The Best of Milan
Many people don’t fall in love with Milan at first sight. At first glance, it seems to be a gray business city. But this definition is not enough; Milan has superb, gorgeous gems you can discover during a first visit to the city. It’s a dynamic, vibrant place that looks toward the future (you can easily find roadwork in the streets) but also preserves its rich history. It is a business city, indeed, but don’t forget this is Italy so even here, in the economic heart of the country, we have nice views, gorgeous churches, and great paintings. Get the camera out; you’ll need it.
First of all, you must see the Duomo, which is in the heart of the city. The Duomo is the cathedral of Milan, a gothic masterpiece that took five centuries to complete. It’s gothic, but it was also influenced by other styles. The Duomo looks at the sky—and at God—with its forest of spires and magnificent statues.
The Madonnina’s spire—a golden statue of the Madonnina looking over the city—is one of the main features of the Duomo. It’s possible to visit the terrace of the cathedral, and I suggest going up (no worries, there’s a lift) on sunny days in order to see the view up to the mountains, the Alps. Inside, you can also feel the glory of the Duomo, with its five dark naves and its stained glass windows.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the Galleria (also known as “Il Salotto di Milano”), is the lounge where Milanese people go for a relaxed walk. It is near Teatro alla Scala, and both are within a few hundred meters of the Piazza del Duomo. These beauties are worth a stroll, between shops, bars and restaurants, and historical buildings. Don’t forget to stop and have a coffee at Antica Cremeria San Carlo al Corso (in Piazza San Carlo, along Corso Vittorio Emanuele); it’s a nice cafè where I suggest to try a caffè estivo, an espresso macchiato with cream made by cold milk. Estivo means “typical of summer,” but believe me it’s worth a try even in wintertime. When the café is not too crowded (it’s popular so this happens more often than not), they also offer a teaspoon of handmade cream with coffee.
Via Montenapoleone, via della Spiga, via Sant’Andrea, and via Manzoni make up the quadrilatero della moda, where you can find the boutiques of the most famous national and international fashion designers. The shops can be reached in a few minutes’ walk from Piazza del Duomo.
However, via Montenapoleone is not always for ordinary mortals! Then? Leave behind the area of the cathedral and walk along via Dante; at the bottom of the street you will see the Castello Sforzesco, which houses several museums and Leonardo’s “Pietà Rondanini,” a sculpture left unfinished. Stroll through the courtyards then continue along the bordering Sempione Park.
In Milan, Leonardo da Vinci has left one of his most famous works, “The Last Supper.” It’s a gorgeous fresco painted in the dining hall of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (in the Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie). The church is a gem in itself. The Cenacolo, as we call it, is open every day from 8:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. (it’s closed on Mondays). A reservation is required; you can enter only in small groups and demands, as you can imagine, are many. But the Cenacolo is a must; be sure to book a visit.
And now, after shopping and art, it’s time for a break. One of the latest trends in the city is having an aperitivo (“pre-dinner drink”) overlooking the roofs of Milan. Hotel Milano Scala, located in the centre of the city in the Brera district, has a beautiful Sky Terrace on the rooftop of the building that is open during the summer. It’s a place to relax and have a drink with a view of the skyline of Milan, where new eye-catching buildings are springing up just outside the old city centre. You can taste the eco-chic version of classic Milanese aperitivo Monday to Saturday from 6 to 10:30 p.m.
Milano Scala is a green hotel, a place where you can find “zero-emissions hospitality.” Besides the Sky Terrace, there is the kitchen garden, where the chef chooses vegetables, fruits, and fresh spices right above the roof of the building—real cuisine “at kilometer zero”! The Sky Terrace is also open for lunch; the vegetables in the dishes come from the kitchen garden, of course.
You can also taste a classical Milanese aperitivo at Camparino bar, in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, just beside the Duomo cathedral. Camparino is one of the symbols of Milano; it opened in 1915 and is the bar of the Campari brand. It’s the birthplace of the tradition of aperitif and is open from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 p.m. every day (closed on Mondays).
Another option: Take an “aperitivo crawl.” During happy hour, cocktail prices are fixed between 6 € and 8 € and food is free, so you can drink and have something to eat from all-you-can-eat buffets. Many bars do happy hour from 6 to 10 p.m., a good excuse to stroll from one bar to the next.
In Milan, you can taste international cuisine of any type. However, traditional Milanese dishes, risotto with saffron and cotoletta alla Milanese (“breaded veal”), which barely fits onto the plate, are musts to try.
If you want to try the thrill of dining by a master chef’s judge, go to the posh Ristorante Cracco in the city centre or try Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, Carlo Cracco’s new restaurant located in an old factory; here, there is only one table for all customers.
From haute cuisine to good pizza al trancio (“sliced pizza”). Find a very good one at Spontini, which has many locations around the city.
Then, there is always nightlife to enjoy. To move from one bar to another, from one type of music to another, and from a beer to a glass of wine, the district is one: the Navigli, namely the city’s canals. It’s crowded with young people here, but everyone can find their own place to spend a night. Or try the quieter Brera, with its little alleys and street artists.
Time to leave Milan? Don’t forget to spin on the prancing bull’s balls. You can find the bull in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, on the tile floor. According to tradition, spinning on the bull’s balls give you good luck. It costs nothing to try.