The gastronomic heart of Italy, this historic city’s rich culture and thriving economy also make it one of the nation’s most livable cities for both natives and digital nomads.
Bologna’s importance as an urban center pre-dates the Roman empire. Located in the heart of what is today Northern Italy, the city was founded by the Etruscans around 600BCE and was occupied by the Celts for roughly three centuries before becoming part of the Roman Empire. Throughout this long history, it has been a center of trade, industry, and education, and was one of the largest cities in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, Bologna is the capital of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and one of the largest, wealthiest, and most livable cities in the nation. Despite its importance in global trade and industry, it hasn’t become a significant tourist destination like other Italian cities. Even with the large student population, about 90% of Bologna’s residents are Italian, and the majority of international visitors are from nearby European nations. Combined with the city’s thriving economy, this lack of tourism makes Bologna very appealing to nomads who want a more authentic Italian experience.
Where to live in Bologna
The roadways in Bologna are notoriously crowded, especially close to the city center. Thankfully, Bologna also has an affordable and well-developed public transportation system, with busses and trolleys in the city center and train service to outlying suburbs and other cities. For most, this makes living in one of the central neighborhoods the most convenient option, especially if your workspace is in the downtown area. You can find suburban-like areas within this area, so you don’t necessarily need to live far from the city no matter what kind of living environment you’re looking for.
Best Neighborhoods in Bologna
Bologna is a large city, and its many neighborhoods each have a distinct vibe. Those who like living in an active, urban area will love neighborhoods like Centro Storico and Bolognina, with their busy streets and variety of dining and entertainment options. The area around the University of Bologna is also popular, especially with students and young professionals, who appreciate its many cafes and bars. For a calmer, more residential vibe, Porta Saragozza is your best option close to the city. It’s still very walkable and has easy access to the city center, so you won’t have to sacrifice convenience for quiet. Further from the city center you’ll find neighborhoods like Borgo Panigale, which are more spacious and don’t draw as many students and tourists.
Quick Facts About BolognaMost people know Bologna as the food capital of Italy--which is quite a distinction given the nation’s culinary reputation. While the local cuisine is definitely a highlight, there’s a lot more to this cosmopolitan city than what you’ll find in its restaurants. Here are some more fun facts about Bologna:
It’s famous for its cured meats (but not bologna).The lunch meat that shares Bologna’s name was inspired by Bolognese ham but is not actually an invention of the region. You’ll find a range of cured pork options in local restaurants, though, with favorites including prosciutto, salumi, and mortadella, the Bolognese take on ham.
It’s home to the oldest university in the Western world.The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and has been operating continuously since. It’s also one of the most prestigious universities in Italy, frequently ranking among the best educational institutions in Europe.
Expect hot summers and cold winters.Unlike the Mediterranean climate of southern Italian cities, the Emilia-Romagna region gets all 4 seasons. While it’s humid and hot in the summer, the winters are cold and wet, and it’s not uncommon to see snow and ice.
It used to be a city of canals.A couple of centuries ago Bologna looked more like Venice, with some 60 kilometers of canals winding through the city. Most of these have since been covered over to make room for new roads and buildings, though some portions of the canal network can still be seen.
It was the first city to abolish slavery.The Liber Paradisus was drafted in Bologna in 1257 after local feudal lords lost the Battle of Fossalta, forcing them to stop treating their servants as possessions. This document was the early foundation for future declarations of human rights and abolition.
It’s the birthplace of Maserati.This luxury car maker was founded in Bologna in 1914 and still calls the city home to this day. The company’s storied history is celebrated in the Maserati Museum, located next to the city’s factory (which can be toured by visitors, too).
Its FICO Eataly World is the world’s largest food park.Founded to celebrate and share Italian cuisine with the world, this 20-acre complex includes restaurants, marketplaces, and fields that are open to the public. They also have classes and workshops where you can learn how to make the famous local dishes.
It’s a member of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.Bologna was also designated a UNESCO City of Music in 2006, and was declared a European capital of culture in 2000.
Work in Bologna
Bologna’s economy is the top-ranked in Italy in terms of growth. Industry and manufacturing are the main industries and a diverse range of goods are produced here, including cars, textiles, and food. The financial sector is also strong, with many Italian banks and insurance companies calling it home. Many well-known companies are headquartered in Bologna, too, including Maserati, Lamborghini, and the Hera Group. The diversity of the economy makes Bologna one of the best Italian cities for expats to find work. Along with the industries mentioned above, education is a popular career choice for foreign workers. English teachers are in high demand, especially those who are also fluent in Italian, which can be a great option for bilingual nomads.
How good is Bologna for Digital Nomads or Remote Work
Remote work is changing how the global workspace operates. In a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down, remote work is rapidly on the increase all around the world—especially in a place like Bologna. And about 25% of remote workers describe themselves as digital nomads—those who like to travel or stay in cities around the world while they work. So, how good is Bologna for both of these growing movements?
Average Internet SpeedBologna’s internet is some of the most reliable and fastest in Italy. The city also has a free Wi-Fi network, Iperbole, which can be accessed in most of the city’s public buildings. The average public Wi-Fi speed is around 21Mbps, with typical home network speeds ranging from 15-64Mbps depending on the provider.
