What to do in Bologna with kids: a trip to northern Italy with a small child; foodie heaven
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Bologna with kids

Bologna is a great place to visit with kids.

I love Bologna. Peter does too. Years ago, we spent a wonderful long weekend in the city and the surrounding area. Incredibly, we had not made it back since. When we spent the week in Italy, we decided to take the opportunity to visit the wonderful city again and take Miss M. Now she loves Bologna too.

There is much to do in Bologna that both adults and children will enjoy. It is also the birthplace of the favourite foods of many children – spaghetti bolognese, mortadella (AKA Bologna for the Americans) and parmesan cheese.

Trio of traditional bolognese pastas: tortellini, tagliatelle with ragu and lasagne bolognese; what to do in Bologna with kids - try the food!

Getting there and accommodation

Accommodation

We stayed on a farm about 75km from Bologna, so we don’t have any accommodation to recommend in Bologna. If you are planning to see more of Bologna and the surrounding area, we would recommend staying in the city.

Getting there

Driving is frustrating in Bologna, with numerous oneway streets. Parking is also very expensive. If you can, get a train to the city.

Tip: Numerous private tours include the Ferrari Museum or traditional food manufacturers in the area. You don’t necessarily need a car if you are looking to take your child to see one of these sites.

Getting around

The best way to get around Bologna is to walk. Almost all of the main sites are all in the historic centre of the city. The main exception is the Madonna di San Luca, where the views while walking up the hill under the porticoes are the main drawcard.

Guaranteed to be part of any foodie tour: Via degli Orefici, just off Piazza Maggiore: what to do in Bologna with kids

What to do in Bologna with kids

Take a cooking class or foodie’s tour

During our first visit to Bologna, we spent a wonderful day doing a culinary tour and a cooking class. We learnt about parmesan cheese and Aceto Balsamic di Modena, tried various types of cold meat, watched tortellini being made and chose the menu and the ingredients for our meal.

Later in our hosts home, we learned to cook traditional lasagna bolognese, including the spinach pasta, and made panna cotta. We enjoyed our home-cooked meal as well as grissini with traditional cold meats, parmesan cheese with syrupy-thick balsamic vinegar, and veal scaloppine with greens. It was all absolutely delicious. We shared our meal with the family and discussed a broad range of topics, while the men and boys watched the soccer.

It was very memorable day – I remember it clearly even now.

Tip: Take a cooking class or go on a foodies tour in Bologna. This visit was very last minute, so we did not have an opportunity to arrange a tour. However, there are even cooking classes for children of all ages – let your child learn how to make their favourite pasta!

Shop selling traditional food from the Emilia Romagna; Take a food tour or a cooking class; What to do in Bologna with kids

Try the food

Bologna is known as ‘Bologna the Learned’ (for its university), ‘Bologna the Red’ (for its politics) and ‘Bologna the Fat’ for its food. It a foodie Mecca. There are so many delicious things to try and, thankfully, so many foods that kids love too. When you are visiting Bologna with kids, go shopping, have a picnic, stop for drinks and a snack and take a long lunch.

Watch pasta being made. Buy some real ‘Bologna’, better known as mortadella. Try some syrupy balsamic vinegar (caution: it’s like whisky – the older it is, the more expensive it is). Find some fresh fruit for a picnic. Eat gelato in Summer or roasted chestnuts in Winter.

Tip: Try the Quadrilatero, Via degli Orefici and the surrounding streets to the east of Piazza Maggiore.

Traditional cold meats and cheeses from Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna: Mortadella, parma ham, parmesan, mozzarella, bruschetta, salami and smoked beef. Yum! Things to try in Bologna with kids

Stroll under the porticoes

You can’t visit Bologna with kids without taking time to stroll under its famous and extensive porticos. There are 38 kilometres of porticoes in the historic city centre, and over 45 km in the city proper. Take a stroll under the porticos of the historic town centre.

Perhaps the longest portico in the world, the Portico di San Luca connects the Porta Saragozza with the church of Madonna di San Luca. It has 666 vaulted arcades and is 3.8 kilometres long and shelters the annual procession of Luke the Evangelist’s Madonna and Child from the church to the Bologna Cathedral to celebrate the Feast of Ascension.

Tip: The return trip walking up to Madonna di San Luca takes around 2 hours. However, little legs (or those that just climbed a tower) might prefer to take the train up the hill. See below for more information.

Some of the many kilometers of porticoes in Bologna; what to do in Bologna with kids - go for a stroll under the porticoes.

Visit Neptune

Say hello to the rather large statue of the god Neptune on Piazza Nettuno. He was commissioned by Cardinal Carlo Borromeo for his uncle who had just been elected Pope Pio IV. Locals consider Neptune’s trident to be lucky and it is the symbol of Maserati, the car manufacturer that was founded in Bologna in 1914.

Neptune and his fountain; What to do in Bologna with kids

Look down on history

Unfortunately, we managed to pick one of the few days of the year when the library was closed, so we didn’t get to see this for ourselves.

The former financial exchange in the Palazzo d’Accursio (next to Neptune) now houses the Biblioteca Salaborsa. The central hall with its corinthian columns is just gorgeous. The glass floor lets you look down on the ruins of the ancient city of Bononia from 189 BC.

