Bologna in Winter? 11 Reasons We Say YES!

Palazzo Comunale, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna (Credit: Andrew Levine)

Bologna in winter?

Conventional wisdom holds that the best time to visit northern Italy is in spring or autumn when the weather isn’t too hot or cold. We have been to Bologna—the capital of the Emilia Romagna region—many times in shoulder seasons, always enjoying our visits so much that we find another reason to return.

But during our first off-season visit to the city one late February, we discovered many compelling reasons to visit Bologna in winter, even if we did experience a snowfall that draped the statue of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore.

There are plenty of things to do, but there are also distinct advantages to spending a few days or weeks in Bologna in winter when the city is resplendent with special events, festivals and exhibitions.

There are far fewer tourists in winter: No lines or queues
There are far fewer tourists in winter: No lines or queues


Walk under the porticoes

The stunning porticoes (portici, in Italian)—totaling some 25 miles in length—are one of the city’s most characteristic and iconic architectural features. In summer, these covered walkways provide protection from the sun and rain but in winter, they’re equally useful: They offer protection from snow and winds.

Portrait of Porticoes by Ivan Dimitrov at Hotel Commerciante, Bologna
Portrait of Porticoes by Ivan Dimitrov at Hotel Commerciante, Bologna

Providing overhead shelter as you walk from place to place, they encourage pedestrians to stop and leisurely glance at the historic buildings or attractive shop displays along their route.

In July 2021, the porticoes were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, citing them as “an outstanding example of a building type, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape that illustrates one or more important phases in human history.” 

Savor comfort foods

Many of the foods for which Bologna is known throughout the world are best enjoyed in winter because they tend to be rich and hearty.

It’s the perfect time and place to enjoy a steaming bowl of tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth) or a plate of tagliatelle al ragù (ribbons of pasta in meat sauce) or gramigna with salsiccia (curled pasta with sausage). If you like carciofi (artichokes), they are plentiful in winter—served steamed, in salads, or used as stuffing in ravioli.

Gramingna con salsiccia at Giampi e Ciccio, Bologna
Gramigna con salsiccia at Giampi e Ciccio, Bologna
Fresh artichokes at the market, Bologna
Fresh artichokes at the market, Bologna
Porcini mushroom risotto at Trattoria da Nello, Bologna
Porcini mushroom risotto at Trattoria da Nello, Bologna

Compared to summer (especially August), when many Italians take their vacations, restaurants, trattorias, and food stores are all open in winter, welcoming visitors. (Conversely, we’ve found that many restaurant owners in southern Italy, especially in beach towns, close up shop during the off-season winter months.)

And if you have ever tasted the gelato at Cremeria Funivia (one of our favorite warm-weather destinations), you’ll be reassured to know that this Bologna institution remains open throughout the year.

Take a cooking class

A bastion of good food and culinary traditions, Bologna hosts an array of opportunities for visitors to learn how to cook and acquire new skills to take home. You’ll also enjoy the sweet aromas coming out of a warm kitchen.

For example, at CIBO (the Culinary Institute of Bologna), food lovers can learn how to make pasta from scratch or whip up a tasty ragù of their own working close to the heat of an oven.

Student at CIBO cooking class accompanies Chef Stefano to the market
Student (my friend Linda) at CIBO cooking class accompanies Chef Stefano to the market

Through an organization called Le Cesarine, food enthusiasts can arrange an in-home cooking class with a local who opens her home to visitors to share the traditions of his/her forebearers.

Step indoors

There are plenty of things to do indoors, too—many of them free.

In a region richly laden with history and culture, someone could spend weeks (or many months) visiting all of the 50 museums in the city alone. Several of our favorites are Bologna’s Modern Art Gallery (MAMbo), the Museum of the History of Bologna, and the International Museum and Library of Music.

There are also always interesting temporary exhibitions taking place at different venues across the city. At the time of our visit, we were fortunate to walk by the territorial office of the government of Bologna, where a free exhibit, “Il Genio Marcono” (the genius Marconi) was running. Through films, photos, and displays of artifacts, it told the history of one of Bologna’s most famous citizens, Guglielmo Marconi, and his seminal role in the development of wireless communication. (With civic pride, Bologna’s airport is named after Marconi.) The exhibit was housed in a Renaissance-style palace whose interior, with Murano glass chandeliers and painted ceilings, was simply dazzling, well worth a visit on its own.

