Lying at the foot of the Alps, Milan is Italy’s financial hub and economic driver, home to the country’s Stock Exchange. It is also Italy’s most cosmopolitan city, with a modern central district dominated by skyscrapers and a pretty historical quarter lined with palazzi (palaces) – each harbouring wonderful hidden courtyards.
Leader of Italy’s fashion and design industry, Milan is replete with snazzy boutiques, haute couture stores, and furniture workshops producing the latest in Italian design. It’s also a historic city – home to the magnificent Duomo and scores of wonderful art galleries, museums and churches.
Its dining and nightlife scenes rank among the country’s most vibrant. Bars line the city’s famous Navigli canals – said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who called the city his home for a number of years. The workday over, Milanesi congregate in the lively Navigli for aperitivo – drinks and snacks – before heading home for their evening meal.
Kiki Deere, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to do and places to eat and drink this season.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, with scores of events taking place throughout the city to commemorate the occasion.
Newly reopened, the Sala delle Asse in the Castello Sforzesco (00 39 02 8846 3700) has an impressive trompe l’oeil wall and ceiling painting by Leonardo – a magnificent sight. It recreates a decorative pergola with intertwining vines, fruits and plants that give the impression of being in the open air.
Selected original pages from the Codex Atlanticus, the largest set of drawings and writings by Da Vinci, are on display at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Piazza Pio XI 2; 00 39 02 806 921). The sheets are rotated regularly, shedding light on Leonardo’s artistic, architectural, scientific and engineering studies.
Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan
Original pages from the Codex Atlanticus, the largest set of drawings and writings by Da Vinci, are on display at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana
Since opening in January, Insieme (Via Giovanni Rasori 12; 00 39 391 718 2416) has been the talk of the town. Run by an affable couple, this neighbourhood restaurant in Pagano serves comfort food with an elegant twist – such as pappa al pomodoro, a rustic tomato and bread dish with rich and intense flavours.
Insieme is a neighbourhood restaurant that serves Italian comfort food at its finest
Sister-restaurant to IT Ibiza, IT Milano (Via Fiori Chiari 32; 00 39 02 9997 9993) in the artsy district of Brera serves refined Mediterranean dishes to a hipster crowd who come for elegantly prepared dishes and Ibiza-style dance vibes in the basement bar. The restaurant has a large fish and seafood counter where diners can choose whatever tickles their fancy, but the tuna belly with puttanesca sauce is particularly fine.
IT Milano, Milan
IT Milano aims to bring haute Mediterranean dining and a dose of elegant cool to the heart of Brera
Sip cocktails and nibble on gourmet pizzas and hearty small plates at Aspass (Alzaia Naviglio Grande 46; 00 39 02 3658 8809) on the lively Navigli, or ask for a takeaway box and munch on finger food as you soak up the lively atmosphere of the city.
Enjoy cocktails and nibble on gourmet pizzas and hearty small plates at Aspass
48 hours in . . . Milan
Start the day at Milan’s vast Gothic-style Duomo (00 39 02 3616 9100), which stands majestically in Piazza Duomo. Catch the lift to the rooftop terraces and see elaborate spires and statues up close as you enjoy 360-degree views of the city. Once you’re back on terra firma, stroll through the sumptuous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping centre that is today an architectural marvel, with its impressive dome and gleaming marble floors.
Next, visit the Gallerie d’Italia (Piazza della Scala 6; Freephone 800 167 619) and admire 19th- and 20th-century works, making sure you take a stroll round the leafy interior courtyard, which once belonged to writer Alessandro Manzoni. If contemporary art is more your thing, don’t miss the excellent Museo del Novecento (00 39 02 8844 4061) on Piazza Duomo.
Next, stroll the artistic quarter of Brera, stopping to browse independent boutiques, art galleries and quirky stores. For lunch, tuck into Milanese dishes with southern Italian influences at Identità Golose (Via Romagnosi 3; 00 39 02 2366 8900). And with past guest chefs including Alain Ducasse and Massimo Bottura, this is a great opportunity to experience new flavours and techniques all under one roof.
Pop into the Orto Botanico di Brera (Via Privata Fratelli Gabba 10; 00 39 02 5031 4683) for a post-prandial walk and to admire botanical collections. Next, visit the Pinacoteca di Brera (Via Brera 28; 00 39 02 7226 3264), the city’s most prestigious art gallery housing an impressive collection of Renaissance works.
Make your way to the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2; 00 39 02 498 7588), which houses Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Escape the crowds by visiting the building opposite, the Casa degli Atellani (Corso Magenta 65; 00 39 02 481 6150), a beautiful Renaissance house with a garden and vineyard that once belonged to Da Vinci.
