Ask a Local: What Should I Do/See/Eat in Bologna, Italy?

by Gigi Griffis

Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Alessandro Ferin, a traveler, foodie, and native to Bologna, Italy. He’s here to give you the inside scoop on his vibrant, foodie-heaven hometown: Bologna.

First, tell us about you!

I am a native-born Bolognese and have lived in Bologna almost my entire life (with the exception of one year where I lived abroad in the UK and Denmark). In my spare time, I like to meet friends, talk with people, read books, see movies, take long walks, and travel.

If someone is visiting Bologna for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?

They should, EAT! Bologna is one of the best cities for food in Italy (I think it is one of the capitals of food in Italy, alongside Naples). So eat, eat, and eat some more.

In between eating, go out and see Piazza Maggiore and Statua del Nettuo (the Fountain of Neptune), walk in Via Indipendenza (the main street of Bologna), or go out at night to drink (and eat, obviously) in Via del Pratello or Via Zamboni.

What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?

I recommend staying in the historical center (il centro) because it is the most interesting, but also go to Fiera District if there are some fiera (fairs). The best area to live in is surely Zona Mazzini.

What nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?

Outside the city, there are many small towns on hills or the plains around Bologna. I like Marzabotto or Pianoro on the hills and Medicina or Budrio on the plain.

If you go bit farther, there are bigger nice cities like Ferrara, Modena, Parma, and Imola.

Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try?

Italian food is famous throughout the world and all cities have good food…but there are two cities that have the best of Italy. One is Naples, with its world-renowned pizza, spaghetti, and mozzarella. The other is most definitely Bologna, home of the Bolognese sauce (a yummy meat sauce known around the world).

So, you should definitely eat pasta with Bolognese sauce (we call it ragu and it’s usually served on tagiatelle pasta, which is a flat spaghetti made with eggs).

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Other very famous dishes are mortadella (a nice kind of ham, originally from Bologna) and tortellini (Bologna and Parma share this kind of dish), which is a kind of dumpling with meat inside and is very good in broth or sauce.

Of course, you can also find Parmesan and prosciutto here; they are originally from Parma, but very good here too.

Then there’s the most famous of our dishes: lasagna. Here you can find the best lasagna in the entire world, just as in Naples you will find the best pizza in the world!

Finally, if you can, try zuppa imperial (a hearty egg soup in meat broth), passatelli (pasta made with bread crumbs, parmesan, nutmeg, and eggs), bollito (a northern Italian stew, which you should try at Da Bertino Restaurant, located at Via delle Lame 55, if you can – absolutely amazing), and cotoletta alla Bolognese (a fried meat dish with ham and cheese on top).

What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?

The best restaurant in Bologna (and, really, in the world) is surely Da Tony (located at Via Righi 1/B). It’s a small place, very good, not too expensive (though not cheap), and traditional (a trattoria). You can find all the Bolognese traditional dishes here.

Second is surely Da Bertino (another traditional restaurant, at Via delle Lame 55).

And third is Osteria La Fondazza (at Via Fondazza 35). Go late in the evening to drink and eat.

Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?

Some of us are not great with our English and would love it if people would try to speak a little Italian with us.

What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?

Bologna is a city of 300,000 Bolognese, plus 100,000 university students, so when you go out to drink or have fun you will always run into students. The best way to meet new people is to go out to drink in a pub or osteria in the evenings. is also very useful.

Why should people make sure to visit Bologna?

Bologna is not famous and is less touristy. We are not Florence or Venice or Rome, even if Bologna is bigger than both Florence and Venice. The city isn’t crowded with tourist traps, giant monuments, and throngs of tourists. We just have some small hidden charms, the best food in the world, and a university-town feel.

Where can we go to take beautiful photos?

Piazza Maggiore, San Luca on the hill, Ospedale Rizzoli, and the many narrow alleys of the center (il centro).

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Robyn Petrik July 27, 2017 - 10:01 pm

You had me at ‘lasagna’! Sounds like a wonderful town to visit and I love that it wouldn’t be as touristy as some of the other cities in Italy.

gigigriffis July 28, 2017 - 2:57 am

Yeah, that whole region is amazing! Modena was my personal favorite spot.

Tiffany October 23, 2017 - 4:53 pm

Mortadella is a a must try in Bologna. Bolognese mortadella is actually a very popular type of emulsified cooked sausage and very ancient , it’s been made since Roman times and it uses some very familiar ingredients prepared in a little bit diffirent way. Mortadella is very popular with the locals, popular enough that there was a steady stream of customers coming in and out during our visit.

Kate February 16, 2018 - 9:59 am

We are in Bologna right now and I was delighted to find your article before we came. We are here with our large pup and have found everyone to be very welcoming and charming so far. Looking forward to exploring Modena & Parma as well!

gigigriffis February 16, 2018 - 10:01 am

So glad to hear it! I LOVE Modena. Definitely do a tour of a balsamic production mansion if you can. One of my lifetime best experiences.


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