Although not related to Berlin nor Lisbon, and not even a capital city, Milan was an important part of my life. It’s where I had my first real job, where I moved in with my boyfriend for the first time and where I made some pretty important life experiences. Still, I ran away as fast as I could and although I wouldn’t personally recommend living there (expensive, polluted, stressful), there are some beautiful things to see and do and I will always enjoy going back for a weekend or so.
James and Zoë from überlin are going to Milan for a couple of days and, since I lived there for over 2 years, they asked me for suggestions. The thing is: started making a list that sort of turned into a post. Thought, why not? And here it is. This is how I came to realise that I hardly have any pictures of Milan. I have a couple of films left to develop but there’s almost no digital witness of my living there. Most of the pictures I’m using here were actually taken by my brother-in-law when he came to visit (shame on me). I’m trusting Zo will do what she does best and snap some pretty shots of the city I once called home, so next time someone asks me for advice, I can redirect to her post.
Anyhoo, for Milan first-timers there are a few classic tourist attractions you should probably know of. I won’t be going into detail about them, you’ll find the Wikipedia links that will tell you much more than I possibly could.
So, for the basic Cultural stuff
- Duomo – the city’s jaw dropping Gothic cathedral, beautifully elaborate on the outside, beautifully plain on the inside.
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele – it will be really crowded but you HAVE to go there. Don’t sit for a drink anywhere though, not worth emptying your pockets.
- La Scala – Milan’s most famous opera house (way more fantastic in the inside than the outside, Palazzo Marino, right in front of it, has actually a much more impressive facade).
- Leonardo’s Last Supper – if you do have the time to visit this, I would advise you to book in advance here.
- The Royal Palace of Milan hosts some of the most interesting exhibitions that this city gets to see. You can check out what’s on here.
- The Museo del Novecento (Museum of the Twentieth Century) opened December last year and we only got to go there last weekend when we stopped in Milan for a day on the way back to Berlin from Porto. It is definitely worth while. Apart from a few works by Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Kandinskij, Klee and Matisse, the museum showcases Italian 20th century art (Futurism, the Novecento Movement, Spatialism, the Concrete Art Movement and the Arte Povera Movement). Even if you don’t have the time, go look at the building, it’s to the right of the Duomo and is absolutely amazing. The view from there, over the Duomo square is breathtaking. By the way, tickets are only €5.
- Colonne di San Lorenzo is the most well-known Roman ruin in Milan. It’s in Corso di Porta Ticinese, one of my favourite streets in Milan (go there in the sunlight, amazing old buildings with beautiful colours), where you’ll find many good fashion shops including some of Milan’s best thrift stores. Also where young people hang out for a couple of beers in the evening.
- Parco Sempione is the largest city park in Milan, which means nothing if you’re used to Berlin. However, it is home to the Castello Sforzesco and the beautiful Arco della Pace, which my office looked over. Good times. Check out the links, trying to keep it short!
- Triennale Design Museum: there are a couple of them, the big one is in Parco Sempione. It’s a contemporary museum, you’ll always find great exhibitions (some free, some paid) and the Italian Design Collection is very good and interesting. If you’re not up for the museum, go in anyway and head towards the bookstore, neat.
There’s a lot more but you don’t have the time, so those are my cultural must sees.
As for Fashion
- Well, the obvious one is Via Monte Napoleone, probably the most expensive street in the city. Definitely worth window shopping though and I’m guessing that somewhere amongst the rich Russians, Zoë might find some cool trendsetters in the area.
- Corso di Porta Ticinese, as I mentioned above, completely different style from Monte Napoleone, but really worth your while.
- Via Torino, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, San Babila, more detail below.
I’m pointing out one place here because you just have to go there. There are some other suggestions in my suggested strolls below, don’t miss this one!
- Panificio Luini – we only found out about this place a few months before leaving. Thankfully. The panzerotti are delicious small calzoni filled with tomato and mozzarella (I think they also have other fillings but I’d go with the classic). They’re fried. They’re fresh. They’re delish. You’ll probably die if you have too many. Have one each, more than enough – please take my word for it. Luini is just behind Rinascente (huge department store on the Duomo square) on via S. Radegonda 16.
Now for a couple of suggested strolls. I did these time and time again, and although there’s a lot more in Milan to see, if I only had two days there, I’d try to do these.
Corso Como – Corso Garibaldi – Via Moscova
Catch the tube, green line to Garibaldi. It’s hell when you get out because it’s basically a construction site right now but don’t be scared off. Bring a map, iPhone or just ask. You want to go to Corso Como. Corso Como is one of the clubbing streets by night but a little magic fashionable area by day. Oh, and when I say little, I mean little. Most people imagine it as an enormous avenue (I did too) but it’s this tiny street between Porta Garibaldi and Corso Garibaldi. Go to number 10 (10 Corso Como) and you’ll find the coolest design/fashion/music/bookshop in the city. There’s also a small (free entrance) gallery, Galleria Carla Sozzani that has always an interesting photography exhibition. Wander around the place, up and down the stairs, I’m not telling you everything, find it out for yourselves – it’s a magical place full of wonderful surprises. After 10 Corso Como and window-shopping a little around the street, continue heading down towards Corso Garibaldi. Beautiful shops, galleries and so on. You will want to live there. You’re heading towards Brera, one of the most picturesque areas of the city but you’ll probably want to stop for a snack. Wait until you reach Largo La Foppa (where the Moscova tube stop is), walk there though, don’t be lazy. You’ll find some of the city’s best bread and foccaccias and everything tasty you can think of at Princi. You can even have lunch there or an aperitivo. Now that you have a full tummy, continue walking down Corso Garibaldi, as I said, you’re getting to Brera. Home to the Pinacoteca di Brera (something I should have probably included in the cultural stuff – but you won’t have the time to do it all), this is the art heart of the city. You’ll find lots of small galleries, cafés, street artists, fortune tellers and the city’s most beautiful corners. Piazza del Carmine is particularly beautiful (and the Marc Jacobs store doesn’t hurt either). Get lost in Brera. You are now within walking distance of Montenapoleone, Duomo and Castello Sforzesco/Parco Sempione. Make your pick.
