Welcome to beautiful Bologna. I think you will be very pleased with Bologna as your home base while you are in Italy. It has everything you’d hope for in an Italian city — delicious food, picturesque streets, quaint bars, lovely people – but without the throngs of tourists you’ll find in other cities. I can guarantee that you’ll have an authentic Italian experience in Bologna. And, if you are interested in visiting the big sites, you can get to Florence in 40 minutes, Venice in 1.5 hours, and Rome in 2.5 hours. There are other wonderful cities near Bologna, which although you’ve perhaps never heard of them, are definitely worth a visit– Modena, Ravenna, Parma, and Ferrara to name a few.
Since I won’t be there while you are visiting, I wanted to leave you with a few tips:
- I usually get my basic groceries at the Coop minimercatos. There are three close to our apartment that are more or less the same (Via San Vitale 4, Via Garibaldi 1, and Strada Maggiore 59). I’m currently boycotting the one on San Vitale because our last visitor was pick-pocketed outside their door and we think the culprits had a good view of us paying at the checkout.
- When buying produce at the grocery store, you have to wear one of the plastic gloves provided while picking out your produce and weigh all your produce yourself before checking out.
- For checking out, just watch the person in front of you and copy what they do. You usually pick up your cart and place it on the counter next to the cashier and bag your own groceries.
- For specialty items, I shop at Scaramagli (Strada Maggiore 31 for peanut butter & salsa), Asia Mach (Via Mascarella, 81 for Asian & American products), and Natura Si (Via Montefiorino, 2 for quinoa & other health food products).
- I usually buy my veggies at the stands on Piazza Aldrovandi. There is a farmers’ market called Mercato della Terra on Saturdays, but since we are usually travelling or hiking on the weekends, I haven’t been yet. There’s also a market on Ugo Bassi with good produce called Mercato delle Erbe. It’s a further walk from our place but worth a visit. At the fruit/vegetable stands, you typically tell the person which products you want and they will pick them out and weigh them for you. I don’t touch the produce unless they ask me to hand them something.
- I buy bread at one of the two bakeries on Piazza Aldrovandi or at the famous Atti in Bologna’s il Quadrilatero (historic market).
- Foods you must try: Tagliatelle al ragù, tortellini in brodo, piadine, chocolate gelato at Sorbetteria, and tigelle and crescentine with affettati (slices of meat like prosciutto crudo, culatello, & mortadella).
- Drinks you should try: A spritz, Sangiovese and Lambrusco red wines (local to Emilia-Romagna), and Prosecco (sparkling, white wine). We always order the house Sangiovese when we eat out and have never been disappointed.
- Traditional Bolognese cuisine: My favorite place so far for a traditional Bolognese meal is Ristorante Biagi. The atmosphere is homey, the waiter is hilarious, the food is reasonably priced, and it is renown for its tortellini in brodo. They bring you a couple of complimentary starters before you place your order. I also recommend trying their gianduja budino (chocolate hazelnut pudding). Other places we’ve ate and liked include Trattoria Fantoni, Osteria al 15, Osteria dell’Orsa, Trattoria Tony, Trattoria Anna Maria, and Trattoria del Rosso. For a fancier affair, get spoiled at Drogheria della Rosa.
- Reservations: I almost always make us a reservation when we eat out, even if I call at 7PM the same day. A lot of restaurants only do one or two seatings a night, so if you show up to a restaurant and the tables are full, you might be out of luck. I typically make our reservations starting between 8-9PM, but it’s possible to eat earlier or later depending on the place.
- Aperitivo: Aperitivo is along the lines of happy hour in the U.S. and occurs anywhere from 6:30-9PM. You almost always get a snack with your drink order, ranging from a plate of potato chips to substantial buffets that could replace dinner. Some good spots for aperitvo are Marsalino, Camera al Sud, Caffè Zamboni, the Birreria/Mercanzia at the beginning of Santo Stefano near the towers, Pasticceria Santo Stefano (via Santo Stefano, 3), bar Maurizio Jazz, and 051 near Piazza Maggiore.
- Gelato: See my post about gelaterias in Bologna here.
