*This is a sponsored post and trip
For a lot of us Brits, Spaghetti Bolognese was a staple dish of our childhood. Growing up, plates heaped with hot pasta, draped in delicious meaty ragu and sprinkled (who am I fooling) smothered in cheese were the ultimate comfort food – but few of us ever think about the city it derives from. So, when Bologna, Italy was revealed as my surprise destination with BeRightBack, I couldn’t be more excited to embark on a weekend of pasta-filled indulgence.
For those who don’t know, BeRightBack is a subscription service that provides you with three European breaks a year for a monthly fee starting from £49.99. The twist is, you don’t discover destination until one month before you’re set to depart! You can get £20 off of your first BeRightBack trip with code JASMINE20.
Accompanied by my good friend Vivian, my weekend in Bologna is spent embracing the city’s rich food culture while feasting my eyes on its beautiful sights, art and architecture. For a breakdown of this trip, head to the bottom of this page. Otherwise, scroll down for more.
After a two hour flight from London Stansted, we arrive in Bologna late on Friday night and head directly to our accommodation for the weekend. The BeRightBack subscription price covers both flights and hotel and we have been booked into the swanky four-star SavHotel. Located around a 10 minute taxi-ride from the center of the city, we’re impressed by the hotel’s modern interior design as well as its roof terrace which is decked out with sunbeds and a hot tub. After enjoying an episode of Italian X-Factor, we head to bed to get some rest before our first day of exploration.
Basilica di San Petronio
We take a short taxi ride to the city’s main square, Piazza Maggiore, after enjoying breakfast in our hotel. Here, we find many of Bologna’s key points of interest including the iconic Fountain of Neptune. Piazza Maggoire’s greatest feature is the Basilica di San Petronio. This huge gothic church is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Petronius, who was the bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. Admittedly, I arrive dressed more for the ‘gram than for Sunday service, so pay €2 for a disposable cover-up to conceal my off-shoulder crop top. Inside we discover a detailed interior and interesting features including an installation of Foucoult’s Pendulum, however, for me the Basilica’s best attribute is its rooftop. After risking it all in a rickety makeshift elevator (the exterior of the Basilica was partly under construction) we discover an impressive panoramic view of the city.
Archiginnasio of Bologna
We continue to explore the Piazza and its surrounding area and stumble upon the Archiginnasio of Bologna which happens to be another of the city’s gems. Once the main building of the University of Bologna (Europe’s oldest university), the Archiginnasio is one of the most notable buildings in the city. On its lower level, a courtyard is adorned with beautiful wall decorations accentuated by rays of sunlight that peep through its archways. Upstairs we find the entrance to the anatomical theater, a room made almost entirely from wood and featuring statues of some of history’s most significant doctors.
After a morning of discovery and picture taking we are ready to experience the main reason we are so happy to be in this city. Bologna, of course, is the birthplace of everyone’s favourite pasta dish, so we seek out the best spot to sample a truly authentic serving of Spag Bol. Osteria dell’Orsa is a fairly hidden but incredibly popular restaurant known for serving some of the city’s finest pasta dishes at a wonderfully affordable price. We arrive at around 1pm and have to wait about 20 minutes until we are led to a table. Alongside a €2 glass of red wine, we each order a generously sized starter before tucking into a tasty bowl of pasta that is totally worth both the wait and the hype.
Exploring the City
After lunch we are craving something sweet so stop at a branch of the Venchi gelato chain. Here I get two big scoops of goodness on top an unnecessarily decadent cone. Right beside this branch of Venchi (which is just around the corner of Piazza Maggiore) we discover Frida’s a florist that is ultimately an Instagrammer’s dream. We wander further through the city, taking the time to appreciate its quintessential porticos that offer us shelter from the sun. During our stroll we find ourselves outside of the National Art Gallery of Bologna. Here we admire a ton of paintings from the 13th to the 18th century.
If It’s Nice, Eat There Twice
As the sun sets we begin to crave for another pasta fix. We soon realise that a lot of the top-rated places to dine require an advance booking and are largely already reserved for the weekend. So, we take this as an opportunity to return to Osteria dell’Orsa and sample more of their menu. Alongside bolognese, Bologna is also known as the birthplace of tortellini which, interestingly, is traditionally served in a delicious and richly flavoured broth. For dessert I indulge in a delicious tiramisu and another glass of ridiculously affordable red wine.
Drink Like a Local
When we exit the restaurant, we notice the streets are packed with locals. Some sit on brick walls, pouring wine into the glasses, while others stand around cocktail carts that have been wheeled out onto busy roads. We decide that this is the perfect opportunity to do as the locals do and head to what seems to be a popular spot. Inside Medulla Vini, a small cavern with a surrounded by wine sipping locals, we indulge in another glass of red before heading back to our hotel for the night.
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
After filling up at up breakfast in our hotel, we head to Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. Perched 300m above the city, the Sanctuary is a basilica church built in the 17th century. To get there, many visitors choose to walk up the Portico di San Luca, which is the world’s longest portico stretching just over 2 miles. We decide to take a taxi to the top because we are: a) short on time and b) feeling lazy after yesterday’s jam packed agenda. When we reach the Sanctuary we are impressed not only by the structure itself but of the incredible view we are able to see of the city’s rural surrounding area. We head inside the church to admire itrs beautiful hand painted interior that we are, unfortunately, unable to take photographs of. After our exploration, we decided to make our descent by walking down the long portico which takes us around 45 minutes to complete.
After visiting the Sanctuary we seek out one of Bologna’s most popular Instagram spots. Known as “Little Venice” for its resemblance of the famous canal filled city, one of Bologna’s lesser known features can be found tucked behind its many streets. We soon realise that Little Venice is the exactly what ‘Instagram vs Reality’ memes are made of. While most images provide the impression that Bologna may have its own canal adorned cityscape, the truth is that visitors can only view the city’s underground canals through a few hidden peepholes. The most popular of which is a graffiti-covered hatch in a wall that opens on to the otherwise concealed Reno Canal.
Il Veliero Ristorante Pizzeria
After picking up our luggage from the hotel and before heading to the airport, we stop for lunch by the city’s central train station (from where you can board an airport shuttle bus). After back-to-back servings of pasta, we’re eager to embrace another local speciality and opt to dine at Il Veliero Ristorante Pizzeria. Here I order a pizza topped with pistachio cream and parma ham and I am immediately blown away by the size of what I am served. If there’s anything to say about Bologna’s food other than how delicious it is, it’s that it always offers great value for money. After admitting defeat and abandoning a quarter of my dish, we make our way to the train station where I manage to find a smidgen of space in my dessert stomach for one departing serving of Vechi gelato.
How I travelled: The trip was booked via BeRightBack. We flew from London Stansted to Bologna with Ryanair, the return tickets were just £10 per person. There is a regular shuttle bus from the airport to the center of the city that costs just €6. During our stay, we travelled mostly by taxi as we were short on time. As far as we could find, there is no UBER or similar service, so we often had to seek out an allocated taxi rank to find a driver.
What I did: The weekend was largely spent eating and visiting around the most popular attractions of the city. As mentioned in this post, during this visit we went to Piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio, the Archiginnasio of Bologna and the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.