Milan: 5 Reasons to Visit the Fashionable CitySpend a few days soaking up the world-class architecture, food and shopping of northern Italy’s most renowned city
The many faces of Milan
Milan is both fast and slow – though in a more deliberate way than other Italian metropolises. It’s measured, meticulous, sharp.
The city centre is as busy as one might expect from one of Europe’s richest and fastest growing cities, but you needn’t stray far from the noise to discover the quiet, more romantic sides of the city.
Everywhere in Milan, it’s possible to seek out secret streets, beautiful churches, cosy parks and old world cafés where Italians discuss politics and football exactly as they have done for centuries.
On just a single day you can experience ancient Italy with incredible art and architecture along with the sustainable buildings, fashion, nightlife and fusion cuisine of modern Italy.
We spent a couple of days in Milan when we visited northern Italy in August 2016. It was Alexander’s third visit and once again the city proved that it holds a lifetime of discoveries.
We have gathered our 5 best reasons to visit Milan in this article, though there surely are many more. Benvenuti!
The 5 Best Reasons to Visit Milan:
1. Milan Cathedral
The main tourist attraction of Milan is the magnificent cathedral, Duomo di Milano, located in the middle of the city.
The cathedral took over 500 years to build (1386-1965) and is the third largest church in the world. It’s 158 meters long, 92 meters wide and 108 meters high. It has 135 spires and more than 2.000 statues.
The gigantic size of the church and the incredible amount of details make the building hugely impressive.
The interior of Duomo di Milano is an amazing sight, but the roof of the church is what truly sets it apart.
For a small additional price, you can climb the long flight of stairs or take an elevator to get to the top.
Up there you can admire the statues and spires from a new perspective – and the views make for dropped jaws as well as stunning photographs. On clear days one can be lucky to see all the way to the Alps.
How to visit Milan Cathedral like a pro
It’s possible to buy a ticket that gives access to both the church and the roof.
The cheapest option is to take the (almost 1.000!) steps.
Alternatively, you can pay an additional fee and use the elevator. The queue to the elevator is usually longer than the one to the stairs.
Both options are located on the left side of the church when looking at the entrance (the corner closest to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II).
The cathedral is extremely popular amongst tourists, so if you have enough time in Milan, we can highly recommend to enjoy the view of the city from the roof in the afternoon sun and then wait to see the inside of the Duomo until the next morning.
If you’re out early enough (preferably right when it opens), you can get the whole splendid room to yourself.
When we arrived at 9 in the morning, we were the first ones to get in because we had already bought our tickets the day before. The only queue was the one to the ticket booths.
When we left the church there was a long queue to get in.
In the afternoon, you can expect around 30 to 60 minutes of queuing – at least in the popular summer months…
It’s a good idea to cover your knees and shoulders before entering the church. This is not a requirement when visiting the roof.
2. World-class shopping
Milan is Italy’s fashion capital and it’s internationally recognized as one of the world’s most important fashion cities along with London, Paris and New York.
Virtually all Italian brands have headquarters here, including Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Prada, Miu Miu, Valentino, Versace, Moschino and Bottega Veneta.
Many other international brands also have large flagship stores in the city, and if you are into high-end shopping, Milan is an obvious choice for your next spending spree.
If you aren’t into shopping in expensive brand stores (like us!), there are also cheaper shopping options in Milan and several local independent designer stores selling quality wares – as well as a host of outlets on the outskirts of town.
The Quadrilatero della moda fashion district
In the streets that make up Quadrilatero della moda, shops from almost all of the world’s major fashion brands are found, and the area is known to be one of the most important fashion districts in the world.
Even if you are not very fashion-oriented, it’s interesting to get a glimpse of the exclusive lifestyle in the extravagant window displays and either shake your head or get inspired by the flaunted Ferraris and Prada bags.
The area is generally considered to be the square made from the four streets Via Monte Napoleone, Via Alessandro Manzoni, Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia.
Shopping in style at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Located right next to Duomo di Milano, you’ll find the world’s oldest shopping centre: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built in 1867.
One can also argue that it is the world’s most beautiful.
