I was a little surprised when I heard our hotel concierge at Hotel Touring say that Bologna is not considered a particularly child-friendly city for tourism. Lots of families from the north of Italy pass through the town in the summer though on their way to the beaches and countryside of the south of Italy. Granted the cobblestones are not great for toddlers or baby buggies, but I think Bologna is great for visiting older children. Here are 5 reasons I think visiting Bologna with kids would be a great family city destination.
Compact City Center
The historical city center is beautifully preserved, fairly compact and easily navigable. Parts of the city center are also pedestrianised including a charming area that used to be the medieval market. Children would have some independence without parents constantly having to be on guard against traffic.
In addition, the 24 miles of colonnades in the historical centre are covered which is great for walking without being directly under the summer sun.
The Need for Speed
Your speed-loving children will love the factory visits to several giants of the Italian automative industry in the area. You are able to visit the factories and museums of Ducati, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati which are all within easy reach of Bologna.
For speed-loving adults and teens with a license, you can take a Ferrari for a test drive. I heard from Giacomo, our driver, that the accompanying Ferrari sales staff tend to be young, beautiful and blonde so that you can briefly pretend you really are a Master of the Universe.
Bologna has been nicknamed The Fat One for its love of good food. Eating in this city is a pleasure for both adults and children. Thanks to its location in a fertile valley, the city has access to all sorts of meats and cheeses, especially prosciutto and parmesan.
There are so many types of dishes such as pasta, lasagne and meatballs available. I had no idea all the different ways you can cure a leg of ham!! It is especially famous for tagliatelle with a ragu sauce (which became Bolognese sauce elsewhere in the world).
And, no you don’t have it with spaghetti which is a Southern Italian pasta. Unlike the rest of the world which throws whatever pasta together with whatever sauce is at hand, Italians pair specific types of pasta with specific sauces. Who knew??
Bologna also takes its gelato seriously which, of course, I whole-heartedly support. What could be better to coax away any grumps?
Most restaurants also closed between lunch and dinner. After all that walking and eating, I think an afternoon nap would be very civilised.
Closely related to food, the city’s cafes are great for people watching. In fact, Italy takes sitting in a café watching the world go by almost to Olympic sport levels.
On the weekend, Plaza Maggiore and the pedestrianized streets attract lots of talented buskers, musicians and artists. I’m sure many of them are drawn from the city’s large student population courtesy of the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university founded in 1088. They had that hungry but happy graduate student look about them, their faces unlined from the stresses of the daily grind.
In 2006 Bologna was designated a UNESCO city of music. Check out this duo called Bucket Busters who make percussion with ordinary home tools seem easy. The show they put on is very similar to Stomp who appear on Broadway and the West End.
Interesting Historical Monuments
In the Middle Ages, Bologna had about 180 towers belonging to churches, noble family homes etc. Historically the nobles had a habit of falling out with each other and causing bloodshed. It probably helped then to have a really tall tower to peer out over your neighbour’s garden wall.
Today only about 20 towers remain but that should be more than enough. I climbed the 498 steps of the Asinelli and I was good and tired. Most children love to climb towers and peer out from the top. And, what should be the reward for such exercise? Gelato, of course.
Below the city’s main public library, the Sala Borsa, archeologists have found the ruins of Roman buildings circa 200 AD. It’s free to enter the ruins and have a walk around. The Sala Borsa itself is a beautiful building. It’s kind of cool to think that you are literally walking over history.
The basilica of San Luca perches on a hill overlooking the town. It is famous for having a icon of the Madonna and child which has been attributed to Luke the Evangelist (the same man who wrote the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament).
You can walk under a colonnade all the way up to the church like pilgrims used to do in days of old. It’s a long way uphill (4.7 miles) but pilgrims liked to partake in a bit of suffering. Nowadays, there is the charming little red train that does regular daily round-trips from Plaza Maggiore to San Luca. My kids would want to visit San Luca just to ride in the cute train!
Info for Visiting Bologna with Kids
Bologna is located in the Po valley, a very wealthy area of Italy. Flights, to and from Bologna, are frequent and inexpensive. The airport, Marconi International Airport, is one of the busiest in Italy. Also due to its great location, the city has a train station which is an important hub to other major locations in Italy. For example, one of the other tourists I met had arrived in Bologna via a short train ride from Florence. I hope you’ll agree that visiting Bologna with kids would be a very easy city break destination.
I stayed at Hotel Touring which is very centrally located near the medieval city centre. A small, family-run hotel, the hotel provides contemporary accommodation in a historical setting. I believe the only reason it is not a 4 star hotel is because it is missing some of the amenities required of one, such as a pool. Hotel Touring has 5 large rooms that can accommodate families with a sofa bed and a terrace. In addition, there are 2 suites, one of which has a kitchenette, and each with their own little private courtyard.
If you don’t feel like driving to the car factories, you can arrange transportation through the fabulous driver I used. His name is Giacomo Colombo and he can be reached via his website. He also can arrange private transportation for families. He has carseats and an 8 seater minivan. His rates are reasonable starting at €25/hour for the first two hours, and €20/hour for transportation exceeding two hours.
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