Navigli - the canal disctrict of Milan

Most peope, including myself, associated Milan with its imposing cathedral and Leonardo’s Last Supper. There is one part of Mila, however, which is less known among the tourist. This part reminds of Venice – it is the canal disctrict of Navigli.

The difference between the central part of Milan, full of tourist, and Navigli can be easily felt. From the crowds and the luxurious shops you end up around quiet canals, surroinced by ateliers, wine shops, restaurants and cafes. In the past these canals have reached the center of the city, all the way to the Cathedral. They were used to transport the stone blocks, used during its consfrution. Leonardo da Vinci, as ducal engineer working for Ludovico il Moro, has contributed to the canal systemr Its success has turned Milan in one of the most important river port in Europe up until the 19th century. However, the rise of the railway and other modes of transport from the 19th century onwards saw the canals fall into disuse. Public health reasons and general lack of use meant many of the canals were paved over and turned into streets from the 1930s onwards. Bombing during the Second World War put the remaining canals out of action and they were definitively closed in the 1970s.

Today there are only two existing canals in Navigli – Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese. The district is center of backdrop to Milan’s bohemian life, lined with bookshops, designer boutiques and bars. It’s definitely an essential place for going out in Milan. The area has endless attractions: boat rides along the canals, exploring artists’ studios and shopping in original boutiques by day, and going for drinks in sophisticated bars at night.

As you walk along the Naviglio Grande, take a few moments to go off the beaten path next to the restaurant El Brellin, and discover the washerwomen’s area…the slabs that clothes were washed on are still visible…a reminder of the days without modern machinery…this was also a “conversation” point…the women washing and gossiping about their daily lives…something to show modern children.

You can also go for a boat ride on Naviglio Grande and experience first-hand how the Milanese transported essential goods along the canal, which became the city’s main thoroughfare and made it an international trading hub for centuries. Boat trips take you to admire the churches and mansions that border the canals and normally last around an hour. You can also book a longer trip that includes lunch, and even bicycle hire in the afternoon.

Near the San Lorenzo Church in the center of Milan in the Navigli neighborhood, there are some great mura;s. The work was commissioned by the church itself, and shows images from the history of Milan. Alessandro Manzoni – a favorite author of Leonardo da Vinci, the war between Sforza and Visconti, Napoleon on the White Horse and the composer Giuseppe Verdi. The artists who participated in the creation: Acme 107, Encs, Gatto Nero, Gatto Max, Gep, Gianbattista Leoni, Kasy 23, Luca Zamarchi, Mr. Blob, Neve and 750m.

Last, but not least, when in Navigli, do not forget to go for an aperitif. On weekend evenings, particularly in summer, local residents typically meet in Navigli neighbourhood for the classic tradition of going for an aperitif. The choice of bars can almost be overwhelming and almost all of those in Naviglio Grande also have a delicious buffet.

You can see more photos from the disctrict in our Gallery: