AROUND MILAN: Discovering the Isola district
Just a stone's throw from Garibaldi Station and the futuristic district of Porta Nuova, Milan’s Isola district stands as one of the city’s most fascinating corners, boasting old railing houses, trendy establishments, and bohemian vibes.
An evocative name, a difficult past, and a present as a protagonist: this is Isola, the neighborhood that encapsulates the true essence of Milan, in a delicate balance between history and modernity, tradition and innovation. Located north of the city center, Isola is the natural extension of Porta Nuova, the city's contemporary and futuristic hub, though it successfully maintains its distinct identity.
Its streets weave tales of a rich past brimming with challenges and innovations. The atmosphere is lively and dynamic, with a blend of trendy establishments and time-honored shops, traditional trattorias and upscale gastronomy, modern buildings and old railing houses. Additionally, the neighborhood boasts a strong creative energy, owing to the presence of design studios, art galleries, captivating street art, theaters, and a myriad of cultural and artistic events.
History and fun facts
The name Isola refers to the prolonged period of isolation the neighborhood experienced during its history. Like other parts of Milan, this area was initially farmland and farmhouses. The actual neighborhood began to develop in the second half of the 19th century when the construction of the railway tracks literally isolated the area, turning it into a sort of small self-contained world. At that time, the only way to reach the rest of the city was through a pedestrian bridge, then in the 1960s the Eugenio Bussa overpass was built.
During that period, Isola was primarily a working-class neighborhood due to the presence of the railway and numerous large factories, including Pirelli, Brown-Boveri, and the Fonderia Napoleonica. Then, after World War II, while Milan was experiencing an economic boom, Isola transformed into a haven for the Milanese underworld, earning a reputation as a neighborhood to avoid.
In recent years, Isola has experienced a remarkable wave of gentrification that’s changed the face of the neighborhood, transforming it into one of Milan's most vibrant and interesting areas. What adds an extra layer of fascination to Isola is its remarkable capacity to embrace change and modernity while honoring its rich history, resulting in a unique microcosm infused with captivating narratives.
What to see
The Vertical Forest, the famous residential complex by Stefano Boeri, is a great starting point for exploring the Isola neighborhood. . It’s located next to the Biblioteca degli Alberi Milano - BAM (the Library of Trees), a vast park with an extraordinary botanical collection, linking Isola to Piazza Gae Aulenti in Porta Nuova.
As you stroll past the House of Memory and the towering Ziggurat skyscraper, which hosts Google headquarters, you'll find yourself on Via Pietro Borsieri and Via Genova Thaon di Revel, the main streets of Isola. Here, you'll be greeted by a vibrant assortment of stores, artisanal boutiques, and cozy bars, all beckoning you to experience the charming village-like ambiance that characterizes this corner of Milan.
A visit to Santa Maria della Fontana is an absolute must. This Renaissance-style Marian sanctuary, constructed in 1506 by Charles II d'Amboise, the former governor of Milan, is a true marvel. It’s situated on the very spot where a miraculous water source once flowed, reportedly curing Charles from blindness. The complex still boasts exquisite frescoes and a fascinating cloister.
A little further ahead, the Fonderia Napoleonica Eugenia is a place that holds great historical significance in the neighborhood.Once a thriving foundry, today it serves as a museum and event venue. Established in 1806 by the viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy Eugenio di Beauharnais, it crafted remarkable works such as the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in Piazza Duomo and the monument honoring Alessandro Manzoni in Piazza San Fedele.
The historic Covered Market of Piazzale Lagosta is one of the top attractions in Milan’s Isola district. Established in the 1940s, it now showcases artisanal shops where you can purchase top-quality food products to enjoy on-site or take home, all completely plastic-free.
Among the hidden gems of the neighborhood, a few notable mentions include the Typewriter Museum on Via Menabre, the exquisite shared garden of Isola Pepe Verde, and the courtyard of a council house on Piazzale Lagosta, which was once home to the Mojazza Cemetery. The site was eventually closed with the establishment of the Monumentale Cemetery, but you can still see the plaque that commemorates the grave of the Italian writer Giuseppe Parini.
Take note of these addresses
Shopping in Milan’s Isola district is a unique experience, much like the neighborhood itself. From the ethically crafted jewelry at UrOburo to the exquisite artisanal creations by Rapa, and the bustling stalls of the renowned local market on Via Garigliano, held every Tuesday and Saturday, shopping here is a never-ending discovery. Additionally, Isola boasts a selection of exceptional international brands, including Deus Ex Machina, which chose Isola as its sole Italian location.
When it comes to restaurants, Isola provides a wide range of tempting options, ranging from neighborhood trattorias to innovative establishments. Da Tomaso in Via de Castillia is a classic "old-fashioned" trattoria where you can enjoy typical Milanese cuisine, while Ratanà offers a contemporary twist on traditional dishes, which are served in a lovely outdoor area during the summer. For the ultimate pizza experience, Berberè is the go-to spot, and if you're seeking a more exotic culinary adventure, Casa Ramen is an absolute must.
The nightlife in Isola is centered primarily around Via Borsieri, Via Pastrengo, and Piazza Archinto, bustling with a myriad of bars. Among them, Wooding stands out with its cocktails crafted from wild ingredients. Frida serves delightful aperitivos in a beautiful courtyard adorned with vibrant murals, and the Botanical Club boasts a microdistillery specializing in gin. And for an evening steeped in authentic New York ambiance, you can't miss the renowned Blu Note, Milan’s iconic jazz club.
Nowadays, Isola enjoys an excellent connection with the rest of Milan. It can be easily reached using four metro stations: Isola on the M5 line, Garibaldi and Gioia on the M2 line, and Zara on both the M5 and M3 lines. Additionally, there are several surface transportation options available, including tram lines 2, 7, and 33, as well as bus lines 60 and 70.
The close proximity of Milan Garibaldi railway station provides additional transportation options, with connections to various regional and national rail lines.
The real estate market in Milan’s Isola district
The Isola district is in high demand due to its cozy atmosphere and strategic location just outside the city center, while still being well-served by public transportation. . Over the past few years, property values in this area have experienced a significant surge, partly influenced by the nearby Porta Nuova development, and this upward trend is expected to persist. Consequently, purchasing a home in Isola is undoubtedly a great decision, particularly as a form of investment.
The neighborhood's architecture is exceptionally diverse, showcasing a blend of "Old Milan" style tenement houses, Art Nouveau palaces, towering skyscrapers, and rationalist buildings, along with new developments. Additionally, a growing number of companies are relocating their offices here, drawn by the dynamic atmosphere and wide range of amenities and services.