Are you planning a trip to Italy and trying to decide between Bologna and Verona for a few days? This article gives you need-to-know information based on travelers opinions to help you choose between the two.
Bologna is a larger, authentic Italian working city known for its exceptional gastronomy, centuries old university, and ancient arcades around the old town. Verona is smaller and prettier, with unique Roman ruins. It’s a lot more touristy than Bologna, though not as much as Florence and others.
With a population of close to 400.000, Bologna is an important trade fair center but is often underestimated as a touristic destination. It has the oldest university in the world and many beautiful medieval and Renaissance architectural gems, including the Two Towers, Piazza Maggiore, and the Basilica of San Petronio. Bologna is also famous for its culinary tradition, such as its bolognese sauce and pasta dishes.
With slightly over 250.000 inhabitants, Verona is a historic city with a rich cultural heritage and charming atmosphere. It’s famous for its amazing first-century Roman amphitheater. The Juliet’s balcony (Romeo and Juliet) and the town’s romantic vibe attract thousands of tourists. The city also has beautiful parks and gardens and countryside.
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What travelers say
- Some travelers suggest choosing Bologna for a 3-night stay because it’s a larger city than Verona and has a better nightlife. Many enjoy returning to Bologna in the evening returning from day trips.
- Bologna is not nearly as flooded with tourists as Florence.
- Bologna is Italy’s main railway hub, making it easy to access Florence or Verona in about one hour by high speed train. Other great locations like Parma, Mantua, Ravenna, Milan and Venice, and beach towns are also within easy reach.
- Travelers describe Bologna as more of a working city (some say gritty) and more authentic Italian city. Verona is a beautiful city in the lake/Alpine area, with great weather. It’s less touristy than Florence, and not as vibrant as Bologna.
- Some travelers love Bologna’s city center, the 34 km of arcades, and the very old university. Another major reason travelers choose Bologna for a stay is its food, particularly cold weather food.
- Verona, on the other hand, is cheaper than Bologna and has beautiful countryside with impressive Venetian style palaces nearby.
- Travelers who choose Verona describe it as a much prettier city than Bologna with better art and architecture. A charming, smaller city with a pretty and walkable center and a magnificent castle and amphitheater.
- Verona has more enjoyable weather during summer, whereas Bologna gets really hot.
- Some travelers suggest spending 2 nights in Verona and 3 nights in Bologna. Some feel Bologna is worth only a day or can be skipped altogether – unless you’re a foodie. Others say Verona’s charming center, Roman theater, and Giusti garden can be all seen in a single day.
Getting there and around
Bologna and Verona are only 50 minute away from each other by train. Both have their train station located right in their historical center.
As mentioned earlier, Bologna is a major national rail hub. It also hosts a great high-speed train station. From Bologna, it only takes 1h to get to Venice, 30 to 45 minutes to Florence, 2h to Rome, 3h to Naples, and 1h 1/2 to Milan.
Bologna requires a permit for driving in the historic center – you can get a steep fine otherwise. If you’re driving, you can leave the car in a parking outside the center. Alternatively, you can catch a train to Bologna.
From either the parking or train station, you can easily walk, catch a bus, or take a cab to your hotel, depending on how much luggage you have.
Verona also has good train connections to Venice, Milan, the Alps, Lake Garda, Florence, and Rome. However, it’s not a hub like Bologna so it doesn’t have ultra high train connections to the big cities like Bologna does.
Some travelers suggest renting a car in Verona to be able to easily visit surrounding sights (keep reading for more).
Both Verona and Bologna have a good choice of bike routes for some enjoyable rides around the city.
Vibe & people
Bologna has a big city feel, almost too big to get a handle on. It feels very energetic due to the large student population. Verona feels much smaller. However, both have a walkable historic center.
In the summer, Bologna gets really hot and humid and is often the warmest city in Italy (with Florence). In the winter, the city is cold and humid, whereas Verona is just cold.
Compared to Florence, Bologna is not as pretty but is livelier with fewer tourists and a lot more students – it’s a big university town. In Bologna, you meet mostly Italians as opposed to international visitors. In the mid season, the university is in session so students are everywhere.
Travelers sometimes caution against visiting Bologna in the summer and early fall because of the taxing heat. While the arcades around the city provide welcome shade, the temperatures in these months still make for a painful experience.
Bologna is bigger, noisier, and according to some, grittier than Verona, with a more “normal” city vibe. While some travelers love the arcades, others feel they limit the view of the city, reducing its attractiveness.
That said, many travelers agree the people in Bologna are great, the city has interesting sights (see below), and the food is amazing. Taking a walk from the porticoes to San Luca is a charming visual experience. The old center can be walked across in around 30 minutes.
