Piazza Maggiore in Bologna. Photo: Olga Lupol/Dreamstime
There are many reasons to visit the beautiful and lively city of Bologna: it is considered to be one of Italy’s most pleasant towns to live in, its people are friendly and filled with contagious joie-de-vivre and the city center, although not as spectacular as Rome’s or Florence’s, has a lot to offer to visitors.
Food, too, plays a very important role in any visit to Bologna: the town is, simply put, a foodie’s paradise. If you like homemade pasta –fettucine, pappardelle, tagliatelle… you name it- there’s no need to look any further: the capital city of Emilia Romagna is rightly famous all over Italy as the birthplace of lasagna and all kinds of stuffed pastas such as ravioli and tortellini.
Home to the oldest university in the world, founded as far back as 1088, Bologna certainly offers plenty of arts, culture and architecture to those who decide to visit: its beautiful portici –arcades- are the ideal place to take a stroll even when the weather isn’t collaborating and the city always offers plenty of exhibits, concerts and shows to attend. It really doesn’t come as a surprise that in 2000 Bologna was declared European capital of culture, while in 2006 it was nominated a UNESCO “City of music”.
This year, too, there is an excellent reason to pay a visit to this wonderful city: the unique exhibit “Girl with a pearl earring – The Golden Age from Vermeer to Rembrandt” will be hosted in Bologna at Palazzo Fava until May 25th 2014. Dutch painter Johaness Vermeer lived in the 1600s in Holland and has painted several masterpieces, but is mostly famous for his paining “Girl with a pearl earring”. The painting has been showcased in The Hague since the beginning of the 1900s and is now on an exclusive European tour while the museum where it usually sits is being remodeled: seeing it in Bologna is a once in a lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Along with it, many other wonderful pieces painted by masters such as Rembrandt, Hals, Steen and Ter Boch are showcased at the same exhibit.

Other than the exhibit there’s a lot to see around Bologna for those who have never visited the town before. The old downtown quarter features interesting sites such as the Towers of Bologna -two medieval towers built between 1109 and 1119- the Basilica of San Petronio, one of the world’s largest churches, and a maze of narrow streets that stretch from the city walls to the university. Walking around the city center is one of the best ways to get to know this compact, welcoming town and also the best way to discover family run trattorias and osterias where freshly made homemade pasta is always available. Ragù, known as “meat sauce” across the pond, is a local specialty: make sure you try it, as its recipe is the pride and joy of most cooks and chefs from Bologna. To wash it all down order a bottle of Lambrusco or Sangiovese, both excellent wines made in the hills and country around Bologna.
As Bologna is such a compact city, there are many interesting tours that will help you discover its secrets and quirky aspects.  Walking tours are a popular option: some of them are more traditional and focus on visiting the town’s beautiful churches and palazzos, some others are tailored for those who want to learn about Bologna’s lesser known sides.
The “Bologna in love” walking tour will certainly appeal to couples, as it deals with the intricate stories that range from medieval maidens and knights to more recent love affairs such as the ones lived by poets Foscolo, Shelley and Goethe; those are more in love with food, however, will definitely enjoy a three hour gourmet walking tour that will deal with homemade pasta, mortadella and chocolate.  Cycling tours too are a very pleasant way of getting to know Bologna: in a little less than three hours one can see some of the most important buildings in town, such as the Palazzo Accursio, but also the ancient canal system and the Medieval Market.
Bologna is reachable by fast train (operated both by Trenitalia www.trenitalia.it and Italo www.italotreno.it) from Milan (about 1 hour), Florence (35 minutes) and Rome (about 2 hours) and is also served by the Guglielmo Marconi International airport by both national and international airlines.

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