Photo: A different view of "il duomo"
Architecture Design and ... Fashion!
Italy – the dream country of my youth. I had not been to "Bella Italia" for a couple of years, so it was about time to go back.
Yes, Milan is a busy industrial town, not as laid back as many other Italian cities. And yes, it's one of the fashion capitals in the world. It has one of the most striking buildings in all of Italy, the cathedral called Duomo. Apart from fashion, Milan is the center of Italy when it comes to design, entertainment, finance, media, and contemporary art. And it may have the most stylish people in Italy, if not in all of Europe.
Despite all of that, you will still get a feeling of Italy when visiting Milan. Lots of history, culture, architecture and – good food and coffee, of course.
Photo: Fashion 2020 by Versace
Let's start our city tour right downtown, in the historical heart of Milan – the Duomo District. In the space of just a few kilometers, you will find some of the city's most famous sites such as the Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele with costly shops, cafés, and restaurants as well as the world-famous Teatro Alla Scala, the Castle, and the ancient Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio. And in between, mostly car-free streets with shops, shops, shops.
Photo: Italian grandezza - Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele
Italy´s most photographed Cathedral
The Duomo is a must, of course. Watch people on the vast square in front of this beautiful cathedral. Have a look inside and walk up to the roof. Since you will not be the only one there, make sure to reserve your visit online. A breathtaking view will make up for the crowds you may encounter, in particular on weekend days.
Photo: "Il duomo" in all its glory
Just opposite the Duomo, you cannot miss the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele that links the Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Della Scala. Armani, Gucci, Prada, and Versace. You will find all their shops in this impressive 150 years old building. Famous restaurants like Ristorante Galleria and Savini are expensive and most crowded so that you may opt for one of the eating places outside. Don't miss the Lavazza flagship store just next to the Galleria. Sip a real Italian espresso in style in a very modern ambiance. The pastries are out of this world. This place is also perfect for people watching.
Photo: Look up in the galleria
Photo: Coffee break at Lavazza
If you are into shopping, but your budget is somehow limited, consider a visit to the traditional department store RINASCENTE next to the Galleria. Apart from fashion, jewelry, and accessories, the basement houses a design supermarket with masterpieces of Alessi and others. The panoramic terrace offers a spectacular view over the spires of the Duomo. Are you looking for the most delicate Italian fabrics? Make a stop at Valli Tessuti Alla Moda, just steps from the Teatro Alla Scala in Via Verdi.
Montenapoleone District - The Golden Quad
You may not wish to shop here until you have a huge budget. Nevertheless, don't miss this area (within walking distance from the Duomo). Many botox women, sometimes in fur coats (oh no!), tourists making selfies in front of luxury cars, that's Via Montenapoleone. And Italians are always on their mobile phones ("telefonino")! You will find Italian chic and cheesiness à la Versace (sorry) in the window displays of the most famous designers. For 2020, thick heels (even for men) seem to be en Vogue. Together with the very colorful pants, all this reminded me of Carnival here and there. During my visit, the Milan Fashion Week was going on. Not the best time to visit the golden quad. Golden jeeps of the German designer Philipp Plein (the "enfant terrible" in the fashion scene) are driving around. It looks like the Germans want to conquer Milan. And not everyone is making "Bella figura" to tell the truth.
Photo: These shoes may be edgy but they do not look too comfortable...
Culture and Coffee in Brera
Let's move on to the Brera district (within walking distance from the Duomo) with its impressive museums, artisans, workshops, and little boutiques. Even if you are not too fond of museums, have a look at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Palazzo Brera) with the Pinacoteca. Stroll around the courtyard, an architectural masterpiece with a naked guy in the middle. Plan half a day in this district, to have time to walk around, sip a coffee at Princi, and maybe to shop in one of the footwear, clothing or perfume boutiques. You may finish your day at the Fashion Café, possibly the trendiest place in Brera.
Photo: There he is, the naked guy at Palazzo Brera
Photo: What a charming patio in Brera
Milan goes Dubai
So far, so good for the somewhat historic parts of Milan. Over the past year, the city has created a little Dubai with the most modern skyscrapers. Some of the world's most famous architects, such as Daniel Libeskind and the late Zaha Hadid, have created a stunning futuristic area to work and live. A park with a waterway surrounds Milano City Life. The tallest skyscraper called "Il Dritto" measures 242 meters, one of the highest buildings in all of Europe. Although this place has nothing to do with romantic Italy, you imagine, don't miss to have a look. My highlight was "Bosco Verticale", Milan´s vertical forest consisting of two towers, hosting 780 trees, 11,000 perennial and covering plants and 5,000 shrubs. This is indeed city architecture of the future!
Photo: The tallest buildings in all of Italy - Milano CityLife
Photo: City architecture of the future - Il Bosco Verticale
The Last Supper and a Castle in the City
What else to see? Well, da Vinci's famous Last Supper on the wall of the convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie for sure. It is much paler than you may have imagined but still one of the most important sites in all of Italy.
If you need some relaxation from all the bustle and hustle in the city, visit Milan's castle, Castello Sforzesco. Stroll through the lovely park in the middle of Milan and admire libraries and museums. Walk up to the Arco della Pace, a white arch next to a square with many cafés and restaurants. Ideal for a Sunday walk.
Photo: Castello Sforzeso - explore museums and walk in the park
Drinks and Dinner in Navigli
This district is a widespread network of canals whose history links to the genius of Leonardo. Stroll along the main channel with many fancies, sometimes a bit shabby boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Navigli is possibly the opposite of Montenapoleone. I had a great early dinner at Posto di Conversazione, sitting outside on a sunny day in February. "Ma che freddo," said the waiter (it's so cold). Sure, Italians prefer warmer days. In any case, the pasta was excellent.
Photo: Navigli - trendy!
How to get around in Milan
The subway is highly recommendable and easy to use. One-way trips within the city cost 2.00 euro per person (as of February 2020), a day pass 7.00 EUR.
A very unique way to explore Milan are the old streetcars - not as fast as the subway, but very special.
Photo: Tram station in front of the NYX Hotel Milano
Where to stay in Milan
I highly recommend the NYX Hotel Milano by Leonardo Hotels. Very centric location at the central station. The sites around the cathedral are easy to reach by subway (five stations only). You can even walk to Milano CityLife (approximately 15 minutes). Edgy new hotel with excellent service. Read more in my article about the NYX Hotel Milano.
Photo: What a lovely welcome at the NYX Hotel Milano
What is the best time to travel to Milan
I went in late February, which was quite pleasant. Sunny and mild days. However, watch out for the dates of major trade shows such as the Milan Fashion Week. During those periods, the city can get very crowded.
I would always avoid July and August. It is merely too hot. In August, most Italians take their holidays ("ferragosto"), so you may find Milan a bit empty. Friends tell me that Christmas is very special, with stunning lights and an excellent atmosphere.
Photo: There he is - Leonardo da Vinci at Piazza alla Scala
Where to eat in Milan
That's an adamant one since there are so many great places all over the city.
Below you will find information about the few places where I have been. Make sure to taste some of the specialties, such as the "Risotto alla Milanese" with saffron as the main ingredient. Other than that, you will find lots of meat dishes but also pasta, of course.
Food lovers should have a look here.
Lavazza Flagship Store
Via Ugo Foscolo
Photo: Coffee lovers!
Via San Marco 1
Posto di Conversazione
Alzaia Naviglio Grande 61
You will find more tips for Milan on the website of YES!MILANO.
Photo: Yes, many Italians have a sweet tooth
Looking for more European city destinations? Have a look at my blog articles: