Europe, Food & Drink, History & Culture, Shopping

Navigating the Navigli in Milan

October 26, 2015

Navigating the Navigli in Milan


It may come as a surprise to learn that Venice isn’t the only large Italian city with canals. Although located inland, Milan was once a port city with canals connecting to Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Switzerland and the Adriatic Sea.

Naviglio Grande Milan flea market stalls

The extensive canal system, known as Navigli, expanded over centuries and benefited from Leonardo da Vinci, who designed the innovative lock system. Considered major transportation arteries, the canals moved products as well people, including the material for Milan’s magnificent Duomo.

With the growth of much faster rail and road transportation, the waterways became redundant and by the middle of the 20th Century, most of the inner canals in Milan were covered over to make space for tram and vehicle traffic.

Navigli Today

Today the Navigli district is a picturesque neighborhood located around Milan’s historic harbour, the Darsena, and two canals restored for navigation – the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese. The Darsena, redeveloped as part of Expo 2015, is located at the intersection of the two canals.

Darsena, Milan's historic port

During the daytime, locals and savvy tourists linger in the cafes or browse the shops and galleries, while tour boats ply the waterways during warmer months. In the evening, the Navigli is a popular spot with gorgeous sunset views and ample opportunities for happy hour, aperitivo in Italian, and some of Milan’s best nightlife.

Shopping in the Navigli District in Milan

Cafe along Naviglio Grande in Milan

Mercatone del Naviglio Grande

On the last Sunday of the month, the Naviglio Grande is transformed into one of Milan’s largest flea markets known as the Mercatone del Naviglio Grande. Almost 400 tables line both sides of the canal with an extensive selection of items including antique furniture, leather goods, ceramics, clothing, toys, and art.

Boats along Navigloi Grande

China at the flea market Naviglio Grande Milan


The Navigli is only 5 km and a 15-minute taxi ride from central Milan.

Travel Tips

  • The Porto Genova Milano train station located at the intersection of Via Vigevano and Via Valenza is the best place to find a taxi after a visit to the Navigli in Milan.
  • The  concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel Milano recommended Restaurant El Brellìn for lunch and this choice was supported by our taxi driver. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed when we visited.
  • Navigli Lombardi offers seasonal boat tours along the Navigli.

You might be interested in reading about our recent stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Milano.

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  • Reply Michael Huxley November 7, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Oh my god that food bar with the converted car is amazing!! Worth a visit for that alone! Great write up.

  • Reply Aileen Adalid November 7, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    This place looks amazing! I haven’t been to this part of the world yet but I am planning on going there soon. It’s great to see a preview of it already through your post!

  • Reply Carly November 8, 2015 at 1:34 am

    Had no idea there was other canal cities in Italy, but it totally makes sense lol. That flea market is my kind of way to spend a day!

  • Reply Prianka | Map Halves November 8, 2015 at 3:15 am

    I had no idea that other places had canals like Venice, but I guess it makes sense when I think about it! Also that pottery in the last shot is absolutely beautiful … I’m always a bit sad when I see things like that and know I have no way of getting it home.

  • Reply Fiona @ London-Unattached November 8, 2015 at 5:41 am

    It’s funny isn’t it, the Navigli really isn’t that well known. I was taken there one evening by a local – fabulous place to sit out in the evening

  • Reply Karla (Karla Around The World) November 8, 2015 at 6:51 am

    There’s really that awesome vibe that we feel when looking at the Canals in Europe, I don’t know if its just me, or if it’s a thing that you guys feel too. I am also really interested in seeing the Mercatone del Naviglio Grande. I love bringing home trinkets in every place I visit, and this looks like the best place to find interesting things.

  • Reply Trisha Velarmino November 9, 2015 at 2:47 am

    What? Another canal in Italy that I haven’t heard about? I feel like I wasted so much time in the years I lived there!

  • Reply Monica November 9, 2015 at 11:24 am

    The car bar looks absolutely amazing! I’d definitely stop by and buy something!

    • Reply LuxeTravelFamily November 10, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Thanks Monica. The car bar was eye-catching and popular.

    • Reply LuxeTravelFamily November 11, 2015 at 5:59 pm

      Thank you Monica – the car bar is irresistible 🙂

  • Reply Vanessa November 11, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    I never think of any city other than Venice as having canals but clearly I’m missing out. How lovely!

    • Reply LuxeTravelFamily November 11, 2015 at 5:42 pm

      You aren’t the only one Vanessa! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I planned to visit the Navigli and I was pleasantly surprised.

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