In an underground passageway of the Piazza Re Enzo, we found Bologna Fotografata (Bologna photographed). Through film, photographs and text, this fascinating exhibit captured three centuries of the city and its people, including a look at the devastation wrought by World War II.

Be sure to check out the Bologna Welcome website to find out the range of current exhibitions that will be open during your visit. 

Bologna Fotografata entry
Bologna Fotografata (Bologna photographed)

Visitors love to slip into one of the many centuries-old churches in the city, too, to immerse themselves in buildings rich in art, architecture, and history. The magnificent Basilica of San Petronio, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, dominates the Piazza Maggiore.

Head underground

Cinema Modernissimo (credit: Bologna Welcome)
Cinema Modernissimo (credit: Bologna Welcome)

The Modernissimo Cinema, a historic underground movie theater beside Piazza Maggiore on Via Rizzoli, opened its doors in November 2023 after ten years of painstaking renovation. The Liberty-style theater is located in the basement of Palazzo Ronzani.

Inside the Art Nouveau interior, movie buffs can revisit classic films that have been restored to the most modern technological standards in terms of film and sound quality.  Be sure to check out the upcoming events schedule, which also includes contemporary films, on the Cinema Modernissimo website. 

American actor and director Martin Scorcese has been a godfather of the project.


Save a buck or two

While Bologna is generally considered to be one of the more economical cities in Italy, rates for lodging are lower from November to March than in peak tourist seasons.

In Bologna in winter, many shops are getting ready for their spring lines after the Christmas holidays and, thus, offer substantial discounts on winter wear. It’s a great time for shopaholics.

Shop window on Via Farina, Bologna
Shop window on Via Farina, Bologna
Shop window on Via Clavature, Bologna
Shop window on Via Clavature, Bologna

Don’t believe us? Well, ask a local

We did. We spoke to many people who reminded us that summers in Bologna can be hot and humid. The site of the oldest university in Europe, Bologna is a “college town” where students comprise approximately one-third of the population. When July comes around, many of these students return home for the season to other parts of Italy and other countries around the globe.

In winter, regardless of the weather, the city is at the peak of its vibrancy. Everybody is here! In the early evenings, the streets and outdoor bars are filled with people taking a passeggiata (evening walk) or sipping an aperitivo at an outdoor café. The Piazza Maggiore, the city’s virtual living room, is always filled with life and people taking photographs.

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna
Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

Enjoy the spirited Christmas markets

Christmas market in Bologna (credit: Bologna Welcome)
Christmas market in Bologna (credit: Bologna Welcome)

You’ll find Christmas markets in and around the city center as well as the surrounding towns of the province; it’s delightful to sip mulled wine and see all the unique decorations, local handicrafts, and typical food products being sold. Here are just a few examples:

One of many, the Santa Lucia Fair is the city’s oldest, dating back to the 16th century. It takes place under the Chiesa dei Servi portico, one of Bologna’s most beautiful porticoes. 

Typical French products, including cheeses, fragrances and sweets can be sampled at the French Christmas Village, held in Piazza Minghetti. The market also offers a wide range of clothing and handicrafts.

One of the most meaningful Christmas markets is the solidarity market held every year in the cloister of the Basilica of St. Francesco. Proceeds support the maintenance and preservation of the Basilica and the work of the Franciscan Order. See the Bologna Welcome website for a more exhaustive list of the Christmas markets in Bologna.

Experience Carnival season in Bologna

One of the colorful floats at the Cento Carnival
One of the colorful floats at the Cento Carnival

Carnival season, generally takes place during the second week of February, an experience not to be missed.  The endless festivities include historical reenactments, processions, games, special foods, dances, and more. Many of these events are in the city’s historic center. 

There are also colorful carnivals in surrounding towns like Pieve di Cento, Imola, Vegao, Bassano, Monghidoro, and Lizzano in Belvedere. To find out specific carnival dates and venues check out the official site of the Bologna-Modena Tourist Territory

The Cento Carnival in the nearby province of Ferrara (Emilia Romagna) is one of the most spectacular ones in Italy, held on five successive Sundays.  Called the Cento Carnevale D’Europa, it dates back as far as 1615. 