Verona feels more intimate and smaller compared to Bologna. It’s also more romantic with its pink granite and rushing river, a great place for a honeymoon. It’s quieter and more relaxed.
Travelers are charmed by the city’s piazze, passeggiata and Roman monuments. The area around Piazza Bra and the Arena is beautiful, with a pedestrian zone.
Though Verona is touristy, tourists typically just focus on a few sights in the historical center – including Juliet’s balcony which is where 70% of visitors concentrate. They tend to ignore the rest of the city, a lot of which is beautiful.
Sights & culture
Bologna highlights travelers often highlight include the famous porticoes and the city’s towers. Bologna’s arcades are unique in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site, extending close to 40km within the medieval historical center and continuing into the modern part of the city.
Bologna has impressive churches (more so than Verona) including the huge Gothic Basilica of San Petronio with its 22 chapels, and the Basilica of San Domenico with its stunning Arca di San Domenico shrine.
The impressive 15h century Piazza Maggiore central square is surrounded by porticos, cafes, and great architecture.
The walk up (or down) along the Portico di San Luca long arcade from the Cathedral of Bologna to Sanctuario di San Luca is worth the effort, with a fantastic view at the top overlooking the 18th century Arco del Meloncello.
Other popular sights among travelers include Bologna’s medieval towers, including the famous Two Towers landmark, and the “whispering walls” in the 13th Palacio de Modesta, where you can easily hear someone whispering far across the large room.
Travelers often rave about Bologna’s art museum, the Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Art Gallery of Bologna), often considered superior to Verona’s.
The main touristic area in Verona is north of Piazza Bra, mainly inside of the river Adige. The 2000 year old Arena, the famous Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra, is one of the best preserved in the world. Travelers highly recommend going to an opera there.
As you walk toward the colossal city gates, you first get a wonderful sight of the ancient building surrounding the main square and its marble streets. the stunning Roman coliseum is within a short walk.
Traveler highlights frequently mentioned besides the Roman Coliseum include the Roman theater, the Ponte Scaligero, the Basilica San Zeno (a Renaissance wonder with incredible sculptures around the main portal), the San Fermo church with its amazing wooden ceiling, the Dante statue, Piazza Erbe, Della Scala tombs, and Castelvecchio and its museum.
Verona has many great plazzas (piazze) with food centuries-old markets still in operation. The Adige river is crossed by Ponte Pietra, a Roman bridge dating back from 100 BC. The 16th century Giusti Palace and its Renaissance gardens (among the most beautiful in Europe) is also worth a visit.
Here’s a suggested visit path:
- Start at the Church of San Fermo
- Walk by Juliet’s house and Piazza Erbe
- Walk through corso Sant’Anastasia and via Ponte Pietra,
- Walk in the direction of Ponte Pietra and enjoy the panorama
- Walk across the bridge
- Climb the hill to Castel San Pietro, see the Roman Theatre on your way.
Travelers sometimes recommend skipping “Juliet’s Balcony and “Tomb” which are fake tourist attractions that are always flooded with tourists. The Montague’s cemetery is worth a visit, however.
Food & nightlife
While both cities are known for their restaurants, Bologna has a larger selection and is often considered among the top 3 cities in Italy for dining. The city is famous for its pasta and pork dishes.
Tamburini on Via Caprarie near the Nepttune Square is a good lunch recommendation with mixed cold cuts and cheese. Meloncello is also raved about for itt’s amazing gnocchi – making a reservation is recommended.
Other affordable places travelers recommend in Bologna include:
- Trattoria della Santa (typical bolognese food)
- Ca’ Pelletti (pizzeria)
- Pane Vino e San Daniele (Bolognese antipasti, charcuterie & pasta, simple spot , quiet patio).
- O Sole Mio and Bella Napoli (pizza)
- Molo 3 (fish)
- Trattori Boni (outside the center)
- Caffé Zamboni (great aperitivo)
- La Tua Piadina
- Sette Tavoli (easy walk from city center, intimate setting)
- Trattoria Gianni, near Piazza Maggiore.
- I Matti della Polenta
- Trattoria da Me
- Osteria Broccaindosso (small place on Via Broccaindosso, traditional Bolognese dishes for a reasonable amount of money)
- Serghei (great food, a bit hidden)
- Quadrilatero old market near Piazza del Maggiore.
In many Bolognese restaurants, you can ask for the Gramigna specialy – great filled pasta with a tomato and sausage sauce. Another thing Bologna is well known for is “treess” which is a small sample of 3 different pastas e.g. tagliatelle al ragù (what we call “Bolognese sauce”), tortellini, and lasagna.
