I didn’t think I’d fall in love with Milan (or Italy if I’m being totally honest) but the fact that I absolutely fell for the city and the Italian way of life should be taken as a reminder not to judge a place until you’ve seen it for yourself!
Everytime I heard ‘Milan’ I just thought of expensive, designer shops with lots of clothes that I couldn’t afford, or a big football culture which I’m not interested in at all. But I soon discovered that that’s not what Milan is about. It’s a place steeped in history and a chance to learn lies around every corner. It’s a place that loves its food – and is bloody good at producing dishes that taste like heaven. And it’s a place to relax with a drink in hand, some great views and surrounded by lovely people.
To enjoy a trip to Milan you definitely don’t have to be in to fashion or football because there is so much more to see and do. Here are a few suggestions of things to do in Milan:
- Enjoy an Aperol Spritz with the best view in the city – In the Piazza del Duomo is the Aperol Terrace, which has tables on the balcony overlooking the Duomo itself. It’s quite expensive (although, if you go before 5:30pm an Aperol Spritz is only 9 Euro instead of 13) and there’s always a queue to get in but it’s worth it for the view and relaxed atmosphere alone. We weren’t waiting long in the queue as people tend to only go for a drink or two so aren’t there long (and many people seemed to get bored of queuing and leave) so don’t let it put you off.
- Go street art hunting in Navigli– My friend and I both decided that our favourite area of Milan was Navigli. Navigli has a mini-series of canals which are lovely to sit by or walk along, and the backstreets are full of interesting street art. It’s scruffier than the rest of the city and more edgy, which makes it more of a chilled out place to be – and it means it’s cheaper. We went here to have aperitivos and dinner a couple of times during our week in Milan and loved it.
- Eat the best pasta of your life by the canal – Banco restaurant, by one of the canals in Navigli, is where I had the best pasta dish I have ever had in my life. It was just pesto pasta and was pretty much the only veggie dish on the menu so I wasn’t expecting a lot but if I could eat it every day for the rest of my life I 100% would! Banco also have a nice chilled atmosphere, it’s in the busier part of the canal and they have a good selection of nibbles when you go for an aperitivo. Also nearby try the pizzeria on the corner just two doors down from Banco, and try the cocktail bar Manhattan for late evening drinks.
- Visit the Duomo Di Milano and the terraces – I don’t think that any visitor to Milan doesn’t already have this at the top of their list of things to do in Milan but I thought I’d add it anyway because it deserves a mention! The Duomo Di Milano is possibly the most impressive cathedral I’ve ever visited (despite the queues to get in). Make sure you get there early (we got there at 10am and the queue was starting to get long but it wasn’t unbearable) and purchase ticket B which, for 12 euro, gets you entry into every museum in and around the Duomo and access to the terraces via the steps (if you can’t walk up the steps get ticket A for 16 euro which gives you access to everything and a lift to the terraces). The terraces are a must visit; the views across Milan are phenomenal and the fact that you’re standing on the roof of the Duomo is an amazing feeling!
- Visit the many churches in the city – Milan – and Italy as a whole – is a religious, catholic country so it obviously has numerous churches. And, boy are those churches gorgeous! The church Santa Maria delle Grazie is where the famous ‘The Last Supper’ painting is housed (but to see the painting you need to book well in advance; we went in the second week of May and it was all booked up until mid-July). The church itself is unusual looking and worth a visit. The ex-convent of the Monastero Maggiore and the church of San Maurizio are next to each other alongside a small archaeology museum. The church is small but boasts a gorgeous looking ceiling. My favourite church of all (after the Duomo obviously) was the Basilica of St Ambrose. Outside in the courtyard it says that the building of the Basilica was never finished which is why the courtyard looks like it should carry on around the building but doesn’t (although I can’t find anything about this online). Inside is huge and has a very impressive golden alter. However, the best bits by far are the mini-museum housing St Ambrose’s treasures (2 Euro entry) and the crypt which is St Ambrose’s final resting place. And, yes, he’s on display which I found equally morbid and fascinating to see.
- Feel cultured at the Pinicoteca Di Brera– Situated in the grounds of the academy of fine art, right in the heart of the fancy neighbourhood of Brera, is the Pinicoteca. Napoleon set out to try to make the Pinicoteca the ‘Louvre of Italy’ – world renowned and housing an impressive collection of art. Due to the fact that I’d never heard of it until my friend was leading me there I think he may have failed in that quest, but it is an interesting and impressive place none-the-less. I never really thought of myself as an art gallery kind of person until visiting Milan but this place has changed that. There are some fascinating paintings of events said to have taken place that I never even knew about, and the paintings are an interesting insight into the world of religion, specifically Catholocism. Although, very early on I refused to even look at yet another painting of ‘Madonna with child’ *eye roll*.
- Pet some good dogs – Every where you go in Milan there are dog parks galore and glamorous people wandering around with their adorable, well-groomed four legged friends. No matter what we were talking about, my friend and I would interrupt each other to point out yet another cute looking dog. It got to the point where we were sitting at a bar learning how to say “can I pet your dog?” in Italian because there were so many!
- Get educated at Szforza Castle – Hands up who watched The Borgias (the good one with Jeremy Irons not Borgia which was terrible – don’t @ me)? Well, this castle was owned by the Szforza family, the enemies of the Borgias (you know the one where the remaining Szforza matriarch stood on top of and flashed the army coming to arrest her in a defiant, but very weird, resistance in ‘The Borgias’). That one. If you’re expecting an old, crumbling castle which you can walk around and get a feel for what it was once like then you will be disappointed. It does have some of the remaining walls to walk around (with a lovely view of the Duomo) but not much remains. Instead, it’s a castle more like the one in Edinburgh full of museums and educational spaces.
- Stroll around the many parks of Milan – Parco Sempione, right next to Sforza castle, is a lovely place for a stroll. There’s an old arena civico (sporting arena) that’s still used for athletics training and outdoor concerts, a few cafes dotted around selling refreshing gelato, and the Torre Branca, a steel tower which, for four euros, you can take the lift to the top off and see some incredible views of Milan and the mountains beyond. The park is also home to the Arco Della Pace (Arch of Peace) which has been named the Arc de Triomphe of Milan due to the resemblance to the one in Paris. The park is in a quieter area of town which means it’s a peaceful place to walk. That being said there are a couple of tram stops nearby so you’re not far from the city centre, and there is a street full of bars and restaurants behind the arch. The Gardens of Porta Venezia was the first park we stumbled upon on this trip and it’s a lovely, quiet oasis away from the rest of town. It’s situated between a history museum and a planetarium, and it has lots of lakes, bridges, waterfalls and walkways. It also has plenty of green space where you can just relax in the sunshine and watch the world go by. This is the park which I said reminded me of Central Park in New York in this post. The gardens of Porta Venezia are well worth a visit, especially if you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Milan.
Has anyone been to Milan before? Did you do anything on this list? Is there anything you would add? Let me know in the comments!
If you want to download this as a handy pocket guide on you phone then you can do so here! The guide is free to download and use offline but if you want to upgrade it, so it gives you gps directions to each place of interest, then you can do so for a small fee (and I’ll get a few pennies if you do!)
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