Italy's Best City Has Great Food And Art Without Huge Crowds, Per Samantha Brown

Away from the overcrowded landmarks of Rome and the bustling fashion scene of Milan, Italy's less-visited cities are oftentimes a treasure trove of unexpected experiences. Whether you're looking for peace and quiet in the small towns, exploring all over countryside regions, or simply indulging in authentic cuisine, there's no denying that the country is filled with a never ending supply of hidden gems. However, there's one special destination that left a big impression on travel expert and TV host Samantha Brown: the vibrant Bologna.

Located roughly 100 miles south of Venice — and about 132 miles southeast of Milan, a journey that should take about 2.5 hours — Bologna is tucked away in the heart of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region. What makes the destination so special? Per Brown's blog, Bologna just ... hits different. Known for its cuisine and historical charm, the city is brimming with museums, restaurants, and architectural gems that you simply can't miss.

Exploring the best of Bologna

According to Samantha Brown, there are a few key features that make Bologna her favorite city in Italy. For starters, there's the authenticity. Unlike its more over-saturated counterparts, this underrated city is still relatively undiscovered by mass tourism. Not only does this mean you won't be fighting hordes of crowds to see and do what you want, but also that you'll have a more immersive opportunity to actually experience everyday Italian culture. And better yet, hitting up Bologna also means you'll probably be skipping out on most of Italy's tourist traps during your travels — now that's what we call a win-win.

Along with this, Bologna also shines when it comes to its architecture. Known for its historic towers — 21 of them in total — the city's skyline is studded with buildings that date all the way back to the Middle Ages. Two of its more famous examples include the Asinelli and Garisenda towers, standing at 318 and 157 feet respectively. And although the Leaning Tower of Pisa usually takes all the attention, the truth is that Bologna has its own leaning tower that's slowly toppling over: the Asinelli Tower currently has an inclination of 1.3 degrees — making it the tallest leaning tower in Italy.

Other can't-miss sites according to Brown include the city's Gothic Basilica, which began construction in 1390 and remains unfinished; the Abbazia di Santo Stefano, a collection of four churches; and the Teatro Anatomico, a 17th-century medical theater that was turned into a science museum.

Sampling Bologna's iconic cuisine

When it comes to the food — oh, the food! — Bologna doesn't stay behind. Nicknamed "La Grassa" (which translates to "The Fat"), the city's culinary tradition reigns supreme. Hailed as the ultimate foodie destination, meals in Bologna are all about sticking to tradition and infusing every bite with a homemade, hearty touch.

For starters, there's pasta al ragù — aka, spaghetti Bolognese. A worldwide classic, locals actually prefer to enjoy the dish with tagliatelle — a thicker, flat noodle — so make sure you keep that in mind. Beyond that, Bologna offers a world of bold flavors that range from stuffed zucchini to truffle pastas, mortadella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and more.

When it's time for dessert, you'll also be happy to know that Bologna is one of the best cities in Italy for some authentic homemade gelato. Whatever you do, though, make sure you're in the know as to how and where to find the best gelato during your travels. Otherwise, you might get stuck with the tourist version of the dessert.