The construction of the first of these canals had begun in the early twelfth century for the purpose of irrigation and navigation, and it took more than seven centuries to construct the entire network. Today the quartiere of Navigli, encompassed by these canals, is a popular tourist spot due to the presence of amazing cafes, restaurants, art galleries, boutique shops which make, 'a walk through this district' one to remember forever.
Of these five canals, the first two are more popular with tourists. There are options to cruise along the Naviglio Grande and Pavese. Also, some of the best restaurants in Milan are along these two canals. Cycle rides on the tracks that run along them is as pleasant as walking through the promenade around.
Navigli is known not only for its beautiful scenery but also for its food and culture. Tourists from all over the world who visit Milan, make it a point to see Navigli, just for this reason. The place is a colourful burst of energy in the fresh flowing tranquility of the canals.
Whether one wants to taste the best wines, or dance to Italian music, bite into the creamiest cheese for aperitivo or take a romantic stroll along the canals, Navigli has a plethora of attractions for the tourists who drop by.
How to Reach Navigli
- The Malpensa International Airport is 41 kms and the Milano Linate Airport is about 11 kms only from Navigli.
There is a direct train from the Malpensa airport to Milano Cadorna every half an hour. The journey takes about 40 mins and costs € 14. From Cadorna, the Line 2 metro takes only about four minutes to reach P. Ta Genova and costs 2€. The P. Ta Genova Metro station is just five minutes walking distance from Navigli.
There are also buses running between the Malpensa Airport to P. Ta Genova but the journey takes about two hours with one change required at the Central Station (Stazione Centrale) and it costs between 7€ to 12€.
Taxi is the fastest means of transport between the two places taking only 40 minutes of time but could cost close to 100€.
- From the Linate Airport
15 minutes by taxi which could cost around 40€.
The bus number 73 from the Airport takes about an hour to reach Missori which is 20 minutes by foot from Navigli. If one does not wish to walk for 20 mins, one can get down from the bus at p. za Cinque Giornate and board tram line 9. The tram takes another 20-25 mins to reach Vigevano v.le Gorizia which is about 800 metres from Navigli. The bus journey costs between 1-2€ and the tram takes another 2€.
Best Time to Visit Navigli
April to June is a good span of time to visit Navigli given the weather conditions. The temperature around this time does not go beyond 23 degrees or fall below 10 degrees. July and August are the hottest months and September is when the place is extremely crowded. It is however essential to pack an ombrello as there could be chances of slight drizzle during these months.
Once in Navigli, it is a sin to miss the sunset by the naviglios. In order to watch the golden sun, set in the waters of the canal, it's important to reach Navigli before dusk. The bistros and bars along the canal come alive around this time. Navigli is famous among all quartiers of Milan for having the best nightlife.
What Not to Miss at Navigli
Here are some of the best things to do in Navigli:
If you thought that water gazing is the only activity that a city of canals can offer, you can't be farther from the truth. A walk around the neighborhood or along the waterway can be equally rewarding and rejuvenating.
2. Embark on a ferry
Reach the Alzaia in Naviglio Grande from where the tourist boats depart as frequently as every half an hour in the summer season. Book a fifty minute cruise to ferry along the canal for 15€. Although each boat carries about 55-57 passengers, it can be a long waiting line at the counter during weekends. To avoid the queue, book a skip-the-line in advance for a hassle-free experience.
3. Drop into the Alda Merini museum
The Casa Museo Alda Merini is a museum dedicated to the life and works of the great Italian poet Alda Merini. Her work, manuscripts and a glimpse of her life while she was in Milan can be viewed in this house museum.
Those who like literature and art must visit this place as the curator can narrate many interesting snippets from Alda's life. Her piano, her typewriter and her handwritten phone numbers which she wrote using her lipstick, can all be seen in this museum. The museum remains closed on Mondays.
4. Sit on the stone slabs at Vicolo lavandai
Walk into this old neighborhood that was built especially for washing clothes by the Milanese washerwomen on the stone slabs stacked in an array under brick tiled canopy. The stream from the Naviglio Grande that inundated into this area to supply water for laundry is still there. Sit on one of the slabs and dip your feet into the rivulet. Don't forget to click a photo.
5. Buy a souvenir at the Flea market
The vintage market known as the Mercatone dell’Antiquariato is held every last Sunday of the month. It spreads across a distance of 2 kms with at least 400 stalls, along the picturesque waterfront of the Naviglio Grande.
The sellers display their wares ranging from paintings, to furniture, from silverware to chandeliers, jewellery to other precious collectibles. Take a walk along the market and enjoy the sunny banter between the sellers and buyers. Keep your eyes on the antiques and decide what to buy that fits your budget and suitcase.
6. Lose your way through the sidestreets
The sidestreets on the Navigli are interspersed with historic photographs of the great city of Milan. Meander through these streets steeped in history or drop inside any art gallery that displays iconic reminders of the city's transition.
