16 November 2021

Why do we recommend that you absolutely take a tour of the Navigli of Milan if you do not know them yet well?

At the centre of the city’s nightlife, the Milanese Navigli are a real symbol for Milan, loved by all for its typical corners which show Milan how it used to be as though frozen in an eternal moment, but also due to the variety of activities that can be done there, from exploring the food and wine scene to visits to art exhibitions.

Along this ancient system of canals, some of which date back to many centuries ago and designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself, there are really many different experiences to be had: from the aperitifs with buffet in the venues of the Milanese nightlife, to the routes to discover Milan’s street art, to picturesque corners of ancient Milan, to admire from on board a small boat for a mini-cruise at sunset.

Tour of the Navigli on Milan: 5 things to see and do along the famous canals

1. By boat, from the Naviglio Grande to the Naviglio Pavese

The Naviglio Grande is the oldest of all and apparently dates back to 1177: an artificial canal which was built to irrigate and make fertile the fields around Milan and in 1272, when the works were completed, the Naviglio became navigable and was used for trade (it was also used to build the Duomo, allowing the transport of the marble from Candoglia!) and for urban mobility until 1985 – when the historical trams prevailed over more archaic means of transport.

That’s not all, the navigable Navigli also include the Naviglio Pavese, so called because the Viscontis ordered it to be built to connect the capital to the city of Pavia. Today you can travel down both canals with a tour on board a boat which lets you admire the surrounding landscape, like the modern Darsena, and get to know better the history of these canals.

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2. Discover the hidden corners of Milan along the Naviglio Grande

From the characteristic Vicolo dei Lavandai (Laundrymans Alley) to the unfinished church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Naviglio, there are several secret places to be discovered with a tour along the Naviglio Grande: there is the atmosphere of bygone times at the Vicolo dei Lavandai, far from that which pervades the streets with sky-high contemporary buildings. The old courtyards of Milan show off all their charm along the Naviglio Grande, like the one called “Courtyard of the Artists” where you can discover local arts and crafts, as well as at the Centro dell’Incisione (Engraving Centre).

Not to be missed is a stroll along the “Stone bridge”, recently dedicated to the poetess Alda Merini, at the centre of the photos of local influencers – or aspiring influencers with the iconic canal as the backdrop.

3. The Municipal Market and the Darsena

 The redevelopment of the canal near Piazza XXIV Maggio was carried on above all thanks to Expo 2015, when the old Darsena (port) was renovated, today the meeting place of young people and gourmets.

The covered Municipal Market stands here, offering food from every corner of the world: from the exotic fruit from the Philippines and South America, to butchers who cook on the spot typical Sicilian street food, for a tour of the Navigli that is gastronomic as well!

4. A tour between fashion and design

Old farmsteads and abandoned factories are revalued along the Naviglio Grande, an interesting place for lovers of Milanese design and haute couture; here it is possible to visit the Casa delle Arti – Spazio Alda Merini, to admire a reconstruction of her study and real furniture and also the fashion museum of Armani Silos.

Art lovers, continuing to the design district of Via Tortona, in the area of Posta Genova, can also visit the MUDEC – Museum of Cultures and the BASE space, where periodically temporary exhibitions are held.

5. Aperitif and walk along the Naviglio della Martesana

Although the Naviglio Grande is the most popular for the 100% Milanese ritual of the aperitif with snacks, known as “apericena,” the splendid setting of the Naviglio della Martesana will not disappoint you either. The Naviglio della Martesana – or Naviglio Piccolo – partly embraces the area known today as NoLo (North of Loreto) and is the most picturesque of all: a walk or a bicycle ride is ideal to admire the houses that stand along the canal and its corners of greenery. For an truly original and spectacular aperitif you can choose from those organized by Neiade on a Motorboat!

There are also venues and eateries where you can have a drink or a glass of Franciacorta, from Lombardy of course, and enjoy a platter of local cured meats and cheeses, such as the Cascina Martesana and its beautiful vegetable garden, but also places where you can discover the flavours of Greek cuisine, like the Taverna Mykonos … and your tour of the Navigli of Milan is complete!

What do you say, are you ready for a tour along the canals of Milan?

You might also be interested in: a tour of Milan in a day: what to see in a few hours?

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