Whether you’re after a weekend to escape the endless studying, or somewhere to celebrate the end of exams in June, take a trip to Italy! There’s a myriad of beautiful cities to explore and plenty of cultural delights to indulge in.
Bologna, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, is Italy’s food capital and a wonderful place to recharge whilst enjoying a rich culture. It’s fairly small compared to the bigger, more touristy cities of Rome, Naples or Milan, but it’s the place to try famous dishes such as tagliatelle al ragù (falsely known in the UK as ‘spaghetti bolognese’), lasagne and tortellini.
Bologna has the oldest university in Europe, l’Università di Bologna, and the student crowd makes up a considerable part of those roaming its cobbled streets. I was lucky enough to study at the university for a semester last year, and I really recommend Bologna for a relaxing escape on a student budget.
Bologna is a medieval walled city, and nicknamed ‘la Rossa’ (‘the Red One’), due to its iconic cityscape of red terracotta roofs. Its characteristic red porticos cover most of the city streets; so in the event of rain, the city has literally got you covered! Bologna’s petite size means everything is easily accessible by foot, and you can explore the main sites in a day.
The best way to experience Bologna is to take your time and wander around the maze of tiny streets to uncover hidden treasures. Perhaps you’ll find an elegant café bar, a vibrant independent boutique or a gelateria boasting the largest range of flavours you’ve ever seen! It’s all waiting to be discovered, all under the watch of Bologna’s famous stone towers. These ‘medieval skyscrapers’ were constructed for unknown reasons but most likely in order to guard the city from any threats beyond its walls.
The two most famous towers, le Due Torri, lie in the very centre of the city and you can climb up to the top of the tallest tower, la Torre degli Asinelli, for 3€ (with student ID) and see the views of the whole city and beyond. But only if you wish to defy the superstition to not climb the tower until after graduating university. The city’s students are warned against climbing up to make sure they get their degrees!
Bologna’s main and biggest square, Piazza Maggiore, is a beautiful suntrap. The Basilica di San Petronio lies on one side of the square, with free entry to see its stunning interior. Legend has it that its potentially grand exterior was left incomplete by the Pope’s orders, so that it would never be as wondrous-looking as the churches in Rome.
You can indulge in a pizza lunch in Piazza Maggiore, from one of the many street counters nearby that sell pizza by the slice. Or make your way through Quadrilatero, a tiny food market street that opens up into the main square. Once you begin strolling down this street, you’ll feel you’ve stepped into an Italian culinary wonderland. The little food shops and restaurants spill into the street, people are enjoying sumptuous aperitivi (nibbles before a meal) of meats, cheeses, bread and olives, and waiters weave in between the wandering crowds.
In the middle of Quadrilatero is Mercato di Mezzo, an indoor market full of eateries which is perfect for dinner. There’s a pasta counter serving a range of plentiful dishes for around 7€, and Rossopomodoro is an Italian pizza restaurant which serves great quality food.
Most people you’ll encounter in restaurants and shops will speak English, especially as tourism to Bologna from the UK and US is on the rise. However, I encourage you to have a go at the lingo and say “ciao, buongiorno!” to greet those you meet.
To seem even more like a local, enjoy Italian coffee in the many colourful cafés dotted around the city, such as Pappare at the base of the Two Towers. Here you can indulge in a homemade pastry alongside your cappuccino – just be mindful that it’s a cultural taboo to drink a cappuccino after 11am. And never simply ask for a ‘latte’, as you’ll probably be disappointed when you’re presented with a glass of milk!
Head to Giardini Margherita in more favourable weather; a beautiful, spacious park just outside the city walls. You can while away the hours in the sun and also see the large family of turtles in the lake. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, take the 3.5km portico-covered route and walk up to the hilltop Basilica di San Luca which overlooks the whole city. The route begins in the city centre and the uphill trek is worth it once you glimpse the breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Currently you can fly to Bologna from Manchester for a 3-day trip (including travel days) in June from £57 return, however flight prices vary largely, depending when you book. Travel to Bologna and enjoy all the culinary delights it has to offer!
Flight prices correct at time of publication.