When thinking about going on a trip with your family, particularly with your kids, you want to make sure that you choose a destination with plenty of interesting things to do for everyone involved. While not an obvious first choice, the Italian city of Bologna is an excellent place to explore with your family. The capital of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna is rich in culture and boasts some of the best Italian culinary delights and Italian fare you will ever taste.
Compared to other popular cities in Italy, Bologna may not have much by way of amusement parks, playgrounds, water parks, or other typical attractions that children will enjoy. However, this underrated destination has several points of interest that the entire family will appreciate.
Below, we’ve put together some of the top things to do on your family trip to Bologna. (Pro tip: Save yourself from the hassle of carrying extra baggage; find a luggage locker in the city where you can deposit items that you don’t need temporarily before heading out to your destination.)
Family-Friendly Things to Do in Bologna
Explore the historic Piazza Maggiore
As the heart of the city, there is no better introduction to Bologna than its main square – Piazza Maggiore. This huge public space is the center of Bologna and gives you a sneak peek into the city’s history and daily life.
You and your family can simply wander around the streets and check out the various important and historic landmarks in the area such as the San Petronio Basilica, the Palazzo dei Banchi, and the 16th century Fountain of Neptune. The square also has plenty of open spaces where kids can run and play freely, as well as cafés to relax in after exploring.
Hop aboard the San Luca Express
The Basilica Santuario Della Madonna di San Luca is one of Bologna’s top attractions and a must-visit when in the city. The basilica is perched on top of a forested hill; aside from being a religious institution, it also houses some incredible works of art and has a panoramic terrace that offers excellent views. While there are many ways to reach the basilica, the fastest option would be to board the San Luca Express.
This moderately-sized tourist train leaves every 30 minutes from Piazza Maggiore and makes its way to the basilica. Not only is taking the train convenient, but it also allows you and your family to take in all the sights along the way. Your kids will also appreciate the ride up to the top. You can either buy the ticket on board or you can book in advance online through their website.
Try out amazing food at FICO Eataly World
As the gastronomic capital of Italy, it really comes as no surprise that Bologna would create a “theme park” dedicated to all things food-related. Hailed the most exciting food park in the world, the FICO Eataly World aims to share the biodiversity of Italy’s cuisine through vendors, markets, restaurants, workshops, and more.
Visiting the food park is not only great for satisfying your hunger. It also gives you an insight into the different techniques. Processes involved in creating some of your favorite Italian dishes.
Ride around Bologna onboard the City Red Bus
Although Bologna is easy enough to explore on foot, it can be quite challenging with kids in tow. If you want to maximize your time sightseeing in the city, your best bet would be to take a City Red Bus tour.
Run by the same company that operates the San Luca Express, this tour involves an audio guide via headphones and takes you to some of the main tourist attractions across Bologna. The top deck of the bus is open-air so you can easily take photos and get uninterrupted views of the city. Book your ticket online via the official website of City Red Bus.
Learn the art of gelato-making
Eating gelato is a must anywhere in Italy and there’s no way you can leave Bologna without sampling some of the finest gelato the city has to offer. But to make things more interesting for you and your family, why not take things up a notch and try making your own gelato instead? Yes, it is possible to learn how to make (and eat) gelato at the Gelato Museum, located in Anzola dell’Emilia, approximately 30 minutes outside of Bologna.
The museum is operated by Carpigiani, one of the most prominent gelato machine manufacturers in Italy, and offers various tours and workshops to choose from. One of the most popular tours they offer is the “Gelato for Families” experience, a 1.5-hour workshop where you get to visit the museum, learn basic gelato-making techniques, and do some gelato tasting.
Hang out at the Giardini Margherita
Found south of the Piazza di Porta Santo Stefano, just a couple of minutes outside of the city center is the large public park known as Giardini Margherita. The 26-hectare park and green space is frequented by locals and tourists who want to escape the busy city life and is a great place for children to play, run, ride bikes, skate and even ride the on-site carousel. There is also a lovely lake that runs through the park where you can watch carps and turtles swim, as well as a shaded area where families can go on a picnic and hang out.
Visit the Toy Soldier Museum
While there are a number of museums worth paying a visit to when in Bologna, one of the most unique places your children will truly appreciate is the Museo Storico del Soldatino. Also known as the Toy Soldier Museum, it is housed in a historic villa in downtown Bologna.
This attraction is home to exhibits of some ancient and rare miniature toys and scale models, primarily a variety of toy soldiers (thus the name), some of which were created locally and others that were imported from countries like Russia and France. There are thousands of toy pieces that comprise the museum’s collection and are made of different materials such as metal, paper, plastic, and wood. A visit to the Toy Soldier Museum can be enjoyable for the kids and the kids at heart.