Foodie guides are made with Italy in mind and Bologna has a lot on the “must not miss” list. When you first visit Italy, it’s hard to imagine just how good the Italian food is going to be.
No matter what part of the country you visit, even the worst food is generally really good. And if you want to find some of the best Italian food in Italy, head to Bologna, considered to be the gastronomic capital of Italy. The food scene in Bologna is fun, a fact not lost on the Bolognese. They make food approachable, and seem to be enjoying it as much as the rest of us.
Fun Foodie Guide to Bologna
If you love all things Italian food and wine and are thinking of building an entire vacation around Italian food, stop thinking, and do it! There are enough great restaurants, food events and attractions, culinary activities, food tastings, and food tours in Bologna and Emilia Romagna to ensure Bologna more than lives up to its nickname of La Grassa, La Rossa, e La Dotta (the Fat, the Red, and the Learned), and now is the perfect time to go. Here are just 12 food-inspired things to do in Bologna – but we know you’ll find a ton more!
1. Start with Pignoletto on a Bologna Wine Tour
If you love wine – or even if you don’t – you should try the unique wines of Emilia Romagna, and become a new fan. Visiting the region’s many wineries is a great way to see and sip your way through Emilia Romagna.
What I love most about the wines of Emilia Romagna is that they’re as unpretentious as the people who produce and enjoy them. Winemakers here are open to innovation and willing to experiment…it all comes down to making and drinking good wine, that happen to be some of the best Italian wines we’ve ever tasted. Try a small group Bologna wine tour like the half day Bologna Wine Tour we took to three well-known and unique wineries.
You’ll taste Lambrusco, the wine Bologna is known for, but also innovative twists on classic wines like sparkling Barbera. A big star among Bologna wines is Pignoletto, made from the pignoletto grape, a crisp, medium bodied Italian white wine with a slight fizz and a beautiful straw color. It’s so drinkable, which is very good….and very bad!
2. Aperitivo Every Day
No one does Happy Hour like Italians, unless you’re on a cruise somewhere and don’t care about starting your happiness before it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Otherwise, you’re good to go in Italy every day around 6:00pm, so get in the spirit. The work day in Bologna begins winding down in late-afternoon, when the chairs and tables come out and friends start to gather for Aperitivo. Local restaurants have Aperitivo specials for a nominal fee, which usually includes a small plate of snacks and a cocktail or two, and can often make a filling and satisfying dinner for the evening. If you’re feeling fancy, opt for an Aperol Spritz – arguably the cocktail to drink when you’re in Italy. But if the bright orange Aperol liquor is too bitter for you, try an Hugo Spritz (pronounced OO-go) made with elderberry liquor instead of Aperol. It’s my new favorite Italian cocktail!
3. Shop for Food in The Bologna Markets
The Bologna food market Mercato delle Erbe is a slice of Bologna life and a great place to visit if you want to feel local. You’ll find plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, spices, pastas, olive oil, and balsamic for a perfect meal.
You’ll also see a lonely equine vendor – off by himself in the corner away from other vendors as mandated by law. Many Italians still enjoy lean and iron-rich horse meat in their diet and we eventually tried it as air-dried carpaccio over fresh arugala.
Bologna is also home to some of the oldest food markets in the world still in operation, and a stroll through them is the most delectable history lesson ever. The Quadrilatero, Bologna Italy’s oldest medieval market, was formed during the Middle Ages and housed the main craft guilds of the city within its confines. The goldsmiths, butchers, fishermen, “Salaroli” (workers who salted meat to cure it), barbers and the Society of Painters were all based in this area.
Most of the guilds were located along the street once called Mercato di Mezzo, known today as via Rizzoli.
But today, this Bologna food market lies in the heart of the Quadrilatero, renovated in 2014 and reopened as the first indoor market of the city. The three story Mercato di Mezzo is open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. until midnight, with a traditional pizzeria, Baladin Bologna artisanal beer pub, and tasting events.
Throughout the Mercato di Mezzo and the streets within the Quadrilatero you‘ll find wine bars, restaurants, and food vendors selling everything from fresh baked breads, cold meats and cheeses, and hand made tortellini, to the freshest seafood catch of the day. The area has also preserved the historic architecture, making it a genuine artistic treasure as well. Shopping for lunch is a great way to spend the afternoon here. Grab some cold cuts, cheese, bread, and wine, and head for the nearest piazza or better yet, L’Osteria del Sole.
4. Have Lunch in The Oldest Pub in the World
If you not only love food but history and culture as well, the Oldest Tavern in the World will strike a chord, and you’ll want to bring the bundle of food you bought in the Quadrilatero to eat here. This place dates to 1465 – 1465!
L’Osteria del Sole oozes so much history, that if these walls could talk you’d surely hear Galileo and Da Vinci in tantalizing conversation over beers! Order a beer or wine at the bar, then settle down at one of the large community tables and enjoy your lunch. They don’t serve food (you have to bring your own), but the birra and vino are plentiful, and its all about the company you keep.
5. Take a Bologna Food Tour
A dedicated Bologna food tour is a great way to get to the heart of this foodie city, and we’ve taken several good ones since our first trip to Bologna. Our favorite Bologna food walking tour winds you through the historic city noshing on some of Bologna’s most iconic foods.
There are several good food factory tours to places outside the city like Parma, Modena, and Brisighella in Emilia Romagna, and others that take you on tasting tours to some of the best restaurants in Bologna. But no matter which one you choose, there’s no better introduction to the amazing cuisine of Emilia Romagna.