- Affettati: Affettati are slices of meat like prosciutto crudo, culatello, & mortadella that are typically served on large platters to share along with cheeses or delicious breads like tigelle and crescentine. My favorite places for affettati are Osteria Le Sette Chiese (super close), Tamburini (one of the most famous shops in Bologna), La Baita (great lunch menu with affettati plates from different regions of Italy), and Osteria del Nonno (spectacular but you need a car to get there).
- Fast food: The easiest food to grab when you don’t feel like cooking or dining out are piadine & pizza. We usually grab our pizza at Antico Cafe’ Del Corso (via Santo Stefano, 33). To order a pizza to-go, ask for it da porta via. Piadine are sandwiches made with a flat-bread typical in the Emilia-Romagna region and filled with meat, cheese, or veggies. Two good options for piadine are La Tua Piadina (via Borgonuovo, 17) and the piadineria on via Rialto. I forgot to warn one of our vegetarian visitors that there is typically lard in the piadina bread. The piadina with lard tastes delicious, but if you are looking to avoid eating meat products, you can order one sans lard (strutto in Italian).
- Healthier eats: If you need a lighter bite, try Alce Nero (vegetarian lunch buffet), Zazie (soups, couscous, and smoothies at Via D’Azeglio 23b), or Prima della Pioggia (has a vegan salad that I love). The Italian blog vpervegetariano.com is also a good source for other alternative eateries in Bologna.
- Strada Maggiore is a good street to head to for a lot of essentials. There’s Acqua & Sapone (#25) for bath and cleaning products, a Tim Store for cell phone service (#39) as well as a dry cleaner (#31) and a pharmacy (#39).
- Exercise: If you are in need of some cardiovascular activity after eating all of the delicious food that Bologna has to offer, head to Giardini Margherita just outside Centro for a jog. I also have a friend who offers group bootcamp classes in the garden. I can send you her contact info if you are interested.
- Stove & washer: Our appliances work a little differently here in Italy (ex: our stove is gas and must be lit with a spark). Make sure to ask Luke to give you a demo of how to use the stove & washer before he heads to work.
- Coffee: One option is to grab caffè at a bar. A good one is Bar/Tabaccheria Santunione at via Santo Stefano, 21. When you order caffè, you’ll get an espresso. If you want an American-like coffee, you need to ask for a caffè americano. You can read tips about how to order an Italian coffee here (the author also has a great ebook on the subject available on Amazon). Your other option is to make caffè at home using the Moka pot. Luke is a Moka expert, so request a demo before you need your caffeine fix.
- Meeting other people: I’ve met a number of Italian friends through Conversation Exchange (an online forum where you connect with Italians looking for English conversation exchange partners). Another surprising way to meet people is through the Couch Surfing website. Whether or not you are couch surfing, you can sign up for an account and participate in the online forum, on which people frequently arrange group hang outs. For longer stays, Internations and IWF are also great organizations for meeting people.
- The bus: Look up bus routes and times here. You can buy tickets onboard €1.50 (need exact change) or you can buy them at a tabaccheria or newstand for €1.20. If you prebuy your ticket, you need to validate it on the bus when you board. It may seem like no one on the bus is validating or buying a ticket, and you will be tempted to ride the bus for free, but this is a dangerous game. At times, inspectors dressed in everyday clothes board the bus, lock the doors, and check for tickets. If you’re caught you can be fined about €60.
- The train: Trenitalia is the state-run train company in Italy. You can buy tickets at the train station or purchase them ahead online. I prefer to buy them online if I know my schedule, so that I can ensure I get a seat or sit with my travelling companion. If you purchase your tickets far in advance (like 2+ weeks in advance), you can get tickets at a discounted rate. Also, beware that tickets without a specified departure time written on them need to be validated in the yellow machines at the train station before you board. You can also check out rates on the newer, privately-run Italo for trips to Turin, Milan, Florence, Rome, or Naples.
I hope this hodgepodge of tips is helpful. Have fun and don’t hesitate to e-mail, text, or tweet if you have any questions.
Audrey & Luke
(aka Adriana e Luca)