Tip: This is also a good place to have a rest and a coffee (and catch up with your social media).

Marvel at Piazza Maggiore

Right next to Piazza Nettuno is Piazza Maggiore. Take a moment to admire the different buildings that surround the square.

We actually bought Miss M a gelato and then sat on the steps of the Basilica di San Petronio to eat it. Originally, the church was supposed to be the largest in the world. However, the Pope refused to let the church be bigger than St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Basilica di San Petronio now sits unfinished.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to visit the internal courtyards or go into the Basilica – the tenth-largest church in the world.

The unfinished Basilica di San Petronio on Piazza Maggiore: What to do in Bologna with kids

Whisper

Under the arcade in the centre of Voltone del Podestà is one of those architectural marvels – an architectural telephone or whispering wall. Have your child stand in one corner while you stand in another corner. Whisper. Yep, they will hear you and be quite surprised.

Tip: Give older children the challenge of working out why it works.

The whisper chamber is in the middle of the Voltone del Podestà: What to do in Bologna with kids

Be learned

Established in 1088, the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world. Two of the highlights of the university are the Library and the Anatomical Theatre.

If your children are bibliophiles and are likely to be quiet (which Miss M was not), check out the gorgeous old university library at Via Zamboni 35. Older kids will appreciate the anatomical theatre at Piazza Galvani 1.

Tip: The anatomical theatre at the university in Padua, where Galileo Galilei taught, better. Make sure you check the opening times!

Visit the dinosaurs

If you have a little dinosaur aficionado and are in Bologna early enough in the day (we were not), visit the Carnegie Diplodocus and other fossils at the Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini. The museum is rather small and the focus is research, but kids still love it. Entry is free!

Look through a window

In the past, Bologna was a water town with five harbours. Much of this maritime past is long hidden, but at 2 Via Piella, you can glimpse the Moline canal through a little window. This canal used to power 15 mills located throughout the city.

This is another site that we missed. We looked for it, but could not find it. See if you can find it when you are in Bologna with your kids!

A window back in time on one of the canals which used to run through Bologna and has since been covered: What to do in Bologna with kids

Climb a tower

At the end of the twelfth century, there were about 100 towers in Bologna. Few are left today.

Instead of climbing the 498 steps to the top of the leaning Asinelli tower, we chose to visit the temporary panoramic terrace of the Basilica di San Petronio, which has a lift and just two flights of stairs.

Word to the wise: Although it has a lift, you don’t want to visit the viewing platform if you don’t like heights. It is a temporary structure: the ‘stairs’ and terrace are scaffolding and the lift is a freight lift. It is a very bumpy ride and you have to sign an insurance waiver before you are allowed to ascend.

Miss M loved it, but I am not sure whether she liked the views or the picture of Mummy standing back next to the church after the terrifying ride up more.

View from the temporary terrace  of the Basilica di  San Petronio; view of the Torre degli Asinelli and the Torre Garisenda: what to do in Bologna with kids

Take a train

If you are like us and don’t feel like motivating your child to walk the 3.8 kilometres up to the Madonna di San Luca, catch the little ‘San Luca Express’. The audio guide (in ten languages) will give you some information about some of the more unusual sites of the city on the way. The views are definitely worth it!

The train leaves from Piazza Maggiore near the start of Via degli Orefici.

Tip: If you are in Bologna with older kids, they will probably find the train a little babyish. Challenge them to walk up to the top under the 3.8km of porticoes instead!

Visit a church

There are a number of churches worth a visit in Bologna. Pick one depending on your (and your children’s) interests.

  • Madonna di San Luca on the hill for the views
  • Basilica di San Domenico for the artwork (including by Michelangelo) and the marble ark holding St Domenico of Guzman, founder of the Dominican order.
  • For sheer size, Basilica di San Petronio
  • Basilica di Santo Stefano, also known the Seven Churches for peculiarity. Did the patron saint of Bologna (when he was still bishop) order the building to be divided into seven to represent the places where the Passion of Christ occurred? Or did Saint Petronio commission the erection of the church on top of a pagan temple?

For older kids

There are a number of tours and activities which are particularly interesting for older kids. Take a bike tour through the city or an ebike tour of the surrounding countryside. Do a self-guided walking tour of the sites for which Bologna holds the records. Learn more about gelato, including how to make it. Visit the most instagrammable spots in Bologna – all of which are in the above list.

What to do in Bologna with kids

Bologna is a great place to visit with kids. It makes a great day trip, and if you do a cooking course, or have automotive lovers who wish to tour the museums, it can be an enjoyable and delicious long weekend.

What do you want to see in Bologna with your kids?

Enjoy your trip sign-off
What to do in Bologna with kids; view of the start of the famous food streets in Bologna, just off Piazza Maggiore

6 Comments

    • Rachael Matthews

      If you do make it to Italy, I would try and add it if you have time as it is not one of the typical tourist haunts like Rome, Venice or Florence, but it is definitely worth seeing (and eating!)

  • Kata

    Thanks for the great tips! I haven’t heard about the 38 kilometres of porticoes. That’s insane! The whispering wall seems so cool! There is something like this in Budapest, too but that is definitely not an architectural gem. 🙂 We should visit Bologna for sure.

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