milan navigli district

Get funky at the Nidaba Theatre in the Navigli District. (Photo: Courtesy of Nidaba Theatre)


Milan After Dark: Where to Eat, Drink and Party in the Navigli District

Milan may be a refined fashion capital, but that doesn’t mean the entire city is perfectly polished. Take the Navigli district, an area marked by two canals, the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, and a popular destination for locals looking to let loose.

In the daytime you’ll find students sunbathing, beer in hand, by the Darsena, the harbor where the two canals meet, and shoppers perusing the funky boutiques and antique stores along the canals.

But the neighborhood really comes alive once the sun begins to set — the bars and restaurants lining the waterways are packed to the brim, and the pedestrianized streets are buzzing. Here are six ways to enjoy a proper night out in the district.

Enjoy a Live Gig at Nidaba Theatre

Established in 1996 and located between the Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande, Nidaba Theatre is by no means spacious, but the slightly cramped, red-lit quarters give this live music venue an intimate feel.

Whether standing at the bar or sitting at one of the tightly packed tables, you’re almost guaranteed to strike up a conversation with your neighbors. It helps that everyone has come for the same thing — live music, particularly the blues and jazz artists that dominate the well-curated program.

The affordable drinks and unpretentious vibe ensure that music lovers stick around after the last set.

Drink an Alfresco Beer at PicoBrew

Much of what makes Milan special is hidden behind closed doors, which is one reason why the boisterous crowds that congregate along the Navigli’s canals are so invigorating.

Before being pulled into the current of this outdoor party, stop by PicoBrew’s itinerant pub — the small bar is attached to a bicycle but is usually parked close to the entrance of the Naviglio Grande — and grab a microbrew.

Tasty beers like Big Up, an imperial pilsner, and Schwarze Negher, a Schwarzbier-style brew, speak to the passion and skill of Pietro, who started out as a home brewer and eventually began selling his creations with the help of two friends.

Partake in Aperitivo at La Prosciuterria

milan navigli district
Enjoy a tasty spread with excellent wine. (Photo: Courtesy of La Prosciutteria)

Many bars on the Navigli Grande lure in customers for aperitivo with the promise of cheap cocktails and a buffet spread. But La Prosciutteria has taken a different, Tuscan-style tack, which is obvious to anyone walking past.

The rustic outdoor tables practically buckle under the weight of large cutting boards heaped with mountains of cured meats, lavish sauces spread on fresh bread, grilled vegetables, fresh fruit and different types of local cheeses unfurled in a beautiful display.

Yet this unique formula — delicious, high-quality food that allows you to feel satiated rather than stuffed, an excellent selection of reasonably priced wines and attentive service — doesn’t wholly deviate from what makes aperitivo on the Navigli so special: La Prosciuterria’s outdoor space is a prime spot for people-watching.

Dance the Night Away at Apollo Club

milan navigli district
Feel the groove — and the cocktails — at Apollo Club. (Photo: Courtesy of Apollo Club)

Part cocktail bar, part restaurant and part disco, Apollo Club offers something for everyone. But while this large, industrial spot exudes cool, from the restaurant’s refined yet pared-down dishes that cleverly spotlight seasonal produce to the vintage bar furnished with pinball machines, people mainly come here for the consistently excellent DJ sets.

The stellar line-up is the result of Apollo’s musical heritage — the club was opened in 2016 by Tiberio Carcano and Marcellina di Chio, the co-founders and directors of Rollover Milano, an events group that has been bringing some of the best international DJs to Milan since 2012.

Sip a Creative Cocktail at Rita & Cocktails

That first sip of a Day-Glo Aperol spritz on a warm summer evening is pure bliss, but there will likely come a time when you find this aperitivo staple to be cloying rather than refreshing. When that day comes, head to Rita & Cocktails on the Naviglio Grande for a cocktail with some nuance.

Edoardo Nono and Gianluca Chiaruttini opened this spot way back in 2002, when there were very few high-quality cocktail bars in the city, yet they have withstood the test of time by continually inventing new drinks using only the freshest ingredients and the best alcohol and liqueurs.

Dine on High-End Cuisine

The Navigli district is not primarily known as a dining hot spot: Most of the establishments along the canals are uninspiring joints offering standard quick eats or bars with aperitivo buffet spreads where the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality.

milan navigli district
Sample upscale cuisine at Belé Ristorante. (Photo: ©Luisa Valieri)

To eat well around the canals, your best bet is to opt for higher-end restaurants, like Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, an industrial-chic temple off the southern end of the Naviglio Pavese that prioritizes inventiveness in its ever-changing menu, or Belé Ristorante, a well-appointed restaurant off the Naviglio Grande that honors traditional cuisine, albeit with a focus on seasonality.

However, for an outstanding tasting menu that is both playful and robust, head to Al Pont de Ferr, a stalwart on the Naviglio Grande since its opening in 1986. The restaurant’s wine cellar is superb, so go all in and order the wine pairings with the tasting menu.