The Darsena or the Ticinese dock where the Naviglio Pavese and Grande meet, is not hard to find at the end of each sidestreet. Stop at one of the many bustling bistros in the region to taste one of the most sought after cuisines in the world - Italian.
The Charming Canals of Milano
1. Naviglio Grande
This canal as the name suggests is indeed the grandest and also the oldest of the naviglio-s in Milan. The construction of this canal had started in the twelfth century and was built as a military defense system against the Emperor Barbarossa who attempted to seize Milan.
The canal starts at the Tornavento region of the Ticino River and ends at the Darsena (the head of Navigli). The Naviglio Grande had been used extensively to transport edible and non edible goods to Lake Maggiore in Switzerland and also bringing back important products in return.
During the world wars too, this canal was used extensively for navigation as the roadways and railways were bombed. However, it was since 1970 that the canal stopped being used for navigation and started being used for irrigation alone.
2. Naviglio Pavese
Like the Naviglio Grande, Pavese too originates from the River Ticino, in a southern city called Pavia. The canal is 33 kms long and meets the Naviglio Grande at the Porta Ticinese dock or the Darsena. The idea to create this canal as a navigable water route originated in the thirteenth century.
But through the rise and fall of kingdoms, change of royalty and flux in the political scenario, the canal could be inaugurated only in 1819. A little over a century, in 1965, the canal stopped being used for navigation, except for the tourist ferries which cruise through it today.
On the canal, near the dock, there is a floating restaurant in the form of a barge attached to one of the banks of the naviglio. It is a delightful experience to dine there. The bank of the canal too, houses some of the best restaurants of the district.
3. Naviglio Martesana or Piccolo
The Naviglio Della Martesana was originally known as Naviglio Piccolo. It is yet another man-made canal which originates from the River Adda in the Trezzo D'Adda region. From here, as it approaches the city of Milan, the canal becomes invisible in the Melchiorre Gioia region and starts flowing underground.
The construction of the canal was started in the fifteenth century by military leader Francesco Sforza. He had the foresight to realise the importance of bringing irrigation water from River Adda to Milan. Today the Martesana canal is best known for the cycling and walking tracks that run along it.
Almost the entire route is a picture of lush greenery, majestic villas and old buildings. Due to its scenic beauty, the canal is recommended to have one of the best cycling tracks in the country. Near one such Villa namely Villa Finzi, at via (road) Jean Jaures it is possible to rent cycles for a ride.
Although Martesana may not have as many streets dotted with restaurants and bars as the previous two canals, it sure has its own share of quiet eateries and delightful gelateria.
4. Naviglio di Paderno
The construction of Naviglio Paderno began in the early sixteenth century under Francesco Sforza but was completed only in 1777, almost 2 and a half centuries later. It is the shortest of the canals in Lombardy and runs for only 3 kms.
It flows parallel to the River Adda and was built to bypass the rapids in the river for easier navigation. The canal with its six metres locks is very unique and is a masterpiece of the great Leonardo da Vinci who designed it.
5. Naviglio di Bereguardo
This canal traverses 18 kms from the Abbiategrasso region on the Naviglio Grande to the Bereguardo which is down south towards Pavia. The construction work for this canal had started in the fifteenth century by Francesco Sforza for the purpose of navigation, although like the other canals it is used today only for irrigation.
Bertola da Novate, a famous engineer of the fifteenth century was the principal architect behind the construction of this canal as well the Naviglio Martesana. However the canal was impractical for the purpose of navigation because it never reached upto the Ticino river and the boats had to be carried on land from Bereguardo where the canal ended to the river.
There used to be a "floating bridge" at Bereguardo on the canal which was supported by floating-wooden-boats. During times of flood, when water level rose, the bridge was flown along by the boats in the direction of water, without getting damaged. While the bridge still exists, the original boats have now been replaced by their cemented and stationary replicas.
Places to Visit near Navigli
1. The Duomo
It is one of the most ornate cathedrals in the whole of Europe. The entry fee is 3€ and it is very easy to reach here by metro although it takes just 25 mins to walk from the Navigli to the Duomo at the centre of Milan. The Duomo of Milan is a magnificent piece of architecture which looks breathtaking at all times of the day, especially at night when it is illumined.
2. Basilica San Lorenzo
The holy Basilica is situated very close to the Ticinese dock at the head of the Navigli inside the Basilica Park in Milan. It is one of the oldest basilicas of Italy and was built in the late fourth century. But the Great Fire of Stork destroyed it completely and it had to be rebuilt again in the twelfth century.
Even though most of its original relics and sanctum decorations were destroyed in the fire, even today the Basilica is one of the most visited sites after the Duomo because of the belief that the basilica has miraculous powers invested in it.
3. Columns of Saint Lawrence
The columns of St. Lawrence was established in the early fifth century, while Milan was the capital of the Roman Empire . It consists of 16 columns which adorn the facade of the San Lorenzo Basilica. Each of the columns have a beautiful, ornate Corinthian design at the head. According to history, the columns were not made locally. They were brought in to Milan from an unknown Roman site.
