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The Ultimate Showdown of Food and Art

8 min read
The Ultimate Showdown of Food and Art

Can’t decide whether to visit Bologna or Florence during your next Italian vacation? We’re here to help!

While both Bologna and Florence are incredible travel destinations, you may not have time to visit both of them when planning your itinerary. (This is especially true if you’d like to include other amazing cities such as Rome and Milan or a coastal getaway to Capri or the Amalfi Coast.)

These two cities both have a lot to offer and are fantastic places to visit, whether you’re a first-timer to Italy or a seasoned traveler. Best of all, traveling between the two cities is a sinch with train travel between them taking under two hours – sometimes under one!

Florence is perfect if you don’t mind crowds and want to see some of the world’s most famous works of art. Bologna is a little more laid back and is better for those who prefer slow travel.

No matter your travel style, this Florence and Bologna comparison guide will give you all the reasons to visit both of these Italian cities. And, who knows, you may be so enamored that you’ll just have to pick both!

Florence vs Bologna At a Glance

Criteria Florence Bologna
Population 382,258 388,367
Area (mi2) 39.54 54.39
Annual Tourists 15 million 1.4 million
Attractions Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazzale Michelangelo Food tours, Piazza Maggiore, Two Towers of Bologna
Day Trips San Gimignano, Pisa, Saturnia, Tuscan Countryside Ravenna, Rimini, Modena, Parma

All About Florence

View of the Florence and the Arno River
Linn Haglund / Brainy Backpackers

The historic city of Florence is the capital of Tuscany. Millions of tourists from across the globe flock to Florence to admire its Renaissance art, stunning architecture, and the picturesque countryside surrounding this distinguished city.

If you visit Florence, build in time to take a walking tour around the city, visit the spectacular Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Of course, you’ll need to spend time in art museums admiring works by some of the greatest Italian artists.

Things to Do in Florence

  • Go inside the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
  • Check out famous works of art like Venus and Allegory of Spring at the Uffizi Gallery.
  • Go shopping on the medieval Ponte Vecchio.
  • See the famous sculpture of David at the Accademia Gallery.
  • Enjoy a romantic sunset over Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo.
  • Visit the Mercato Centrale for fresh and locally-made products.
  • Check out Pitti Palace, the former residence of the Medici family.


Florentine Artists, scholars, and wealthy families have influenced the history of Florence and the country since the city’s inception. In fact, the Florentine dialect is actually what we know as the modern Italian language today.

Famous Italians that hail from Florence and the surrounding region include Amerigo Vespucci, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo. The Medici family, one of the most powerful families in Italian history, ruled Florence for hundreds of years.

Due to its location, Florence remains a primary hub for industrial production, though nowadays, it relies heavily on tourism as well. This city is a fantastic place to learn about Italy’s rich history, especially the Renaissance period, which was born in Florence in the 14th century, through its amazing art and architecture.

Art and Architecture

Uffizi Gallery interior with Renaissance art and sculptures in Florence
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Most people visit Florence to admire its famous paintings, stunning architectural wonders, and buildings that have stood the test of time. When arriving in the city center of Florence, I’m always blown away by the beauty of the Basilica de Santa Maria Novella.

As you walk further into the old town, you’ll pass through town squares like Piazza della Signoria and Piazza del Duomo, which are lined with cute cafes perfect for a bit of people-watching. And, of course, don’t miss souvenir shopping on Ponte Vecchio. Take in the panoramic views of this stunning city at sunset by trekking up to Piazzale Michelangelo.

For art lovers, a stop at the Uffizi Gallery is essential, as is a tour of the Accademia Gallery. If you have a bit more time for museum wandering, take a self-guided tour of Pitti Palace, the former residence of the Medici family.

Culinary Delights

Italy’s Tuscany region is famous for its locally-grown wine and produce. In Florence, you’ll find an abundance of wine bars featuring local wines, small bites, and cured meats. The world-famous Chianti wine is from the surrounding countryside and is an absolute must-try.

The most iconic dish to hail from this old city is bistecca alla Fiorentina, also known as Florentine steak. Other traditional dishes from Florence include Ribollita (vegetable soup), Tagliatelle funghi porcini e tartufo (mushroom and truffle pasta), and pappa al pomodoro (soup made with bread, tomatoes and olive oil).

Check out our list of best restaurants in Florence, Italy to discover all the most exciting places to eat!

Where to Stay

All About Bologna

Fountain with statues surrounded by red brick buildings in Bologna, Italy's historic center
Brittney Liu / ViaTravelers

Compared to powerhouses like Milan and Rome, Bologna is a small city. It is the capital of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and sees less than two million tourists every year.

Like Florence, it is one of the oldest and most historical cities in Italy, known for its Renaissance architecture and medieval towers. It is also home to the oldest university in the world.

Those who visit Bologna fall in love with the city’s laidback atmosphere, ideal for chilling at a cafe or a leisurely stroll through its streets and museums. The demographic skews a bit younger here – it’s still a university town and has been since the year 1088!