6. Experience the Making of Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic di Modena, and Prosciutto
Three of the most notable Italian foods come from Emilia Romagna: Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic di Modena, and Prosciutto, and they’re all produced to exacting standards – government-imposed regulations that ensure such a high quality (#DOP or protected designation of origin) that no imposters stand a chance against them.
Trust me (and forgive me) when I say you’ll be ruined forever when you try them here! You can read all about how they produce parmigiano reggiano (the King of Cheeses), authentic Balsamic di Modena (please don’t call it vinegar), and prosciutto and think that you can buy all three at your corner grocery store.
But then you’d miss out on some of the most food fun you can have in Bologna. When you experience the making of all three (and we recommend touring with Italian Days for the full educational and tasting experience), you’ll be a #DOP disciple for life.
7. Take a Cooking Class in Bologna
Your whole Italian food repertoire is going to change once you try the food in Bologna. Taking a cooking class in Bologna is the perfect experience for anyone who loves Italian food. You’ll learn to finger-twist your own tortellini, roll out a mean tagliatelle, and create one of the most famous Italian dishes – a classic Ragù Bolognese, so you can recreate these dishes when you get home.
But we love the concept behind Le Cesarine – a network of carefully selected home cooks throughout Italy with the aim of safeguarding and sharing their knowledge of authentic regional food traditions, recipes, and hospitality by opening up their homes so you can connect with local Cesarinas and their families through food. Food is AMORE!
8. Go Truffle Hunting
Throughout Italy and other parts of Europe, black and white truffles, those exquisite lumps of earthy goodness, grow wild. In the Emilia Romagna region, it’s possible to accompany a local truffle hunter and his specially trained truffle dog (nope, by law, pigs are no longer used in Italy) on an afternoon truffle hunting tour in the woods to search for these culinary delights.
Even better is that most tours include a truffle dinner featuring your day’s find prepared for you by a local Chef. Can you think of a more perfect farm-to-table foodie experience in the culinary capital of Italy?
9. Bologna’s Fall Food Festivals
Chef Fabio Berti, photo by Lorenzo Piano
Since 2013, the October Tortellino Festival is a popular one evening foodie event by local organization tOur-tlen celebrates the tortellino, Bologna’s most signature of all foods – a perfect reason to craft your Bologna vacation in early October. Talented local chefs and restaurateurs come together for an evening of fun and friendly competition to create the tortellino of their (and our) dreams characteristic of their city.
There’s just two rules: the dough must be traditionally rolled using a wooden rolling pin and must be shaped to the classic small tortellino. It’s one of the city’s unique culinary events that honors the cultural heritage of Bologna. For visitors, it’s a delicious way to see the local food scene in action!
On the first three weekends of November, the hot food ticket in food festivals is the Savigno Fall White Truffle Festival, celebrating one of the world’s most exquisite foods. Nearly 50,000 truffle lovers attended in 2017 and the last three festivals have brought national recognition. Today it ranks among the top truffle events in the country.
10. Take Your Pick of Emilia Romagna’s Michelin Star Restaurants
Not too far from Bologna in Modena is the world-renowned Osteria Francescana, a 3-star Michelin establishment and perhaps the most famous restaurant in Italy. Chef Massimo Bottura skillfully reinvents the cuisine of Emilia Romagna and the experience is one you’ll never forget.
But that experience comes at a price so if you don’t mind splurging, reserve your table – at least three months in advance. There are several other excellent Michelin restaurants not far from Bologna worth traveling to.
Trattoria da Amerigo in Savigno – home of the annual Savigno Truffle Festival in November – is a cozy, unpretentious place with hearty portions.
Try the reasonably priced tasting menu. Just south of the city is Ristorante Marconi in Sasso Marconi, a Michelin honored restaurant since 2008. Ristorante I Portici, in the heart of Bologna on Via dell’Indipendenza with food as elegant as the historic 18th century theater it resides in.
11. Picnic in the Parco (Giardini Margherita)
Just a few blocks from Bologna’s city centre is the Margarita Gardens, or Parco Giardini Margherita, a lush urban oasis, and the largest and most popular park in the city. Walk south on any through-street from the historic centre, cross the street and enter the gorgeous wrought iron gates to the Park. Late afternoon when the sun is setting is a great time to come.
There are a few concession stands and often good food trucks near the entrance. During the warmer months we recommend grabbing a table at the Greenhouse, bringing a bottle wine or buying one there, and ordering some food to go with it. On most nights you can enjoy live music, poetry readings, or lectures, and the charming market lights create such a cozy setting that you may never want to leave.
12. The Sweetest ending, A Gelato Tour
Like many cities in Italy, the Bolognese end each day with a cup of their favorite gelato (though many eat several throughout the day). So, as the saying goes….when in Bologna.
Check out some of our favorite gelaterias to get you started – but since there’s a gelato shop on every block, you’ll soon find your own personal favorite. Before you know it you’ll have created your own Gelato Tour that you can add to through the years… because you will, of course, always return to Bologna!
You may or may not be wondering about the omission of the newly opened FICO Eataly World to this list of Gastronomic Must-Dos in Bologna. The world’s largest agri-food park that promises visitors “a discovery of all the wonders of Italian biodiversity” under one ginormous, 100,000 square meter roof isn’t exactly appealing to us.
While I’m sure there are visitors with limited time on their hands looking for a snapshot view of what food in Bologna is all about, we always advocate traveling locally.
The City of Food is easy to navigate on your own and extremely safe, and it’s easy to get in touch with local tour operators, restaurants, and event organizers, so you can explore your interest in local food – even with limited time. We hope we’ve provided enough links and resources to get you started, and encourage you to explore Bologna in a slow and local way!