This guide to using Bologna Centrale can help make sense of navigating each part of this large, multi-faceted, station to find your way to and from the trains.
We also talk you through how to transfer to the city centre and show you why Bologna makes a great base for a holiday based around day trips by train.
What isn't immediately obvious when using this station for the first time, is that Bologna Centrale is in effect four stations in one.
This can be a touch confusing, particularly if you're new to taking the train in Italy - hence the weight of text below!
Though the access to/from the trains is actually easier than at other main stations in Italy - once you have worked out in which direction you need to head.
The announcements and the signage at the station are both multi-lingual, but two translations that will help make sense of our notes are:
Binari = platforms/tracks (plural)
Binario = platform/track (singular)
Five Things Worth Knowing About Bologna Centrale:
1: The four distinct areas of Bologna Centrale station are:
2: What can be particularly confusing at Bologna Centrale, is how the binari (platforms/tracks) are numbered.
For example, if you see ‘4’ on the departure boards; then this platform/binario is in the main station.
But ‘4 Ovest’ and ‘4 Est’ are different binari (platforms/tracks); which are located in their respective parts of the station.
(There are no platforms/binari numbered 12 – 15).
3: Bologna Centrale is a key station on the Italian railway network.
From the north it's where the main line from Milan and Turin meets the main railway routes heading south from Venice and Verona.
To the south it's where the routes from these cities to Florence and Rome, splits with the railway line which heads down the Adriatic Coast to Bari and Lecce.
4: Always check the electronic departure indicators to confirm the platform/binari number that your train will be departing from.
5: Different train services TEND to use the respective parts of the station.
Trains services which use the 'main' station:
As a general rule (always confirm on the departure screens) the train services that depart from/arrive at the main station include:
Train departures from the AV station:
Note that a very small number of AV trains DO depart from the main station.
Departures from the Ovest station:
Departures from the EST station:
The train services that depart from/arrive at the EST station include the R trains to Prato.
What isn't particularly obvious when using Bologna Centrale railway station for the first time, is that there are multiple routes within the station to the binari (platforms/tracks) which most of the express trains depart from.
There are also two routes to the AV (high speed) station from the main entrance(s) on the city side of Bologna Centrale; the AV station is on the opposite side of the station to the city centre.
As you approach Bologna Centrale from the city, its main departure hall is directly in front of you - it's the part of the station with the clock on its roof.
It houses the main ticket office and over to the left, within this main hall, is the entrance to the central passage way.
This is one of the TWO passage ways which cross the station beneath the railway lines and give access to the trains which leave from the main part of the station and the AV station
(The other passage way can be accessed from the Ovest concourse - see below).
Above the stairs and the lift that lead down to this central passage way. there is a large sign indicating that this is the route to the high speed trains from binari 16-19, but they're not the only train services that can be accessed by using it.
This central passage way;
Queues can inevitably build up in this departure hall for the one lift.
So if you're happy to use escalators, a better option for accessing platforms 4-11 and 16-19 (the AV station) is to use that Ovest passage way.
To access train departing from binari (platforms/tracks) 1 Ovest - 6 Ovest, you can simply walk through into the Ovest part of the station.
As you approach Bologna Centrale from the city, the Ovest departure hall is to the left of the station forecourt and the main departure hall; though it is linked to the main hall, so it's not an entirely separate part of the station.
Only Regionale trains to the north depart from the binari (platforms/tracks) 1 Ovest - 6 Ovest; which are directly linked to the street level Ovest concourse (piazalle Ovest)
If you see Ovest beside the platform/binario number on the electronic departure screens, you need to head to this part of the station.
However, what isn't obvious is that this Ovest departure also has easy access to other platforms/binari which ALL the long distance trains depart from.
The Ovest passage way:
This Ovest part of the station is linked to the both the platforms/binari (4-11) in the main station AND the AV station (platforms/binari 16-19) - by the Ovest passage way.
There is no need to use the stairs to access this Ovest passage way.
The escalators are behind the stairs at the far end of the Ovest concourse (the piazalle Ovest) - by the platforms/tracks/binari that are in this part of the station
This Ovest passage way;
The Est station at Bologna Centrale is used by some Regionale (R) trains between Bologna and destinations to the south, including trains to Prato.
It has its own entrance hall at Piazalle Est - which is some distance from the main station.
In the main Bologna Centrale departure hall, if you see Est on the departure boards/posters next to the binari/platform number - then your train will be departing from here.
Don’t confuse it with the Ovest binari/platform numbers.
Head out of the main departure hall on to platform/binario 3 and turn right - the Est station/piazalle Est is a 3 min walk away along binari 3.
A plus is that the platforms/binari 1 Est - 4 Est have step free access from the main departure hall.
