The style capital of Italy and its commercial heart, Milan, along with Paris and London, is acknowledged as a European fashion trend-setter. Small wonder then, that while names such as Versace, Prada and Armani trip off the tongue, this is also one of Europe’s top shopping destinations – a showcase of Italian elan.
Underpinning the contemporary is a rich architectural and cultural history spanning many centuries, exemplified by the magnificent Duomo and its piazza, other historic churches, squares, boulevards and monuments, Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and La Scala, the opera theatre where Giuseppe Verdi made his name.
The facade of the Duomo, Milan’s central cathedral, is undeniably an architectural wonder while the piazza on which it sits is a bustling, social focal point. The climb (or lift ride) to the roof of the Duomo is a must-do for the views.
From the piazza, it’s a short stroll to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which is as much a visual feast as it is a huge shopping mall. The mosaic floors and neck-craning 40-metre-high ornate glass roof are a monument to 19th-century Milanese style.
One end of the Galleria gives way to La Scala, but for a step further back into history, take in both the 15th-century Sforza Castle and, of course, Leonardo’s Last Supper in the refectory of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Eat and Drink
Spoiled for choice just about sums it up. There are enough restaurants and bars in or around the Piazza del Duomo and Galleria to satisfy most visitors taking in the key central city sites, though some are pitched heavily at tourists.
For a more genuine local food experience, head to the Navigli district with its canal-side restaurants and cafes. Look for local specialities such as saffron risotto, osso bucco, and crumbed veal cutlet, as well as the famous Negroni cocktail.
Aperitivo is a more sophisticated Italian equivalent of “happy hour”, with dozens of bars around town offering fixed-price pre-dinner drinks with a selection of snacks.
Where to Stay
There is no shortage of places to stay, either in central Milan or on the city fringe so it is fair to say that budget rather than availability will dictate a preference. While it is inevitably more expensive to stay in the city centre, hotels within striking distance of the Duomo do offer ease of access to the key city sites; many of central Milan’s main attractions are within walking distance.
That said, the metro and tram networks are extensive and open up the opportunity to stay further afield and limit damage to the wallet. It could also be worth considering a stay in a self-catering apartment. There are plenty of options from budget to luxury.
Milan is quite simply a shopper’s paradise with class on display not only in fashion but also in other aspects of design and taste, right down to the appearance of the stores themselves. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, for example, is a visual delight with a mix of fashion, books and high-end gifts.
Milan’s key shopping area takes in Via Montenapoleone with its superb designer fashion, jewellery and other specialty boutiques, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and Via Manzoni which is home to the Armani Megastore.
Towards the Sforza Castle, don’t miss the Via Dante, another fashionable street lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. For more high-street than luxe high-end, head to Corso Buenos Aires.
Milan Like a Local
You must book weeks in advance to view Leonardo’s Last Supper, but another of his brilliant frescoes – a complex ceiling decoration of interwoven mulberry trees – is on show without notice in the Sala delle Asse within the Sforza Castle, which also houses several civic museums.
For a chance to see opera at the iconic La Scala at a heavy discount, join the stand-by queue at the box office about an hour before a performance.