There’s more to Milan than fashion (although pack a pair of heels, as it does rate pretty highly here). Kathryn Tomasetti offers a peek at her hometown’s finest, from rich culture and chic boutiques to delectable cuisine and the city’s most decadent aperitivi.
0700-0900. Milan’s breakfast culture is brisk and practical. Most Milanese prop themselves at the bar of a simple café and knock back an espresso and a brioche on the go (note that prices increase – and may even double – if you opt to sit down for your breakfast). Try the elegant Pasticceria Marchesi (Via Santa Maria alla Porta 11/a, 02 862 770) for buttery apple pastries or raisin-studded plum cakes. If you’d like to linger over your morning-time meal, head to California Bakery (Via San Vittore 2, 02 3981 1750; plus six other locations throughout the city). This American-style spot dishes up delicious blueberry muffins, scones, pancakes and bagels. Walk off your breakfast with a stroll through piazza Castello to the spellbinding, 14th-century Castello Sforzesco. The castle is open from 7am and it’s free to explore the grounds (although access to the half-dozen museums on site is by ticket only). Afterwards, amble around the castle to Parco Sempione, Milan’s largest park (with free Wi-Fi throughout).
0900-1100. Head towards Parco Sempione’s western corner, where the Torre Branca provides stunning views over the surrounding city as well as the Alps. Legendary Milanese architect and industrial designer Giò Ponti designed this 108-metre Eiffel-esque tower in 1933. Having admired the city from on high, it’s time to dive back in. Wander over to Piazza Duomo to check out the Gothic masterpiece that is Milan’s Duomo Cathedral (Piazza Duomo, 02 7202 3375). It took a mammoth 500 years to construct and remains the world’s third largest church today. Visitors keen on a close-up peek of the Duomo’s thousands of otherworldly sculptures can ascend to the rooftop terraces. From the Duomo, walk north through the gorgeous but pricey Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a 19th-century glass-roofed arcade which leads to Piazza della Scala, where the world-famous Teatro alla Scala’s (Via Filodrammatici 2, 02 88791) annual opera season is internationally renowned. Museo Teatrale alla Scala (Largo Ghiringhelli 1, Piazza Scala, 02 8879 2473), a theatrical museum that covers the history of opera, is also located here.
1100-1300. You can’t leave Milan without a spot of serious shopping. The city’s most famous boutiques and flagship stores are tucked into the Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Square), a sleek neighbourhood bordered by Via della Spiga, Via Montenapoleone, Via Manzoni and Via Sant’Andrea, all a short walk from Piazza della Scala. This quadrant is undoubtedly the nexus of Italian fashion – home to superstar designers such as Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Trussardi, Versace, Prada and Valentino. But there’s more to Milanese fashion than the big names. For deeply discounted labels, hit the city’s outlet centres. Try local favourites DMagazine (Via Manzoni 44, 02 3651 4365) or Humana Vintage (Via Cappellari 3, 02 7208 0606). For up-and-coming designers and offbeat styles, jump on the metro to Garibaldi instead – 10 Corso Como (corso Como 10, 02 2900 2674) is a cool mix of fashion, art gallery, bookshop and café, while Cavalli e Nastri (via Brera 2, 02 7200 0449) stocks vintage threads for men and women.
1300-1500. The Excelsior (Galleria del Corso 4, 02 7630 7301) makes a sublime stop for lunch. Sprawling over seven storeys of what was formerly the Excelsior Cinema, this luxury store, wine bar, restaurant and foodie boutique was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. Head downstairs to Eat's Bistro (02 7628 0614), where chef Matteo Gelmini serves his contemporary Mediterranean creations straight from the restaurant’s open kitchen. Next try exploring the Brera district. Stroll up Via dei Mercanti to Via Broletto, then veer off into the neighbourhood’s cobblestoned, largely pedestrianised streets. Brera was once considered very bohemian and artsy, attested to by the fortune tellers’ stalls, which still pop up come evening. Stop into the Pinacoteca di Brera (Via Brera 28, 02 7226 3264) to take in the museum’s collection of Italian art, with works by Caravaggio, Titian, Tintoretto and Piero della Francesca, among others.
1500-1700. Take the metro from Lanza south to Porta Genova, then wander over to Via Tortona. The Tortona neighbourhood is a low-key home to contemporary designers and photographers. As you wander through the area, check out SpazioFMG (Via Bergognone 27, 334 601 4352), a gallery for experimental and urban design. Stop for coffee at Design Library Café (Via Savona 11, 02 4953 7410), or sip a cup of tea at the super stylish Home Made (Via Tortona 12, 02 835 6706), owned by Slow Food devotee Monica Bagnari.
1700-1900. Embrace Milan’s aperitivo scene – a kind of civilised happy hour that takes place from around 6pm to 9pm: buy one drink and gain free access to the bar’s copious buffet of nibbles. Try Exploit (Via Pioppette 3, 02 8940 8675) for posh aperitivi involving elaborate cocktail creations. Duck through the nondescript entrance of nearby Trattoria Toscana (Corso di Porta Ticinese 58, 02 8940 6292) to access their candlelit interior courtyard. Or for an arty, vibrant scene and more platters of pasta than you may be able to munch through, visit 20 Milano (Via Celestino IV, 02 837 6591).
1900-2100. For dinner, the brand-new Un Posto a Milano (Via Cuccagna 2, 02 545 7785) is unbeatable. This former farmhouse – built during the 18th century and located in Milan’s Porta Romana district – now hosts an open-air cinema, various workshops and a sustainable restaurant. At the latter, chef Nicola Cavallaro cooks up traditional Italian cuisine, as well as homemade bread, and vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Alternatively, head down to the canal-striped Navigli neighbourhood, where the Osteria di Porta Cicca (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 51, 02 837 2763) has a cosy ambience, delicious food and attentive service. Try their swordfish carpaccio or the tagliatelle topped with artichokes, scallops and olive tapenade. Note that in summer, the Navigli’s mosquitoes come out in force so bring some repellent.
After 2100. Nightlife starts late in Milan. It’s perfectly acceptable to turn up to clubs at 2am. Some don’t close until 7am, so have a postprandial stroll through the city’s Centro Storico (historic centre) which is beautifully lit up at night, before the club. Then hit the zone around Corso Como, a popular area for late-night venues. Milan's models, footballers and various entourages flock to the perennially popular Discoteca Hollywood (Corso Como 15, 02 655 5318). During summertime, the nearby 11clubroom (Via Alessio Di Tocqueville 11, 02 8928 1611) boasts a gorgeous new rooftop bar. Or, if you book well in advance, taking in an opera at Teatro alla Scala is one of Milan’s most impressive cultural experiences.
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Written by World Travel Guide.