Kevin Raub is an American travel journalist based in Bologna. He is co-author of over 100 Lonely Planet guides.
Bologna is the capital of Italy’s most important food region, Emilia-Romagna, a historic territory whose cuisines have given rise to a long list of world-famous specialties. lasagna, stew, tortellini, mortadella, parmesan and balsamic vinegar come from here.
AT Fresca Naldi Pasta, a small boutique/café to the west of the historic center, pastaphiles line up for the hand-rolled specialties of owner Valeria and her team of no (grandmothers). Proposals that change every day (from around €7) such as tagliatelle with ragout or prosciutto and lemon; tortellini pasticcio (baked with pork and cream); and gramigna alla salsiccia (curly pasta with sausage) will knock your socks off. With only six stools inside, most people opt for a take-out package.
For a seated experience, Trattoria Bertozzi regularly at the top of the long list of excellent traditional restaurants in Bologna. It’s almost a mile from the center, far enough to maintain its authentic ethos, with local dishes such as gramigna with cured pork, zucchini, saffron and parmesan shavings.
For five decades, until his death in 2012, Lucio Dalla was Italy’s most revered singer-songwriter. In 2019, his fascinating home inside the 15th century Palazzo Casa Fontana poi Gamberini was opened to the public. House of Lucio Dalla (€15 pp) is a wild ride through the eccentric mind of a musical genius, with a mind-blowing potpourri of provocative bric-a-brac, personal artifacts and treasured works of art.
Bolognina (“Little Bologna”) sits behind the main train station and is a hub of working-class life. Bolognina is pretty short on attractions – they include a (free) museum about the mysterious Ustica plane crash in 1980, and the 19th century Church of the Sacred Heart with its huge cupola – but which has a lot of personality. It’s an up-and-coming multicultural neighborhood with markets, ethnic restaurants and countless accents. Gentrification hasn’t quite proven itself here, but streets such as Via Luigi Serra (home to the fantastic, fantastic value for money, Via Serra Trattoria; trendy bar/cafe Fermentation; artisan bakery Forno Brisa and organic gelateria Stefano) give an idea of Bolognina’s direction of travel and reward those who venture out of the center.
No park in Bologna meets the desire for green spaces like Giardini Margarita, a 26-hectare estate inaugurated in 1879 and inspired by English landscape gardens. The city’s old municipal greenhouses have been transformed into one of Bologna’s coolest spots, home to Vet (for drinks and vegan bites) and The greenhouse (with co-working spaces exhibitions and cultural events). Whether it’s happy hour or an hour or two of outdoor work, it’s easy to laze around on an afternoon here.
Via del Pratello is Bologna’s famous nightlife street, but for a little more character with your cocktails, set up a date with Davo, Don, Jack and Ricky at Ruggin’ on Vicolo Alemagna. Four friends from different corners of northern Italy opened this cocktail bar in a narrow, bright orange alley 450 meters from Piazza Maggiore. You won’t find Campari, Aperol or fancy toppings here, but local artisanal mixology.
To tap into Italy’s excellent craft beer scene, head a little west for He Point, which offers a range of draft beers (including a hand pump), with an emphasis on local produce handmade birra. Fans of sours and wild ales should try a glass at Ca’ del Brado, a premier craft brewery a few miles south of downtown.
Near the old town, art historian Maria Ketty runs the charming Bologna nel Cuore, a B&B consisting of two double apartments and two one-bedroom apartments, offering bright interiors, high ceilings, baths with colorful tiles and very hearty breakfasts. Double from 125€, bolognanelcuore.it