Navigli is a much-loved district in Milano, known for its quirky charm and lively nightlife scene, it is a great place to hangout. Head south of the city towards the imposing Basilicas of Sant'Eustorgio and San Lorenzo alle Colonne (another popular nightlife area), where you can stroll along the banks of the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, stopping off for a drink or for some shopping in the many artisan and indie shops along the way.
The Navigli were originally man-made navigable canals used for the transport of goods and passengers as well as for irrigation: it is said that, in the past, the city was almost like a landlocked Venice, crisscrossed by waterways that are now invisible under paved roads. It was along these same waterways that the marble blocks for the construction of the Duomo were transported right into the city centre. Inevitably, the canals were eventually filled over to enable vehicle traffic to circulate, but the original charm still survives in the specific Navigli area nevertheless.
Visitors can admire the area's celebrated palazzi di ringhiera (tenements with shared balconies), that bring back in the Milano of long ago, where residents would access their homes walking along the wrought-iron balconies 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 where people like dining outdoors the most.
If you start off from the Darsena quayside, where the city’s ancient harbour once was, and wander around the local streets, you will be spoilt by the amount of venues, whether you wish 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; a perfect spot for a romantic pause.
Quite naturally, water is also the backdrop to many other activities and it is quite normal to see rowing and canoeing on the canals: you can also hop on a water tour (you can find them here and here) to view the city from an unusual and relaxing perspective. If you love cycling, riding along the canal banks is one of the most relaxing and popular summer pastime of the Milanese. And, provided you are a very daring person, you can even take a dip in the freezing waters of the Naviglio on the yearly Winter Swim.