginative spot.
In Bologna, you’ll find lots of pasta laboratori doubling as restaurants for a quick sit-down meal of their produce. Sfoglia Rina, around the corner from the city’s Medieval twin towers, is one of the nicest. Whether it’s tortellini or tagliatelle al ragù, service is lightning quick and the food is super tasty.
This gorgeous, old-fashioned restaurant – all wood panelling and vintage photos on the walls – has always been popular with the theatre crowd. But while the people-watching is refined, it’s hard to take your eyes off your plate – especially if you order the cotoletta alla Bolognese: a schnitzel-like slab of veal, soaked in meat broth, layered with prosciutto and slathered in melted parmesan. Unmissable.
Osteria Al Cappello Rosso
You want a place with history? Al Cappello Rosso has been going strong since 1375. A six-table bistro with a pasta lab up the street, its food belies the casual atmosphere. Go on a Sunday to try the special: meaty, green-layered lasagne. You’ll find it just steps from Piazza Maggiore and the towering Basilica di San Petronio.
This characterful trattoria is a short hop from the ochre-arched porticos of the Piazza Santo Stefano. Locals swear by the tagliatelle, and rightly so – the tagliatelle al ragù is a masterclass in Bolognese cuisine. Eat outside to watch the leisurely street life of Vicolo Alemagna, in Bologna’s historic heart.
You came to Bologna for the pasta, but you’ll be back for the peerless pizza from this tiny stall in the Mercato delle Erbe. The toppings are fit for Instagram – think puréed pumpkin, kale, pistachios and entire flowers – and the organic base is equally special, thanks to its 48-hour rising time.
Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the best hotels in Bologna. We’ve compiled the must-visit attractions in the area, including the best museums. And for a post-meal drink, don’t miss the city’s best bars.
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