Spring is the season of endless travel opportunities, and with endless travel opportunities comes one big decision – where to head off to next?

Aside from those looking to go tan somewhere tropical this season, most people planning to travel overseas have picked Europe as their destination of choice.

It’s warm but not too hot, lively but not overcrowded, and the cultural sights are as stunning as ever.

Unfortunately, though, plenty of popular European hubs have lost their authentic touch throughout the years, and, as we already know by now, travel in 2024 is all about rediscovering once-overlooked gems.

And that’s exactly why one of these underrated hubs is currently leading the way as the continent’s fastest-growing destination, having experienced a whopping 80% increase in visitors from the same time last year.

piazza maggiore, bologna central square

So, why are so many people only now uncovering the centuries-old charm of Bologna, Italy?

One Of Italy’s Most Attraction-Filled Cities

While gorgeous Italian cities with plenty to see are fairly common, few actually come close to the incredible array of cultural, historical, and natural attractions of Bologna.

Lovingly nicknamed “La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa” (The Learned, The Fat, The Red), the city manages to encapsulate everything we’ve come to know and love about Italy, from the medieval architecture and labyrinthine streets to the world-class food that, as you’ll also see below, is on a whole other level.

two towers bologna

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s central square, is the perfect place to take in the views of architectural masterpieces like the Basilica of San Petronio and the Palazzo d’Accursio while also getting to enjoy a cup of that famous, creamy Italian espresso (truly, it’s like an entirely different drink than what we have back home).

Art lovers will love a trip through the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, which is home to one of the most impressive collections of Renaissance paintings you’ll ever come across, as well as the Museum of Modern Art of Bologna, which, true to its name, showcases more contemporary works of art.

People watch the paintings inside the National Gallery of Bologna

Here, you’ll also find the oldest university in the Western world (hence, the “la dotta” nickname), where, even if you set aside the historical significance for a moment, the views and architecture alone will leave you speechless.

If you’re strapped for time, I’d highly recommend taking a guided tour to experience as much of Bologna as possible – most of these are food and sightseeing tours that can be experienced for as little as $30.

Happy selfie with meat platter and cocktail in Bologna Italy

Living Out Your Italian Dream Without The Chaotic Crowds

You can search, but you won’t find a traveler who hasn’t dreamt of an Italian getaway at least once in their lives.

However, because of the chaotic crowds and tourist-centric establishments, most famous cities fail to live up to the expectations of that relaxing, carefree environment we’ve built up in our heads.

Crowds of tourists standing around the Colosseum in Rome Italy

That’s not the case with Bologna, though.

Here, you can experience every facet of Italian culture without having to fight your way through a swarm of tourists everywhere you go.

The Perfect Starting Point For Country-Wide Excursions

Thanks to its convenient central location, Bologna is the ultimate home base for those planning to also explore the rest of Italy during their trip.

The enchanting hills of Tuscany, the picturesque coastline of the Adriatic Sea, and the timeless charm of Rome are just a short train ride away – which is, by the way, my recommended mode of transportation in the country.

Freccia Rossa Fast Trains At Train Station Milano Centrale, Milan, Lombardy, Italy, Europe

You can head over to the Trenitalia site to learn more about schedules and fares.

Italy’s Food Capital

Italy, as a whole, is one of the countries with the richest, most influential culinary cultures on Earth, and going to the city the locals, themselves, consider to be the best of the best all but guarantees that you’ll be having some of the best dishes of your life.

woman eating italian food alone

Whether you’re here to shop your way through the artisanal cheeses, fresh pasta, and cured meats of Mercato di Mezzo or just sit down and enjoy a pre-made meal at one of the trattorias along the Quadrilatero, your palate is in for a treat.

Living up to the “la grassa” part of its nickname, Bologna will welcome you with the freshest Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and, of course, the legendary spaghetti Bolognese.

Italian Food

Don’t forget to end your meal with gelato – after all, you’re in the only city in the world with an actual gelato university, so you know that the people making it are true pros.

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