Platforms/binari 16-19 were built with the high speed line - they are located on the opposite side of the station to the main entrance, hence this part of the station being referred to as the AV station (Alta Velocita = high speed).
It isn't a separate station as it is adjacent to the main station; the pedestrian access to the AV station from the city centre side of Bologna Centrale, is through the older station.
The train services* which depart from the AV part of Bologna Centrale station are:
(1) All the Italo trains.
(2) All Frecciargento trains to Verona, Brescia and Bolzano.
(3) All Frecciargento, Frecciarossa and Frecciarossa 1000 trains to Padova and Venezia
(4) All Frecciarossa and Frecciarossa 1000 trains to Torino and Salerno
(5) All Frecciargento, Frecciarossa and Frecciarossa 1000 trains to Firenze, Napoli and Roma
(6) 99% of the Frecciarossa and Frecciarossa 1000 trains to Roma and Milano
*The type of Trenitalia 'Frecce' train which you will be taking will be shown towards the top of your ticket.
Arriving by taxi:
If you'll be taking one of the train services listed above from Bologna Centrale, tell the driver to take you to the AV station - it has a dedicated taxi drop-off zone.
If you enter by the main entrance of Bologna Centrale, do check the electronic Departure/Partenze indicators to see which specific binario/platform/track your train will be departing from.
If it is departing from binari/platforms 16-19, you need to head to the AV station.
Allow a minimum of 5 mins to make the transfer from the main entrances to the station and being on platforms/tracks/binari 16-19.
Allow 10mins if you want to use the lifts to access the AV platforms/binari.
If you enter the station through the main (city side) entrance - you can use one of two passage ways to access the AV station.
If you need to use the lifts, then use the main departure hall to access the central passage way.
If you don't need to use the lifts, then our recommendation is to access the AV station from the Ovest departure hall.
Both these passage ways exit by the AV station's taxi drop off zone:
From this taxi drop off area, the AV station concourse below, can be accessed by escalators and somewhat hidden elevators.
This enormous AV concourse houses numerous Trenitalia ticket machines - which are much less busy than those in those in the main booking hall.
You can access this AV concourse without having to buy a ticket.
The platforms/binari 16-19 are on the level below, but they are linked to that concourse above them by escalators and multiple lifts.
It doesn't particularly matter which escalator and lift you use to descend to each platform/binario, but it's best to initially wait for your train towards the middle of the binario/platform.
Make sure you can see the departure screens - your train may not be the next train to leave.
Around 3-5 mins before the train arrives, the coach/carrozza numbers will appear on the red info screens.
So be aware of the coach/carrozza number in which your reserved seat will be located - and make your way to the matching number on the screens.
Because Bologna Centrale is in effect four stations in one, how you exit the station or access the other binario/platforms, depends on which part of the station your train has arrived at.
It will be obvious if your train has arrived at the AV station in Bologna Centrale, as this is the only part of the station which is below ground.
Use the escalators or lifts to ascend up to the AV station concourse - there are multiple escalators and lifts, so use which ever you come to first.
From this AV station concourse, separate escalators and lifts lead up the taxi pick up/drop off zone; even if you won't be taking a taxi, you need to take this route.
TWO passage ways lead from this taxi zone to the main exits - and the other binari/platforms at the station.
(1) The main passage way has ELEVATORS and stairs to the other binari/platforms and exits.
(2) The Ovest passage way has ESCALATORS and stairs to the other binari/platforms and exits.
So follow the signs to ‘Piazalle Ovest’ if you’re happy to use escalators to exit the station.
Though when you reach the end of this Ovest passage way, ignore the sign pointing the way to the Uscita (Exit) - the escalators are over to the right.
These escalators leads up ‘Piazalle Ovest’ and there are multiple street level exits from here.
If your train arrives in the main station at binari/platforms 4-11 - it won’t be particularly obvious that there are two alternative passage ways that can be used to exit the station.
There is no need to follow the crowds and head down the stairs if you have luggage etc, but if you’re happy to use the stairs - take the nearest exit.
Using the lifts:
If you want/need to use the lift you may have to walk along the platform to find it.
They're towards the front of trains that have arrived from the north - and towards the rear of trains that have arrived from the south,
The lifts lead down to the central passage way at the station - all of the binari/platforms 4-11 in this part of the station, have lift access to and from this central passage way.
However, at the end of this central passage way there is only a single lift - giving access to the main exit/uscita in the central departure hall.
At busy times you’ll have to queue for this lift.
Using the escalators:
Using the escalators that lead down to the Ovest passage way can enable a speedier exit – to find them on the binario/platform follow the signs to Piazalle Ovest
You may have to walk passed the lifts and stairs to access these escalators.
