The capital of the Lombardy region is a sleek, fast-paced metropolis synonymous with haute couture, business and design. But to the intrepid traveller, there is much more than meets the eye … hidden Renaissance architecture, botanical gardens, artisan workshops and even a system of canals designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Full marks to Giorgio Armani for a worthy eulogy that goes," Milan is a true metropolis: strong and fearless but welcoming, too. Little by little, I came to realize that I could become someone here." Crackling with vibrant energy and sizzling with confident élan, this is a city that rides high on success and sophistication. Italy's most modern city is writing a story of urban regeneration with a skyline of futuristic high-rises, vertical forests and expansive social spaces. The country's financial, media, fashion, and design capital often misses its share of the limelight compared to its flamboyant cousins. But for those who care to dig deeper into two millennia of history, Milan's cobbled backstreets hide forgotten Renaissance churches, elegant Neoclassical palazzos and staid Fascist buildings, waiting to be discovered, preferably by rickety vintage trams.
The drama of Milan hits hard as you emerge into the vastness of the Piazza del Duomo to be dwarfed by the gargantuan Gothic marvel, the Duomo. Ponder over Mark Twain description of the third-largest church in Europe as "a poem in marble" as you scan the mind-boggling exterior studded with 135 pinnacles and 3,400 marble statues. Ride the lift to the rooftop terraces to wander through a forest of pinnacles, spires and carved rosettes and gloat overthe spectacular views of the red-roofed maze of streets below. The central spire is an exquisite example of lace-like marble crowned by a gilded statue of Madonnina, the city's guardian.
Back on ground level, pan out to the iconic piazza lined on two sides with colonnaded porticoes, a favourite spot for Milanese to congregate, sunbathe and play. North of the Duomo, an arched entrance leads to the sumptuous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Italy's oldest and most elegant shopping arcade. The neoclassical beauty with caryatids, mosaic marble floors and an impressive dome is a classic Milanese landmark with high-end boutiques, celebrity chefs' restaurants and legendary venues like the Camparino Bar. Walkthrough to the Piazza Della Scala, the opulent 18th-century La Scala opera house, the venue of Puccini's Madama Butterfly's first show. The Museum has an enviable memorabilia collection for opera fans, including original Verdi and Toscanini's baton scores.
Head along Via Dante to arrive at Castello Sforzesco, the palatial residence of Milan's 15th-century Sforza rulers. Hunt down Michelangelo's last (unfinished) work, Pietà Rondanini, before retreating into the winding paths of Parco Sempione sprawling behind the Castello. Continue towards the Renaissance church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie to stare at Leonardo da Vinci's masterstroke, The Last Supper. Then hop across to the Chiesa di San Maurizio, known as the "Sistine Chapel of Milan", to ogle at the vast ceiling frescos.
If you must pick one neighbourhood to explore, make it Brera (from the Lombardy word 'Braida', literally 'green space'). Wander along the narrow, cobbled pedestrian streets to soak up a Bohemian vibe, stopping at literary cafes, chic design studios and artisan workshops for a culture fix. Slip into the Botanical Gardens to commune with Italian flora, witness a book presentation or attend a watercolour course.
Search out an alternative Milan, which used to be an important port on a trade route connected to Lake Maggiore and the River Po. Devote a pleasant evening in the atmospheric cafes, antique shops and art galleries that line the canals of Navigli Grande and the Naviglio Pavese. Surprises, they never cease.
Fashion Quadrangle: High-end boutiques, luxury labels and designer brands, including Prada, Gucci and Bulgari, fill up four intersecting streets of this famous square. Get ready to spend big bucks while traversing Via Monte Napoleone, Via Alessandro Manzoni, Corso Venezia and Via della Spiga in the Fashion Quadrangle.
Brera: The ancient, artistic heart of Milan is the address of concept stores, artisan workshops, homegrown designers and handcrafted jewellery shops. If heady aromas are your poison, make sure you splurge on high-end perfume boutiques like The Merchant of Venice and L'Olfattorio.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II: The elegant glass-vaulted shopping arcade dating back to 1867 is a mandatory inclusion on a luxury lover's bucket list. Give in to your most extravagant desires with brands like Louis Vuitton, Armani and Massimo Dutti or time-honoured labels like Cadè (shirts and ties), Piumelli (handmade gloves) and Mejana (fountain pens).
Corso Buenos Aires: One of Europe's longest shopping avenues, stretches for over a kilometre and features nearly 400 international brands, Italian labels and family-run stores. This is high-street shopping at its best in Milan.
La Rinascente: Milan's massive department store is your best bet if you're looking for a one-stop shop for everything under one roof. The Milan flagship store, spanning ten floors, carries fashion, beauty products, home furnishings, small electronics, books, jewellery, and more.
Museums & the Arts
Pinacoteca di Brera: Plan an afternoon for Milan’s most prominent museum, which houses a prized collection of paintings. Go for the opportunity to admire every decade of Italian art and gape at the works of high-profile Italian masters like Mantegna, Caravaggio, and Raphael.
Museo del Novecento: The Numero Uno for modern art, located next to the Royal Palace, boasts a vast collection of sculptures and paintings from the 20th-century. Art aficionados can regale with the creations of biggies like Modigliani, Kandinsky, Picasso and Fontana.
