Itinerary: industrial archaeology in Milano

Lambrate and NoLo

Time needed: 1 evening (NoLo) + 2/3 hours (Ventura Lambrate)

What to see

Falck, Pirelli, Alemagna, Motta, Breda, Campari, Branca, Borletti are just a few of the names who resonate in these neighbourhoods.

The northeastern part of Milan tells us the recent history of Milan. The Milan of the economic miracle fuelled by factories, entrepreneurs and the workers who moved from everywhere in Italy during the 20th century, in search for a better life to be achieved through hard work.

Nowadays Milan is still the economic capital of Italy but its wealth is based on services. The industrial past of the town can still be spotted in NoLo and Lambrate districts where you can find the memories of the labour movement, industrial archaeology, company museums, ARCI clubs, gasometers and factory towns.

L'ingresso della collezione Branca
The entrance of Distillerie Branca in Milano

In Milan, some areas that used to be occupied by factories are in a vibrant moment of transformation.

Ventura Lambrate is an example of this change slowly taking place in town: it used to a working-class village located near to many big industrial complexes. Now Ventura Lambrate still keeps the village-like feel and vibe but it is becoming one of the most interesting neighbourhoods with many little restaurants and little shops on the side of design studios and worker’s club that resists in the same location after 40 years or more from the foundation. Ventura Lambrate’s rise started thanks to the birth of the local Ventura Lambrate Design District, pretty much in the same way as what happened in via Tortona before with the influx of Fuorisalone. In fact, if you visit Ventura Lambrate during Fuorisalone you will find it very crowded and lively, with tons of events happening and exhibitions from brands and design schools opening; it is for sure one of the most intriguing neighbourhoods to explore during Salone del Mobile in Milan.

If you head more north than Lambrate you’ll find the so-called NoLo, which is a cute and cosmopolitan way to say North of Loreto (Loreto is a metro stop on the red and green lines). The name was invented by a local design agency and spread by locals and the press and recently, from February 2019, even the municipality of Milano decided to use this name in the official documents. NoLo is a multi-ethnic neighbourhood where Asia, Italian tradition, South America and North-Africa cross their paths. From this not yet gentrified melting pot (that used to be kinda sketchy and dangerous just few years ago) some interesting experiences are sprouting. NoLo can be considered an incubator for Milan’s next trends: art, cinema and food can be surprising here!

If you go even more north, there is another surprising neighbourhood of Gorla. Just recently rising thanks to its position on the red line of the Metro, the cute little naviglio and some interesting entrepreneurial activity (Milanese word for canal) Gorla is the rising star of Milan neighborhoods. The best way to go to Gorla? Grab a bicycle and ride here on one of the longest and cutest bike lanes in Milan.

Are you interested in contemporary art? Then you can’t miss the Hangar Bicocca. This amazing complex used to be the factory of Pirelli tires and it was converted into a museum about 10 years ago. The structure of the factory is majestic and for this reason, it can host huge site-specific art-works such as the permanent installation by Anselm Kiefer The Seven Heavenly Palaces. This installation is worth alone the visit, but you should remember to check their website to see what exhibition is going on when you are visiting Milan: for some of the most interesting and immersive contemporary art experiences we had in our life, we have to thank Hangar Bicocca.
And… did I tell you that Hangar Bicocca is always free?!?

But let’s go back to the industrial history of the neighbourhoods. In the area, you can find two fun and interesting museums from two alcoholic beverages brands born in Milan at the end of 19th century: Museo Collezione Branca near via Farini (it hosts the biggest barrel in Europe and you will visit the cellars where Fernet Branca is stored before the bottling) and Spazio Campari in Sesto San Giovanni (very artsy and immersive). They are both completely for free but check the website to book your free guided tour, since they are not open every day and they are usually closed at weekends. Why visit them? You will get to know some very interesting facts about the years that changed Milan and about the town itself.

Our last tip is: check what is going on at Atelier Forte in Ortica neighbourhood. It is a very peculiar art space secluded in an eclectic villa where the architect and artist Duilio Forte lives and works. The artist is in love with the Scandinavian culture and this love is fully visible in the house and the events organized here. The whole house is a wunderkammer but the most impressive thing you will see here are the gigantic saunas in the shape of wooden horses (just google sauna sleipnir to find out more) built in the garden.

Eat and drink

In the these two neighborhoods eating or drinking out is not a problem at all.

In the area of Lambrate you can’t miss the oldest brewery in town (now open in two locations) Birrificio Lambrate. It is one of the favourite spots for the Politecnico di Milano students to hang out. If you go for the happy hour before 8 pm you will even find some food to eat with your beer. Just be aware it can get pretty busy out here at this time of the day! Not far from Birrificio Lambrate we can recommend a cosy vineria (wine shop) called Tutt’altro suono e il Vino which is located behind the station in the Ventura Lambrate area: the owner Andrea is lovely and he prepares and amazing meat tartare to pair with your wine. The price is fair, and the quality is high.

Are you hungry? Then, near here we can suggest you Lo Stuzzichino di Pesce (for lunch it offers a full fish menu at just 10 € of amazingly good quality) and Hornero, an authentic peruvian restaurant we tried and loved.

Do you feel like dancing? Go to La Balera dell’Ortica. It is a lovely place where the old meets the new, the young people literally mingle with the older (the location is a real bowl field) and where locals hang out both for eating the tasty and fairly cheap food they serve, and dance. In summer it has a lovely open air area that cannot be compared to anything else in town.

Tutt’altro suono e il Vino, Ventura Lambrate

NoLo area is one of our favourite neighbourhoods when we want to eat out since it hosts two of our favourite authentic chines restaurants: Wang Jiao in Via Padova and Mao Ji Street Food in Piazza Aspromonte.

Moreover, on the red line between Loreto and Gorla you can find some pretty interesting places to eat or drink. Salumeria del Design in via Padova is a super nice bar where to have an aperitivo with your friends: its vintage decorations are on sale all the time and they offer very good food options sourced from small local producers to pair with your drinks. TiPA – Tipografia Urbana – located on the cutest little naviglio in Gorla – has a similar concept and it is open with an amazing menu for breakfast, lunch and happy hour time (not for dinner). Try it, and you won’t be disappointed!

If you want to jump a couple of decades in the past and have an authentic Italian lunch with locals who probably have been eating years since this place opened, head to Trattoria San Filippo in Precotto.

In the map at the beginning of this post you can find even more suggestions. Don’t miss them!

Travel Slow Score

The following evaluation is based on the Slow Travel Manifesto key values:

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How to get here

With the red or the green line of the Metro.

Come here if

… you are looking for the Milan of tomorrow, the multicultural melting pot or the industrial archaeology.

To explore the other neighborhoods of Milan, click here.