Milan. Italy’s chic capital. Or should I say, the Fashion capital of the World.
From a travelers’ point of view, Milan may not be the first choice when it comes to exploring Italy. It’s expensive, and quite frankly, not as touristy as Rome or Venice. But besides being the commercial hub of Italy, full of banks and businesses, it has some really amazing sights to offer.
So let’s check out the authentic side of this style icon.
1. Explore the city’s most famous building – The Duomo
The unparalleled Gothic Cathedral of Milan, it is also the third largest church in Europe and the fifth largest in the world! 500 year in the making, this gorgeous white monument has 135 spires and 3600 statues! It is actually funny that the slow pace of building this Duomo made its construction process a synonym for ‘an impossible task’ (Fabrica del Dom in Milanese dialect).
The final touch-ups were given only in the 1960s. The monument is made from pink Candoglia marble, with some truly magnificent treasures inside the walls. Make sure you plan a visit when clothed decently. It’s a church after all.
Don’t skip climbing up to the roof. Use to elevator or jog up 150 stairs, and get ready for a breathtaking view of the whole city. On a pleasant day, you might get lucky enough to view the snow-covered Alps at distance. Also, you get to have a closer look at the glided copper ‘Madonnina’ atop the tallest spire.
The huge square outside the Cathedral hosts grand festivals and concerts.
2. Spend some time with The Last Supper
If you’re wondering what to see in Milan, the last Supper needs to be on your list!
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (Il Cenacolo) is undoubtedly the most eminent attraction of Milan. It is located in a refectory of the monastery located next to the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. It took Vinci four years to complete this masterpiece!
This wall fresco is admiringly unconventional, but that also leaves it prone to humidity and light. After years of restoration, it is nearly as good as the original piece.
Getting the tickets can be a battle for you. Should you be lucky enough to enter (in a lot of 25 people at a time), you will get 15 minutes, that’s right, only 15 minutes to gawk at the expressions of consternation; anger and grief on the faces of disciples, when Christ reveals his probable deception, are totally worth your time.
Book your entry tickets as much in advance as possible.
3. Try out Opera singing at Teatro alla Scala
This Neo-Classical Facade is the world’s most famous Opera House. The posh interiors exhibit acres of Red Velvet and glided balconies and can incorporate 2800 guests! There’s a museum here, too. So the non opera fans still have a reason to visit the place.
This Opera House owns unequaled acoustics and has had many musical maestros perform here. The tickets can be really tough to come by, especially during premiere shows. So buy a ticket online, well in advance.
4. Hop on a yellow-orange Tram
Europe’s oldest public transport alive and kicking, these public trams are literally a moving museum. The original ones dating back to 1920’s and 50’s have varnished wooden seats and beautiful fluted glass lampshades.
Today, the stock includes 1970’s models and the contemporary caterpillar colored ones. Although you can get a taste of the authentic version on #1. an added advantage; you get to see all the symbolic monuments en route #1.
And the ones seeking a completely vintage taste should try out ATMosfera. This classic tram is run by the ATM transportation authority. It runs after dusk and serves good food with delicious wine.
5. Tour the Canals in Navigli
Canals are not confined to Venice only. Milan, too, has some really nice views of canals and waters. In fact you’ll be thrilled to know that one of them had beem designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself!
Now. Don’t expect a chain of canals like in Amsterdam. The Navigli district of Milan has 2 canals; both of them in a single section of the city. So you might actually explore a major portion of Navigli without having a look at them. But they are a delight to come across while strolling around in a concrete city.
Boat tours are quite ‘in’ here now a days. The town wasn’t so alluring for tourists in the yester years. But the refurbishment of the market area and low rents for travelers have pulled a lot of tourist traffic here. Also, the nightlife of Navigli is a haven for party hunters. So if you find this town not-so-happening in the daytime, hit the place after dark.
6. Visit Parco Sempione for some Green Peace!
Tired of shopping and sight-seeing? Head on to Parco Sempione. This huge piece of land is spread across 116 acres of land; a perfect place to have a romantic walk to plan a picnic with your kids!
And there’s a lot more to it than just grass and trees. An Acquarium (Acquario Civico), A Sports Stadium, Napoleanic Arch (Arco Della Pace), even a Medieval Castle- all this in one territory!
7. Check out the eminent Art Galleries
For art relics, all the credit goes to Napolean, who left most of his Italian loots here. Pinacotera di Brera contains some very important art collections like the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna and Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio. Others are by Tintoretto, Raphael and Rembrandt. The collection may be limited here, but completely exquisite.
Pinacotera Ambrosiana is another small, but eminent gallery. There’s Leonardo’s ‘The Musician’ and a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s Strawberry blonde hair.
8. But don’t ignore the Contemporary Art
The old school museums and galleries have been around for centuries. The contemporary art lovers who are up for something new and unique have Museo Del Novecento to check out. As the name suggests, the place has 20th century artworks to showcase. There are masterpieces ranging from Modigliani to Matisse.
