You might not need help finding things to do in Bologna; from eating your way through the markets and enjoying aperitivo, to strolling through the cobbled streets and museums, you certainly won't be bored. But what about what not to do in Bologna? To avoid the tourist traps and try your best to blend in with the locals, check out the recommendations by our local Lorenza to really experience Bologna like a local!
Welcome to Bologna! Although I could make the same recommendations as others for things to do in Bologna, I prefer to focus on an unusual take...So here are 5 things that you might expect are typical of Bologna, but are nothing like the real thing. Forget what you’ve heard - here are 5 things not to do in Bologna!
Don't order spaghetti Bolognese
Bologna la grassa (the fat city) is world renowned for its delicious food : from crescentic to tortellini, from cotoletta to torta di riso! What you will not find, (apart in touristic restaurants) is spaghetti Bolognese. Spaghetti is a long straight type of pasta made of durum wheat flour and water, it's industrial pasta and is often served as a first course in Italy. The typical sauce to go with spaghetti is carbonara (eggs and bacon) or amatriciana (bacon, or even better, guanciale, pork cheek lard with tomato sauce) or just a simple home-made tomato sauce with basil leaves, especially in southern Italy. Bolognese sauce, locally named ragù, is made with pork and beef minced meat, cooked for hours (I’m not joking, I really mean 8 hours!) with tomato sauce. Bolognese sauce is permitted in Bolognese lasagna, it goes well with maccheroni if you want, and is also the perfect seasoning for tagliatelle! But please, do not serve spaghetti with ragù! The sauce will slide down the spaghetti and remain in the dish, whereas it sticks to tagliatelle and is delicious encased in layers of lasagna.
Don't ask for American style Bologna
Photo credit: seriouseats.com
American Bologna is a thinly sliced meat made of cured beef, but Mortadella, a delicious cold-cut meat produced in the Bologna area since the Roman period, bears no resemblance to what Americans call bologna. Its name comes from mortar and myrtle, as in ancient times it was made by pounding pork meat with spices. In 1661 Bishop Farnese issued an act to protect this process and today Mortadella is one of the 45 PGI products of Emilia Romagna region. Taste it alone in a sandwich (usually rosetta bread) or whipped in a soft pinky mousse, inside a tigella or by itself in cubes with a good glass of wine for aperitivo… it will be love at first slice!
Don't speak English
Although Bologna is getting pretty touristy, you will never find crowds like there are in Florence or in Venezia. This city is still an off-the-beaten-track destination and the amount of foreign visitors has only started to increase in recent times. For this reason, most locals do not speak English, not to mention other foreign languages! Just remember that we used to speak the Bolognese dialect at home until 50 years ago when all Italian people were forced to use Italian words under the Ventennio (Benito Mussolini’s government, 1922-1943) with many hilarious translations and adjustments! That’s why Bologna is the perfect place to take some Italian classes. However, English is indeed spoken in all hotels and major touristic places.
Don't only visit the Museo Civico
Photo credit: bolognawelcome.com - Museo della Storia di Bologna
Of course, I agree, the Civic Museum is an extremely important collection of archaeological findings, it depicts the history of Bologna from its foundation in 189 before Christ until the Modern Age. But the city hosts many other unusual museums that really deserve a visit! From the History Museum (Museo della Storia di Bologna) where you can live an augmented reality experience wearing 3D glasses, to the Ustica Museum, which is more a remembrance place than a real exhibition, not to mention the Gelato Museum, a full collection showing the history of this special unique Italian sweet!
Don't spend only one day in town!
Not spending enough time here is a mistake no one should make! Throughout the centuries Bologna has earned its fame and names. There's la dotta, the learned city, thanks to the University which is the oldest in the world dating back to 1088; la turrita, the towered city, since more than 200 towers embellished the medieval city which might have once looked like medieval Manhattan, surrounded by stone walls, decorated by towers and enriched by more than 40 km of porticoes; and la rossa, the red city, given the peculiar colour of its buildings, blazing with the searing hue. Why did the medieval city develop a longstanding love affair with the flaming orange and red colours that cover house walls and rooftops? And one single day isn’t enough to explore all of that!