So you’re planning a trip to Bologna? We’ve some useful tips for you here, to help you get the most out of your trip. Obviously you should browse through our Bologna Archive, for more articles and specific info on sights and things to do – but this article is intended as a quick checklist to help you get started.
While Bologna’s Marconi Airport has been expanded, and now offers many low-cost flights throughout Europe, it’s still a relatively small airport, so you should find it easy enough to clear passport/security checks – though in Summer there can be some long queues at security.
The airport is relatively close to the city centre – you can get there in about 20mins by the BLQ shuttle bus (which leaves from the main train station). Taxis are obviously quicker, and should cost between 10-15euro (at time of writing). Note that Taxi drivers will often add a charge per bag on top of the fare.
Bologna has one main train station, and is a large transport hub for Northern Italy, so it’s a busy and bustling place. The train station is now divided into two, with regular trains going from the main building, entered in from Viale Pietro Pietramellara and the Piazza delle Medaglie d’Oro, whilst high-speed trains have their own terminal on the other side of the station, with entrance on Via de Carracci (though both terminals are connected by an underground passage).
Bologna city centre is relatively small, so for many city centre hotels you’ll be able to walk from the train station, although there are many taxis, and lots of bus routes.
To get train tickets you can book online at trenitalia.it, or you can buy them from the counter or automated ticketing machines in the station. Note that seats on high-speed trains must be booked in advance, and at peak times you may find trains sold out.
Bologna has a large bus station, near the main train station – in Piazza XX Settembre. Here you’ll be able to get information about various national/international bus routes. The city is well served by buses, as it is a central transport hub. Travelling around Emilia-Romagna can be done fairly well by train, but there are a number of destinations both in Emilia-Romagna and neighbouring regions that may require bus travel.
Bologna has a large trade fair zone, and when one of the really large shows is on – like the Motor Show (December) or the Children’s Book Fair (April) – you will find that hotel rooms become scarce and pricey. The fairs are well worth a visit, but if you’re looking for a good choice of hotels, and a less expensive time, you might be better to choose a different period.
Bologna traditionally empties out during July/August, as it becomes very hot and quite humid. If you’re working, it can be quite uncomfortable, but for a holiday it’s actually worth considering. The advantage is that there’s much less traffic, hustle and bustle. The disadvantage is that quite a lot of restaurants/clubs close for August. Increasingly though that kind of calendar is changing, in part due to the efforts of the local administration who schedule plenty of summer events.
Related to the above two points – Bologna’s weather is fairly extreme by Italian standards. In the winter it’s wet and cold, and in the summer it’s intensely hot and humid. The safe bet then is late-spring/early summer or late summer/early Autumn. In June the city has outdoor cinema, outdoor concerts, and usually pleasant weather. In September/October the city comes back to life with the re-opening of schools and the University.
At the same time, though, Christmas in the city is magical – and while carnival time isn’t particularly special in Bologna, it is in surrounding towns in Emilia-Romagna.
IF you’re staying in the city centre, there’s no problem getting to virtually any destination by foot. The city has a great bus system. You can check out the routes (using Google Transit) and timetables (orari) here
Tickets can be purchased in advance in most Tabaccherie and lots of Newspaper Kiosks – the italian for bus ticket is biglietto per l’autobus. Tickets must be validated on the bus (machines at the front and rear usually), and are valid for an hour (on any bus, and in any direction – so, for example, a return trip into town from the train station). Tickets can usually be bought on the buses as well, from an automated machine – but cost more.
Bologna in terms of shopping etc is a mix between big international names and local family run businesses. The bigger the shop or institution, the more likely it is to have standard continuous opening hours. Local shops will usually open from 10.00am-01.00pm (or 12.30), and then re-open for 3.00pm-7.00pm.
Thursday is often a half-day, and some businesses like Butchers, will be closed a number of afternoons.
Most shops in the city centre open on both Saturday and Sunday – when the central area of Via Indipendenza / Via Rizzoli / Via Ugo Bassi are often pedestrianised. The pedestrianisation of the city centre is called ‘T days’ and is fairly standard now, but because it’s not a fixed event it’s worth checking beforehand.
Banks in the city centre tend to open early morning, close through lunch, and re-open briefly in the afternoon (e.g 8.20-12.45, 14.35-16.35). There are a reasonable amount of ATM machines – as with any big city, be cautious when using these: makes sure they haven’t been tampered with, and watch out for people loitering nearby.
Italians stereotypically are hypochondriacs, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of pharmacies dotted around the city centre. The biggest pharmacy, which is open 24hrs a day, is in Piazza Maggiore (in the Palazzo Comunale, towards the corner with Via d’Azeglio). This is also your best bet if you’re looking for some assistance in English, as the staff are well used to tourists.
There is also a late openign pharmacy in the Train Station – in the building on your left, when you’re facing the main entrance in Piazza delle Medaglie d’Oro.
Remember that certain brand name medicines might not be as popular in Italy, so if you need to replace some medication try to bring along the box of your old prescription.
In an emergency you’ll need to call 118 for an ambulance. Bologna has two main hospitals – Sant Orsola and Osepdale Maggiore, and spread through these are a number of different emergency/casualty wards (including a pediatric casualty ward). Italy’s health system is run on a regional basis, and Emilia-Romagna is recognised on a European level as having a wonderful health system.
There is a large tourist office in Piazza Maggiore, in Palazzo Podestá
You’ll be able to get city maps, book tours, and get general advice and information here.