Via Torino – Corso di Porta Ticinese – Navigli
After doing the whole touristy Duomo square bit (Duomo, Palazzo Reale, Museo del 900, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, La Scala and Luini – don’t forget Luini, that’s important, it’s what will give you the energy for the next few hours), head towards Via Torino, right off the square (back towards the cathedral, it’s to the left, cross the road in front of Benetton and it’s the one with Zara on one corner and Promod on the other). This is one of the main shopping streets in Milan. Always crowded. (Side note, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, behind the Duomo, is also one of the major shopping areas, it’s easier to walk around there and you’ll find most of the same stores all the way down to Piazza San Babila at the end of it.) You’re in the center of Milan, near Piazza Affari, the city’s hot stock exchange square and what have you. If it’s a sunny day, the walk down Via Torino (although, I repeat: tourist overload here guys) is quite pleasant and at the end of it you reach Corso di Porta Ticinese. There are many streets coming out of Via Torino, so make sure you go on Corso di Porta Ticinese when you reach a junction. Look up when you’re in Corso di Porta Ticinese, the buildings will make you smile. Take your time walking down this street, there are many good shops and wonderful places to stop for a drink. You’ll find the Colonne di San Lorenzo on the left side (check the cultural stuff list) half way down the street. Stop for a while but then continue, it’s not over yet. Cross Via Molino delle Armi and there’s the really typical part of the street. Oh, if it’s lunch time, Rossopomodoro makes the true Naples pizza and it’s just there on the left (Via Molino delle Armi, 48). Continue down Corso di Porta Ticinese and at the end of it you’ll reach Piazza 24 Maggio (just before it, you might want to stop by California Bakery on the left in Piazza Sant’ Eustorgio, if you didn’t stop for pizza, they make some pretty good bagels and fries in this wonderful little American style place, although the cakes are a little on the heavy side for my personal taste). Now, at Piazza 24 Maggio there’s quite the choice. You have the two canals (the main one is Alzaia Naviglio Grande/Ripa di Porta Ticinese and the smaller one is Alzaia Naviglio Pavese), Via Vigevano and Corso San Gottardo. Walk up and down, back and forth, cross them and discover the hidden secrets of this area. In the evening (depending on the place but usually around 6p.m. to 9p.m.) there are several aperitivi/happy hours going on (all you can eat for a 7-10 euro drink) and if you really want to go down this guilt inducing path I’d recommend Lo Spritz about 50m down the Naviglio Grande (sucky music but ridiculous amount of food and decent margaritas) or La Ringhiera, right at the beginning of the same canal. There’s also Cape Town in Via Vigevano (always full, but you’ll find the trendy gang there). Via Vigevano is quite small but has some artsy little design shops, walk around if you have the time. If at Piazza 24 Maggio you don’t go towards one of the canals, but continue straight ahead, you’ll find yourselves in Corso San Gottardo. Quite a normal street but has some interesting spots nearby, one worth pointing out is the Forma Foundation for Photography. To reach it make a turn on the first street on the left, Via Gentilino, it’s about 100m down on Piazza Tito Lucrezio Caro. Always has some fascinating exhibitions.
The other thing I’m pointing out in this area is the restaurant I was telling you about the other day, Il Brutto Anatroccolo (The Ugly Duckling). This is unlike any other place in Milan. It’s quite cheap for Milan standards and not classy at all. Be there at 9p.m. sharp, it doesn’t open a minute before. Somedays it tends to get quite crowded so I wouldn’t go there too late. You’ll be handed paper towels and cutlery that you’ll have to put down yourselves. The menu is handwritten and photocopied (ignore the one that actually looks like a menu, the piece of paper is the one you want to be looking at) and you’ll have to write down the order yourselves. The menu changes all the time but if you want a typical cotoletta alla milanese, basically fried rib, you’ll probably find it. Those who eat meat say it’s quite a treat. The menu has primi (pasta and risotti), secondi (main dishes, meat, fish or veggie/cheese dishes) and contorni (side dishes). Everything is good. If you like cheese, even the slightest, ask for the scamorza con rucola (big chunk of amazing grilled cheese – you’ll have tears of joy running down your cheeks). Side dishes are always different, if by any chance there’s the finocchi al forno/gratinati, order it, only found it once – changed my life. Order beer or some proper bottled wine (won’t drink anything amazing here). I tend to stick with the wine – Zo, if you check out the toilets in the beginning, you’ll know why. When you finish here, continue a few meters down the road and you’ll find this awful looking place called Frizzi e Lazzi. If the weather is good, go in, it has an enormous outside area with a great vibe where you can chill out and have something to drink (again, same bathroom problem, I’d avoid beer). In both places, and anywhere around Milan to be honest, you’ll probably be disturbed by the flower/junk selling guys, they’ll insist a lot, don’t worry, it’s normal. If you’re up for clubbing, there are many places in the Navigli or you could always head back to Corso Como or catch a taxi to Alcatraz or something. I’m not into the club scene that much but I’m sure you’ll find whatever pleases you the most.
Again, these are a few tips..if you were there any longer I would have probably written a book, hope you enjoy and take some awesome pics!