A relic from Dante's era and Europe's oldest student city, Bologna La Dotta ("the learned") lives on in its redbrick towers and stately colonnades. Red, along with nicknames, is something you'll see a lot of in Bologna La Rossa ("the red"). It's the color of the city's greatest gift to students everywhere -- spaghetti Bolognese -- and what the predominantly socialist Bolognesi see whenever a political debate is raging. Heading to nearby Florence? Make sure the less touristy Bologna La Grassa ("the fat") -- Italy's gourmet capital -- gets equal time.
Things to Do
Bologna's red-tiled roofs tumble out before you like a red carpet from the 12th-century leaning Tower of the Asinelli. All streets lead to the city's lively hub, Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the unfinished Basilica di San Petronio. It's been that way since the 16th century, when the pope halted work to stop it outdoing Rome's St. Peter's. Make the 45-minute pilgrimage along a porticoed walkway to the hilltop Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca for views of the Apennine hills.
Raining outside? Not a problem for the style-conscious Bolognesi -- the shopping streets in the city's historic center are covered in intricately decorated porticoes. Embrace the Bolognesi gourmet obsession and stop into hole-in-the-wall delicatessens to buy tasty wedges of Parmesan and the local mortadella sausage. Do your shopping before lunch -- once food is served, the shops shut and the streets empty. For big department stores like Coin, try the Via Rizzoli, the city's central thoroughfare.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Like denim-clad pigeons, the young perch on the steps of Neptune Fountain, while their elders gather in local cafes. Everyone ends up drinking in the fading sunlight on the Piazza Maggiore. Start your evening the local way with a leisurely passeggiata stroll around the square. Bologna's cultured minds get a workout at the Teatro Comunale, the city's main arts venue, before gathering under vaulted 15th-century ceilings at cool, low-lit bars in the student quarter around Via Zamboni.
Eating and Drinking
When Italians want to feast, they come to Bologna. In Italy, the city is known as Bologna La Grassa—Bologna the Fat—because this is the unofficial food capital of Italy. Bologna and the Emilia Romagna region have given the world not only spaghetti Bolognese but also pasta shapes of tortellini and tagliatelle fame, splendid cured meats, and other delicacies.