Bologna is our top pick for incredible and delicious Italian food; foodies out there will love our tried and tested Bologna food tour! We will take you to all the best places to watch, sample, smell and eat the finest foods Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region has to offer.
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Free Bologna Food Tour
Free Food Tours Bologna v. Paid?
This is a self guided FREE classic Bologna food tour, perfect for just you or a small group of friends to discover all of Bologna’s food secrets! In every cafe, shop and hostelry we visited food tasting was offered gladly by people who love to show off the amazing and delicious array of local foods. With any paid Bologna food tours or day trips, you risk being taken to a place because the tour operators gets a commission, not because it’s the best. Every place on our list is there because we have visited and been impressed with the food and hospitality.
Where to Stay in Bologna
Stay at the beautiful Al Cappello Rosso On the doorstep of Piazza Maggiore, the hotel has the perfect location for your food tour, shopping and night life. With quirky rooms, bags or history and a great restaurant, this hotel is the perfect pick for a few days in Bologna.
For other Bologna hotels and places to stay, check out deals and special prices with our partner, Booking.com.
Before you head off, you might find these two books helpful in terms of additional information and to learn about Bologna and cooking some of the foods you might want to buy along the way.
The Ten Best Foods to Eat in Bologna
In Bologna, spaghetti bolognese is always made with tuna and a fresh tomato sauce. If you want bolognese with a ragu (meat) sauce it will only be served with tagliatelle, flat thin strips of pasta. Try it and taste Bologna in every delicious mouthful!
This silky smooth ham is made with ground pork meat. Bologna’s mortadella is famous for the fineness of the ground meat, which gives its wonderful, fine texture. Sometimes flavoured with pistachio or pepper and studded with fat, make sure you buy this fresh and sliced thinly. This is such a local food and the sandwich filling of choice in Bologna.
Prosciutto crudo or Parma ham comes from pigs fattened by whey left over from the making of Parmesan cheese; the techniques to produce the best prosciutto crudo have been passed down and perfected from generation to generation. Make sure you buy products market as DOP. This is short for Protected Designation of Origin; as the the name suggests, this certification ensures that products are locally produced to exacting recipes and standards.
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
The superior Parmesan cheese, made using techniques that have barely changed in centuries. This cheese is so versatile; use it in cooking, spread over your pasta or salads and eat as a nibble with a glass of dry white wine.
Tortellini & Tortelloni
Both stuffed pastas, the latter being the larger of the two. The dough is known as sfog, the shops where you can buy
them handmade as sfogline, although the direct translation is ‘the lady who makes the sfog’. Traditionally filled with ricotta and parsley or minced pork, eat them in a chicken broth or slather with melted butter and parmesan. Delicious!
Balsamico di Modena
Authentic DOP Balsamic di Modena can be 25 years in the making. Rich, thick and smooth, this vinegar goes with virtually anything Italian! Like a fine wine, it is complex with layers of flavour and comes to life on your palate. Try authentic balsamic vinegar with some chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano or fresh ripe strawberries; it blends perfectly and tastes incredible.
Culatello is the most expensive ham in the world, currently selling for over €110 per kilo! It is only produced in a very specific place near the Po river, close to Parma. The mists that roll off the river Po provide the perfect environment to produce this king of cured meats.
The hills in the Emilia Romagna region are home to the most prized ingredient, the truffle. Black truffles are sought from March to November; the more expensive white truffle can only be found during October and November when the annual truffle festival is held.
Great for dipping your piadine bread, this cheese tastes like cream cheese, yoghurt and sour cream mixed together and it’s delicious!
Self Guided Food & Walking Tour of Bologna
Our start point for your self guided tour of Bologna is one of two central squares in Bologna, the other being Piazza Nettuno.
Admire the distinct brick architecture and beautiful facades of the palaces and churches flanking the square then head for Via Ugo Bassi to the north of the square. Before you head west towards breakfast and to tour Bologna, take a moment to look east and admire the view of the spectacular Le Due Torri – Torri degli Asinelli e Garisenda dominating the skyline. These colossal towers are two of only 20 medieval towers remaining in Europe. One looks like it’s going to topple over, the other is not so far behind but, remarkably, you can still climb to the top of the latter!
Breakfast; our favorite meal of the day! There are a multitude of cafes in which you can enjoy breakfast; this was our choice and it didn’t disappoint. Sit inside or have breakfast al fresco; the coffee is superb and the pastries melt in the mouth.
Mercato Della Erbe
This popular and large market in the city centre sells fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, pasta, fish and bread. The produce here is local and seasonal and is displayed with pride and passion. The smells of whatever is in season will hit you as you enter…for us it was strawberries, the smell reminding me of hot summer’s days, picking our own as kids. There is a fabulous fish restaurant here; pick your fish in the market, whatever was caught that morning, and the restaurant will cook it for you whilst you wait.
