New energy courses through the south of Milan, and at the centre of it all is the Navigli district. Known for its canals, all-night bars that spill onto the streets and unmatchable aperitivo credentials the neighbourhood, which runs from Porta Genova Station to the areas south of Piazza XXIIII Maggio, is where everyone from backpackers, students, young professionals to families and old-timers come to play. Sure you came to this city for the fashion, the food and the super slick locals, but if you need a break from the stilettos and sartorial judgement, head here. The dress code may be more relaxed, but the erudite galleries and shops give this place a cultured feel, making it much more than just a bacchanalian hub.
A brief history
The Navigli district is the oldest Milan, the manmade canals were created around 1100AD to aid the flow of water through the city and to take goods upriver to Lake Maggiore and on to Switzerland. Contrary to popular belief, the word naviglio does not mean canal in Italian, but ‘fleet’, most likely derived from the Latin navigium meaning ‘to navigate.’ Leonardo Da Vinci contributed to the construction and when finished the five canals made the landlocked city more accessible to the outside world.
Back in the day, this was the haunt of the post-renaissance artsy set, but the canals fell into disuse in the 1920s and the WW2 bombing meant that the much of the city needed rebuilding. However in the last few years gentrification projects have shed new light on Navigli. A torrent of bars, restaurants and galleries fill the cobblestone streets and tiny studios fill the green courtyards along the canal.
What not to miss
Don’t be mislead by the youngsters, the banks of the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese are lined with exquisite restaurants offering some of the best wines and aperitivo in Milan. If you can make it down before dark, take a seat facing the water and watch the sunset over the bridges, a rare sight in this industrial paradise.
The area is now famous for its antique dealers and markets and every Sunday traders line the streets with stalls full of clothes, books, art and Italian rarities. Don’t miss a stop on the bridge where Piazza XXIV Maggio meets Naviglio Grande, on a clear day you can see far down the river and all the pastel coloured 19th century houses lit up. In autumn, this urban scene is suffused with the romantic haze that precedes the famous Milanese fog.
One of world's most fashionable cities, Milan has bequeathed us an amazing vintage legacy from the last 100 years. The Navigli district holds many shops to fill your wardrobes with wonderfully designed clothes and antiques.
You could spend a whole day wandering this street leading from Navigli to Pta Genova Metro, full of high-end vintage and authentic Italian boutiques, antique shops. A lot of the inventory is sourced from across Italy, perfect for sourcing gifts and souvenirs.
Related: How to dress like an Italian
Cavalli e Nastri.
With three locations in Milan and a museum, this is the perfect shop to find vintage Italian designers. The atmosphere is charming with antiques and collectables displayed among the clothes; the showroom is exactly that, designers visit here for inspiration as well as the thrifty but well heeled Milanese.
© Cavalli e Nastri
On the last Sunday of the month hundreds of vintage stalls, antiques dealers and artists line the banks of the Navigli and the surrounding streets. If you’re a vintage clothes fan, art collector or aesthete the market is the perfect place to come and browse some of the finest Italians rarities.
Alzaia del Naviglio Grande and Alazaia del Naviglio Pavese, naviglilive.it
FOOD, DRINK & ENTERTAINMENT
Navigli may be away from the shops of Montenapoleone but it’s where the locals come to dine, with a selection of authentic, inexpensive restaurants offering everything from brunch and wine tasting to aperitivo and fine dining.
Until November 2015 artisanal traders, local producers and wine merchants are occupying the 15,000sqm of disused railway tracks of old Porta Genova station. The premise of the Mercato was to act as a reminder of the importance of locally sourced, fresh food for all - a key theme of the Expo. Free to enter, with over 100 stalls and 2000 products, this is perfect way to spend an evening on the canals.
© Mercato Metropolitano/Facebook
A new restaurant and gourmet shop: Open all day, serving breakfast, lunch, aperitivo and dinner. Taglio offers homemade pastas, a great selection of cheese plates, meats and an extensive wine cellar. Owners Gianluca, Raffaele, Mark and Andrea are highly skilled chefs who produce the best risotto alla milanese and cotoletta sbagliata in the area. Perfect for lunch or weekend brunch.
Al Pont de Ferr
Established for over 25 years this innovative restaurant has recently acquired its first Michelin star, thanks in part to the creativity of the head chef. Tasting menus are recommended to get the gastronomic best from this place. Start at Rebelot, the sister restaurant next door for pre-dinner cocktails and aperitivo.
© Al Pont de Ferr
Tizzy's NY Bar and Grill
Navilgi has become a veritable hipster haven, and many internationals head to Tizzy’s for authentic New York burger. The restaurants sources all its meats locally but is accompanied by healthy serving of Americana – cheese toppings, banana splits for desserts and Brooklyn Brewery Beer. Perfect if you need a taste of home, or a break from the pasta.
© Tizzy's Bar and Grill
With a warm interior of Belle Époque furniture, art objects, wine displays, menus in old books and jazz playing in the background, MAG is more reminiscent of a 19th century Parisian café than a fashionable Milanese haunt. Somehow it manages to be both. With the best mixologists in town, on-Navigli location and late night opening this is perfect place to finish a night.
More Milan area guides...