Welcome to My Place . . . Bologna
Manus Carlisle on what to eat, see and do in the Italian city
Manus Carlisle and his mother Mary in Bologna
Manus Carlisle is studying for a Master’s degree in European Affairs at the University of Bologna. After a year on Erasmus in Siena as part of his undergraduate degree in European Studies, he planned to return to Italy and moved to Bologna from Dublin in 2016.
Where is the first place you bring people when they visit Bologna?
We head to Piazza Maggiore and the Two Towers. The biggest tourist attractions in Bologna introduce the city quite well. The main church on Piazza Maggiore is beautiful, but half finished, while the Two Towers that symbolise the city are striking, but look ready to topple at any moment. Here you realise that Bologna is not competing with the likes of Rome for sightseeing. It’s much better than that, filled with a young and vibrant population, Bologna is a living and breathing city that hasn’t succumbed to that museum feeling of Florence or Venice. You don’t come here for selfies, you come here to eat.
The top three things to do there that don’t cost (much) money are. . .
Picnic in the Giardini Margherita. On a sunny day in Bologna’s main park you will often happen across groups of jugglers and tightrope walkers practising their routines by the banks of the artificial lake that is now home to a few terrapin families.
Experience Làbas. One of Italy’s many anarchic co-operative movements, Làbas organises political meetings and housing for the homeless, but also hosts organic markets and free concerts every Wednesday.
Enjoy an espresso under Bologna’s colonnades. Most of the footpaths in Bologna’s centro storico are covered with red and orange colonnades which provide cover come rain or shine. Okay, you’ll have to pay for the coffee, but you’re really here to watch the locals go about their day, and the excellent coffee will cost you little more than €1.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a sense of Bologna?
Trattoria Leonida. I don’t think I’ve seen this one in the guide books, but I have brought all of my guests here, following my first visit. They serve the best lasagne alla Bolognese I have ever eaten, made with about 10 subtle layers of fresh spinach pasta. The playful staff keep me coming back, too.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Bologna’s place in history?
The Archiginnasio. Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world in continuous use. The beautiful Archiginnasio building used to be the centre of this world of knowledge which then provided the blueprints for our concept of Western education.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Bologna?
Pignoletto sparkling wine. Bologna’s sparkling wine doesn’t seem to have made it big outside of the Emilia-Romagna region, never mind abroad, but in my opinion, it outshines Prosecco, and will rarely cost you more than a few euro a bottle.