One of Bologna’s most popular attractions for foodies is mostly indoors!

Pay a visit to FICO EATALY WORLD, the world’s largest agri-park, a theme park of sorts for food lovers. Most of the restaurants, shops, and exhibits are indoors, so the weather won’t hamper you. Let it snow!

Tricycles in the snow outside of FICO Eataly World in Bolognak
Tricycles in the snow outside of FICO Eataly World in Bologna

If you are in Bologna for Capodanno (the New Year), you might want to spend New Year’s Eve at FICO. That’s where the city’s biggest New Year’s Eve party takes place, with seven dance floors, live bands, shows for children, and ten different dinners served in restaurants. 

Ensure your good luck for the coming year

With a dusting of snow, the city of Bologna is no more beautiful than it is around the holidays.

The historical buildings in Piazza Maggiore and many of the surrounding streets are beautifully lit. You can visit the Christmas tree on the small piazza next to Piazza Maggiore, which houses the statue of Neptune. The shop windows are shimmering.

 Bologna also offers a number of stunning nativity scenes that are especially beautiful at night.

In 2018, the lights on via D’Azeglio celebrated famous singer Lucio Dalia with the lyrics of his music (Credit: Jerome Levine)

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the city observes the ancient tradition of the Vecchione. A large paper mache puppet (the Vecchione) designed by artists is set ablaze in a bonfire in the main square. Residents and visitors crowd the square for lights, music, dancing, and, most importantly, the opportunity to see all their worries burn to ashes with the promise of good things for the coming year.

Each year, new features are added to the big party on Piazza Maggiore and they spread to more areas outside the historic center. These typically include innovative additions of dance, music and lights. As one example, see my article in Forbes about the additions for 2019.

Updated information about holiday festivities in Bologna can be found on the Bologna Welcome website. Be sure to check out their Christmas guide.

What is the weather like in Bologna in winter?

Bologna in Winter (credit: Jerome Levine)
Bologna in winter snow (credit: Jerome Levine)

December through February are the coldest months of the year in Bologna with mean temperature hovering just over 38℉ (January is the coldest of these months). 

Although there may be some cloudy days, rainy days, and even snow, winter tends to be the driest season of the year in Bologna and the weather isn’t so extreme that it should keep anyone from visiting.

The bottom line

During every season, including winter, visitors to Bologna will experience the special warmth and hospitality of a progressive, liberal city that truly welcomes and captivates the hearts of outsiders.

Photo credit: Bologna Welcome


All photo credits: Jerome Levine, unless otherwise noted

Piazza Maggiore on a snowy winter evening

For more information:


Also see: Summer in Bologna? 17 Ways To Beat The Heat

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  1. Great idea for a winter vacation. It’s good to think outside of the box! Also, I love the artwork and the photos!

  2. Haven’t been to Bologna, but would love to visit. Have been to Florence in late November, and I agree, there is nothing like visiting Italy in the off-season. I think that either late November or March would be ideal – hopefully avoiding winter storm flight delays in the USA.

    Definitely food for thought – oh, and those photos make me hungry, too!!!

  3. I am not good with cold weather but those porticoes absolutely look stunning and a cooking class would be great. Too bad I missed the Marconi exhibit.

  4. Off season is a great time to visit a lot of destinations especially when there is so much to do like you have indicated there is in Bologna, Italy! I really enjoyed reading about your adventures!

  5. I was so surprised to see the snow that’s been falling throughout Italy. It’s quite a beautiful touch to gorgeous cities like Bologna. Although I’ve been to the Emilia-Romagna region a few times, I’ve only passed through the city of Bologna to catch planes and trains. What a shame! Nice to know that it’s a city for all seasons.

  6. I\’m sold! I\’m also a big fan of traveling when there are fewer crowds. A winter visit sounds perfect to me. Eating luscious Italian food, taking a cooking class and exploring museums would be a wonderful journey.

  7. I’ve just spent 3 weeks in Italy but missed Bologna. After reading your post, I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t stop there! Next time!

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