Bologna or Verona – Which Should you Visit?

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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If you’ve already ticked classic Italian destinations such as Rome, Venice and Florence off your travel bucket list then you may find yourself wondering where to visit next. Bologna and Verona are two of the country’s popular cities that each have a brilliant array of things to see and do, from ancient architecture to influential academic institutions.

Both locations have plenty of points in their favor for factors such as culture, cost and shopping, which can make choosing between them a tricky task. Luckily, we’ve broken down the best of what each city has to offer to help you decide whether to visit Bologna or Verona.

HISTORY

Verona is one of the oldest cities in Italy, thought to have first been inhabited in 550 B.C and founded as a Roman colony in the 1st century B.C. Its success as a city lies in its location; Verona was part of both the north-south and east-west trading routes which made it an incredibly prosperous location in the Roman Empire.

After the fall of this empire, several groups battled for control of Verona, and the Scaligeri family dynasty eventually took over. Under their power, the city grew and became a cultural centre for the arts, with famous creators such as Dante living and working within Verona’s walls.

The Scaligeri family were constantly fighting amongst themselves for power however and by the 15th century, the Venetians were ruling Verona instead. The city was then passed to Austria after a Napoleon invasion in the late 1700s and didn’t gain autonomy until Italy was unified as a country in the 1860s.

Verona was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 because of the influence that the city had across Italian history and the wealth of architecture and culture that was preserved there. It’s a fantastic city in Italy to visit for fans of history because of the legacy of the area and the numerous remains of ancient buildings.

The origins of Bologna have been traced back to the Bronze Age, but it wasn’t until the Iron Age that villages were established in the area. The settlement prospered on various trade routes and was an important city in the Roman Empire before Byzantine and Lombard invaders took control and turned Bologna into more of a base for military operations.

In 1088 Bologna established what is largely thought of as the world’s first university, which led to the city becoming one of the most influential locations in the medieval world. The university continued to prosper even after Papal troops took control of Bologna in the 1500s and expanded the city, building more academic buildings, churches and the famous botanic gardens.

Bologna joined the new kingdom of Italy in 1860 and became a key industrial hub after the destruction of World War Two. Now, it’s one of the most economically powerful places in the country that is famous both for its liberal politics and exceptional food.

Both Verona and Bologna are fantastic destinations if you’re looking for a historic Italian holiday, as both have incredibly interesting pasts and plenty of remaining monuments.

CULTURE

Bologna is often thought of as one of Italy’s top cultural destinations, primarily because of its university. In 2000 the European Union named the city as a European Capital of Culture, and this reputation continues to make it a favoured location for fans of art, music, literature and more.

The University of Bologna was established in 1088 and continues to be a leading influence in academia. There are spectacular university buildings around the city, with the library in particular being a top attraction, and academic events are frequently hosted in various locations.

Art and history are also plentiful in Bologna, with over 50 galleries and museums that offer plenty of places to visit throughout the city. The National Gallery of Bologna is a real highlight for art lovers, with numerous famous pieces and plenty of examples of classic Italian Renaissance paintings.

Verona is perhaps most famous for being the setting of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which has made it a cultural highlight of Italy for centuries. Tourists flock to the city in their thousands to visit what was said to be the family home of the Capulets, and you can also see Juliet’s balcony along with a collection of antique engravings that tell the story of the two lovers.

As well as its literacy heritage, Verona also has an impressive history of art, music and poetry. Now, there is a brilliant range of galleries featuring everything from modern to renaissance pieces of art, many of which are also housed in historic buildings.

In the centre of the city is an impressive open-air amphitheatre which still hosts performances that range from pop concerts to classic performances and theatrical productions. The program of events is particularly good in the summer, with operatic performances being the main attraction for many visitors.

When it comes to culture, both cities are fantastic places to enjoy art, architecture, food and music. Whilst Verona is a top destination for fans of Shakespeare’s works, Bologna has a bigger variety of cultural attractions that makes it a better option for those who want to spend their trip immersed in the artistic legacy of the city.

ARCHITECTURE

One of the key reasons that Verona has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the fantastic variety of preserved historic architecture that can be found inside the city. Notable structures from the Roman era include the two city gates – Porta Borsari and what remains of the Porta Leoni – the Ponte Pietra and the Arco dei Gavi.

The architectural highlight of Verona however is the fantastic Roman amphitheatre arena, which has remained beautifully preserved over the centuries. You can visit the arena or watch a variety of performances there throughout the year, which is a particularly popular tourist activity in the summer months.

