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I've visited Bologna in excess of 20 times in the last 7 or 8 years, and every visit I discover something new and exciting about the place. As a single young female that travels alone, I actually feel safer in the city of Bologna than I do in my small home town in England!! It's such a warm and welcoming place, and due to the relative lack of tourists - although it does have a high student population (compared to the likes of Venice, Florence, or Milan etc) it exudes that feel of being a "real" Italian city. It is a real gem, and so ideally suited in location for visiting other major Italian cities!
Bologna is located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, just north of Tuscany - about an hour by train from Florence and the beaches of Rimini and Riccione, and a couple of hours by train from Venice and Milan. The climate is usually VERY cold in the winter, but by about April it begins to warm up. In July and August it can be unbearably hot and humid (which is why Italian cities tend to shut-down during the summer, and most locals leave the city to head to the coast during those months). And in October and November its vicinity to the Po River often means thick fog. May, June, September and early October are usually ideal (but I can give no meteorological guarantees).
Perhaps most famous as the "gastronomic capital" of Italy (Bolognese sauce was invented here, as well as a number of pastas. In addition Parma ham, Parmesan Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar etc all hail from the nearby area), it is an ideal place for sampling some of the best food in Italy. You don't have to spend a fortune - some of the best meals that I've had in Bologna have been in trattorie and small back-street restaurants. Amongst my favourites, I can recommed the Trattoria Danio on Via Ugo Bassi - It looks reasonably plain from the outside, but the friendly welcome of the family who own and run it, as well as the absolutely stunning flavour of the traditional Emiliano cuisine that they serve, really must be sampled. I have never tasted anything as good as the food at the Danio in any Italian restaurant in England!
Bologna is also famous for its University - founded in 1088 it's Europe's oldest University (older than Oxford or Cambridge), and much of it's architectural style owes itself to the university - Not only buildings themselves, but also the "portici" or arcaded walkways (over 44km of them!). These were originally built to provide extra space to house students in medieval Bologna - the logic was that by building the upper level of a building out above the pathways, would provide for extra rooms.
Famous sons of Bologna include Guglielmo Marconi - famous for the radio.
Sadly Bologna also has seen some tragedy in its history. In the 1980s, right-wing terrorists planted a bomb in the waiting room at the railway station, killing 84 people. The huge jagged gash in the thick wall of the waiting room caused by the bomb has been left as a monument to this sad point of the city's history, next to a memorial plaque containing the names of those sadly killed.
Tourist sites that you must see: Piazza Maggiore and fountain of Neptune; the 2 towers (try walking to the top of la Torre Asinelli for fantastic views over the red roofs of the city); the church at Santo Stefano; the Santuario di San Luca (on a hill overlooking the city) - with the 3.6km of covered arcaded walkway which runs from the city all of the way up the hill to the church. To name but a few.
Only about 40km away is Maranello - home of the Ferrari factory.
I can thoroughly recommend Bologna for anyone visiting Italy - either as a base for visiting other major cities in the north, or as a destination in it's own right!