Don’t miss the nearby Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore (Corso Magenta 15; 00 39 02 8846 5720), adorned with spectacular frescoes by Bernardino Luini and the Lombard School.
Head to Milan’s bustling Navigli, and sit back and enjoy an aperitivo al fresco at MAG Café (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 43; 00 39 02 3956 2875) – a lively little spot that brims with character. Or head to nearby Rita (Via Angelo Fumagalli 1; 00 39 02 837 2865), one of the city’s best spots to enjoy a tipple and some top-notch bar snacks. Order the Lebanese Jacket cocktail, made with homemade ginger syrup, yuzu, lemon juice and whisky infused with lapsang souchong – served with lime and a sprinkling of tea leaves.
For dinner, head to EXIT (Piazza Erculea 2; 00 39 02 3599 9080), an elegant kiosk in a residential square serving innovative dishes – such as veal sweetbread served with wasabi, and beef tartare with mustard ice cream (you won’t find any pasta dishes here). If Japanese fare tickles your fancy, head to Gastronomia Yamamoto (Via Amedei 5; 00 39 02 3674 1426) for some authentic Nipponese cuisine enjoyed in a cosy setting with tatami-inspired floors and wooden tables
For a post-prandial snifter, make your way to the lively district of Porta Venezia and settle into Bicerìn (Via Panfilo Castaldi 24; 00 39 02 8425 8410), a cosy wine bar with an excellent selection of wines sourced from small independent producers. If cocktails are more your thing, try Baxter Bar (Largo Augusto 1; 00 39 02 7600 8881), a stylish little spot with retro furnishings.
Baxter Bar, Milan
Swing tunes and retro furnishings set the tone at the elegant Baxter Bar
Soak up the atmosphere of Villa Necchi Campiglio (Via Mozart 14; 00 39 02 7634 0121), an authentic Art Deco mansion with gorgeous interiors displaying original furnishings and details that exude all the comfort and luxury of a lavish 1930s bourgeois home.
Next, refuel at Pavè (Via Felice Casati 27; 00 39 02 9439 2259) with a coffee and homemade pastries, ready to hit the high-street shops of Corso Buenos Aires and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. If you’re after luxury boutiques and haute couture stores, stroll the quiet cobbled streets of the Quadrilatero della Moda. For lunch, sit back in the leafy garden of Paper Moon Giardino (Via Bagutta 12; 00 39 02 7600 98 95) and enjoy an al fresco meal of fish and seafood.
Wander northwest towards the redbrick Castello Sforzesco (Piazza Castello; 00 39 02 8846 3700) and enjoy a walk around leafy Parco Sempione. Visit the Triennale Milano (Viale Emilio Alemangna 6; 00 39 02 724 341) and check out the best in Italian design objects, admiring pieces by renowned designers including Gio Ponti and Achille Castiglioni. It features over 1,600 pieces, dating from 1927 to the present day.
Sit back in the museum’s garden café – if you’re visiting with children, this is a great spot for them to run around and let off some steam. If the sun is beginning to set, pop up to the top floor of the building and enjoy an aperitivo at Terrazza Triennale (00 39 02 3664 4340), which offers lovely views of the park and Milan’s financial district beyond.
Terrazza Triennale, Milan
Triennale Milano is a must for design lovers and has a collection of over 1,600 design objects
Start your evening with an aperitivo al fresco at the exclusive Il Bar of Bulgari Hotel Milano (Via Privata Fratelli Gabba 7b; 00 39 02 805 8051), immersed in a wonderful leafy garden in the heart of the city. Order a Signature Bvlgari cocktail – a refreshing summer drink made with gin, Aperol, lime, pineapple and orange juice – and take your pick from small bites including tuna tartare; stracciatella cheese and spinach; ricotta and anchovies. For dinner, head to Il Liberty (Viale Monte Grappa 6; 00 39 02 2901 1439), a sophisticated little restaurant where Chef Provenzani puts a creative spin on traditional Italian dishes.
End your Milanese stay in style at Ceresio 7 (Via Ceresio 7; 00 39 02 3103 9221), one of Milan’s most fashionable nightlife venues where you can sip cocktails around a stylish rooftop swimming pool.
Il Bar of Bvlgari Hotel Milano
Il Bar has become something of an institution in recent years for its superb aperitivo
Where to stay . . .
The elegant Four Seasons Hotel Milano, housed in a former 15th-century convent, offers tastefully furnished rooms set around a tranquil courtyard in the heart of Milan’s Fashion District. An elegant and peaceful oasis of serenity, the hotel is a welcome refuge from the hustle and bustle of central Milan. The inviting spa is one of the city’s best, with an attractive swimming pool located in the convent’s former cellars.
