Following from our last travel guide to Venice, I thought I’d continue the series with our next two destinations in our 3 week Italian holiday in 2018, which was Milan & Bologna.
The Duomo, Milan
We spent a total of 4 nights in Milan and Bologna, stopping at each city for 2 nights. We trained from Venice to Milan, and Milan to Bologna, using our Eurail Italy Pass. We bought these ahead of time, as we knew exactly how many days we needed to travel using the train / bus system and the pass provided a discounted fee compared to single and return trips.
View of Milan streets from the top of the Duomo
We did read up a lot about the Eurail Pass, and I’ve compiled a few links below so you can calculate exactly whether or not you need it, as it all depends on the number of destinations you visit and how much you use public transport.
- Rick Steves guide
- Italia Rail website (for pricing info & purchasing the pass)
- Thrifty Nomads guide (if you are traveling multiple countries in Europe)
Note that although the train pass allows you to get on some trains for free (regional trains), high speed trains between major cities will require reservations, which cost a few euros extra. Consistently throughout our Italy trip, we would always book the reservation for the train the night before. You certainly don’t have to use the high-speed trains, but they are a lot more comfortable and quiet! Do make sure to reserve your seats plenty ahead of time, if you are travelling in a group and would like to sit together as the seats fill up fast.
Beautiful archways in Bologna & the Le due Torri (Two Towers)
Before you hop on the train you will also need to validate your ticket at the train station (like touching on a myki, if you are familiar with the Melbourne public transport system). If you have a Eurail pass, this means writing down your destination and time before getting on the train. The ticket inspector will check your Eurail pass, reservation, and ID, and the lack thereof any of these documents will result in a fine.
The buildings in Bologna were so beautiful with so much colour!
Our Airbnb was outside of the main city area for both Milan and Bologna, so we travelled on the subway (Milan) and bus (Bologna) to get to places. Ubers in Italy are expensive, as they are regarded as a premium service (almost the same price as a taxi). However, on the day of arrival at each destination, we taxi’d to the Airbnb to check in, as we were carrying around large luggage.
In Milan, the subway system was fairly straightforward and we bought a 48 hour unlimited pass to travel easily within the city. Here’s a quick link to read more about the Milan public transport system. Note: do not bend the ticket (like I did), as it results in the ticket being damaged! I had to rebuy the ticket as it had stopped working after I’d put the ticket in my back pocket.
In Bologna, we relied on Google Maps and the bus stop maps to get to where we wanted to be. The bus was very similar to Melbourne buses and we were glad to have stayed only 2 minutes from the nearest bus stop. We used our Eurail pass to cover the days we used the bus in Bologna.
Bologna from the top of Le due Torri
We used Airbnbs for the rest of the trip, and chose to stay outside the city to save money. Our Milan apartment was wonderful (and in a really quiet neighbourhood) but our Bologna apartment was subpar as there was construction the whole time we were staying there. Both were less than 10 minute walk from public transport stops and near food shops and supermarkets.
Places to see
We had to see the Duomo (of course!) in Milan, and the view from the top was absolutely incredible. We went nice and early to skip the lines and even so it was packed! We bought skip the line tickets from the official Duomo website.
The stairs up to the top of the Duomo, Milan
I would have loved to have seen Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church, but we didn’t actually found out about it until we got there, and the place has a pretty long waiting list. So I’d suggest booking ahead if this is something you’re interested in seeing.
We also went to the Galleria and also really enjoyed the Sforza Castle. We did a lot of walking and ended up seeing Arco della Pace (the Arch of Peace) on the edge of the city. Prepared to do a lot of walking in both Milan and Bologna – in fact, all throughout Italy!
Arco della Pace
Although we loved Bologna for its beautiful arches and food culture, we did our fair share of attractions, including the San Petronio Basilica (which was free entry!), Piazza Maggiore, and Piazza del Nettuno. We also climbed the Le due Torri (Two Towers) which was a fair climb but the views was a DREAM. You do need to get tickets in the ticket office for certain start times, and I would recommend going earlier during the day to avoid the heat and crowds.
San Petronio Basilica
Big grins from me after the long climb up the top of the Le due Torri! I'm wearing: Jules Medallion Necklace
If you have some time, Bologna has a beautiful garden in the South with a greenhouse cafe called Serre dei Giardini Margherita. We had a lovely walk in the park in the afternoon and stopped for some delicious baked goodies before heading off to dinner.
Serre dei Giardini Margherita
Places to eat
Oh the endless options! We used Tripadvisor and Google reviews for the most part to find where to eat in Italy. However our favourite was a restaurant we stumbled in Bologna (on our way to another restaurant we wanted to try through Tripadvisor reviews, but was closed). Unfortunately we don’t remember the name of it but I have linked the Google Maps location just in case you are in the area. Another restaurant we loved was El saor, they had beautiful home cooking style with traditional Italian flavours. For a quick meal, we liked going to Altro? - a food court with lots of inexpensive lunch options, right next to a fresh fruit market.
Left - El saor | Right - the place we don't remember the name of
In Milan, my most memorable meal was dessert from Cioccolatitaliani, a chocolatier in Milan. Over the course of our Italy trip, we always refered back to Cioccolat as THE best gelato we have ever had. Spoken by a true ice cream addict, at that! So if you are tired from shopping around the streets of Milan and want a quick fix of straciatella or pistachio heaven, do not miss this spot!
In Italy, you'll have to pay a service fee to sit down and enjoy your coffee! We chose to do this once every now and then to really enjoy the atmosphere.
In Milan, we did a bit of shopping as there were so many brands not available in Australia. We ate in mostly in Milan, as we had a supermarket close by to our Airbnb. In Bologna, the majority of our budget went into experience the culinary culture of the city, as our Airbnb didn’t have any kitchen facilities. Below is a quick guide of how much we spent in Milan & Bologna.
Transport: €20 for public transport and about the same for taxi’s from the train station to our Airbnb
Everything else: €120 (shopping etc)
We travelled through to the Cinque Terre coast & Pisa in the next 5 nights. More on that soon on the next blog post in the series!