There’s a buzz about Milan that sets it apart from the rest of Italy.
A bustling city filled with fashionable people in a hurry to get their next appointment, Milan’s modern lifestyle centered around business, fashion and banking can cause you to forget the city dates back to 400 BC.
Like a fine cloth that could be found on a garment in one of is countless designer shops, Milan’s passion for the refined accoutrements of the current day is carefully woven into the fabric of its past, resulting in an enjoyable blend of the two.
Similarly, the top things to do list for a visit to Milano also intermingles past and present, which of course, must begin with the Duomo.
Built in 1386, the Duomo is a magnificent cathedral and is the first stop for most visitors to Milan.
While a visit to the Piazza del Duomo, or Cathedral Square, yields stunning photos of the exterior of the structure for free, and worshipers are welcome in the chapel at no charge, a ticket must be acquired to tour the cathedral and gain access to the roof to walk amongst the spires and gain a bird’s eye view of Milan.
Rooftop access can be gained by either a climb up the stairs or, for a few more euro, a ride on a lift to the top. Duomo tickets can be purchased at the cathedral or on the Duomo website.
The Last Supper
From 1494 to 1498, Leonardo da Vinci painted his depiction of the Last Supper on the north wall of the Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
The Last Supper’s survival is no small miracle. The painting was off to a precarious start with da Vinci’s choice of an experimental technique of dry brushing that caused the painting to quickly deteriorate. In 1652, an enlargement of a door under the painting leading to a kitchen eliminated Christ’s feet from the painting. Napoleon’s army used the grounds as a stable in the last 1700’s and, for a period of time during World War II, the painting was displayed in open air due to bombings destroying the majority of the building. Yet, the Last Supper has survived, and is available for viewing… if you can get a ticket.
Visits are limited to a small number of people in the room at one time for 15 minute viewing periods and tickets are sold out months in advance. However, secondary resellers, such as SelectItaly, offer last-minute tickets at a slightly higher fee (we purchased ours at midnight for the next morning’s 8:30 viewing).
Photography is not permitted inside the Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Shopping Milan style
It is no surprise that Italy’s fashion capital has an abundance of shopping opportunities, with the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II at the top of the list.
Located next to the Duomo, the Galleria is a magnificent shopping center constructed of tiled mosaics and marble and covered with a glass and iron dome.
Home to the first Prada store, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani and other major designers, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is beautiful spot to grab a coffee or wine and watch Milan’s shoppers in their finest.
If you still have a few euro left after the Galleria, the Quadrilatero d’Oro is just a few blocks away offering additional high-end fashion selections.
The Castello Sforzesco was built in fourteenth century by Galeazzo II Visconti. Following several rounds of changing hands and near destruction in 1447, Francesco Sforza took over the castle in 1450 and began renovating the castle for his residence. Following Sforza’s death, his son, Ludovico, who would go on to become lord of Milan, continued the renovations. Throughout the years, numerous artists were commissioned by the Sforzas, including Leonardo da Vinci, who frescoed several rooms in the castle.
Today,Castello Sforzesco houses several museums. One ticket provides admission to all, including the opportunity to view Michelangelo’s last unfinished sculpture located in the Museum of Ancient Art.
Take a stroll through the city
Milan is very walkable. A stroll through the streets of Milan is a wonderful way to spend a few hours and observe the city as it happens around you, providing a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Milanese as they buzz about on their motos and scurry from place to place.
Seeking a more quiet retreat? Two large parks are both easily accessible from the Duomo area. The Giardini Pubblici is located near the Quadrilatero d’Oro and the Parco Sempione is located just behind the Castello Sforzesco.
Grab a bike from BikeMi
If you prefer a bike ride to hitting the pavement, BikeMi is Milan’s bike sharing program, available summer to fall. Check the BikeMi website for station locations and service dates and times.
Drink and dine at a Milanese-style aperitivo happy hour
Quite popular in Milan, apertivo happy hours are prevalent throughout the city offering a buffet of food selections (think higher-end catered wedding, not an all you can eat Las Vegas style buffet) for the cost of one slightly over-priced drink.
How’s that work? At a particularly crowded spot near our hotel, all drinks were priced at 10 euro and the bar provided a vast array of tasty offerings ranging from pizzas to pastas to salads and even desserts. Seats were filled with a lively crowd of locals stopping off on their way home from work.
Where we stayed
We chose the Hotel Ariston for our stay in Milan.
Located only 900 meters from the Duomo, the Hotel Ariston has good-sized rooms, a friendly staff, and has lightning-fast Wifi, which is pretty much unheard of in Europe.