Bologna is one of my favourite Italian cities to visit. I have spent many days just wandering around the city absorbing all the sights, sounds and delicious smells. But sometimes, you need a change of scenery and, using Bologna as your base, there are so many delightful towns to visit as a day trip from Bologna.
You can travel north for a day trip to Venice, Milan or Verona, south to Ravenna for the mosaics, Florence for the art or Pisa to see its leaning tower.
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With help from five of my fellow travel bloggers let me share some of our favourite day trips from Bologna.
Table of Contents
Best Day Trips from Bologna
Day Trips from Bologna to the North East
A Day Trip to the Canals of Venice by James from Travel Collecting
It’s only ninety minutes by train from Bologna to Venice and a day in Venice is easily done as a day trip. Of course, you can spend longer in Venice, but a day is enough to give you a taste of what the canal-city has to offer.
From the train station, hop on the Number 1 vaporetto, which is the main water bus/ ferry that plies the length of the Grand Canal. You will go under the famous Rialto Bridge and pass beautiful buildings, striped poles and dozens of gondolas. Get out at the other end of the Grand Canal and walk the narrows streets, crossing multiple bridges over the canals that lace the city. Taking a gondola ride is expensive, but romantic and fun, and well-worth every euro. For something different, you can even spend the morning learning to row a gondola (read how to do it here).
Of course, you have to visit Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square), and the incredibly beautiful Doges Palace and Saint Mark’s Basilica. Climb to the roof of the basilica and/or Saint Mark’s Campanile for views over the square. Strangely, the canals are not visible from the top of the Campanile (tower), as they are too narrow to be seen between the buildings from this angle. Take some time to relax over a coffee or orange-coloured spritz at an outdoor café on the square, listen to musicians playing, and watch the world go by. Follow the crowds to the Rialto Bridge, then take a vaporetto back to the train station to end your fabulous day trip in Venice.
Read more James from Travel Collecting
Day Trips from Bologna to the North West
Milan by Alessandra from Tips 4 Italian Trips
When looking for a pleasant day trip from Bologna, the city of Milan should be on your list. Milan is the economic capital of Italy and thanks to Expo 2015 event has improved a lot from the touristic point of view either. The capital of Lombardy was told to be uncoloured, boring and quite hectic, but nowadays Milan is definitely in line with other European cities in terms of sustainability, public transport and attractions for tourists.
Moreover, Milan had a terrible reputation for lousy weather: rainy, foggy and always grey and we have to say that this was true until the mid-nineties, where winters were characterized by heavy fog days and entirely weeks of mist. But in the last 15 years, even the weather has changed a lot, gifting Milan both with amazing sunny or hot summer, and magnificent panoramic winter view on the Alps covered in snow. So, there are plenty of reasons to come to Milan on a day trip from Bologna!
Actually, the best way to get to Milan from Bologna is by train: you get on a high-speed train (Frecciarossa or Italo Train), and in one hour you reach the Italian capital of fashion.
Milan is known worldwide for its fashion district. Via Montenapoleone and Via Della Spiga for luxury brands and Corso Vercelli, Corso Buenos Aires and Via Torino for “mere mortals” in love with Italian fashion. Design lovers should visit the brand new districts of Porta Nuova (that represents the new skyline of the city) and the Citylife area, where stand beautiful and super modern buildings.
Those who love art and history must plan a visit to the Duomo cathedral and the city centre: from Galleria Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza Della Scala and Via Degli Omenoni (where you should admire the colossal statues of eight telamones) and the museum of historical Science, located inside one of the most beautiful parks of the city. The “Giardini di Porta Venezia” (Porta Venezia’s gardens) are a real green jewel suitable for tourist of all age.
Trust me you won’t regret a day trip to Milan from Bologna!
Read more from Alessandra at Tips 4 Italian Trips
A Day in Romantic Verona by Diana from The Elusive Family
Just 1.5 hours north of Bologna by car, lies the beautiful city of Verona. Better known as the city of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is a gem in Italy’s Venetian region.
There are a variety of things to see and do in Verona. Juliet’s house is among the most famous attractions, with the infamous Juliet balcony being the primary purpose as it is the supposed location of the fictional scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Verona arena is another great stop, serving as a former Roman amphitheatre, its first century roots have miraculously preserved it and today, it is a widely used structure. Performances occur at the amphitheatre every year and the majestic beauty of the amphitheatre showcases the beauty of the history of Roman architecture.
Verona’s Piazza della Erbe is Verona’s beautiful town plaza, surrounded by old buildings, cafes, restaurants and a beautiful central fountain, Madonna Verona. It’s well worth to take a few hours and have lunch in the Plaza and enjoy Verona’s beauty.
Castelvecchio is an old military fortress worth visiting as it is remarkably preserved and simple in nature. A museum onsite provides an in-depth history.