The Colonne di San Lorenzo is a significant and not-to-be-missed site at the heart of the Citizen's Square or the La Vetra dei Cittadini. The glam-quotient of the site is also upped due to the presence of many boutique fashion shops by Italian designers around the corner.
4. Bridge of Paderno d'Adda
Not very far from the Navigli is the Bridge of Paderno D'Adda which is believed to be a stellar landmark in the history of engineering across the world. It came into existence in the late nineteenth century. Made entirely of iron and steel, this bridge is 266 metres long and has roadways as well as railways running on it. The Paderno bridge connects traffic from Paderno to Calusco over the Adda River.
The bridge was designed by Rothlisberger, a Swiss engineer and the Rothlisberger bridge was initially named after him. The bridge was the first of its kind to be built on a distended arch and is an interesting site in the region.
Other Essential Information About Navigli
Although Navigli is the name given to the system of five canals in Milan, the district refers to the triangular area enclosed by Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande. These two canals originate from River Ticino and join at the head called Darsena which is at the South Western part of Milan.
The place is open throughout the day and is abuzz especially at night after sunset on all days of the week. Most of the restaurants and bars here remain open till 3 am.
Distance from nearest Airport:
The nearest airport to Navigli is Milan Linate Airport which is only about 11 kms. But Linate Airport services domestic passengers or passengers from nearby European cities only. The main international airport of Milan is the Malpensa Airport which is 41 kms from Navigli.
History of Navigli
The commissioning of the first canal that is the Navigio Grand began in the twelfth century. The reason for the construction of this complex waterway of approximately 90 kilometres was primarily to transport goods and crops to Milan from other parts of Italy and Europe. Those were times when roadways weren't fast enough and took a lot of travel time.
However, these canals hold a very important place in the history of time. The great Cathedral of Milan or Duomo de Milano which is the largest church in Italy and the fifth largest in the world, couldn't have been built without these canals.
The exquisitely crafted Duomo used the precious marble from a place called Candoglia in Italy which is 105 kilometers north-west of Milan. The canals were used to transport these heavy stone blocks without much difficulty or time. However they stopped being used as transport routes after the arrival of railways and swifter roadways.
Famous Eateries in Navigli
One cannot be in Navigli and go back without having a bite in one of its most famous eateries which vie for attention along the colourful walk beside the Naviglio Grande and Pavese. The authentic Italian cuisines and aperitivo-s are hard to pass without getting a mouthful and heartful of them.
It is very difficult to choose one from the other, yet depending on the kind of food one wants to eat, one can step into a restaurant that's known best for its kind.
1. Fabbrica Pizzeria
This Italian pizza joint is open all days of the week for lunch between 12 to 3 PM and again for dinner from 7 PM till 1 in the night. Not only are their pizzas delicious, but also their calzones and stuffed focaccia breads are amazing. Their pomodoro (tomato) sauce together with fresh mozzarella heightens the experience for the gastronomes.
2. La Gelateria Della Musica
It would be a shame to leave Italy without tasting a gelato. The best place to stop for one is at the La Gelateria Della Musica whose music with ice cream is indeed inviting. There is a lot to choose from but their Rhum and Amaretti coffee ice cream is to die for. They also have some Mediterranean seasonal fruit varieties of gelato-s for those who are lactose intolerant.
3. Antica Marmeria di Mirko
This restaurant is situated at the Porta Ticinese and is known for its meat specialities. The atmosphere is pretty romantic in the eatery with candles, brick walls and tables for two. One must try the chargrilled meat varieties with caramelised onions for an awesome experience.
Navigli’s Best Bars
The Navigli's glam quotient goes up with the clinking of numerous bars in the area after dusk.
1. Backdoor 43
There is no leaving the Navigli without getting into the world's smallest bar which can house no more than five people including the masked bartender. It feels like this bar is a little piece of magical realism fiction.
Although not yet listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, this bar has just as much as 43 sq ft of area (hence the name) on the inside which allows as much privacy required for a close "rendezvous" with friends.
2. Rita and Cocktails
This grand bar at the Navigli is just beside the Antica Marmeria di Mirko. Authentic Italian vino (wines) and beers can be grabbed here with the tastiest nibbles. The best part of Rita is that they use only freshly made natural ingredients for their cocktails.
The culmination of unusual flavours in the cocktails make them magical. The prices in Rita and Cocktails may be slightly higher than the other bars around, but the drinks are worth the price.
3. Morgante Cocktail and Soul
This aesthetic bar is situated at the Vicolo Lavandai and is isolated from the bustle along the waterway. The antique wooden door of the bar opens into a quiet world of freshness, adorned with flowers and greenery.
The bar was started and is run by a famous architect named Morgante, and it is no great wonder why it looks so classy and picturesque. Those who love live music and mint flavoured gins must definitely visit this one.