Doubles from €660 (£581). Via Gesù 6-8; 00 39 02 77088
Four Seasons Hotel Milano
Most rooms at the Four Seasons Hotel Milano look out on to the peaceful courtyard
Splashes of Art Deco chic characterise the four rooms of the stylish Locanda Pandenus, located above a bustling café and bistro: think thick velvet curtains, couture-inspired fabrics, and globe-shaped bulbs. This is a locanda (inn), although there’s nothing simple about the design: it’s sophisticated and fashionably elegant, echoing the creative chic vibe of Milan’s Brera district, where it is located.
Doubles from €220 (£192). Via Mercato 24; 00 39 348 2547 803
Locanda Pandenus, Milan
The four rooms at Locanda Pandenus are tastefully furnished with bespoke designer fittings
With only four rooms, this small and welcoming b&b in Milan’s Porta Garibaldi district has an intimate setting and plenty of character. LaFavia Milano’s sophisticated décor is a tasteful hotchpotch of styles, where Art Deco marries with vintage Seventies. The four individually decorated rooms feature an eclectic mix of furniture: from early 20th-century wicker chairs to 1950s lamps. The 1960s wallpaper in linden green and terracotta orange hues creates a retro design statement in each room.
Doubles from €105 (£92). Via Carlo Farini 4; 00 39 347 784 2212
LaFavia Milano’s sophisticated décor is a tasteful hotchpotch of styles
What to bring home . . .
Add a quirky touch to your home with a designer piece by Atelier Fornasetti (Corso Venezia 21A; 02 8416 1374), whose whimsical humorous items include wallpaper, furniture, rugs and porcelain.
Head to Pasticceria Marchesi (Via S. Maria alla Porta 11/a; 00 39 02 862 770), one of Milan’s oldest pastry shops, to stock up on freshly baked patisserie and chocolates, elegantly presented in gift boxes and pretty packaging.
It’s no secret Milan offers fantastic shopping – head to the Fornasetti Store for quirky homewares
When to go . . .
While Milan is considered a year-round destination, it is advisable to avoid visiting in July and August as the days are sweltering. In August, most of the city empties as locals head to the coast or the mountains to cool off from the heat. The days around Ferragosto, a national holiday on 15th August, are exceptionally quiet, with the city morphing into a ghost town (most shops and restaurants close).
Hotel rates in Milan are generally expensive, with prices soaring during Milan’s April Furniture Fair (Salone del Mobile) and Women’s Fashion Week in February and September.
Know before you go . . .
Tourist board information:YesMilano, Piazza Duomo 14, Milan; 00 39 02 8845 5555; YesMilano, Via Mercanti 8; 00 39 02 8515 5931; yesmilano.it
Emergency fire and ambulance: Fire: dial 115 Ambulance: dial 118
Emergency police: Dial 112
International dialling code: 00 39 02
Local laws and etiquette
Metro tickets are valid for 90min and can be used for one metro trip or for as many bus or tram journeys within that time frame. Tickets can be bought at the metro station itself; otherwise, you’ll have to head to a tobacconist, newsagent or café to buy a ticket – not particularly convenient as there may not necessarily be one near your bus stop. It’s a good idea to buy a few tickets in advance. Don’t forget to stamp your ticket to validate it when you board a bus or tram.
You can’t flag taxis down like in London. Instead, you’ll have to find the closest taxi stand or book ahead over the phone. Recommended taxi companies can be reached on 00 39 028585; 026969; 024040
Note that it is a legal requirement to have snow tyres or snow chains when travelling on motorways between mid-November and mid-April.
Like in the rest of Italy, restaurants typically serve food from 12.30pm to 2.30pm for lunch and from 7.30pm to 9.30pm for dinner, although more and more establishments these days offer all-day dining to cater to the city’s international clientele. That said, it’s best to stick to the above opening times as you may otherwise struggle to find somewhere to eat.
While high-street chains in the centre are open throughout the day, many independent shops close for lunch (roughly 12.30pm to 3.30pm).
Public museums and state-run sites offer free entry the first Sunday of the month. Note that many state-run museums are closed on Mondays.
There are over 500 drinking fountains dotted around the city. While tap water in Milan is drinkable, restaurants don’t serve free tap water as they do in the UK. If you ask for tap water, you will be given filtered or bottled water (at a cost).
If you’re on a tight budget, you can take advantage of the city’s popular aperitivo scene. Many bars lay out buffet counters groaning with food, included in the price of a drink.
A number of shops do not accept card payments for small sums. Some places, such as family-run delis, may not even accept cards. Cash is still the preferred method of payment.
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