Verona’s oldest bridge, Ponte Pietra, built around 100 BC, can easily be crossed and its ancient historical ties to the city can be appreciated as you walk over the Roman structure. Though most of the bridge was destroyed by Germans during WWII, the arches were rebuilt using original material.
Verona is an amazing city in a beautiful region of Italy and well worth a day trip from Bologna. Its connection to Shakespeare’s literature makes this city an endearing place to visit.
Read more by Diana from The Elusive Family
Day Trips from Bologna to the South West
A Day Trip to Florence
Florence, the home of the Uffizi Gallery and Botecelli’s painting Birth of Venus, Michaelangelo’s David sculpture, the magnificent Duomo with its terracotta-tiled dome which dominates the landscape and the octagonal Baptistery of St. John: there is so much to see and do in Florence that you are spoilt for choice.
Florence is a city for romantics, art lovers, history buffs and just lovers of beauty. Stroll through the ochre-coloured streets and across the medieval Ponte Vecchio bridge, sit in the Boboli Gardens and take in the view of the city across the river Arno.
After admiring the Gothic-styled Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore from the outside, you can climb the 463 steps to the top of the cupola of the Duomo, for a spectacular view of Florence.
If you are there during June, try and get tickets for the Calcio Storico. Originating in the 16th Century, it is a blend of football and rugby played by four teams in two semi-finals and the winners go forward to the final.
The train from Bologna to Florence only takes about 35 minutes and is a direct route. The countryside you pass through it enchanting.
I would advise you to book your tickets in advance for any of the major sites and queue early as it gets very busy. If you would prefer to have a guided tour, you can book a tour around Florence with Get Your Guide which will give you a greater insight into this glorious and romantic city.
If you fancy a food tour or a cooking class try either the Florence Sunset Food Tour or the Hands-on Cooking Class or maybe even the 4 hour Florence Food Tour where you can sample food and wine at 8 different stops!
And don’t forget, if you want to return to Florence, visit Il Porcellino in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo. Rub the boar’s nose and drop a coin in his mouth and if the water washes it out of his mouth and it falls into the grate below, you will have good luck and you return to Florence. All the coins support an orphanage, so don’t hesitate to try again.
Passing a day in Pisa
Two hours away from Bologna by train is the town of Pisa with its famous tower, but there is much more to discover than just The Leaning Tower of Pisa.
From the San Rossolo station, it is a 10-minute walk to the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). As you enter the square, you can see the Leaning Tower of Pisa peeking out from behind the magnificent Duomo which dominates everything.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built in 1372 and is famous around the world for its tilt. A walk to the top of the Tower is a must, there is no elevator, so the 293 steps up the Leaning Tower have to be taken one by one, but I assure you the view from the top is worth it! If you are doing the tourist thing, don’t forget to take a selfie of you appearing to hold the tower up!
Once your legs have recovered from the climb, have a walk around the rest of the monuments in Piazza dei Miracoli including the Baptistery and the Cathedral.
Sometimes to get the best experience if time is short is to take a guided tour. GetyourGuide tours of Pisa can help you visit the Baptistery, Leaning Tower and the Cathedral. If you choose not to go with an organised tour, the Tower does get busy and it is worth getting there early.
Visit Knight’s Square, another of the main squares in Pisa. It was the political hub of the city and where the Order of the Knights gathered and is also the home of the Muda Tower, the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, and the statue of Cosimo I.
Two museums to visit are the National Museum of Palazzo Reale in the Palazzo Mediceo and the National Museum of San Matteo for ceramics, paintings and sculptures.
A Day Trip to Certaldo
Certaldo is a beautiful Tuscan medieval town located on top of a hill, just South of Florence. From Bologna is easily reachable either by train (via Florence) or by car. The fastest train connection takes 1 hour and 30 minutes, whilst the slowest takes 2 hours. I went there by motorbike. If you are driving, you need to know that there is a large parking space in the new town centre, just outside the funicular. It is free for motorbikes and costs a few euros for cars. It is forbidden to drive in Certaldo Alto (the medieval part of the town).
Certaldo is divided into two parts: the lower part and the upper part, which is the most interesting to visit. You can reach the old town by funicular, which costs 3 euros per round trip. You can also walk up but the road is very steep.
Certaldo is a medieval town and one of the best things to do here is just stroll along the cobbled streets and admire the architecture. Certaldo is also famous for being the home town of Giovanni Boccaccio, the author of the famous “The Decameron”. The house he lived his last years in is now a museum that can be visited.
At the end of Via Boccaccio, the main road in Certaldo Alto, stands tall Palazzo Pretorio, a once residence of the vicars. You can visit the palace which is now a museum and an exhibition space. Another building you can’t miss is the archery headquarters, hidden in the basement and housing many medieval armours, swords, bows and shields.
