I have called Bologna home now for the past 16 years. When I arrived for an internship back in 2001, the city was hardly a tourist spot and most international visitors only passed through by train, as it is conveniently located right on the main train line in the heart of Northern Italy connecting Milan, Venice, and Florence.
In Italy, Bologna is known as "La Dotta, La Grassa, e La Rossa", which translates to "the Scholar", as home to the oldest university in the world founded in 1088, "the Fat", as it is also the food capital of Italy, with many dishes such as tortellini and lasagna originating in the region, and "the Red" as it has traditionally been the seat of socialist and left-wing politics, but this also refers to the typical russet-colored roofs and facades in the historic city center. In the past years tourism has picked up, particularly due to the food culture, yet it still keeps its charm and gives a true experience of a prospering Italian city. I am happy to share some of my local favorites:
Grab a bite...
Grassilli is my favorite for Italian comfort food (homemade tortellini or passatelli and cotoletta bolognese). The owner Jacques is French-Swiss, although an adopted “Bolognese” like me, and the menu reflects a slight French twist on the classic bolognese dishes. He was the head chef from 1979-1996, and then he took over the ownership of the restaurant and is now passing the tradition on to his son, Jean-David. I love the intimate setting that feels like you've stepped into another era. It was one of the first restaurants I went to when I moved to Bologna and have been returning ever since!
A new discovery is Antica Osteria Le Mura, located on the south side of the city near Porta San Mamolo, which has recently re-opened under new management and offers traditional dishes yet also a few experimental renditions of the local cuisine.
For more casual quick bites, Osteria dell'Orsa in the University area offers family-style seating and homemade pasta from their pasta-making laboratory next door, and Zerocinquantino right off of Piazza Maggiore serves up traditional "tigelle" flatbread discs stuffed with cold-cuts and local cheeses.
Grab a drink...
The ambiance at Camera Con Vista is very opulent, and in the summer you can also sit outside and enjoy the view of Piazza Santo Stefano - a beautiful square known for the seven medieval churches surrounding it, the oldest of which dates back to the 5th century. My go-to cocktail is the Americano (of course).
Ruggine is also a hot-spot nestled in a tiny side-street near Piazza Santo Stefano. The location was originally a bicycle repair shop, and it has maintained its industrial-chic vibe, always buzzing with a young hip crowd.
Where to shop...
Mari Carraro offers a unique contemporary selection of European brands. It is easy to see how the selection reflects the exquisite personal taste of chic owners Marisa and her daughter Alice, ranging from classic staples of fine cashmere sweaters to feminine pieces with a slight boho flair.
La Ferramenta is a unique concept store located in a renovated historic hardware shop, where the original wooden casings and store fixtures are still preserved. With a slight street vibe, here you can find a curated selection of gifts, clothing, and cutting-edge eyewear.
The Italian multi-brand chain Folli Follie has just joined forces with the historic Ratti boutique and opened two locations in the heart of the Quadrilatero of Bologna: FR Boutique. The women's shop boasts top brands such as Dior, Ferragamo, and Roger Vivier, as well as a curated selection of new international brands in a beautiful art-deco-inspired atmosphere. The men's shop is located just around the corner under the dramatic glassed-in archways of Palazzo Ratti, which dates back to the 1400's.
Take home ...
The best souvenir would be handmade tortellini or local mortadella: it's truly what the Bolognese do best. Majani chocolates are also a very special local treasure, a family owned chocolatier that has been passed down through generations since the late 1700s - actually their store in the center of Bologna has been around since 1796, so definitely worth a visit and getting yourself a chocolate box to take back home!
Don't miss ...
Although the city alone has so much to offer, the countryside surrounding the city is breathtaking and offers another depth of appreciation to Bologna. Although a self-proclaimed city-girl, a few years ago I moved to the "country" (although just a short eight-minute drive outside the city... my husband had to time it to convince me to make the move!). I discovered a whole new world there with views that rival Tuscany, and much less touristy. On a clear day in the winter I can see the snow-capped Apennine mountains, and in the Fall when the fog floats into the city, it settles into the rolling hills, which peek out like tiny little islands. It is truly magical, and has now converted me into a bona fide country-gal. A taste of this scenery can also be seen by walking up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, a church sitting above the city. The walk is about a 4km hike from the center of the city, most of which is under the famous covered arcade with 666 arches.
After that long trek you definitely deserve a gelato at Bologna's best gelateria: Cremeria Funivia. From the long lines outside you will think that they are giving it away, yet people queue up at all times of the day for their traditional and unique custom flavors. Take my advice: it is worth the wait!