A city easily overlooked by tourists wishing to plunge deep into Italian culture with the classic Rome or Florence tour, Milan is nonetheless entirely worth at least a weekend of your time. Business and fashion capital of Italy, it is a city filled with impressive boulevards, fine churches and even has its own canal district, which may come as a surprise to many. Actually famous for being quite foggy, it can look just as stunning in sunlight as it is ravishing under the rain. You can’t really go wrong.
Where to start? The Duomo of course, it’s the centre of tourist activity, as well as symbol of the city: what better welcome could there be than walking up the steps from the underground station and slowly being revealed the majestic ensemble of white spires and pinnacles? If the weather is clement, you should definitely try taking the lift up to the top, from where the panorama of the city is pretty impressive. If heights aren’t your thing though, merely contemplating from below is satisfying enough.
From the Duomo square, you can pop into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, just to the side, for a stroll down one of Italy’s most impressive shopping arcades, built during the second half of the 19th century. The iron and glass roof, with its central dome, alongside the richly decorated mosaic floors, and the very fancy shops all contribute to give a flavour of Milan’s sophisticated taste. Just on the other side you can find the Teatro alla Scala, which over the past 200 years has become renowned for hosting some of the greatest operatic and ballet performances. Leaving the Duomo and the square behind, you can walk down Via Dante, a long imposing street that will lead you to the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s very own castle, with gardens well worth a visit.
The Brera district is also quite unmissable, and still within comfortable walking distance of the centre. Not only is it the arts quarter, where you can find the Pinacoteca (public art gallery, showcasing some of the masterpieces of Italian art history), but it is also one of the oldest quarters, without all the big flashy streets. It contains a bit of the spirit of the old Milan. However, just a couple of strides away you can find Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga, which are part of the fashion quarter: the perfect place to go if you enjoy a spot of shopping.
Part of the attractions in Milan are its churches. Whether religious or not, you’re guaranteed to be impressed. For instance, the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, dedicated to one of the patron saints of the city, is the first example of Romanesque style, thus playing an important role in shaping the architectural history of Europe. Santa Maria delle Grazie on the other hand is particularly famous for containing the world-famous Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci in its refectory. However, it is necessary to book tickets in advance to see it, so it is perhaps not the best for an impromptu visit.
Last but not least, the Navigli, Milan’s very own district of canals. Perhaps not so much of a well-known area among tourists, you can’t leave Milan without having had an aperitivo on the Milanese waterfront. Nothing to compare with the views of Venice or Amsterdam perhaps, but a very interesting area of the city to explore. Maybe with a panzerotto in hand (a stuffed, fried pastry turnover, similar to calzone) it is a marvellous place to sit down, watch the world go by reflected on the peaceful waters, and plan your next journeys.
Ready to visit Milan?