Bologna is a haven for lovers of beautiful buildings, with plenty of examples of architectural styles from across the centuries showcased in the city. The most notable structures in the city are the long porticoes that cover the city centre and turn the streets into almost 40km of covered arcades; a truly unique piece of architectural design.

Another architectural highlight are the famous towers that are often used as a symbol of the city and were built in the Middle Ages. The Torre Garisenda and Torre Degli Asinelli are both ‘leaning’ (although not as much as the tower in Pisa) and you can climb up Asinelli Tower for unbeatable views of the whole city.

From palaces to squares, churches to stations and all kinds of houses, museums and galleries, there is a huge range of both historical and modern architecture to admire in Bologna. Verona has a better selection of ancient Roman remains, but Bologna has more unique examples of architecture, so which city you choose will really depend on what kind of buildings you favour.

FOOD

Emilia Romagna is thought of as one of the best Italian regions for food and Bologna is certainly its finest city for exceptional dining experiences, described as many as the gastronomical capital of Italy. The city has been nicknamed ‘La Grassa’ (the fat one) because of its foodie reputation, and we advise that you embrace this idea and try and experience as many flavours of Bologna as possible during your stay.

The most famous dish to come from the city is the namesake bolognese pasta, or tagliatelle al ragù, which is an absolute must-try if you are visiting Bologna. The area is also famous for its stuffed pasta known as tortellini along with lasagna and other meaty pasta dishes.

Verona doesn’t have nearly as much of a reputation for food as Bologna, and local cuisine focuses on meaty dishes and rich flavours. The wine that comes from the Veneto region is famous however and is served almost everywhere in Verona, pairing perfectly with the traditional, hearty meals that the city is known for.

There’s no competition between the two locations when it comes to food – Bologna is the clear winner as Italy’s capital of gastronomy. 

SHOPPING

Verona is a stylish city, and the shopping scene is pretty impressive. As well as classic designer stores and well-known brands, there are plenty of independent retailers and boutiques in some of the more historic areas of the city which are a great place for picking up souvenirs or buying statement pieces of clothing.

Bologna is also a relatively good place in Italy for shopping, with plenty of streets dedicated to both designer and independent retailers. There are also several excellent markets in Bologna that are a great place to go food shopping and sample some of the delicious ingredients that the Emilia Romagna region is famous for.

When it comes to shopping opportunities, both cities offer an equally good selection of outlets and stores, with Bologna being the better choice if you’re looking for edible souvenirs to bring home.

COST

Despite the wealth of history, art, culture and food on offer in Bologna, it is not as visited as other cities in Italy such as Rome, Venice and Florence. This makes it a relatively cheap part of the country to visit however, as prices for food and accommodation don’t tend to be heavily inflated by tourism.

Verona is also not a particularly expensive city in Italy to visit, although prices for travel and accommodation do tend to be higher over the summer months. Whilst there are many boutique hotels and five-star restaurants that are well worth splashing out on, you’ll also find budget options for every aspect of your holiday that make it a great place to stay for all travellers.

You can get around both cities on foot for the majority of the time, and a lot of the attractions are either free to see or only require a small ticket price. Bologna and Verona are pretty equally matched when it comes down to cost, so your decision on where to visit will be down to other factors.

THINGS TO DO

Verona and Bologna both offer tourists a multitude of different things to see and do on their visit, with each city containing a good mix of historic sites, classic Italian buildings and opportunities to enjoy good food and drink.

If you’re looking for sightseeing opportunities then Verona is full of notable spots and is a great place to see a really wide range of architectural styles from across the ages. It’s also a brilliant city to enjoy live performances, with plenty of musical and theatrical shows taking place in both the Verona Arena and other theatres.

Bologna is also a great place for a holiday filled with sightseeing, especially as so much of the city centre is undercover and therefore suitable for exploring in all weathers. Because of its culinary reputation, it’s also a great place to take part in Italian cooking classes if you want to brush up on your chef skills, or can be used as a hub to explore some of the other top gastronomic destinations in Emilia Romagna. 

BEST FOR…

These two cities are equally matched in many aspects, which can make it incredibly hard to choose between the two.

If you’re a food lover then Bologna is definitely the best choice for a holiday filled with exceptional flavours and chances to try some of the finest dishes in Italy. It’s also the better destination for fans of history thanks to its status as the first university city in the world, and has a unique selection of architectural marvels.

Verona is one of the most romantic cities in Italy and therefore the best choice for couples wanting to plan a trip away. Its significance in the story of Romeo and Juliet also makes it the top choice for literature lovers, and the range of culture on offer means that music and art fans will be in heaven as well.

Whether you decide to visit Bologna or Verona, get in touch with Italy4Real for expert help and advice on planning a unique trip to one of these sensational cities.

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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