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Bologna a City For All the Family

Bologna is one of the most beautiful cities in northern Italy. Celebrated for having the oldest university in the world, its other hallmarks include its porticoes and red facades, which change hue with the passage of the sun – a small city with a great history, making it convenient and attractive for sightseeing and highly recommendable for a family getaway.

The past is still alive in the city’s streets, in the medieval inner city, in the Renaissance palaces and villas, the Baroque churches and the squares and gardens. Bologna breathes a young, revolutionary and somewhat bohemian atmosphere. Modernity rubs shoulders with the old, of which its inhabitants can be proud.

The point of departure for touring the city is the Piazza Maggiore which boasts some of Bologna’s major landmarks, notably the Palazzo dei Banchi, Basilica of San Petronio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio, which houses the City Hall, and Palazzo del Podestà. The latter houses the city’s tourist office where they kindly inform visitors of all the possibilities open to family groups. If time is at a premium, there are two options – first, a family friendly guided tour of the city organised by the collective, Mammacult and, second, the 48-hour Welcome Card, which includes free entrance to museums and a guided tour of the historic centre, or the 72-hour Card, which also allows access to the tower and the tourist bus. Each of these is valid for an adult and a child under 12 and either of these cards is worth taking out.

Adjoining the main square is the Piazza del Nettuno, featuring a fountain dedicated to the god of the sea, and the presiding Palazzo Re Enzo, once the hub of Bologna’s economic life and now transformed into a plush multimedia public library. It’s a great place for taking a breather when the fatigue kicks in or in bad weather, as its interior includes a wonderful area for toddlers and babies. And, if you want to keep on reading children’s stories, you only have to go out onto the street again and around the Palazzo Re Enzo, as on the Via Rizzoli you will find the Giannino Stoppani Libreria per Ragazzi. No wonder that each year the world’s leading Children’s Book Fair is held in Bologna.

Pressing on down the same street in the direction of the University Quarter you come to another icon of the city, the medieval Due Torri (Asinelli and Garisenda), the tallest of the twenty towers in Bologna. For the slightly older and bolder young ones, it is great fun to climb up the 498 steps leading up to the Torre Asinelli to see the splendid views of the city. If you get peckish on the way down, you can stroll along the shopping precinct of the Quadrilatero area, the city’s old market. Here, you will be treated to tasty views of fruit, confectionery, fresh pasta and even fresh fish.

Also worth exploring is the “T area” shopping precinct, bounded by the Via Ugo Bassi, Via Rizzoli and the long Via dell’Indipendenza. Walking under the stately porticoes, you will see anything from global brand outlets to long-standing Italian fashion stores, cafés and pastry shops, grocery stores and pharmacies offering a panoply of wares, with plentiful fruit and vegetables awaiting you when you get to the Mercato delle Erbe. There is also a route of old establishments restored in good taste as vintage-style shops. One of these is Les Libellules, a children’s tailored clothes atelier located on the Via San Vitale near the Due Torri.

Another spot well worth visiting is the Finestrella di Via Piella, a small window with canal views located between Via Zamboni and Via dell’Indipendenza which reveals one of the city’s best kept secrets – the underground water streams which once flowed through open-air canals similar to the ones in Venice. We also recommend heading for the Piazza Santo Stefano, presided over by the basilica of the same name, made up of four (formerly six) churches from different periods – a veritable gem! On one side is the Corte Isolani with a covered gallery linking the Strada Maggiore to the Via Santo Stefano. Sited there is La Gallina Smilza, a really cute store with all kinds of items for decorating the home and children’s rooms. A bit further along, at number 70, is one of the most famous and delightful ice-cream parlours in Bologna, the Cremeria Santo Stefano – they have flavours to suit all tastes.

Heading towards the south side of the city you come to the beautiful Margherita Gardens, the ideal spot for a family picnic or for having an aperitif at Vetro, an old greenhouse converted into a bar-restaurant. They have a fine open-air terrace with garden tables and lights inside flower pots, a great ambience for relaxing at the end of the day. It is part of Kilowatt, a coworking facility and idea accelerator based on social, cultural and environmental values which is self-managed under the auspices of the public programme Incredibol, hosted by the Bologna City Council.

Bologna also boasts numerous museums which are highly interesting and attractive for children. Located on the Via dell’Archiginnasio, in the historic centre, is the Archaeological Museum of Bologna which provides insight into the history of the city. A bit further on is the palace of the Archiginnasio, once the main building of what is the oldest university in the West, founded in 1088. There you can visit the Anatomical Theatre, where anatomy classes used to be given. Bologna is designated a UNESCO Creative City of Music, a prestigious title awarded for the wealth of current musical offerings and the excellence of the city’s past, as embodied in the International Museum and Library of Music, with a carefully curated collection of over eighty ancient musical instruments. If what you’re really sold on is art, be sure to visit the Bologna Museum of Modern Art (MAMBO) which hosts a great variety of children’s workshops and other activities.

To claim the icing on the cake to your tour of Bologna, take bus 87 to the Gelato Museum, located on the premises of the famous Carpigiani company, a former manufacturer of machinery and equipment used to make famous Italian “gelato”, the creamiest and most flavourful ice-cream in the world. This edifying museum is dedicated to the study and analysis of the history of craft ice-cream. They also hold a workshop geared to families, which includes a guided tour of the museum and an ice-cream-making workshop based on the original recipe. Enjoy the experience!

Fire up and make your escape to Bologna – book your Vueling here.

Text by Mar Domènech