Bologna is a great city to base yourself with a great train link to the rest of Italy. If, by chance, you run out of things to do in the city, there are plenty of day trip options for you to take. Here are some of my favourite cities in the region, especially around Emilia Romagna, that would make for a perfect day trip:
Getting around Italy from Bologna
Train is arguably the best way to get around from Bologna, though it isn’t the cheapest. But for the most part the train stations for each city is near the city center and the service is generally fast and reliable, especially for short distances.
I recommend booking train tickets using Omio, since it saves time from queueing at the ticket machine and then having to validate the ticket. There is the occasional 50 cent surcharge but I find it worth skipping the queue for.
Another way is to rent a car and drive around. While I wouldn’t do that in Bologna itself, since the old town is full of one way street and restricted area. However, if you are staying somewhere that has convenient parking or looking to do more day trips, then renting a car might be a good idea. Especially if you plan on visiting some cheese or balsamic vinegar factory.
22 minutes from Bologna by train
A charming town known for its balsamic vinegar and Italian sports car factories, Modena itself is a beautiful ancient town. In the heart of the city is the Piazza Grande, where you can find both Modena’s Cathedral and the Communal Palace with its clock tower. The Cathedral dates back to the 11th century, while the clock tower is from the 15th century, the palace is a mash of medieval edifice. Do go inside as some of the halls are stunning work of art.
The Ducal Palace is another highlight, the three-storey Italian Baroque Palace was built in the 17th century to replace the Este Castle on the same site. If sports car is your thing, there is the Museum Enzo Ferrari that was built in 2012 and chronicles the Ferrari founder’s life.
24 minutes from Bologna by train
Ferrara is a little gem less than half an hour by train from Bologna, a UNESCO heritage town itself. It was the seat of the House of Este, who is linked to the modern house of Habsburg and British Royal Family, and built the Castello Estense.
Surrounded by canals, the castle is in the heart of Ferarra with an unparalleled view of the square. The cathedral is just around the corner and a beautiful gem. It’s worth visiting the castle which has a comprehensive exhibit on the town and d’Este’s history. There are even dungeons and castle terraces.
Also don’t miss the Church of San Cristoforo alla Certosa on the north end of the city. It was built as a monastery in the 15th century and became a cemetery. It’s free to wander the grounds quietly and admire the walkways and architecture. You can also enter the church for a visit. The locals are very friendly since they don’t get a lot of visitors.
52 minutes from Bologna by train
Another beautiful city in Emilia-Romagna often overlooked by visitors, Parma is the land of cheese, parma ham, and historic buildings. You don’t want to miss the Parma Cathedral and the Baptistery, the latter is made of pink Veronese marble. Both were built in the 12th century and don’t miss going inside the church to see the beautiful fresco and organ.
Piazza Garibaldi is in the heart of the city with narrow and colour alleyways going past it and Renaissance houses all around. The yellow palace and clock tower are also a photogenic point.
If you are interested in visiting a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory, see my blog post here.
1 hour 8 minutes from Bologna by train
A tiny town between Bologna and Rimini, Forlimpopoli is a small Roman town that is overlooked by many. Its location along the ancient Via Emilia makes it an important part of the salt trade, since it’s on an ancient crossroad and 20km from the sea. Its name comes from forum popli, the Roman Forum.
Its other claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the father of Italian gastronomy. He was a businessman who travel and collect recipes and publish a cookbook that is the first National Italian cookbook before the Italian Unification. You can learn all about him and Italian cooking at Casa Artusi Museum and Cooking School. It sprawls over 3000m2 and has three libraries, a cookery school, restaurant, wine cellar, a bookshop and conference halls.
Under the guidance of the masterful ladies there, I learned how to make the different type of Italian pasta, before feasting on some delicious local pasta dishes at a restaurant there.
1 hour 15 minutes from Bologna by train
Rimini is a popular seaside resort but it also has deep Roman origin. Do note that the beach is about 20 minutes’ walk from the train station with the old town in the other direction. There are still many Roman structures left, in particular the Augustus Arch and the Tiberius Bridge. The bridge is the start of the Aemilia Way that goes past Forlimpopoli!
For some more recent landmarks, there’s the medieval Tempio Malatestiano, the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Rimini that was never finished. It’s named after the House of Malestesta, who ruled Rimini from the 13th to the 16th century.
They also built the Sismondo Castle is the only remaining part of the castle complex built by the Malestesta. It’s named after Sismondo Malatesta and built in the 15th century. Nearby is the medieval square Piazza Cavour and the grande market place Antica Pescheria that are a relict of the history now adapt to modern day uses.
2 hour 15 minutes from Bologna, change to bus at Rimini
An independent city state surrounded by Italy, San Marino is set atop Mount Titano near the Adriatic Coast. It was founded by Marino in the 4th century as a refuge for Christians, with a beautiful medieval old town and its three iconic towers.
It’s an hour’s bus ride from Rimini, and a day can get you through the highlights. For a full guide, check out my San Marino day trip post here.
1 hour 20 minutes from Bologna by train
You might not have heard of Ravenna, but surely you have heard of the Roman Empire. For 74 years in the 5th century, Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire before it collapsed, then it was the capital for the Ostrogoth Empire. The city is a hub for art and culture, especially known for its mosaics. The 6th century Basilica of San Vitale and the 5th century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia are both great places to see stunning mosaics.
1 hour 2 minutes from Bologna by train
Milan arguably needs more than one day, but if one day is all you have then there is a fast train that can get you to the city in just over an hour. The must see are the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II next to it, both an iconic sight. Want to know more about Milan’s top spot, I have a weekend guide for you that includes all the highlight!
1 hour 25 minutes from Bologna by train
Oh Romeo Romeo, why art thou Romeo? Fans of the Shakespear tragedy shouldn’t miss the chance to go to Verona. You can visit Juliet’s house and stand on its balcony, even if it is constructed from a sarcophagus. The city of love is not only home to the love story, but also one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world. Intrigued? More on visiting Verona here!
1 hour 38 minutes from Bologna by train
Mantua is on the edge of the Emilia-Romagna region and another hidden gem. Ruled by the Gonzaga family, they built three palaces across the small town from ancient castle to a summer palace. Bored of being indoors? Mantua also has three artificial lakes that makes for a good stroll. Here’s what else to do in Mantua.