An article I recently wrote for Forbes.com suggests that visitors to Italy in summer should head to Bologna (the capital of the Emilia Romagna region) to avoid the hoards of tourists and long queues they’ll likely find at more popular tourist cities like Rome, Florence and Venice.
Bologna is one of our favorite places in Italy because it is filled with art, history, jaw-dropping architecture, world-class foods and wines, and a citizenry who welcomes tourists warmly.
However, I couldn’t promise that Bologna would offer any respite from the high temperatures and humidity that typically plague most parts of central and northern Italy in summer.
For example, this past July (2018), much of Italy experienced a mini heat wave. How hot was it?
Not to get too graphic—but meteorologists dubbed it “the anticyclone Minos, after the mythical Greek king who in Dante’s Inferno has a snake-like tail and guards the gates of hell,” reported the Italian edition of The Local, an English-language digital newspaper.
Although the average temperature in Bologna was 78, daytime temperatures soared as high as 93.
Wherever you travel in Italy in summer, you’ll need to find ways to avoid the punishing heat. There any many opportunities to beat the heat in Bologna. Here are a few of them:
1- Watch movies under the stars
On summer evenings, attend Sotto le Stelle de Cinema, which offers locals and visitors the opportunity to watch free movies under the stars on Europe’s largest outdoor screen. Screenings, accompanied by live music, are held in the magnificent Piazza Maggiore.
2- Visit a photographic exhibit in the Palazzo Pannolini
The Jewish Museum of Bologna has curated a photography exhibit, part of “Celebrating Israel 70” (being celebrated worldwide), that tells the story of Israel through its people. It’s held indoors in a beautiful palace that housed nobles in the 15th and 16th centuries.
3- Listen to music at the Bologna Jazz Festival
This UNESCO City of Music always has something musical to intrigue visitors. One such event, the Bologna Jazz Festival, organized by the Association of Music in Bologna, includes a number of summer performances.
4- Cool off with gelato
In Italy, gelato is synonymous with summer. In addition to its abundance of wonderful gelaterias throughout the city, Bologna is home to the Carpigiani Gelato Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of this cool dessert and participate in tastings.
5- Swim with locals
In summer, taking a dip outdoors is another way to cool off. Piscina Sterlino is an Olympic-size swimming pool with umbrellas and beach chairs that is open to the public.
6- Experience a one-of-a-kind theme park
Bologna is also home to FICO Eataly World, the world’s largest theme park centered around food. Food enthusiasts visiting this air-conditioned, indoor agri-park learn about the relationship between food and the earth. There are also ample opportunities to sample foods and purchase them at retail markets.
More ways to chill in Bologna in summer
Well, I thought I had most bases covered until I received a kind Facebook message from someone in Bologna, whom I didn’t know previously, Laura Bizzari. Laura is an Italian teacher who is passionate about her home (Bologna) where she teaches both English and Italian to foreigners. She and her students came up with some other great ideas to beat the heat in Bologna so I’m adding them to the list. (Since I hadn’t experienced these myself, I made sure they were vetted by the city tourism office.)
7- Explore the hills
Compared to the city, the hills around Bologna (called the Colli Bolognesi) tend to be cooler, especially when you stop at one of the many small rivers. You can drive there or rent a Vespa!
8- Stop into one of the churches
Interiors of churches are always cool places that are filled with art and history. Wikipedia lists no less than 43 churches in Bologna. We have been to a number of them and were never disappointed.
9- Visit a series of palaces
While many palazzi (palaces) are private, you can step inside the Palazzo Pepoli (Museum of the History of Bologna), the Palazzo Fava (a museum with 17th-century frescoes) or Palazzo Poggi (the headquarters of the University of Bologna).
10- Spend time in the park
You can bask in the shade of a tree or find a nice spot beside a fountain at some of the parks in town or nearby, such as: Giardini Margherita, (the largest and most popular park in the city), Parco Talon, Villa di Villa Ghigi, Parco Cavaioni (just outside of town).
11- Hit the beach
A lot of Bolognesi go to the Lido di Casalecchio, a seaside resort with a beach that’s close to Bologna, where the Reno river flows.
12 – Eat light
Yes, eating light while eating well is possible in a city known for its fabulous foods. You probably won’t be interested in a steamy bowl of tortellini en brodo on a hot summer day. Instead, order melon with prosciutto di Parma or pasta fredda (cold pasta) with cherry tomatoes. You won’t be disappointed!
13- Visit a chilly underground site
The Conserva di Valverde (also called the Bagno di Mario) is a truly unique historical site. The cistern was built during the Renaissance to bring water to Bologna’s famous statue of Neptune. Guided tours can be arranged through the tourism office, Bologna Welcome.
14- Head underground
Take a guided tour of the Crypts of Bologna to explore and learn about three underground crypts that have been made accessible to the public.
15- Relax at a spa
Known for its mineral waters, the Terme Di San Petronio is the only health spa in Italy located in the historic center of a city. Another alternative: The Terme Felsinee Spa Centre, located in the foothills of the San Luca Basilica, is a favorite of health and fitness enthusiasts.
16- Spend your time in shops
Visit a shop called L’Angolo della Freschezza (aptly called the corner of freshness), a cheese shop in nearby Cadriano or La Caramella, the famous pastry shop created by award-winning Chef Gino Fabbri who is famous in Italy and abroad.
17- Disconnect at a very cool tower
The Torre Prendiparte is an ancient family-owned tower (one of the few surviving ones in Bologna) that has been converted into a bed and breakfast with just one bedroom. Warning: You’ll have to ascend 300 steps to get there!
What is Ferragosto?
One other caution for summer travelers throughout Italy:
August 15th is Ferragosto, a public holiday that celebrates the Catholic Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Some Italians treat it as a long weekend; for others, it represents that start of the summer vacation extending throughout the month until September 1. On that weekend, traffic may be particularly heavy on the autostradas (highways).
While most museums and cultural institutions remain open, many family-owned businesses (e.g. restaurants and others shops) close up so owners and workers can head to the beach or visit relatives in other parts of Italy. It’s important to check whether these and other attractions are open if you are traveling to Bologna (or elsewhere in Italy) in the second half of August.
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