There are plenty of things to do in Bologna on a small budget. With a tradition of culture and knowledge goes back thousands of years, it’s only natural that the city of Europe’s first university would want to share things that lift your spirits and broaden your understanding. You'll find museums that open their collections to the public for free, artistic spots along cobblestoned alleys, and churches housing masterpieces and narrating centuries of history. 

    Bologna is also a forward-thinking city, where you can explore many modern structures hosting contemporary masterpieces. Traces from the gothic and renaissance eras intersect with futuristic trends and pop art – all of which you can experience for free. 

    1

    Certosa di Bologna

    An open-air museum dating back to 1334

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    • Unusual
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    Certosa di Bologna (also known as Bologna's Monumental Cemetery) has a romantic charm and melancholy peace that has inspired great writers like Dickens and Byron. The former Carthusian monastery is in the city's western suburbs, about a 30-minute bus ride from the centre. This architectural masterpiece dates back to 1334 and became a cemetery in the early 19th century. 

    It has intricate sculptures of angels and mausoleums preserving ancient families’ forgotten glories. Poet Giosuè Carducci and singer Lucio Dalla are among Certosa di Bologna's permanent residents. The Chiesa di San Girolamo (Church of San Girolamo) houses treasures and a pictorial cycle on the life of Christ.

    Location: Via della Certosa, 18, 40134 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: March–October: daily from 7 am to 6 pm. November–February: daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +39 051 615 0811

    Map
    2

    Villa Spada

    Italian gardens surrounding an 18th-century villa

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    Villa Spada is a 19th-century Italian park and villa in Bologna.  Built in the 1700s, statues and architecture frame its natural landscape, while geometric hedges delineate spaces in a symmetrical shape. The neoclassical villa houses the Museum of Tapestry, where you can see examples of dresses across different cultures and periods.

    Villa Spada is open to the public, so you can stretch out on the large sun-warmed lawn on Collina di Casaglia (Casaglia Hill) and admire the cityscape. The gardens have dense and varied vegetation, including Mediterranean cypresses and laurels, as well as exotic plants such as Himalayan cedars.

    Location: Via di Casaglia, 3, 40135 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: Monday–Friday from 8.30 am to 7 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm

    Phone: +39 051 615 0811

    Map
    3

    Montagnola Park

    Unwind in one of Bologna's most scenic parks

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    Montagnola Park is one of the oldest public parks in Bologna, with its ancient origins evident from centuries-old sycamores. Its current landscaping is of 19th-century designs, due to Napoleon’s decision to add a French touch to the city during his stay. 

    The park's scenic entrance on the northern side, along with the Scalinata Del Pincio staircase, was built to welcome those arriving in Bologna by train. Risorgimento uprisings against the Austrians took place in 1848, so you'll see a monument dedicated to those who fell in this battle. There's also a fountain with sculptures of fighting animals, built for the Esposizione Emiliana in 1888. 

    Location: Via Irnerio, 2/3, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: Daily from 7 am to midnight

    Map
    4

    Luigi Cattaneo Anatomical Wax Model Museum

    See 19th-century anatomical wax models and real human skulls

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    • Unusual
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    The Luigi Cattaneo Anatomical Wax Model Museum is a testament to Bologna's role in medical sciences during the 18th and 19th centuries. Located in the University of Bologna, the museum was established by Luigi Cattaneo, professor of anatomy in the 1970s. 

    You can see wax models dating back to the 19th century, as well as real human skulls bones used for research and teaching. The museum also demonstrates the development of preservation techniques, with displays of mummified, dried and fluid-preserved organs. 

    Location: Via Irnerio, 48, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 1 pm and from 2 pm to 4 pm (closed on weekends)

    Phone: +39 051 209 1556

    Map

    photo by Patafisik (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    5

    Luigi Bombicci Museum of Mineralogy

    Discover meteorites, rocks and ornamental stones

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    The Luigi Bombicci Museum of Mineralogy has a collection of over 50,000 specimens, including meteorites and ornamental stones. Around 10,000  of those objects are displayed according to categories like Systematic Mineralogical, Italian Regional Mineralogical, Bolognese Mineralogical-Petrographical, and Systematic Petrographical. 

