Lassa pur ch’el mond el disa, ma Milan l’è on gran Milan.
Popular song in Milanese dialect (1939).
Everyone knows, in Milan, this old song in dialect. It literally means “Let the world speak, but Milan is a great Milan.” You get the idea that citizens had and still have of the city: big, fast-paced, hard-working, industrious.
At first glance, Milan may look inhospitable and snobbish but if you stop and investigate more deeply, you will discover a rich, multicultural and incredibly interesting city.
Its foundation is very old: many hypotheses exist between myth and reality but the most reliable dates the origin of Milan in the fifth century B.C. by the Celts.
The invasions and dominations (Romans, barbarians, French, Spanish) followed one another through the centuries and contributed to the historical, archaeological and cultural richness of the city.
Tips about the city
Arriving from the airport
There are airports close to Milan: Linate, Malpensa, and Orio al Serio International Airport.
Malpensa: it’s not in Milan but 50 km far, in a small town close to Varese. There is Malpensa Express, a train to reach Milan Cadorna in less than half an hour or Milan Centrale in one hour. There is also a shuttle that takes one hour.
Taxi is another option but the fees are expensive in Italy. Make sure of the tariff when you speak with a taxi driver.
Milan has fantastic public transports. The underground functions beautifully; 4 lines (red, yellow, green and violet), a suburban train (Passante Ferroviario), bus and trams lines connect the most important areas of the city. The ticket allows you a single trip by underground but 90 minutes since the first validation by bus (so you can take as many buses as you like!). Click here to know more about daily, weekly or monthly travelcards.
A trend that is growing more and more in the last few years is car sharing and bike sharing. Many companies provide cars all over the city through an app that you can easily download on your phone. The most popular is Enjoy but check also Car2Go and, most of all, Share’ngo that provide electric cars.
Milan is expensive and hotels make no exception. You find a good price in Airbnb and Hostels but check carefully the area.
It’s generally safe but pay attention to your belongings during your trip by underground and by bus.
Top things to do
The best starting point to visit Milan is Duomo, the cathedral. It’s the symbol of the city and every Milanese is very devoted to it.
Duomo’s foundation goes back to the 13th century, thanks to Archbishop Antonio from Saluzzo, and its maintenance is constant.
In the very same area, before Duomo, another church was built, Santa Maria Maggiore, erected in 314 A.D and then destroyed to make room for the new imposing city cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente.
It’s considered one of the biggest and most magnificent gothic cathedrals in Europe and you will understand why the moment you set foot in it. If the exterior astounds you, the interior will take your breath away.
There is a funny competition between Milanesi (inhabitants of Milan) and Romani (inhabitants of Rome); Romani declare: “we have hundreds of churches in Rome” and Milanesi reply: “yes, but we have Duomo!”
We suggest you visit the terraces: the view is wonderful and, when the day is clear, you can see the Alps on the horizon. You can also have a better view of the Madonnina: it’s a statue placed on the tallest spire, made of golden copper; it became the symbol of the city.
Try to avoid weekends. If you can’t, expect long queues. Click here for price and admission.
The entrance ticket includes a visit to the Museum of Duomo. We suggest highly!
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
After the visit at Duomo, you can’t miss taking a walk in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, reaching Teatro Alla Scala. It’s called the “drawing room of Milan”, for its elegance and tradition: it’s a latin cross, formed of iron and glass, long roughly 196 mt and large 105 mt.
The construction started in 1863 and went on for 2 years, supervised by the architect Giuseppe Mengoni. This area, with its shops, like Borsalino, restaurants, and bars like Campari and Biffi (this one opened since the inauguration of the gallery) used to be the beating heart of Milan for politicians, writers, and musicians. Now, the fame of the names remains but just rich tourists can afford a meal sit at the veranda.
We suggest, instead, to pop in one the oldest bookshop in town, Libreria Bocca, opened since 1775.
Palazzo Reale-Museo del Novecento
Palazzo Reale hosts temporary exhibitions. The origin of the building goes back to Middle Ages. It worths a visit also to admire its architecture.
Museo del Novecento is relatively new. Its foundation was in 2010 and the aim was to reorganize and locate a permanent collection of modern art in the city. 400 masterpieces are waiting for you: “Il quarto stato” of Pellizza da Volpedo, International Avant-Gard (Picasso, Braque, Modigliani), Futurism (Balla, Boccioni), just to name a few.
Piazza Mercanti/Via Dante
Its origin is medioeval, back to 13th century. It used to be a nevralgic area with administrative and commercial functions.
