A priori, the economic capital of Italy is not one of the leisure destinations. What a mistake! Museums, restaurants, shopping, cultural life: Lombard city has a lot to offer, particularly to city lovers. Dynamic, contrasting, and modern, Milan is THE great Italian metropolis. You will come back conquered …
Milan, a bath of energy
Occupied throughout history by the Spaniards, Austrians, and Bonapartist troops, Milan stands out as a special case in Italy. Here is a city closer to its Mediterranean counterparts – Vienna or Budapest – than to its compatriots Naples or Rome.
Economic heart of the country, this agglomeration of 4 million inhabitants, former a stronghold of the Visconti family, disputes in Rome the title of media and intellectual capital of the country: four national dailies (including Corriere Della Sera) and prestigious houses of edition (Mondadori) have their headquarters there. And, of course, from Armani to Gucci, via Dolce & Gabbana, the Milanese couturiers compete with the big houses in Paris or New York.
The dynamism of Lombardy – it is one of the richest regions in the world – has transformed Milan into an international metropolis. Immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America succeed in those from Mezzogiorno. Milan is a cosmopolitan city open to the world.
Of course, you will hardly find there the somewhat indolent (insolent?), The almost provincial charm of Rome. But lovers of urban life will get caught up in the game of the Milanese maelstrom which nevertheless reserves, in the maze of its old town, small oases of tranquility.
Architectural and artistic walk
Everyone knows him. Luchino Visconti immortalized him in Rocco and his brothers. In the heart of the city, the Duomo shows an undeniable splendor. The third-largest church in the world, this late Gothic building, begun in 1386, was not completed until 500 years later.
Adorned with more than 2,000 statues and 135 Spiers, this marble cathedral commands admiration and respect. At sunset, the Duomo is sumptuous. You have to climb on its roofs to walk among this marmoreal lace and enjoy a splendid panorama of Piazza Duomo and the city’s rooftops.
From there, Milan can be visited on foot. Once out of the Duomo, the Vittorio Emmanuele II gallery (photo) can be taken for a walk. Completed in 1867 and covered by a glass and steel vault, it is one of the most beautiful passages in Europe. In the end is the famous Scala of Milan, the most prestigious opera in the world, where Verdi, Puccini, and Toscanini have performed among others.
Behind La Scala, here is the old quarter of Brera, one of the nicest in the city, with its maze of alleys, antique shops, cafes, and small restaurants away from the hustle and bustle of Milan.
Must see: the Pinacoteca di Brera, founded in the Napoleonic era, presents a very fine collection of paintings, including the masterpieces of The Dead Christ by Mantegna, The Last Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, and The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphaël. A visit to be completed with a visit to Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, the other great Milanese gallery. Another must-see museum: the Museo del Novecento, in Piazza Duomo, dedicated to 20th-century Italian art (futurists, de Chirico, arte povera …)
Not far from the Brera district stands the Castello Sforzesco, a 14th-century military fortress transformed into a residence by the Dukes of Sforza in the 15th century. Today, this austere and gigantic building is the seat of several art and history museums.
A few minutes from the Castello, the refectory of the old Dominican cloister of Santa Maria Delle Grazie houses the famous fresco of The Last Supper, one of Leonardo’s best-known works. Please note, to be able to admire this wonder, you must book your ticket several days (or even weeks) in advance! It is, in fact, a must in tourist Milan.
Temples of fashion and shopping
Milan is one of the sure values for shopping in Europe. The Italian capital of fashion and design, the city is a Mecca for fashionistas from all over the world. Walking around the Montenapoleone district, behind Piazza Duomo, it’s easy to see why: this is where the big names in Italian fashion have set up their headquarters.
The area around via Montenapoleone, between via Della Spiga and the Vittorio Emmanuele II gallery, is worth a look, even if you’re not crazy about luxury clothes. It is in this golden quadrilateral that the elegance of chic Milan is displayed with restraint and distinction. It is not uncommon to come across models and fashion victims in front of Prada, Gucci, and everything else… Special mention to the Armani building in via Manzoni, the flagship of this luxury empire bringing together fashion, ready-to-wear, decoration, bookstore, and a hotel in a very designer building.
Finally, as we think of you, know that you can taste the joys of shopping Milanese without necessarily being rich as Croesus. Take a trip to the La Rinascente department store in Piazza Duomo (the local Galeries Lafayette), on the Corso Buenos Aires or Corso Genova side, or in the outlet stores like Magazine Outlet (via Manzoni).
The boutiques of young “trendy” designers can be found on the Corso Como side and the design ones in the piazza San Babila district. Vintage clothes can be found near Via Torino and Porta Ticinese.
Aperitivo, great food and opera
In the evening, indulge in the delights of the aperitivo, a very cool local tradition. In all the bars, drinks are served between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. with appetizers as varied as they are plentiful (crostini, cold meats, cheeses, olives, etc.), served at will … and above all free! We can definitely make it his dinner! Ideal to accompany his Negroni sbagliato, Milanese version of the famous aperitif made from Campari, Martini, and … prosecco.
The Navigli district, with its bars and restaurants along the ancient canals that evoke Venice, is one of the nicest places to spend the evening. The best places to have a drink are on the nearby Porta Ticinese. To learn about Milanese gastronomy, head to the Brera district, where many restaurants serve osso-buco and risotto.
As for the best clubs, they are in the vicinity of trendy Corso Como and Stazione Garibaldi (Hollywood, Alcatraz). The cooler and alternative atmosphere around the Porta Venezia metro (with, in the underground genre, Atomic.
Fancy an unforgettable evening in Milan? Why not attend an opera or a ballet in the sumptuous Italian hall of the mythical Teatro Alla Scala? The programming is generally excellent. Tickets go on sale for about two months in advance at the Scala site and also two hours before the show at the box office, via Filodrammatici.
If you find tickets at 10 €, you need to count at least 50 to 70 € for good seats (below this price the visibility may be reduced), and up to 250 € for the floor and lodges. But, when you love, you don’t count!