It’s the new “hot” city
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New York, Paris and Tokyo might be on your travel bucket list, but there are plenty of places that don’t get enough attention and are still worth visiting. Underrated cities have their perks – they’re often less crowded, cheaper, and just as interesting.
As a travel journalist for over 20 years, I recently asked 175 travel enthusiasts, experts and agents which city they think is the most underrated. By far the most popular answer was surprising: Bologna, Italy.
“Bologna is very emerging and well on its way to becoming the new ‘hot’ city,” said Tom Marchant, founder of luxury travel company Black Tomato. “And as the home of Pasta Bolognese, it’s a foodie Mecca.”
Bologna has many nicknames – La Rossa (the “Red” for their red-tiled roofs), La Dotta (the “Scholars” for the old University of Bologna) and most famously: La Grassa (the “Fat” for their rich cuisine) – explain the best parts of town.
Street in Bologna with the Asinelli Tower in the middle
Here are the top three reasons to put Bologna on your travel list this year:
1. The food scene is unprecedented.
“[Bologna] probably has the best food scene in all of Italy,” says Jeff Miller, travel blogger at Our Passion for Travel.
Foodies can explore the city’s open-air markets and hidden pastifici (pasta shops), and visit the restaurants that have produced popular specialties like bolognese and tortellini.
You can also spend a day at FICO Eataly World (aka “Disney World of Food”), Bologna’s 50-acre theme park entirely dedicated to Italian cuisine.
The food markets in Bologna often tumble onto the streets. Products, cheese and wine from local farmers can be bought throughout the city.
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Or you can take a day trip to the Emilia-Romagna region, where Italian gastronomy originated.
“Bologna has good access to Modena and Parma, both with famous products [Modena prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano] named after them,” says David Hawkraven, owner of Designed Travel.
Hawkraven often sends travelers to local farms where they can sample Modena prosciutto, which is rare to find in the United States, or learn about the delicate process of making authentic balsamic vinegar.
2. Its architecture and history rival those of other Italian cities.
The city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 62 kilometers of porticoes, or arched walkways.
It is also home to 24 medieval stone towers, including Bologna’s most famous landmark, the Two Towers.
The porticos of Bologna are often covered with decorative tiles or paintings.
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Travel journalist Ann-Marie Cahill says climbing the Asinelli Tower, which is open to the public, is exactly where history buffs should start.
She also suggests visiting the unfinished Basilica of San Petronio and seeing the Roman ruins located beneath the Library of Bologna (you can also see them through the library’s glass floors).
3. It’s convenient and accessible.
According to Marchant, Bologna is “entirely walkable” and saves you the cost of hiring a car. If you want to use public transport, city bus tickets are available from just €1.30.
According to Marchant, the locals are friendly and the city is generally safe, making it a comfortable place to vacation. According to travel search engine Kayak, the average hotel room costs less than $200 a night for eight months of the year.
Being in Northern Italy, it is convenient to travel to other Italian hotspots from Bologna. It is only about 70 miles from Florence, 95 miles from Venice and 135 miles from Milan.
Still, the city is a destination in itself.
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