The lively capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna, is perhaps best known for its university – one of the world’s oldest institutions – as well as its UNESCO-listed porticoes (arch-covered walkways). It’s also widely regarded as the foodie capital of Italy, and for good reason. Platefuls of handmade tagliatelle al Ragù are widely available in its medieval squares, and gelato shops line the streets.
Most hostels in Bologna are in the historic centre, just minutes from the major landmarks. You can choose a refurbished studio with a double bed and cooking area. For travellers who prefer to mingle, there are communal dorms in downtown hostels, close to popular nightlife venues. The majority have free Wi-Fi, unlimited tea and coffee and laundry facilities. You’ll also find some Bologna hostels with bicycles for hire, a sociable garden and even a Jacuzzi – perfect for a soak after a day out exploring the city.
The historic centre is the heartbeat of Bologna – a tangle of narrow streets leading to the Piazza Maggiore. The atmospheric main square is home to impressive sights such as the Basilica di San Petronio, which is the city's most important church. The vibrant University District is dotted with bars, clubs and restaurants, making it the ideal place to meet other backpackers. Filled with locals, the old-school pubs on Via Del Pratello make the perfect setting for an authentically Bolognese night out.
Bologna's historic arcades are lined with awe-inspiring architecture. At Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, you can climb the 498 steps of the Torre degli Asinelli – one of Bologna's iconic Two Towers – for views across the city's rooftops. Food lovers can discover everything from local cheese to artisan beer at the Mercato di Mezzo, the city's famed indoor market. As a UNESCO City of Music, Bologna can definitely hold a tune. There are open-air classic concerts in the summer, and often live bands pop up in the buzzing bars around the University District.
Guglielmo Marconi Airport is 6km northwest of the city. An Aerobus runs to the city centre every 11 minutes, with stops including Stazione Centrale – a major rail hub connecting Bologna with other Italian cities, such as Florence and Milan, via high-speed train. Bologna’s centre is compact enough to be explored on foot, but bicycles are popular and can be rented in the city.