If you’re not checking out Bologna for the art and history, then it has to be for the food. Bologna has blessed the world with some of the most recognizable Italian dishes, from mortadella (a.k.a. bologna) to pasta bolognese.

Things to Do in Bologna

  • Visit the Two Towers of Bologna, which date back to the 12th century.
  • Stroll through the small, quiet garden of Piazza Minghetti.
  • Immerse yourself in ‘La Grassa’ (the fat one) culture by sampling all of Bologna’s most famous dishes on a walking food tour with a local guide.
  • Sit at a cafe in Piazza Maggiore, in the heart of Bologna’s city center.
  • Visit the Basilica of Santo Stefano, which dates back to the fifth century.
  • Visit the Ducati Museum, Lamborghini Museum, and Ferrari Museum.

See Related: Best Car Museums in Italy to Visit


Bologna’s rich history can be traced back to the Bronze Age and has been a key location for trade and military operations. In 1088, Bologna University was established and is thought to be the oldest university in the world.

Today, the university still welcomes about 90,000 students each year, making it one of the largest universities in Europe. After World War II, Bologna became an important economic and political powerhouse in the country and remains that way today.

Art and Architecture

Historic Bologna City Hall with grand clock tower and Italian flag
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

A large majority of Bologna’s museums are lowkey, meaning small crowds and lower admission fees. The Pinacoteca Nazionale museum houses the most important collection of Italian art from the 16th century. However, you can see much of the art in Bologna for free by visiting churches and other public buildings.

The real star of the show in Bologna is the stunning medieval architecture that can be admired all throughout the old town. The porticoes of Bologna are all blanketed as one UNESCO World Heritage Site. Altogether, these fascinating porticoes cover 24 miles, which is especially useful if you visit on a rainy day.

Bologna was heavily bombed during World War II, but what has remained of the medieval structures is quite a sight to see. Don’t let the underwhelming views from the airport influence your view of the city; just wait until you get to the old town!

Culinary Delights

Many famous Italian dishes that we know and love today actually come from the city of Bologna and the surrounding Emilia Romagna region. Delicious food like tagliatelle, tortellini, and lasagna all originate from the region.

Balsamic vinegar and (of course) bologna hail from this area. Tasty pasta sauces like bolognese and ragu? Yup, also from Bologna.

The city has been nicknamed “La Grassa,” meaning “the fat one,” because visitors often complain about gaining a few pounds due to all the delicious food. I completely regret not indulging in a food tour or cooking class while I was in Bologna, but I certainly think it would make the experience even better!

Where to Stay

See Related: Incredible Hidden Gems in Europe

Similarities Between Florence and Blogona

Both Bologna and Florence are visited primarily because of their cultural significance, incredible art, and stunning architecture. Whether you choose to visit Florence or Bologna, you won’t be disappointed when it comes to these aspects. Both have more than enough amazing churches and museums to visit on a single vacation.

While each city has its own unique culinary claims to fame, the quality of food that you’ll find in either city is equally superb. Both cities rely on fresh and simple ingredients grown locally to prepare their dishes. Great food won’t be hard to find, though prices may be a bit higher in Florence due to the sheer number of tourists.

Differences Between Florence and Bologna

Let’s start with this: whether you choose Bologna or Florence, you are sure to have a fabulous time!

First, we’ll talk about Florence. It can be the obvious choice for many because it’s more famous and minutes away from large airport hubs like Rome and Milan. Florence is a lot more crowded. but also has more famous works of art, an endless amount of restaurants and attractions, and is pretty well-connected to the rest of the country.

On the other hand, you have Bologna. It could be a better choice if you’ve already visited Italy before and want to check out a city that isn’t so geared towards tourists.

I’d argue that Bologna has the better food options, but really, you can find these traditional dishes all over Italy nowadays. The city is small, and all major attractions are within walking distance of each other.

Day Trips from Florence

Tourists taking a dip at Saturnia
Brittney Liu / ViaTravelers

Reserve a couple of days of your Florence itinerary so you can enjoy a trip out to the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany and the Chianti region. The main Florence train station is not far from the old town and easily connects Florence to other cities within the region, throughout Italy, and the rest of Europe.

So grab a train ticket! Here are just a few of the best places to visit on a day trip from Florence, some just over an hour away:

  • San Gimignano – make sure to stop by Gelateria Dondoli, the most famous gelato shop in the world!
  • Cascate del Mulino hot springs in Saturnia
  • Take a tour of Tuscany’s wineries.
  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Siena, home to the famous Palio horse race
  • Bologna!

See Related: Best Cities in Europe to Visit

Day Trips from Bologna

Duomo  and Baptistery in Parma, Italy
Renáta Sedmáková / Adobe Stock

Bologna’s well-connected train station allows tourists to combine several bucket list destinations into the same trip. Here are some places I recommend visiting on a day trip from Bologna:

Related Resources

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