The Old Fogies take a walk around the Navigli district in Milan

Modern Milan is known for many things, but few visitors would know that for centuries that landlocked Milan was an important port. To understand more, we made our way to the Navigli district which is now famous for its bars and restaurants.

The Navigli district seems a world away from the crowds around the Duomo and has a bit of a ‘Venice’ feeling to it.

The district has been one of the main hubs of Milan since the 12th century when work began on a series of canals that allowed Milan to become one of the country’s largest inland ports. The Navigli are a system of canals and waterways  that connected the Lake Maggiore, the Lake Como, the Ticino river and the Po river and connecting Milan with Switzerland and beyond. Many of the canals connected to the Porta Ticinese dock, also known as the Darsena, in Milan.

The Naviglio Grande was considered the most important of the Milan “navigli”. Construction began in the 12th century and in the 13th century reached Milan. Although intended to be used for irrigation, soon lots of goods were transported including stone and marble for the Duomo. Traffic along the canal peaked in the 19th century but it was used extensively during the Second World War.

The Naviglio Pavese once connected Milan to Pavia, Naviglio Martesana does not come all the way to Milan but is a popular place to walk or cycle along the towpaths. The Naviglio di Paderno is famous because it is the canal where Leonardo da Vinci experimented with gates for the locks. Naviglio di Bereguardo closed in the 19th century.

The Navigli district usually refers to the Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande which are lined by bars, restaurant, shops and live music venues. The area is a very popular place for Milanese citizens and visitors who enjoy a stroll before having a drink and a bite to eat.

It is a wonderful place to take a walk alongside the canal with plenty to keep you entertained, some of the restaurants had a strange line in life-size models including a mad chef and gladiator.

The picturesque Restaurant El Brellìn is near to the Vicolo Lavandai, a corner where washerwomen used to wash clothes.

Further along we crossed the concrete bridge to look at the local market, we were taken aback by the rather scary mannequins on one stall but the rest of the market was full of interesting bits and pieces and is obviously popular with locals.

If you want to explore the canals a bit more, you can join one of the canal cruises. We were just happy to wander around and stop for coffee and watch the world go by.

It is quite easy to walk to the Navigli district from the city centre or you can use the metro. It can be reached by using the M2 (green line), getting off at the Porta Genova stop.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London here.