Bologna in detail

Sights

Bologna is compact, and nearly all of the main sights are within walking distance of each other. The city's civic museums are free on the first Sunday of the month from October to March, and for the last two hours on Thursday evening in high season (April to September).

University Quarter

Bolshie graffiti, communist newspaper-sellers and the whiff of last night's beer (and urine) characterise the scruffy but strangely contagious streets of the university quarter, the site of Bologna's former Jewish ghetto.

The Hidden Venice of Emilia-Romagna

Ever wondered why Bologna's principle monument, Fontana del Nettuno, celebrates Neptune, the god of freshwater and the sea – despite no sea in sight for miles and miles? The city's landlocked position in central Italy be damned – the Bolognese worshipped a water deity due to its 60km canal network, which helped make medieval and Renaissance-era Bologna one of Italy's wealthiest cities. The two main canals, Reno and Savena, were dug in the 12th century to divert waters from the two rivers into the city centre; merchants then used the resulting system of water-distributing locks, canals and underground pipes for trade.

But today, it's very easy to wander Bologna's historic centre for days and never cast your eyes upon the hidden holy waters as modern-day Bologna envelopes many of the canals. Take the small window at Via Piella 16, for example. It frames a picturesque, Instagram-ready vista over Reno Canal, but you could eat at Trattoria dal Biassanot for years without noticing it. Other top spots around the centre include the restored salt depository at Via Don Minzoni 18 (behind MAMbo), the only surviving building of Bologna's old city port, built in 1548 and demolished in 1934. In its heyday, 50-boat fleets made a thousand trips per year from here, carrying 23,000 tonnes of goods along the Navile canal to Ferrara and Venice. Between Via Capo di Lucca and Via Alessandrini, the partially uncovered Moline Canal is visible as well, best seen from the charming terrace at cutesy Opera Caffé e Tulipani (Via Alessandrini 7; grab a coffee or a snack!). It once powered numerous mill wheels (Renaissance-era millers’ houses have survived here as well).

To dig deeper into Bologna's hidden canals, download the bilingual Canali di Bologna app (Android/iOS).