The historic center of Bologna, with its impressive medieval architecture and famous restaurants and bars, is perfect for an exploratory stroll. A suitable starting place is the main square of Piazza Maggiore with the 16th-century fountain of Neptune in the attached Piazza Nettuno, always a handy meeting place for locals. Sightseeing highlights are abundant around here, including the Basilica of San Petronius and the Governor's Palace with its 13th-century tower, the Torre dell'Arengo. Bologna's distinctive arcades, the portici, mean that exploring the streets north of here is possible in all types of weather. Via dell'Indipenza is the main shopping street, but the area known as the Quadrilatero, contained by Piazza Maggiore, via Castiglione, via Rizzoli and via Farini, is the city center's main market area. It is home to numerous delis and fresh produce stalls offering Bolognese pasta specialties and various sauces and cheeses. An unusual attraction just south of the central square is the Archiginnasio and its historic lecture theater, where Renaissance students studied anatomy at the world's oldest university. It's a remarkable site of historic interest, right opposite the designer fashion stores of via Farini.
Bologna claims to be the gastronomic capital of Italy and even the most fanatical supporters of other regional cuisines offer their respect. Even when Bologna was the hub of Italian Communism, food was treated just as seriously as politics, perhaps more so. The city's main contribution to global cuisine is the famous bolognese sauce, a rich, slow-cooked meat ragu that is best experienced in its birthplace, where the authentic sauce is served with tagliatelle rather than spaghetti. The origins of the US favorite sandwich meat baloney also lie in the Italian city, specifically in mortadella, the cured pork salami that fills so many Bologna lunch panini. The city's other great culinary invention is the navel shaped pasta tortellini, filled with meat and cheese and served in a light broth. The arcaded streets of central Bologna have numerous delis selling fresh pasta, tortellini and ravioli, with a wide variety of fillings. Lasagna verde, made with spinach, is not necessarily vegetarian, although more restaurants and stores now offer meat-free versions. Although proud of its own produce, Bologna is not averse to showcasing the finest Italian ingredients from elsewhere, notably the world famous cheeses and ham from its close neighbor Parma.