The ‘free entry’ Galleria d’Italia displays frescoes of Canova and Hayez.
Not to mention the Studio Achille Castiglioni, a tiny gem close to the Castello. The studio displays works by the eminent Milanese Furniture and Industrial Designer Achille Castiglioni, who died in 2002. Do have a look at the miniature of Castiglioni’s iconic Arco Lamo for Flos.
9. Score at the Stadium
The San Siro Stadium was built in 1925 and later on expanded for the World Cup 1990. It holds ownership of two most famous Football Clubs of Italy- FC Internazionale and AC Milan.
Like any other stadium as grand as this one, watching a game is an absolute thrill! From the plahy zone to the changing rooms, everything reflects style and grandeur.
10. Time for some Shopping in Milan! Splurge or window shop in the streets
Well. We’re in the fashion capital. Might as well come prepared for it.
Milan and shopping are truly synonymous. The place has endless opportunities for shopaholics.
Quadrilatero d’Oro (The Golden Rectangle) is one such place where you can stand jaw-slacked for hours, watching fashionistas parade with a load of bags in hand. Prada, Versace, Ferragamo, there’s all you can think of and more!
Then there is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, better known as Milano’s Living Room. It’s glass and iron dome and gorgeous mosaics make it the most beautiful shopping mall across the globe.
Suited honchos sipping in expensive coffee at Zucca, spic and span grannies parading in the latest couture with chihuahuas in their Coach bags. With Prada and Louis Vuitton as the centerpieces, this place is inescapable.
And the most fascinating thing here is the epic “Bull’s Testicles”. At the center of this mall is a tile image of a bull with no testicles. Instead, there is a hole here. Visitors come here to spin their heels in this hole. It’s said that this mosaic brings you good luck.
11. Places for some Budget shopping
The Brera district of Milan, which is home to the most amazing boutiques in town. The open air markets of Via San Marco and Via Fauche sell single pieces; totally a bang for your buck!
The secondhand shops like Mercatino Michela who feature off-the-runway items from honchos like Armani, Versace, D&G, etc., offering discounts up to 75%!
12. Wondering What to Eat in Milan?
Milanese cuisine isn’t as famous as the Neapolitan Pizza. But it sure is worth every penny. The mouthwatering Risotto alla Milanese, Ossobuco, Cotoletta alla Milanese and Cassoeula alla Milanese give you a complete bang for your buck.
And yes! Like any other Italian town, don’t miss out the Aperitivo hour. Aperitivo hours (or Happy Hours, per se) begin around 6pm. It is the time when people get free from work to enjoy a drink or two with friends, before dinner.
You get discounted food and drinks. The cocktails menus normally include wine, beer, Spritz and Negroni. Expect meat, cheese, breads and vegetables in the additional food items.
Then there’s Luini, the Panzerotti hub of Milan. This fried pastry triangle is a sweet and spongy piece of bread and has a tomato and mozzarella cheese filling inside (mouthwatering already!). An absolute NO for the health freaks!
Located in a backstreet beside the Duomo, the place is overflowing with youngsters hording the doorway. Try to grab your order at off-peak hours from this tiny take-away, or be ready to face the wrath of long queues.
Priced around 3 Euro per piece, it is the ideal food for the budget travelers; delicious and pocket-friendly.
13. There’s Art Everywhere!
Milan is a blend of many arts. From history to clothing, to contemporary styles, everything is unique and one of a kind.
You would actually be surprised to know about the Street Art here. The Isola district of Milan, located near the Garibaldi station is replete with amazing street arts; cool enough to leave you awestruck.
A few other areas exhibiting this style of art are Corso di Porta Ticinese and Colonne di San Lorenzo (Near Port Romana).
Other than that, Street Dancing has been another emerging trend in Milan. A possible reason could be the overtly priced clubs here. Two renowned groups named Tango Illegal and Mazurka Klandestina took the initiative to organize impromptu Tango and Folk dance parties in the city squares at night. Mostly the locations are kept secret, but mostly are held in the popular places as Piazza Affari and Palazzo della Regione.
So whether you are a dancer or have two left feet, you will love this experience. Might even get lucky!
And last but not least. Do not miss out the Milan Fashion Week. Mostly held in the month of September, it makes the city all the more spectacular and vibrant. Whether you are a fashion follower or not, do visit around this time, as the sight is a rare one. There’s fashion everywhere; streets strutting with models, designers, celebs and shutterbugs showing off their talent. The energy is never-ending and what more! You can do a lot of fun things absolutely free!
Do try out the new bike-sharing initiative undertaken by the Govt. here. You can tour the city at negligible prices and as per your wish. There are many bike stations to pick up and drop off your bikes. For further details check out the BikeMi website and register yourself.
I am sure you have ample reasons to plan a vacation to this city of extravagance. So what are you waiting for? Christmas!
Just pack your bags and go Milan!