The Bologna Food and Wine Factory Tour is very popular among travelers.
Bologna’s nightlife centers around its bars and cafes in the historical center. Many serve great wines and bar snacks.
Verona’s food scene is more limited than Bologna’s. Verona’s best restaurants are near the Piazza Erbe and Piazza Bra areas.
Verona is reputed for its gnocchi pasta and also has interesting wine. A good upscale restaurant in the center is Trattoria al Pompiere which serves an amazing risotto al piccione as well as cheeses and meat.
The Bergin, Al Capitel, and le Combare are recommended budget places. L’Orologio at Corso, a short walk from Piazza Bra, has very good local specialties and many types of wine, with very few tourists.
Recommended (mid-range) places include La Cantina del 15, Trattoria Dal Taio, and Ristorante Maffei.
High-end recommendations are la Fontanina and Le Gemme di Artemisia. Another great place for dinner is Osteria Il Bertoldo with its nice and friendly atmosphere and excellent seafood combined with traditional Veronese cuisine
Verona’s nightlife is less vibrant than Bologna’s but there are a few nice bars and cafes in the historical center. Verona ‘s main square Piazza Bra and Corso Porta Borsari are lively at night with restaurants and bars. Opera performances take place around the Arena in the summer.
Bologna has larger shops than Verona – especially around Via Indipendenza – with many chain stores like Zara and H&M. Also in Bologna are many independent shops selling local products and souvenirs.
Bologna’s shopping is concentrated in an area known locally as “Little London” due to its many British pubs and shops selling British goods. The area around Piazza Maggiore is also good for shopping.
Verona has fewer shops than Bologna but many are independent shops selling local products and souvenirs. Verona’s shopping is concentrated in the pedestrian zone around Piazza Bra and Via Mazzini where travelers can buy local products.
In Bologna, travelers generally choose to stay in the historic center. If you arrive by train, the northern part of the center is closer to the train station (the station area should be avoided)
Note that April is a busy time for hotels in Bologna with prices often soaring due to Cosmoprof, the world’s leading beauty and cosmetics trade fair. Many hotels are booked up a year in advance.
Travelers often recommend Hotel Metropolitan located midway between Piazza Maggiore and the train station.
The Albergo Centrale is a well-rated, affordable option.
In Verona, Hotel Torcolo has is well located near Piazza Bra with easy access on foot to Piazza Erbe, the Coliseum, the Roman Theater, Basilica San Zeno, Castelvecchio, Ponte Scaligero, etc. You can easily walk to the train station or to the numerous restaurants near the two main piazze.
Hotel Armando (Best Western) in the historical center, close to the Amphitheater, is also recommended. It has an elevator and a good breakfast.
Hotel Bologna is also a nice choice off of Piazza Bra, close to the Arena which is convenient for attending opera performances at night. Travelers also mention Hotel Aurora on Piazza Erbe.
Some travelers warmly recommend Hotel Milano and Spa, a boutique hotel behind the Arena. While the rooms could be larger, they offer good comfort in a convenient location close to the main shopping street – everything is within short walking distance. Visitors appreciate the nice staff and the great rooftop bar. The place has affordable rates off season.
The Indigo Verona – Grand Hotel des Arts (IHG) is beautiful with lots of artwork, comfortable, and close to the train station, the old town, the park, and the restaurants.
Hotel Due torri is also often praised for its great location, nice rooms, and great breakfast. Travelers recommend the Giulietta & Romeo hotel for its helpful staff.
The Gentleman of Verona, a Grand Relais upscale hotel, is also often mentioned.
From Bologna, you can easily catch a quick train to nearby Parma, Modena, Ferrara or Ravenna for a nice daily trip. You can also take a train to a nice seaside resort such as Rimini, Riccione, or Cesenatico, which are well-known for their beautiful beaches and lively atmosphere.
Rimini is a historic and cultural city with many ancient Roman ruins and museums, Riccione is known for its luxury boutiques and spa facilities, and Cesenatico is a charming fishing village with a picturesque canal and a lively seafront promenade.
Verona is close to the South Tyrol and the Alps with some great weekend getaways for hiking. Coming from Verona, the train to Munich runs into the Alp, making a stop in the beautiful mountain town of Bolzano. It’s easy to travel through Germany and Austria.
Verona provides quick access to other nice towns like Vicenza, Padova, and Venice – one of the most unique cities in the world. It’s also close to Garda Lake, the largest lake in Italy and a popular tourist spot with its picturesque towns and landscapes.