They are most famous for their lively nightlife, but the Navigli is a very charming district of Milan. At any time of the day.
A nice walk along Ripa di Porta Ticinese always brings great surprises. This street that flanks the Naviglio Grande is an area full of excitement, overlooked by trendy wine bars, art galleries, bookstores and vintage shops. Here I come across actors and models, artists and philosophers, bizarre television characters and even some daredevils who travel the Naviglio on SUPs.
Along the always crowded streets that branch off from the Darsena, you will come across throngs of young people who crowd the trendiest clubs, university students who mix with groups of enthusiastic tourists. In these ancient streets that form the towpath of the old canals, in an area not far from the Cathedral and the Columns of San Lorenzo, you can breathe an international atmosphere and enjoy the ritual of an aperitif every evening with rich buffets and sumptuous cocktails.
Trendy clubs are born here, which capture the view as well as the palate. Many hide exteriors surrounded by greenery, others set their tables a few meters from the water front of the canals. You are spoiled for choice: at Rita & Cocktails you can sip quality drinks, at El Brellin you go for a romantic dinner, at Deus Café it seems to be a workshop, between tables and motorcycles, while L'Altro Luca and Andrea offers traditional cuisine from an authentic Milanese tavern.
Also worth visiting are the craft shops and art ateliers located near the picturesque Vicolo dei Lavandai. And if you love antiques, you can wander among the stalls of the Fiera di Senigaglia, a real institution; an authentic flea market that has animated the neighborhood since the nineteenth century, a place that is lost in the historical memory of the city.
The great Navigli system includes five canals that extend for hundreds of kilometers and connect Milan to the Ticino river, the Po, Lake Maggiore and Lake Como as well as to numerous Lombard cities such as Pavia. In the past, goods and people traveled frequently along the waterways, navigating with barges made it possible to transport products of all kinds such as coal, wine, meat and fish, but also wood and even the marble used to build the famous Cathedral.
Even Leonardo Da Vinci, who arrived in Milan towards the end of the fifteenth century at the age of thirty, appointed ducal engineer by Ludovico il Moro, worked on the construction of some hydraulic works on the canals: he was in fact responsible for the design of the so-called "Conca of the Incoronata” the locks of which are still visible, with the original wooden doors.
Anyone wandering today in the ancient heart of Milan, perceives this extraordinary fusion between past and present, of which the most interesting example is perhaps the Nuova Darsena, inaugurated in 2015 on the occasion of Expo. Commissioned by the Spaniards who dominated the city at the beginning of the seventeenth century, this artificial basin has represented for centuries one of the busiest ports in Italy, making Milan similar to Amsterdam or Manhattan ... Incredible, right? Only towards the end of the seventies did the old dock stop its centuries-old commercial activity and, after a period of decline, was completely renovated.
Among street artists, street food outlets and pretty hidden churches, such as that of San Cristoforo, the Navigli area contains a sort of separate world, it reveals one of the many souls of Milan that, today as yesterday, appears to be a city which is industrious, frenetic and glamorous, ancient but contemporary. Full of history but projected into the future.