They're towards the front of trains that have arrived from the south - and towards the rear of trains that have arrived from the north.
Along the Ovest passage is a sign pointing to the exit/uscita - the passage way bends round to the left, but there are only stairs at the far end of the passage way.
Instead of turning to the left, you can use the escalators that are over to the right - the signs will point the way to the ‘Piazalle Ovest’.
The escalators lead up to the Ovest concourse, but this is at the same street level as the main exit – which will be behind you when you step off the escalator.
If your train arrives at the Ovest platforms/binari simply walk ahead across ‘Piazalle Ovest’ to access the Ovest Hall - which exits on to the main square in front of the station.
The main taxi rank at Bologna Centrale and the bus stops are on this square.
Or if you're changing trains, use the escalators to head down to the Ovest passage way, if your connecting train is departing from platforms 4 -11 or 16-19.
If you arrive at the Est station and:
This exit is the quickest route to the city centre from this Est station.
The piazalle Est is also across the street from Bologna's main bus station.
Though if you will be changing trains you will need to turn to the right and walk along the exceptionally long binario/platform 4, in order to access the main part of the station.
Bologna Centrale station is located towards the northern edge of the city centre - so virtually all of the city’s tourist attractions are a 15 - 25 minute walk away (through charming streets with the covered walkways that the city is famous for).
Pick up a map at the station’s Tourist Information office before you head off into the maze of streets.
Bologna has no metro or tram system, so buses provide the public transport in the city.
Bus line A links Bologna Central (Stazione FS) with the main square in the heart of the city - leave the bus at the 'P. Maggiore' stop.
Despite its location on the northern edge of the city centre, Bologna Centrale is a magnet for accommodation, but comparatively few of the places to stay in the area have guest ratings of above 80%.
The immediate vicinity of the station is dominated by 4* hotels, but all the options below are within a 10 min walk of the station.
Starhotel Excelsoir Bologna
Una Hotel Bologna (personally recommended)
Hotel Atlantic (personally recommended)
ABC Bologna B%B
Bologna is the hub of the Italian rail network, so it makes a great base for exploring a multitude of fabulous destinations by train.
To other destinations in Emilia-Romagna by train:
It’s relatively straight forward to combine multiple destinations in Emilia-Romagna on day trips from Bologna by train.
Regionale (R) Regionale Veloce (RV) trains can be used to follow the suggested itineraries and the plus of taking these trains, is that the tickets won’t cost any more if booked at the station compared to online.
So you can be spontaneous and decide where you want to go each day.
The itineraries below are all possible within a day - if you set off from Bologna Centrale before 10:00 you can spend more than three hours in each location and be back in Bologna in the evening.
The stations in all of the locations below are within a 15 min walk of the historic town centres and the station in Rimini is also within a 15 min walk of the beach.
(1) Bologna – Ferrara – Ravenna – Bologna
(2) Bologna – Ravenna – Rimini - Bologna
(3) Bologna – Parma – Modena – Bologna; there are direct trains between Ferrara and Ravenna and between Ravenna and Rimini.
When you arrive at your first destination, confirm the times of the trains on to your next stop before leaving the station.
Allow time to purchase a ticket before boarding your next train.
Take care when looking at the paper departure boards if you’re travelling at weekends; it’s easy to miss that some trains won’t be operating on a Saturday or a Sunday.
To destinations beyond Emilia-Romagna by train:
It’s also possible to make day trips by train between Bologna and a swathe of must-see cities beyond Emilia-Romagna.
Regionale Veloce trains are an option for day trips to the likes of Milano, Padova/Padua, Piacenza, Verona and Venezia/Venice.
Faster Frecce trains are also available to those destinations.
Take the Frecce trains and those further destinations can all be reached in under 90 minutes from Bologna; but you will need to book in advance to save money.
To and From Florence/Firenze:
Frecce and Italo trains are the only DIRECT city centre to city centre daytime trains between Bologna and Firenze/Florence, the journey time from Bologna Centrale and Firenze S.M. Novella stations is under 45 minutes.
If you book in advance online, you can save more than 50% on the price of this journey, but it's still a comparatively expensive journey considering the distance.
We're big fans of Bologna - and not just because it's a great base for exploring Italy by train, but we're not the only ones.
Here's some other reasons as to why Bologna is a great place to travel to by train.
The Best of Bologna (The Guardian)
Bologna City Guide (Lonely Planet)
36 Hours in Bologna (The Telegraphh)
Bologna City Guide (Suitcase)
A First Timer's Guide (Travelinmad)
36 Hours in Bologna (The NY Times)
86 Tips From Locals (Likealocal)
A Long Weekend In Bologna (UrbanTravelBlog)
This is one of more than 300 station guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.