The idea of bicycling around Bologna, Italy may seem intimidating if you’ve seen the traffic that’s typical of most Italian cities. There’s a lot of traffic along narrow streets, especially in the business district, and pedestrians everywhere. The two seem to be in constant conflict which makes it all look so chaotic. But cycling in Italy is part of the culture, and if you look through the chaos you’ll see people biking almost everywhere even if they’re heading to the office in a skirt or coat and tie. Riding a bike is an easy and inexpensive way to get around.
Like many other European cities where parking space is at a premium, the Bolognese also love getting around by bike. And with all the fun things to do in Bologna, we had yet to see the city this way. We'd taken a walking tour in Bologna before but never had the chance to see more of the city on a bike until now. So it just made sense to hop on a bike like a local. As they say...when in Bologna!
We decided to take a 2-hour Bologna bike tour with Velostazione Dynamo in the Bologna city center. Located under the Pincio Terrace on Via Independenza, it’s just a few blocks north of Piazza Maggiore and very easy to find.
When we arrived we were briefed on general safety and fitted for the right size bikes. The tour is a 10 km ride that lasts for 2 hours. The bikes are solid and well maintained - colorful too. The bike shop staff were helpful and got us fitted with helmets and an audio headset so we could hear our tour guide, Katja. After we signed the liability insurance form, they made sure we had bottled water, and we were off.
The route we followed was flat almost the entire way, but in Bologna, that also means covering bumpy cobblestone streets, so paying attention is especially important. On some of the narrower side streets things got a bit tight with parked cars on one side and cars taking the same side street as a short cut but it was never a problem. Exploring these less traveled streets allowed us to see things in small historic neighborhoods we never would have known were there or might have had trouble finding.
We cycled through part of the university district close to center city and near the two towers. Piazza Verdi was a little crowded with students and locals, but easy to navigate. This piazza is not as big as others and is bounded by historic architecture and those iconic Bologna porticos. We rode on through the Piazza Santo Stefano, also known as “Seven Churches Square”, bordered by several restaurants, amazing architecture and the centuries old Basilica di Santo Stefano. The historic cobblestone Piazza is a pedestrian zone and oddly isn’t a square at all but a triangle. Facing the Piazza from above the porticos are reliefs of faces and heads of centuries old figures, peering down at you as you ride by. Santo Stefano has become one of our favorite places in Bologna to hang out.
We made our way to the Porta Saragozza, one of the 14th century gates through the walls of the medieval city. It’s massive and imposing and made us wonder what it might have been like to enter the city through this portal during that time.
The Giardini Margherita is another favorite place of ours and we were glad the route led us right to it where shade trees were a relief from the sun. We got off the bikes for a pit stop, and stopped by the snack bar for a yummy pastry, coffee and hot chocolate. It’s always laid back here with lots of locals catching up with friends, snoozing on the grass, and just enjoying the day. We’ve seen live music and presentations here at night but one of the more popular things to do here is nothing at all - Il dolce far niente. Enjoy some local wine and just relax under the wisteria - but no wine for us right now. Time to ride on.
We crossed back over the bypass into the historic center past the Mercato delle Erbe, a vibrant food market and a great place to stroll the shops filled with local foods, wine and produce. Katja had intended to take us through the cultural district, Manifattura delle Arti or “Factory of the Arts”, which had been a tobacco factory and a slaughterhouse at one time, was raised and rebuilt several times, and then sadly, bombed during WWII. It’s now enjoying a renaissance with galleries, university departments, and a film library just to name a few. This turned out to be the only hill on the route, short and narrow but somewhat steep. Unfortunately, when we got to the bottom of the short hill that was to be our entry point, there was construction in progress and we were unable to cross. So back up the hill we went and started the short peddle back to the bike shop. This will be one of the first places we visit the next time we’re in Bologna.
What We Loved
The 2 hours passed quickly - we peddled 10km at a leisurely pace and saw so much of the city. Katja was great as a guide - very personable, upbeat and full of information about the history of Bologna. She kept us interested with something new to see and learn around every corner. The bikes and helmuts were in good shape and well maintained. Back at the bike shop, they gave us a coupon to use at their bar and snack stand, a nice touch.
The one downside to the tour however was the audio headsets. At times Katja’s microphone cut in and out making it difficult to hear her, especially in city traffic. But she made frequent stops at the significant places to accommodate everyone, which gave us a chance to catch our breath and ask more questions.
We found this to be one of the best Bologna tours we’ve taken and we would highly recommend it, especially for first timers. It's a good value for the price, and a great way to see Bologna!
If You Go
Velostazione Dynamo - Via Indipendenza 7 1/2, 40121, Bologna
The Tour Includes:
- Professional Art Historian guide with audio headset
- 2 hours bike tour of Bologna
- Tour of the top attractions of Bologna in a few hours: Dynamo, Piazza Verdi (University district), the Two Towers, the main square Piazza Maggiore with the fascinating unfinished San Petronio Basilica, the Piazza Santo Stefano, Porta Saragozza, the Giardini Margherita, Via Belvedere/Mercato delle Erbe (covered market), and Manifattura delle arti (cultural district).
- Perfect for all ages and skill level
- Perfect introduction for first-time visitors
- Bike, lock, bike-lights and helmet included
- Insurance included
Adults - € 25.00 / USD $29.00
Under 12 (kids' bike included) - € 12.50 / USD $15
- Book your tour
Thank you to the City of Bologna for inviting us as guests on this tour. As always, all opinions are ours based on our firsthand experience.