Palazzo Della Ragione (with red bricks) was built in 1233 to host the justice court and, on its ground floor, there used to be the city market. Now, it’s a space for shows and exhibitions.
The well in the middle of the square (16th century) was built in the same area of a stone called “stone of the losers”, where people fallen in bankruptcy were publicly exposed.
Via Dante: it’s a pedestrian that links Piazza Cordusio to Castello Sforzesco; it’s really pleasant, full of nice cafeterias, aperitivo bars, and little shops.
Via Torino/Corso Buenos Aires
If you are a shopaholic, Via Torino and Corso Buenos Aires are your things.
Via Torino links Duomo Square to Porta Ticinese and Navigli. The numbers of shops are uncountable and, especially during the weekends, is jammed. If, after a while, you feel that you have enough of all the noise, just enter the historic churches that you find on your way: Santa Maria Presso San Satiro, Chiesa of San Giorgio and Tempio Civico di San Sebastiano (Civic Temple of San Sebastian).
Corso Buenos Aires is a long commercial street (1600 mts) that connects Porta Venezia (we suggest a visit to Spazio Oberdan in the homonym square) to Piazzale Loreto. Especially during the weekends, it’s a really messy and crowded! We can compare it to Oxford Street in London or Fifth Avenue of New York. Keep on eye on your bag: pickpockets around!
Teatro alla Scala
After the demolition of the Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, the theatre was built and that’s how it got its name. No doubt, Teatro alla Scala is one of the most famous in the world and its history and glory speak for itself.
It was built in 1776 by the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria on a project of Giuseppe Piermarini. Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini start a new unforgettable phase of the Italian “melodramma” and with Giuseppe Verdi, the theatre reaches its most glorious success.
Toscanini, in 1920, became the director; he modernized it and widened the orchestra repertoire, introducing Wagner; and then the big names of the Opera with Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Luciano Pavarotti, just to mention a few.
If you follow Via Verdi, located at the right-hand side of Teatro alla Scala, you will reach Brera District, in less than 10 minutes. Brera is the bohemian area of Milan, where artists have their galleries and you can find literary cafés or aperitivo bars around. It’s pretty, cozy, charming, with pedestrian narrow streets and colorful building façades.
Brera is delimited by Via dell’Orso, Via Giardini, Via Fatebenefratelli, Via Pontaccio and Via Mercato. The prettiest streets are Via Brera, Via Pontaccio, Via Fiori Chiari, and Via Fiori Oscuri. Pop in a cafè and have a breakfast, a brunch on a Sunday morning or choose among the many bars for a typical “aperitivo milanese”, that usually starts around 7 o’clock; you only pay for the drink and the food is for free!
If you walk around Brera, Palazzo Brera is unmissable: it hosts the Pinacoteca, the Accademia of Belle Arti, the Astronomy Observatory, the Braidense Library and the Botanical Garden. In the permanent collection of the Pinacoteca, you find important masterpieces of Italian art (Cristo morto of Andrea Mantegna, Sposalizio della Vergine of Raffaello, Cena in Emmaus of Caravaggio, Il bacio of Francesco Hayez). Every first Sunday of the month the entrance is for free. Check here for tickets info.
If you are a theatre lover, a play in one of the most iconic in town is the perfect evening for you. Piccolo Teatro is a milestone of Milan, with its history of experimentalism and innovation: founded by Giorgio Strehler, Paolo Grassi and Nina Vinchi in 1947 with the idea of a theatre thought as public service for the people and supported by the government.
Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio (Cathedral of St. Ambrose)
The Cathedral of St. Ambrose is the oldest in Milano (379 A.D.). St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, wanted a church built in the area of the first martyred Christians persecuted by the roman empire.
The structure of the church changed throughout the centuries; the main transformations took place during the 11th and 12th centuries.
The cathedral is a major example of Italian romanesque architecture; the entrance portico and the internal mosaic of Christ Pantokrator are remarkable. The crypt houses the remains of the saints Protasus, Ambrose (the bishop) and Gervasus.
Castello Sforzesco and Parco Sempione
Walking from Via Dante and Piazza Cairoli, you start to see the Castello Sforzesco at the horizon. Enjoy the walk and, from the moment you enter through the Filarete Tower, you will find yourself surrounded by medieval walls, ditches, and courtyards.
When you think about Castello Sforzesco, Pietà Rondanini of Michelangelo comes to mind; but many other treasures are looked after here, in the Museum of Ancient Art, the Pinacoteca, the Museum of musical instruments, the Egyptian Museum and in other temporary exhibitions.