Exit at the back of the Mercato Delle Erbe, look to your right and there is Le Sfogline the most unassuming shop ever! All the famous chefs have cooked here and the owners, Dani and Monica, have made egg pasta all over Europe. We bought tortelloni stuffed with Ricotta and were given a detailed description of how to cook and serve this wonderful pasta by the lovely Dani. You can also watch the sisters making the tortelloni, a labour intensive task but clearly done with love and passion. It was absolutely delicious and by far the best tortelloni we have ever eaten; a totally delicious food experience.
The British chef, Rick Stein visited La Sfogline and took a cooking class with Dani when he was making the TV show of the book “Long Weekends“. Buy your pasta here and follow one of his delicious recipes.
From here, your self-guided Bologna walking tour will take you south-east, back towards Piazza Magiorre and the Quadrilatero, the old town of Bologna and heart of the city. In the Quadrilatero you will find modern shops, adjacent to old fashioned delis, gelaterias and medieval architecture. You have a choice for lunch; pick one of the many good restaurants serving reasonably priced pasta and platters of local anti-pasti, meats, and cheeses or buy your own at one of the many salumerias (delicatessen) and enjoy a picnic in the square, or utilise the long trestle tables at Osteria del Sole, where you can buy a drink at the bar and strike up conversation with your fellow diners. If you decide on the buy-your-own option, don’t forget to also buy plastic cutlery!
This salumeria has been on this very spot since 1932. They stock an amazing array of hams, cheese and anti-pasti; you can also buy Culatello, the most expensive ham in the world here. In the area around Tamburini there are many restaurants and salumerias, all selling a huge choice of hams, cheeses and too many other local goodies to mention.
Pop round the corner to this salumeria, with hams swinging from the ceiling and fat cheeses stacked against the wall, it is everything a salumeria should be! Try tasting some of the meats and cheeses before you buy to find out what you like the most.
You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by now if you’re buying your lunch from a salumeria, there is so much to choose from. Here’s our perfect (and typical) ‘menu’ for two;
- 4 thin slices of mortadella (flavoured if that takes your fancy)
- 6 slices prosciutto crudo
- 100g parmigiano reggiano
- 100g squacquerone cheese
- small tub of roasted tomatoes
- small tub of rosemary roasted potatoes
- bread; piadine is the delicious Bologna flatbread plastic
- cutlery and wipes
- bottle of water or wine!
Osteria del Sole
Osteria del Sole is one of the oldest standing osterias alive today. Dating back to 1465, everything in the place is over 500 years old and there is history in every brick. The osteria is hard to find; it is situated half-way along via Ranocchi on the right as you come from Piazza Maggiore. There is no signage, just literally a hole in the wall leading to a door…look for the hole in the wall! There is no kitchen here, only a bar; you bring your own food, condiments and cutlery (there is no loo or place to wash your hands which will get greasy eating Italian ham!!) and settle at a place on one of the long trestle tables to enjoy yourmeal. Drinks are available at the bar; bottled beer, a vast selection of wines including the delicious traditional Italian prosecco and champagne, all very reasonably priced. The atmosphere is kicking, the chatter loud; this is an amazing experience, go once and you’ll be hooked!
Enoteca Storica Faccioli
Full from lunch and perhaps ready for another glass of wine, head over to Enoteca Storica Faccioli a genuine local wine bar at the northern end of the Quadrilatero. The owner, Stefano, will guide you through your choices with interest and knowledge.
Majani Cioccolato Boutique
A ten minute walk south will clear your head and restore your appetite. What food tour is a food tour without chocolate? Majani have been making chocolate in Bologna since 1796. This is a beautiful shop where you can sample the different types of chocolate on offer, including the iconic Fiat chocolate. Not to be missed!
Reward yourself, its time for a coffee break! Sit and relax for a few moments enjoying your surroundings and admiring the stunning desserts…no, no, no you really don’t have to have one!
Our final stop on your walking tour of Bologna! You’ve made it…give yourself a big pat on the back. By now you’ve covered around 8 miles and 18,000 steps; I think this means you deserve a gelato! A two minute walk east will bring you to this very pretty cremeria where the gelato is creamy and bursting with flavour; have it in a pot and you get a meringue on top!
This foodie walking tour of Bologna has really been all about the food, learning about where it comes from, how it’s produced and where to eat and buy it. However, as you walk around Bologna on your quest for the perfect pasta or the creamiest cheese, remember to look up and around, admire the architecture of this historic medieval city; there are so many things to do in Bologna other than eat!
If you’re visiting Bologna, then make your next stop Venice. This beautiful and romantic city is perfect for a longer break. Check out this Venice four day itinerary for ideas and inspiration.