While I was visiting Bologna, Italy, last fall, I enjoyed some of the best food of my life; from the fresh pastas to the cured meats, it was all magnificent. I'd even go as far as to say Bologna has the best food in Italy and possibly Europe. So I wanted to write a culinary guide on what to eat in Bologna featuring the best local dishes, as well my recommendations for trattorias, restaurants, and bars.
A little background – Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, a region known as the “breadbasket” of Italy. Emilia-Romagna is where Prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano all originated, so it's not surprising Bologna has food so good it will make you sob.
What to eat in Bologna
Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese – Tagliatelle noodles smothered in a rich, meaty Bolognese sauce. Bologna's most famous pasta dish.
Fun fact – Spaghetti Bolognese is not a thing in Italy! Locals say that Bolognese sauce doesn't go with spaghetti noodles as it would “slip off the noodle”.
Tortellini in brodo – Stuffed tortellini swimming in chicken broth. Usually served as a first course.
Tortelloni – Tortelloni are basically oversized tortellini. These tortelloni were stuffed with ricotta and black truffles.
Lasagne Bolognese – Lasagne loaded with—you guessed it—Bolognese sauce.
Fresh pasta in general – Bologna has many pasta shops with excellent fresh pastas made in-house. I recommend Pasta Fresca Naldi.
Cured meats – Bologna is famous for its cured meats (antipasti), such as mortadella, prosciutto, and salame rossa.
Parmigiano-Reggiano – Parmesan is the so-called ‘King of Cheeses'. You'll see it grated on top of virtually every pasta dish.
Balsamic vinegar from Modena – This is not the thin, bitter balsamic vinegar you've had back home. Balsamic vinegar from Modena (a neighboring city in Emilia-Romagna) is thick, syrupy, and ambrosial.
Where to eat in Bologna:
My favorite restaurant in Bologna, Drogheria della Rosa
Trattoria Valerio – a cozy, family-run trattoria with homemade pastas and affordable wines.
Drogheria della Rosa – A classy yet charming restaurant housed in a former pharmacy. Definitely order at least two courses, and possibly dessert.
Salumeria Simoni – a salumeria with incredible fresh-cut meats and cheeses. Ask the butcher for a selection of meats and cheeses, and definitely taste the mortadella and testa in cassetta (head cheese).
Where to drink in Bologna
Via Pescherie Vecchie – Via Pescherie Vecchie is a narrow alley lined with lively bars and restaurants. Head there to enjoy aperitivo, the Northern Italian version of a pre-meal drink, between 7-9 p.m.
Osteria del Sole – a charming, hole-in-the-wall bar that dates back to the 14th century. The best part is you can bring your own food, as long as you buy drinks at the bar. We brought cured meats and cheeses to enjoy with our vino, making for an inexpensive and tasty dinner. I recommend trying the Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine native to Emiglia-Romagna.
P.S. Head to nearby Salumeria Simoni, a cured meat and cheese shop, to pick up some delectable cured meats.
Cooking classes in Bologna
One great way to learn more about Italian food is by taking a cooking class. I loved my pasta-making class with Le Cesarine, a cooking school that specializes in Italian home cooking across Italy.
Under the tutelage of a Bolognian nonna, I learned how to make tortelloni. It took a ton of work (and arm muscle), but turned out amazing (due to my instructor, not me). Book your own cooking class at Le Cesarine here.
Another way to learn about Bolognese food is by taking a food tour with a local guide. I've heard great things about the Taste Bologna Food Tour.
What to do in Bologna
Bologna doesn't have a ton of famous sites (or tourists, thankfully), so you're free to spend your time strolling the historic, un-crowded city. Here are a few ideas on things to do.
Walk the portici – Bologna is famous for its beautiful portici, or covered walkways. You'll find them all over the city.
Visit Piazza Maggiore – Bologna's main square and heart of the city. It's especially stunning at night.
Climb Le Due Torri – Le Due Torri are Bologna's two famous towers that date back to the 11th century. You can climb one of the towers, the Asinelli Tower, to enjoy beautiful views of the city. Instructions on how to climb it here.
Take pictures of everything. Bologna is a stunningly photogenic city; the whole city is awash in colors like terracotta, red, and ballet slipper pink. So definitely spend a few afternoons wandering the streets with your camera in tow.
Where to stay in Bologna
I highly recommend staying at an Airbnb in Bologna. The Airbnbs in Bologna are very affordable; our luxurious, two-bedroom Airbnb located on one of Bologna's main streets cost only $56 a night. You can book our Airbnb here.
Plus, if you have your own apartment, you can cook! On more than one occasion we bought fresh pasta, and made it at home.
If you've never used Airbnb, you can use this coupon code to get $35 off your first stay.
Have you ever been to this part of Italy? Any advice on what to eat in Bologna?
How to get to Bologna: The easiest way to get to Bologna is via train; it's only an hour and a half from Florence, and an hour and forty five minutes from Venice. Bologna also has an international airport, but it may be easier to fly into Venice or Florence and take a train to Bologna.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Italy. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.
A big thanks to Le Cesarine for the cooking class, which they provided in exchange for a review. All opinions are (as always) my own.