Triennale di Milano: Located inside the Palazzo dell’Arte, near the Royal Palace, this is one of the country’s first design museums and a multidisciplinary centre for Italian design, architecture, fashion, and visual and performing arts. The permanent collection is a catalogue of avant-garde Italian-made objects.
Museo Delle Culture: Mudec features a fascinating collection of over 8,000 artefacts from across centuries and non-European cultures, including jewellery, weaponry and pottery, all brought to Milan by explorers or collectors.
Fondazione Prada: Located in the south of Milan, Fondazione Prada is the city’s first contemporary art museum. The architecture is an exciting amalgamation of old and new, like a converted gin distillery and a nine-storey concrete tower, ‘Torre’. Artworks from the Prada Collection, primarily 20th and 21st century, are displayed in an original building clad in 24-carat gold foil.
Soccer: Feel the football fever that Milan is so famous for the historic San Siro Stadium and witness live action between the two legendary rival teams, Inter Milan and AC Milan. The Museum houses a selection of traditional memorabilia, Italian National team jerseys, videos, photographs and souvenirs.
Basketball: One of Italy’s top basketball teams, Olimpia Milano, founded in 1936, is among the most important clubs in Europe. Olimpia Milano has won the most titles in Italy with 28 championships, 6 Coppa Italiana and 3 Super Coppa. Catch a thrilling game of the protagonists in Italian basketball at PalaLido every Sunday.
Formula 1: Every September, thousands of spectators throng the circuit of Monza, which hosts the Formula 1 race, the Italian Grand Prix. Brace for an adrenaline rush at the favourite circuit of Ferrari, where hard brakes and high-speed curves slice through a royal woodland setting.
Restaurants & Bars
Enrico Bartolini al Mudec: Located in the Museo Delle Culture, this is an elegant, contemporary restaurant by one of Italy’s finest gastronomic talents. The menu consists of simple dishes made into masterpieces with innovative techniques and the finest ingredients. Cacciucco sauce roast octopus and Red turnips risotto gorgonzola are excellent choices.
Seta by Antonio Guida: Flavours of northern Italy and aromas of the south blend into a sublime dining experience wrapped in sophisticated glamour. Exemplary presentation and innovative techniques are a constant theme, from the main course like Pheasant royale flavoured with myrtle and nettles to the sweet temptations dressed with flower petals and gold leaf.
Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia: Book a table at this stylish restaurant in Via Montecuccoli to savour Italian regional dishes presented with a modern angle. Order the Risotto with zucchini flowers, shrimps from Sanremo, Sicilian tomatoes and Amalfi lemon. The signature semolina durum wheat served with spring onions, and red chilli is another popular option.
Viva Viviana Varese: This chic dining establishment with colourful decor is located in the iconic food emporium, Eataly, of the upscale Garibaldi neighbourhood. A menu decked with artful vegetable and seafood dishes is presented on large tables facing the open-view kitchen. One of the highly recommended dishes is a thin spaghetti served in a smoked broth with clams and squid.
Felix Lo Basso home & restaurant: Designed like a real house, with a cosy sitting room and open kitchen, this diner promises an imaginative 12-course tasting menu celebrating Italian cuisine. The tasting menu consisting of 12 courses changes regularly to accommodate seasonal ingredients. Sit back, relax and feel at home.
Taking a crash course in fashion with a private atelier, especially during Fashion Week, is a dream come true when visiting the world capital of design. Up your ante with a bespoke experience where you will pick up the inside workings of the trade and the nuances of a designer’s profession. Learn all about fabrics, styling, accessorising and fashion drawings. This is also an excellent opportunity to buy limited edition garments.
85% of Italian silk and 70% of Europe's silk is manufactured in the Lake Como district, north of Milan. Cocoon to design, weaving, dyeing, printing, sewing and packaging is a fascinating process in itself for those who care to witness it at close quarters. Invest in an elegant silk scarf proudly carrying a "Made in Italy" label to add the ultimate accessory to your wardrobe.
Get behind the wheels of a Ferrari and zip through the rolling hills of Lake Como. Relax and restore as you feast your eyes on the fairytale Lombardy vistas. Live the 16th-century grandeur of the Italian Lake District with a lavish lunch at Villa d’Este, a Renaissance palace with lusciously landscaped gardens. Continue to Villa Carlotta to explore the UNESCO-tagged mansion and botanical gardens. Return to Milan with the promise of an extended trip.
Seek out a slice of the unusual at Leonardo’s Vineyard and reward yourself with an aperitivo on the lush grounds of the Casa Degli Atellani, an elegant private residence. Imagine the grandmaster taking a break from an intense day at work, applying daubs on his famous fresco, The Last Supper. Interestingly, da Vinci belonged to a family of winemakers and lovingly tended to the vineyard himself.
Milan is a city where all the rich and famous descend to explore the fine tapestry of haute couture, art, and culture. Her inhabitants, her restaurants, her luxury hotels – all quite bellissima!
Most visitors land in the Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP), located 30 miles northeast or the Milan Linate Airport (LIN), located 5 miles from the city centre. Metered taxis are the best way to reach downtown, and driving is best avoided on busy roads. The subway, bus and tram system are convenient options to explore the city, but walking is the best way to feel the soul of Milan.
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