Discover the Navigli – Milan’s canal district

Olivia O’Connell is ISA’s Site Specialist for Italy.

Located in the northern region of Lombardy, Milan is Italy’s hub for fashion, international commerce, and business. It is known for being one of the country’s more modern cities, due partly to the fact that much of the area was bombed during World War II and had to be reconstructed and partly to the cosmopolitan vibe that is a result of its bustling industry. There is no shortage of modern and contemporary art in Milan, which provides a refreshing alternative to Italy’s wealth of Classic Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Milan is also home to many buildings that exemplify Gothic architecture, most notably, the Duomo, which is a main attraction in the city center.

A less well known fact about Milan is that it used to be a vivacious port city, despite being landlocked. In the 12th century, work began on a series of canals that allowed Milan to become one of the country’s largest inland ports. As time passed, many of the canals were filled in because of sanitation issues and the growing presence of roads and improved infrastructure. Today, only a few of these canals still exist, and they comprise an area in Milan called the Navigli, which is an Italian word for canals.

The two main canals, Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, are lined with restaurants, pubs, live music, and cafés. The area attracts a younger crowd and is a great place to go for drinks or aperitivo – a genius Italian phenomenon that consists of ordering a pre-dinner drink that comes with nibbles (sometimes even a buffet). One bar in the Navigli that has a great aperitivo is the Manhattan where you can sit on the terrace facing the canal. There is also a boat on Naviglio Pavese that doubles as restaurant where you can wine and dine the night away. To make the area even more appealing, on the last Sunday of every month at the ripa di Porta Ticinese, there is an open air flea market.

With its canals giving visitors, and locals alike, a taste of Venice and its vast selection of eateries providing the perfect environment for people watching, the Navigli is a part of Milan you won’t want to miss.

Find out more about studying abroad with ISA in Milan