The castle was built in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan and representative of the powerful Sforza family. It used to be a military citadel for centuries and one of the biggest castles in Europe. Ludovico il Moro called Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante at the end of 15th century to work there. You can admire Leonardo’s wall painting in Sala delle Asse. Pietà Rondanini is located in the old Spanish Hospital, in Cortile delle Armi, beautifully placed and illuminated.
Check here for tickets and free admission.
Parco Sempione is behind the castle and it’s a pleasant walk, especially during spring and summer. La Triennale, located in the park, worths a visit: it’s an exhibition space with a theatre and a design museum, with events and workshops.
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Fifteen minutes walking from Castello Sforzesco, you reach the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. it’s a masterpiece of architecture of the Renaissance, with its beautiful cloister, the chapels, the annexed convent and, above all, the refectory with Ultima Cena of Leonardo.
If you visit Milan, you can’t miss the visit at the Cenacolo Vinciano; but you have to book far in advance. Check here to know how to book.
Columns of San Lorenzo – Porta Ticinese and Navigli
If you are a walker, from Duomo you get Via Torino and you reach Columns of San Lorenzo in 20 minutes. The origin of the columns goes back to the Roman Empire, remains of a pagan temple. The area is pretty and, especially during summer, people get together to have a drink or just hang out.
In the vicinity, visit the church of San Lorenzo, one of the oldest in town, probably dating back to the III century.
Porta Ticinese area is charming: restaurants, galleries, clubs enliven the nights. The neoclassic “door” (Porta) that you see, was erected at the beginning of the 19th century at the end of the Napoleonic wars, on the same site of the previous ones, roman and medieval.
From Porta Ticinese, you reach the Darsena in ten minutes. The municipality improves the area with major works in the last years. Unfortunately, they didn’t think to create more green areas but it’s anyway better than years ago.
Naviglio is a system of navigable canals in the city used years ago for commercial purposes. From Darsena, you reach Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese. The area is one of the most famous in Milan related to what they call movida milanese: bars for aperitivo, clubs, breweries, restaurants, for all budgets. We advise you to get lost looking around in the small colorful galleries, shops, and independent exhibitions. If you go during Christmas holidays, enjoy the lights and decorations!
Top things to do
Milan’s culinary tradition is very rich. Unfortunately, vegetarians and vegans will not find it very comfortable if they want to pursue the intention of getting lost in the local cuisine because the dishes are mainly meat.
We describe the most famous: risotto con ossobuco (saffron risotto with sliced veal shank); vitello tonnato (veal with delicious tuna mayo); fritto misto alla Milanese (offal and vegetables fried in butter); bollito misto alla Milanese (a rich meal with various cuts of meat slow cooked in water and then served with sauces); cassoeula (a stew of sausages, pork cuts, tomato sauce and cabbage); cotoletta (pork cutlet fried in butter).
As you can notice, the recipes are heavy but yummy. They are a bit long to prepare but there are still restaurants in town where you can enjoy them:
- Al’Less, Viale Lombardia 28 – District: Città Studi;
- Al Coniglio Bianco, Alzaia Naviglio Grande 12 – District: Navigli (one of the few restaurants where you enjoy the original recipe of ossobuco with risotto);
- Antica Trattoria Salutati, Via Coluccio Salutati 15 (a good place to enjoy the cotoletta alla milanese).
style=”text-align: center;”>Breakfast (Colazione)
As in many Italian cities, the good thing of breakfast in Milan is to get a good pasticceria or coffee shop (bar) to start the day. You will not have much trouble finding one since they are everywhere.
One of our favorites is Lissana in Viale Argonne, a bit far from the city center: bread and pastries are wonderful but we go specifically for the brioche al pistacchio!
If you are walking in Via Torino, take the chance to pop in Princi, Via Speronari: it’s a bakery/pastry shop, a bit expensive but it worths a try.
Fancy an aperitivo?
Aperitivo in Italy is a great opportunity to have a light meal in a bar paying only for the drink. Some bars offer only appetizers live olives, small pizzas slices, canapé, bruschetta but many are specialized in high-quality food to have with your drink.
Our favorite aperitivo bar in Milan:
- Duomo dal 1952, Piazza Sempione, 5;
- La Hora feliz, Via S. Vito, 5;
- Birrificio Lambrate, Via Camillo Golgi, 60 and Via Adelchi, 5.
Fancy a pint? Where to grab a beer in Milan
During the last 20 years, Milan has seen craft beer production expanding fast. You are spoiled for choice. Here a list of our favorites:
- Birrificio Lambrate, Via Camillo Golgi, 60 and Via Adelchi, 5.
- Baladin Milano, Via Solferino, 56;
- Impronta Birraia, Via Tucidide, 56 and Via Sciesa 1.