Read more of Joanna’s travels at The World in my Pocket
Riomaggiore by Julie Sande from Why Not Ju
Riomaggiore is one of the towns making up Cinque Terre, five beautiful fishing villages sitting on the mountainside along the Italian Riviera. The area was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, together with Portovenere and the Islands, for its cultural and scenic value.
Riomaggiore is a small village and the most southern one of the Cinque Terre towns. It’s lined with colourful houses, a small harbour, and some amazing scenic hiking trails. Its inhabitants used to earn their living from fishing and wine cultivation on terraces made in the steep slopes above the ocean. Now the people of Riomaggiore make their living from tourism. People come to see the unique village, hike, eat Italian seafood, drink Italian wine and have a swim in the blue waters in the port.
The easiest way to visit Riomaggiore from Bologna is by taking the train. The train ride is about 3 hours and with connections in Florence and La Spezia. If you have a rental car and want to drive, you’ll have to park your car in La Spezia and take the train from there or park on parking lots outside the historical part of Riomaggiore.
Definitely catch the sunset in Riomaggiore before heading back to Bologna. I recommend watching the sunset out on the wave breaker stones. It is a little bit of a hassle getting out there but it’s worth it. The reward is getting to watch the sunset in the ocean. In addition, you’ll also have a great view of Riomaggiore getting bathed in the warm sunset light.
Read more about Cinque Terre in Julies’ Guide
Day Trips from Bologna to the South East
A Day to Imola
For the motor-racing world, Imola is famous for the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, which held the San Marino Grand Prix from 1981 and 2006, and the tragic deaths in 1994 of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, but the town of Imola has more to offer than just motor-racing.
It only takes a short 22-minute train ride to get to Imola from Bologna through the beautiful Emilia-Romagna countryside. Once at the station it is a 10-minute leisurely stroll into town.
Apart from the many coffee shops to try and the clothes shopping along via Emilia, take a step back in time and pop into the Farmacia Comunale Ospedale Santa Maria della Scaletta. The Farmacia dates back to 1794 and is beautifully preserved with shelves filled with old majolica vases and the cast iron till which is beautifully designed. Above you, the ceiling and columns are painted with frescos and the walls behind the counter have statues.
A short walk away takes you to via Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Palace Tozzoni which was given to the town by the last surviving member of the Tozzoni family. The museum gives an insight into the life of a noble family in the 18th Century. A bit further along you come to the Cattedrale di San Cassiano, originally built in the 12th Century, but restored in the 1700s.
Continuing past the Cattedrale and you come to the beautiful Medieval fort of Rocca Sforzesca with its rounded towers, drawbridge and ramparts.
I would advise you to go on a Saturday or Sunday as the Palace Tozzoni and the Rocca Sforzesca are only open on these afternoons.
Mosaics and more in Ravenna
Depending on which train you get, Ravenna is about an hour and 15 minutes to two hour train journey from Bologna, but when you arrive the trip is really worth it.
It has such an interesting history from the Roman Empire, through the Ostrogothic Kingdom, an important part of the Byzantine Empire and the Kingdom of the Lombards.
Ravenna is renowned for its mosaics dating from the 5th and 6th centuries, for the finest examples visit the Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleum di Galla Placidia and the Basilica di Sant’Appollinare Nuovo with its stunning mosaics and the majestic altar.
The simple octagonal Battistero Neonaino has the most amazing mosaic ceiling depicting John baptising Christ. Below is the large deep marble font used for baptisms. Next door the Museo Archiescovile houses carved artefacts from the 6th Century.
Dante, the writer of the Inferno, is buried in Ravenna. Originally from Florence, he was exiled and spent the last three years of his life in Ravenna. There are still queues outside his tomb every day.
The town includes 8 Unesco Heritage sites but is also lovely for just wandering around in and taking in the sites.
The Seaside Town of Cesenatico
To really get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, why not take a day trip down from Bologna to the seaside? Cesenatico on the Adriatic Coast is only an hour and a half away by train from Bologna and costs €6.65 (price correct at June 2019).
The long white sandy beaches are perfect for bathing or topping up your tan. There are breakwaters to protect from the strong Adriatic waves so the seas are calmer when they get to the shore.
Look out for the unusual Cathedral near the beach. The Leaf Cathedral was the concept of Tonino Guerra and brought to life by Aurelio Brunelli, an iron sculptor. It is made up of steel leaves 3.5metres high depicting the relationship between man and the land
Have a stroll around the harbour area past the ice-cream coloured buildings towards the Museo della Marineria. This fascinating museum has two main parts; first, you come to the Floating Section of the Museum. 10 traditional boats from the High and Middle Adriatic are permanently at anchor outside the museum and, in good weather, have their sails hoisted, showing off the symbols from the various fishermen’s families.
Inside the museum, are two examples of the traditional boats and the exhibition around them shows you they were built and some of the tools that were used. Upstairs gives an insight into the relationship between the fishermen and the sea.