The Milano Navigli is a much-loved district, known for its quirky charm and lively nightlife scene it’s a great place to hangout. Head south of the city towards the imposing Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio and San Lorenzo alle Colonne (another popular nightlife area), where you can stroll along the banksides of the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, stopping off for a drink or even for some shopping in the many artisan and indie shops along the way.
The Navigli were originally navigable artificial canals used for passenger or merchandise transport and for irrigation: it is said that, in the past, the city was almost like a mini Venice, crisscrossed by waterways where the main roads are now located. It was along these same waterways that the marble blocks for the construction of the Milano Duomo were transported. Inevitably, the canals were then covered over to enable traffic to circulate but, nonetheless, this area has maintained its original appeal.
Visitors can admire the legendary “palazzi di ringhiera” (tenements with shared balconies) in the area, that evoke old-style vecchia Milano where residents access their apartments along the wrought-iron balconies visible on the upper floors of the facades.
By day, the district is home to several markets (don’t miss the popular antiques fair on the last Sunday of every month), art galleries and artisan craft shops; in the evening, the lights from the myriad of clubs and restaurants flicker and reflect in the canals, making it the city zone with the most fun outdoorsy vibe.
If you start off from the Darsena quayside, the city’s ancient port, and wander around the local streets you’ll be spoilt for choice with all the great places to meet friends for an aperitif or to try out some typical Milanese dishes.
One of the best-known and most picturesque sights is the evocative Vicolo dei Lavandai, (Washermen's Alley) with the original slanted stones where the lavandai used to scrub and rinse their laundry using water from the Naviglio; it’s a tranquil oasis perfect for a romantic pause.
Naturally, water is also the backdrop to many other attractions: it’s quite normal to see rowers on the canals; you can also hop on a water tour (you can find them here and here) to view the city from a more relaxed perspective or take a dip in the freezing waters of the Naviglio in the Winter Swim.
If you love cycling, pedalling along the riverbanks is one of the most relaxing and popular Milanese summer pastimes.