Naviglio is the Italian word for ‘canal’, and the Navigli district refers to the south-west part of Milan where two canals meet: the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese. These canals join in a spacious dock known as Darsena del Naviglio.
The Darsena was built in the 1600s and was an important trade, commerce and transportation harbour in the city. It is located nearby Porta Ticinese, a neighbourhood also founded in the early 1600s.
The Naviglio Grande is more than 50 kms long. This is the oldest canal in Milan, built between 1177 and 1257. These canals were constructed to link the central part of of the city to its neighbouring lakes and rivers in order to facilitate the transportation of goods, such as the marble used for the construction of the Duomo.
Despite being a region known for its active nightlife, Milan's canals attract people of all ages and tastes with its many bars, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and shops. This is also a great area for going on long walks away from traffic, thanks to many pedestrian areas.
The Naviglio Grande can be considered an alternative shopping route in the fashion capital of Europe. The strength here lies in its second-hand vintage boutiques and an extensive flea market every last Sunday of the month called Mercatone dell’Antiquariato.
While strolling along the Naviglio Grande, look for the Vicolo dei Lavandai. The name means ‘laundry workers’ alley’ and it is a preserved corner hidden between modern-day boutiques where one can see how people used to do laundry until as recently as the 1950s.
On a note for art lovers, the Navigli make a great spot for browsing through small and independent art galleries and bookshops, including SuperGulp, which specialises in comics and illustrations.
Following Milan's canals by bike or on foot, one can reach well into the suburbs and find landscapes that contrast with the city centre’s fast-paced streets.
Despite being man-made, these canals also bring a great element of nature right into the city. For many locals, this is a favourite spot for admiring sunsets and the canal's mirrored reflections of the sky.