    Must-sees at the Luigi Bombicci Museum of Mineralogy include the silvery-white Bologna stone, 142 meteorites, and tools used by 19th-century scholars. The museum is home to Italy's largest collection of ornamental stones, a quirky display of amber stones containing insects, and a 230-g gold nugget from Ethiopia. 

    Location: Piazza di Porta S. Donato, 1, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: June–August: Tuesday–Friday from 10 am to 1 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. September–May: Tuesday–Friday from 9 am to 1 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +39 051 209 4926

    Map
    6

    Bologna Cathedral

    Also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro

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    Bologna Cathedral towers above the city centre with its striking baroque facade. Officially called the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro, the building dates back to the 10th century, though restorations in 1605 removed traces of the original Romanesque-Gothic design. 

    Head inside to see a nave with side chapels, housing artwork by prestigious painters like Carraci and Fontana, a 12th-century wooden crucifix, and terracotta sculptures depicting the Compianto sul Cristo Morto (the Mourning of Christ). For a small fee, you can climb to the top of the bell tower, the second-highest in the city after Asinelli Tower. There's an enormous bell weighing 3.3 tonnes, affectionately called nonna (grandma) by locals.

    Location: Via dell'Indipendenza, 7, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy

    Phone: +39 051 222 112

    Map
    7

    Mercato di Mezzo

    A must-visit for sampling Bologna's local specialities

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    Mercato di Mezzo (Middle Market) has been operating in Piazza Maggiore since the Middle Ages. It became a covered market after Italy's unification, now serving as one of the best places to shop for local produce and cuisine. 

    The market's top floor has a sit-down pizzeria, while the basement is dedicated to craft beers. The ground floor hosts dozens of food stalls and dining tables. You'll be treated to a wide range of cheeses, cold cuts, handmade pasta, bread, wine, meat, fish, and gelato. 

    Location: Via Clavature, 12, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: Daily from 9 am to midnight

    Phone: +39 051 228 782

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    8

    Mercato Piazzola

    Shop for vintage fashion and souveniers

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    • Shoppers

    Mercato Piazzola (Piazzola Market) is a local market that takes place in Piazza dell'Otto Agosto on Fridays and Saturdays. This large space holds around 400 stalls and shops offering a wide range of goods. The market has a multiethnic vibe, though the colours, liveliness and bustle are all quintessentially Bolognese. 

    You'll find sections dedicated to clothes, shoes, accessories, household items, plants and flowers. If you like all things vintage, visit the stands in the Montagnola area to browse military uniforms and eveningwear, as well as novelties and ethnic crafts.

    Location: Piazza dell'Otto Agosto, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: Friday–Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm

    Map
    9

    Ono Contemporary Art

    A classy gallery dedicated to all art forms

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    • Shoppers

    The concept behind the exhibitions and set-up of Ono Contemporary Art is fascinating, especially if you're interested in modern forms of art. The gallery has 3 floors dedicated to all types of pop culture, with sections on music, cinema and fashion. 

    It's a concept store that's not just limited to paintings and visual art. You can take part in various art-related lectures and meet friends for an aperitif in the lounge bar. Peruse the onsite bookshop for texts and catalogues on current and past exhibitions, photobooks and essays. 

    Location: Via Santa Margherita, 10, 40123 Bologna BO, Italy

    Open: Tuesday–Friday from 3 pm to 8 pm, Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm and from 3.30 pm to 8 pm (closed on Sundays and Mondays)

    Phone: +39 051 262 465

    Map

    photo by Yutaka Seki (CC BY 2.0) modified

    10

    Bologna Shoah Memorial

    Dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust

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    The Bologna Shoah Memorial was established in 2016 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. Located on the edge of Bologna’s historical centre, the monument consists of 2 steel blocks on a square spanning 1,950 square metres. 

    The sleek facade, split into rectangular sections, reflects the light and surroundings. Enter the corridor between the walls and you'll find yourself in a narrow and oppressive space, which fragments the smooth exterior into a cruel set of cells – representing the emptiness left by the deportees. 

    Location: Via Giacomo Matteotti, 40129 Bologna BO, Italy

    Map

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