The Top 10 Things To Do And See In Bologna's Centro Storico

Photo of Carlotta Bosi
9 February 2017

Home to the oldest university in all of Europe, Bologna is spilling with beauty, culture and history at every turn. To make the most of this fascinating and enthralling town of the Italian heartlands, check out this selection of the top things to do and see in its most culturally-rich area: Centro Storico.

Bologna – fontana del Nettuno | © Marco Sbaffoni/Flickr

Nettuno Fountain

Set in Piazza Maggiore at the very heart of this historic neighborhood, this huge fountain portrays the Greek sea god Neptune. It was realized in the 16th century by the Flemish sculptor known in Italy as Giambologna, by whose hand was also created the statue of Ratto delle Sabine, in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Because of its huge dimensions, the fountain is known to Bolognaise people as, simply, The Giant.

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy

Little Venice

Not many travelers are aware of it but underneath the city of Bologna are a whole load of canals. So if you think you’re hearing water drifting while you’re wandering around town, well, perhaps you are! And it turns out that from a little, picturesque window set in via Piella, it’s actually possible to see one of those canals trickling along through the Storico’s trademark red-brick homes.

via Piella 5, Bologna, Italy

Giardini Margherita

As in many other cities in Italy, Bologna offers its fair share of hidden parks and gardens to kick back in under the Italian sun. At the gate of the Centro Storico itself, Giardini Margherita is a huge public garden, where everyone is free to take a stroll, admire the fountains or just lay on the grass and enjoy the sun. This is also a beloved spot of the city’s many students, who can be spotted taking breaks between classes.

Giardini Margherita, Piazza di PortaSanto Stefano, Bologna, Italy

Climb Torre degli Asinelli

Pisa is not the only Italian city to lay claim to a leaning tower. No sir, the construction of Torre degli Asinelli dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, when towers were very common in Italian territories as a defensive device. The tower takes its name from the family who had it build and it’s now considered the highest leaning tower in the whole country, with a whopping total of 97.2 meters in height. Climbing to its top is one of the most quintessential activities in Bologna, so don’t miss out!

Torre degli Asinelli, Piazza Ravegnana 82, Bologna, Italy


Despite its name, Mambo is not a dance club. It is in fact an acronym for the Modern Art Museum of Bologna (Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna). It features a wide and permanent collection alongside interesting temporary exhibitions and hosts works by the likes of Giorgio Morandi, the late Bolognese artist of considerable fame.

Mambo, via Don Minzoni 14, Bologna, Italy

Biblioteca Federico Zeri

Established in 1999 by Università degli Studi di Bologna, this fascinating library, containing up to 80,000 art volumes of various kinds, is dedicated to the late Italian art critic Federico Zeri, from which it takes its name. The Federico Zeri Library is set in the former Santa Cecilia Convent, where the Art Department of the University also resides. The cloister is definitely worth a visit in its own right, even if you aren’t the bookworm sort!

Fondazione Federico Zeri, piazzetta GiorgioMorandi 2, Bologna, Italy

Enjoy the colonnades and galleries

There’s no need to worry about rain when in Bologna, because this is the city of galleries: no other city has so many. You could walk around all day and never feel a drop thanks to the arched roofs and shelters overhead. Tourists can enjoy the shops and the lights in via dell’Indipendenza, connecting the railway station to Piazza Maggiore, which has galleries on both sides, or explore the city to check out some of its record-holding galleries: the longest, the highest, the largest!

Piazza Grande | © Luca Volpi/Flickr

Basilica di San Petronio

San Petronio is the latest Gothic building erected in Italy. The construction of this basilica lasted for centuries and was overseen by several architects from beginning to end, each making continuous modifications to the original project until it was interrupted because its dimensions would have surpassed even St.Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City! Take a walk around the fascinating structure and wonder at its glorious size and majesty.

Basilica di San Petronio, piazza Galvani, Bologna, Italy

Casa Carducci

This house, as the name suggests, was the home of one of the greatest Italian poets of the 19th century, Giosuè Carducci. At Casa Carducci, all the original furnishings are still in place and it now serves as a library and a museum, administrated by Comune di Bologna. It hosts the poet’s archive which is open to the public for consultation, while school programs and public events are also available.

Casa Carducci, piazza Giosuè Carducci 5, Bologna, Italy

Pinacoteca Nazionale

Situated in the same building as the Beaux-Arts Academy, Pinacoteca Nazionale mainly focuses on great Bolognese exponents of modern art, such as Guido Reni, Guercino and the Carracci brothers. Visitors can also find several paintings by other Italian artists on display, most connected with the city’s history in some way (think Giotto and Raphael!). Alongside the permanent collection, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, so check ahead for the schedule.

Pinacoteca Nazionale, via delle BelleArti 56, Bologna, Italy

By Carlotta Bosi

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