Work-friendly Coffee ShopsItaly’s cafes aren’t known to be particularly work-friendly, and it’s more common to see Italians drinking a quick espresso at the bar than lingering for hours with their laptops. Fortunately, the large student population in Bologna means you’ll find more cafes that encourage working and studying than in other Italian cities. Here are the best for getting work done: Zoo: This cafe is especially popular with creative types and serves as a book shop and gallery as well as a coffee shop. They also have an ample menu of organic food, with a variety of vegan and vegetarian options. Caffe Terzi: One of the best-known cafes in Bologna, Caffe Terzi can get busy, especially in the mornings. Many locals just stop in for a quick espresso, though, so you’ll usually be able to find an open table. Their variety of coffee options and delicious pastries are well worth the visit. Fram: The long table at the center of this cafe is reserved for those working on computers, making this an easy place to find space. Its cozy, vintage aesthetic is the ideal environment for focusing and their light menu of healthy fare is excellent brain food.
Coworking SpacesBologna has been gaining popularity as a digital nomad destination, so it’s no surprise the city’s has a growing coworking scene. You’ll find the most options around the city center and in neighborhoods like Bolognina that are popular with students and foreigners. Some of the top spots include: Voxel Co & Net working space: This versatile coworking spot in Bolognina has both shared and individual work areas, as well as labs, meeting rooms, and exhibit spaces for members. Their regular workshops and networking events make it ideal for nomads seeking a community. TSH Collab Bologna: In the heart of the city, TSH is popular with both entrepreneurs and freelancers. Members get 24/7 access to the workspace, along with unique amenities like an on-site gym and laundry service. Granata: With two locations (Via San Rocco and Via San Carlo), Granata offers a variety of work spaces and community events. Both are convenient to public transportation and provide members with printer/copier access, reliable high-speed internet, and lounge area with games so you can relax after your work day.
Suitable Level for Digital NomadsBologna offers everything most digital nomads are looking for. With its strong economy and broad access to Wi-Fi, you’ll find it easy to get work done in Bologna no matter what industry you’re in. It’s also an easy city to get around on foot, with ample public transportation options. Add in the impressive culinary scene and active nightlife and Bologna checks all the boxes of things nomads want in a city. It’s surprisingly affordable, too, with a cost of living slightly lower than what you’ll find in other large Italian cities.
Visa RequirementsItaly is a member of the EU and part of the Schengen Zone, so citizens of EU nations can stay up to 90 days and work without obtaining a visa. For stays longer than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a temporary residence permit, which will allow you to live and work in Italy for up to 5 years. For non-EU citizens, the visa requirements depend on where you’re from and how long you plan to stay. Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other nations don’t need a visa for stays of 90 days or less. If you plan a longer stay, you’ll need to secure an entrance visa from the Italian consulate before your travels, as well as a Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay) on arrival. Contact your local Italian embassy to find out what documents you’ll need.
Food and Drink in Bologna
The culinary scene in Bologna is world-famous and with good reason. It’s the birthplace of classic Italian dishes like lasagna, tortellini, and Bolognese sauce (known as ragu to the locals), and pasta dishes are at the heart of the local cuisine. There are dozens of trattorias in the city where you can try the local fare. Favorite spots include Oltre, Trattoria Bertozzi, and the family-run Ristorante Da Cesari, whose fresh pasta is some of the best in the city. For a more casual meal, Pigro off Piazza Maggiore serves up excellent panini (sandwiches) made with the local mortadella ham. Mo Mortadella Lab is another top local spot for delicious made to order sandwiches. If you’re craving pizza, check out Mozzabella on Via Partello, which serves up pies with gourmet toppings by the slice. For charcuterie, spots like La Baita Vecchia Magla and Enoteca Storia Faccioli are known for their cured meats, artisan cheeses, and ample wine lists. As renowned as the local food is, Bologna is a cosmopolitan city with an international restaurant culture, so you don’t have to only eat Italian food your whole stay. You’ll find delicious Japanese food at Sentaku, Bologna’s first Ramen bar. For vegan fare, Botanica Lab’s array of soups and salads are sure to satisfy. It also has one of the best craft beer scenes in Italy, which you can sample at spots like Baladin Bologna, established by local craft brewer Teo Musso.
Top 6 Things To Do in Bologna
The Piazza Maggiore is a great place for history lovers to start exploring Bologna. Take a tour of historic buildings like the Palazzo del Podesta or Basilica di San Petronio, see the artifacts displayed in the Archaeology Museum, or simply enjoy some people watching over a glass of wine under one of the city’s famous porticos. The Piazza di Porta Ravegnana is where you’ll find the city’s two leaning towers, Asinelli and Garisenda, which you can climb to see some amazing views of the city. Historic buildings abound around the University of Bologna, too, most notably Archiginnasio on the PIazza Galvani, which is home to the famous wood-panelled Anatomical Theater. For art lovers, the Bologna National Gallery has a large collection of works dating back as far as the 13th century. More in a shopping mood? Head to La Piazzola Market in the Piazza dell Agosto, a historic market with more than 400 stalls selling everything from clothes and shoes to spices, flowers, and pottery.
Basilica of San Domenico
Piazza S. Domenico, 13, Bologna
Piazza del Nettuno, 3, Bologna
Mercato Delle Erbe
Via Ugo Bassi, 25, Bologna
Palazzo Poggi Museum
Via Zamboni, 33, Bologna
Mercato di Mezzo
Via Clavature, 12, Bologna
Palazzo del Podestà, Bologna
Piazza Maggiore, 1, Bologna