Here you will find the stores of famous fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Armani and Gucci plus the original, first Prada store.
In addition to the shops, there are a few cafés inside the galleria (including a Gucci café) from where you can watch the crowds and enjoy an expensive cup of coffee.
3. Mouthwatering Italian food
If you are travelling for food, you will not be disappointed by the food scene of Milan.
The city is considered to be the centre of northern Italian cuisine.
In the region of Lombardy (of which Milan is the capital), butter is traditionally used instead of olive oil and rice and corn often substitute the otherwise ubiquitous pasta.
Milan’s countless restaurants are obvious places to taste specialities like Milanese risotto, polenta and osso buco.
However, there is no reason to adhere exclusively to the region’s historically anchored dishes when eating in Milan.
Our favourite Italian food is by far the Neapolitan pizza (unless gelato counts); give the classic version with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves a try at Solo Pizza and get a glimpse into the fiery ovens of Southern Italy.
Go for an aperitivo
After work (at around 18.00-20.00) many Milanese flock to the countless bars of the city to get an aperitivo which involves a drink – or two – as well as some light snacks before dinner.
When buying a drink, you will typically get access to a buffet where you can snack away your hunger.
Every bar does it differently, but it’s not rare to find small sandwiches, pasta, pizza-pieces, cold or hot salads as well as a selection of cheeses.
The price of drinks often increases during the aperitivo time which makes up for the “free buffet”. Either way, it can be a fun experience and many bars serve food that you would otherwise be happy to pay for.
The usual choices include dry and bitter drinks like Vermouth, Aperol Spritz and Campari – but wine and beer are also perfectly acceptable these days.
The aperitivo is considered to be a social event, so don’t be too surprised if just one drink leads to new acquaintances.
For eating, flee from the Duomo
There are undoubtedly many excellent restaurants close to the cathedral, but…
If you want to experience the wonderful Milanese cuisine like a local, with the locals, you have to walk away from the historic centre.
Milan is packed with great places to go out for dinner, many of which are hidden behind unpretentious facades in residential areas.
So just go out and explore the city, follow your nose and let’s hear about it in the comments if you’ve found a secret gem!
4. Castles, parks and canals
The beautiful streets of Milan are inviting you to go on long city walks, so don’t be afraid to take a few detours to your next destination.
We can particularly recommend the southern and western parts of the city.
For example, visit the Sforza Castle, an ancient fortification, which later became the rich Sforza family’s pompous home.
It’s free to walk around the complex, but the indoor museums have entrance fees.
Just next to the Sforza castle you’ll find the pleasant park Parco Sempione, where you can relax and take it slow for a few hours.
South of the Duomo, the Navigli neighbourhood will charm you with its calming canals.
They originate from the 12th century, where the waterways were used to ship materials to build the famous cathedral.
The area can feel like a breath of fresh air away from the city’s intense shopping areas – but if you miss the shopping, visit the canals when there’s a flea market on Saturdays.
The quality of the goods is generally not as high as in the Quadrilatero della moda, but it can be fun to browse the stalls.
When visiting Navigli in the evening, there are ample opportunities to get your aperitivo on in one of the area’s many funky bars.
5. The heart of the region
Milan is a great base for exploring the northern parts of Italy.
The trains from the Central Station of Milan can take you to the whole region, and you can comfortably reach cities like Bologna, Genoa, Florence and Turin in less than two hours.
When we visited Milan, we got there from Bergamo. From Milan, we later went to Lake Como by train. Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore are also within easy reach.
The train system is easy to use; the trains run regularly, tickets are reasonably priced and if you need help, an information desk with (hopefully!) at least one English-speaking employee is nearby.
And much, much more…
There are certainly many more good reasons to visit Milan – especially if you are a history and art buff.
Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is only the tip of the iceberg, and you can certainly spend days visiting all of Milan’s magnificent churches and museums.
Tell us if we’ve forgotten anything – and share your best tips for visiting Milan in the comments!
Find the areas, restaurants and attractions we have written about in the article on the map below. Click on the icon in the top left corner to get an overview.