If you are taking a quick trip to Milan, here’s a list of things you should definitely consider:
Firstly though remember that if you are planning a visit during much of July and all of August, Milan tends to shut down as its residents take holiday time and flock to the coast to escape the summer heat ~ which can be oppressive. For the tourist, this has both positives and negatives.
Whilst many restaurants, markets and cultural attractions may well be closed there is still plenty to do. You just need to forward plan a bit more.
Personally, I’ve always loved visiting in August. The crowds are down, the weather is really very pleasant (average temperature 24c) although some days can be humid and sticky with the odd thunderstorm so pack an umbrella.
The best thing about August is it’s sale month, so there are bargains to be had everywhere. Saldi! Saldi! Saldi! Remember, Milan considers itself the fashion capital of the world so come with a fully charged credit card.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (1877) ~ most of the shops within this stunning arcade are eyewateringly expensive but the arcade itself is so very beautiful, it’s a must to visit, if only to wander through or stop for a coffee and bite to eat. The locals often refer to it as Il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room) as it’s a popular meeting point. The Galleria connects two of Milan’s most famous landmarks: The Duomo and the Teatro Alla Scala.
The Duomo or Milan Cathedral is a beautiful example of gothic architecture. It’s been cleaned since I last visited and looks all shiny and new, much I imagine, as it would have looked when finally completed in 1965 (work commenced in 1386!). Made of brick and marble, it is an imposing structure and is apparently the third largest cathedral in the world. Most of Milan’s streets either radiate out from or circle the cathedral. Promise me you won’t even contemplate visiting without having bought tickets well ahead of your visit. The daily queues are stupidly long and on a warm day I would imagine it quite unbearable to have to line up in a snaking line of people, often well over 200 metres long. Make sure you visit the Piazza in front of the Duomo late in the afternoon as the sun hits the church and the Madonnina statue atop. At 356 feet the statue is enormous and the highest point in Milan. As evening progresses, both the building and the Madonnina are artificially lit and well worth seeing. There are many cafes lining the piazza where you can sit and admire the light show and the passing parade.
Also a must is a visit to see The Last Supper, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous artworks. You’ll find it in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Again, don’t even contemplate trying to visit without securing tickets ahead of time.
Teatro Alla Scala or La Scala Theatre
I’ve always thought the exterior of La Scala itself quite bland and unimposing. In fact if you aren’t consciously looking for it, you could well walk straight past without a second glance. The interior though is another story. Richly decorated and groaning with musical history it’s well worth a visit. You can either take a tour or better still, book in to see a performance. Note that during August, performances are harder to come by.
Palazzo Reale ~ the go-to place for exhibitions both permanent and touring, so always check to see what’s showing. For example, they are currently showing an ace Escher exhibition showcasing his life, his brilliant use of perspective and visual quirk and it includes some of his most famous lithographs. I sneakily managed to catch a few photos. It runs until the 22nd of January 2017.
Brera is overflowing with galleries, interior design and homewares shops and funky stores groaning with quality object d’art and antiques. The main streets to wander include Via Brera and Via Fiori Chiari but don’t be scared to deviate from the main path and get lost down some of the smaller laneways. Long popular with artists, architects and designers, unsurprisingly Brera is often referred to as Milan’s Montmartre.
Milan is not renowned for its open green spaces so if you’re craving a bit of a garden, whilst in the Brera seek out the Orto Botanico di Brera or Brera Botanic Garden. It’s not huge but it’s a pleasant respite from the density of housing in the district.
While in the Brera district, for simple, honest Milanese food, try Nabucco. I’m certain it’s recommended by many hotels so expect other tourists, but Nabucco is yet to lose the feel (or taste) of restaurants that locals also happily visit, so you’ll also be sitting with Milanese locals. Try their Milanese Risotto (Saffron Risotto) and their stuffed zucchini flowers. Nabucco is about a 10 minute walk from the Duomo and a three course meal (for two people), with an aperitif and a shared bottle of wine will set you back about 200 euro.
For food with a view, Maio is a must. On the top floor of the truly amazing La Rinascente department store (you could spend a day in there alone for the depth and breadth of the retailers contained within), Maio is Milan’s version of Harvey Nichol’s 5th Floor Restaurant in London. It’s full of hypey Milanese locals and is a great people watching spot. The food is fresh, innovative and not too expensive. Try their interesting twist on Vitello Tonnato. The Fruit Salad with fresh mango and shredded coconut was a delicious and refreshing way to end our meal. Two courses and a shared bottle of wine will cost you about 180-200 euro.
It’s been sometime since I was last in Milano. The things I’d forgotten? The squealing sounds of the trams. Close your eyes, listen and you could be in Melbourne. The harsh, ugly facades of much of the city’s newer architecture and the breathtaking beauty of the old. The people ~ so very friendly.
As I always recommend, if you’ve never visited the city you find yourself in, seek out the hop on, hop off bus system. It will give you a quick snapshot of the city and help you decide more fully some of the sights and experiences you might want to focus on.
Until next time….