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Milan is financially the most important city in Italy. It is the second most populous city proper in the country, but sits at the centre of Italy's largest urban and metropolitan area. While not considered as beautiful as some Italian cities, having been greatly destroyed by Second World War bomb raids, the city has rebuilt itself into a thriving cosmopolitan business capital. In essence, for a tourist, what makes Milan interesting compared to other places is that the city is truly more about the lifestyle of enjoying worldly pleasures: a paradise for shopping, football, opera, and nightlife. Milan remains the marketplace for Italian fashion – fashion aficionados, supermodels and international paparazzi descend upon the city twice a year for its spring and autumn fairs. Milan is famous for its wealth of historical and modern sights - the Duomo, one of the biggest and grandest Gothic cathedrals in the world, La Scala, one of the best established opera houses in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, an ancient and glamorous arcaded shopping gallery, the Brera art gallery, with some of the finest artistic works in Europe, the Pirelli tower, a majestic example of 1960s modernist Italian architecture, the San Siro, a huge and famed stadium, or the Castello Sforzesco, a grand medieval castle. So, one has their fair share of old and new monuments. Plus, it contains one of the world's most famous paintings - Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Milan
There are many things to see in Milan - from fine churches, old palaces, excellent museums, world class theatres and opera houses, cultural gems, striking buildings, sleek modern architectural works and lovely streets and squares.
Milan has some of the oldest churches in Italy (yes, older than the ones in Rome because Milan was the capital of the Northern part of the late Roman Empire). The cathedral, Duomo is the symbol and the heart of Milan. Santa Maria delle Grazie in the Western part of the city is the home for Leonardo da Vinci's painting The Last Supper and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For those passionate about art Milan offers a large variety of art museums, mainly of Italian Renaissance and Baroque. Note, though, that most museums are closed on Mondays.
For long periods Milan has been surrounded by walls, built during the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages and the rule of the Habsburg. Many of the gates are still there and well worth a visit. During the centuries some of them have been completely annihilated and many are built on the same place as a former gate. Currently there are seven gates standing dating from various ages. Clockwise from 12 o'clock they are: Porta Nuova, Porta Venezia (formerly called Porta Orientale and Porta Renza), Porta Romana, Porta Ticinese (two gates; one closer to Duomo and one further out), Porta Sempione and Porta Garibaldi (formerly Porta Comasina).
Despite not having as much greenery as some cities, Milan offers several parks and gardens, scattered all over the city. Maybe the most visited of them is Parco Sempione, also home to the Sforzesco Castle. Many smaller and less-famous parks can be found in the southern part of the city.
Not all points of interest are right in the absolute centre - some of the most wonderful gems can be found near the outskirts or even outside of Milan.
If Rome represents the "old" Italy, Milan represents the "new" Italy. Milan is the most modern of all Italian cities, and it still keeps most of its past history intact.
At first sight, Milan looks like a bustling and relatively stylish (with its shiny display windows and elegant shops) metropolis, with a good number of grand palaces and fine churches in the centre, but might seem like a slightly prosaic, soulless and business-orientated place. It can be quite rainy, grey and foggy, and some of the buildings, ancient or modern, have quite a severe appearance. Whilst there are a lot of parks, Milan looks as if it has very little greenery, and apart from the very well-kept historic part, many areas are indeed quite scruffy and dirty. However, Milan, unlike most usually historical European cities which throw the sights in your face, requires quite a lot of exploring - take it as it is, and you might enjoy its fashionable glitter and business-like modernity, but might find it not very "captivating". If you spend time, though, strolling through less well known areas such as the pretty Navigli, the chic Brera district, the lively University quarter, or some of the smaller churches and buildings, you'll find a forward thinking, diverse city filled in every corner with history, and with a plethora of hidden gems. Plus, with such an established history in theatre, music, literature, sport, art and fashion, there's really not much you can miss.
Milan, as many have noticed, doesn't fully feel like a part of Italy. Despite the similarities between typical Italian cities such as Verona or Venice with the city, it does have a different atmosphere. Milan feels more like a bustling, busy, fashionable business capital - where in several cafes, lots of people only stop to have a quick espresso at the bar counter, and where tourists at times seem even more laid back than the locals. Milan, unlike the traditionally red-terracotta roofed Italian cities, is quite grey, as many buildings are constructed using limestone or dark stones. Ancient buildings mainly have a sort of Austrian/Germanic neoclassical look with some slight French influences. However, with some cycling around in old fashioned bicycles, restaurant chairs and tables outside at summer filled with locals and tourists alike, and people strolling down the pedestrian avenues, licking an ice cream or carrying some heavy shopping bags, Milan does boast some "Italian flair".
These differences between Rome and Milan are evident from several proverbs, such as an Italian saying about the differences of the two cities which roughly translates, "Rome is a voluptuous woman whose gifts are very apparent, while Milan is the shy, demure girl whose treasures are plentiful, but discovered in time."
When to visit
Milan, depending on how you want to tour the city, is virtually visitable all the year. Keep in mind most places, including tourist destinations and museums, are closed on Mondays.
In autumn, the weather is warm/cool, and in later months can be quite rainy and foggy. At this time of the year, the city's inhabitants are very busy with work, so, the only people you're likely to see wandering around are tourists. All the major venues and shops are opened, since it is the working part of the year.
In winter, the city can become cold (often below or around zero degrees Celsius [32 degrees Fahrenheit]), and the weather is usually foggy and rainy if not snowy. However, the city, in the few weeks before Christmas, becomes delightful to visit - the main sights are all illuminated by stunning lights, a huge Christmas tree is set up in front of the Duomo, vendors and markets can be found everywhere, many shop and display windows are decorated and the streets become bustling with locals and tourists alike. However, the only downside is that it can become extremely crowded, noisy and busy.
In spring, the weather is similar to that of autumn. People go back to work, and the atmosphere becomes more quiet, yet serious unlike that of the winter. Parks become nice to visit, as trees blossom. The city is also quite nice to visit at Carnival, where people dress up and celebrate, and during Easter, where there are special services held in churches and some special events.
In summer, Milan can become extremely hot and humid, with the odd powerful rainstorm here and there. Whilst in July, apart from the weather, most shops remain open, in August, as many locals go off to take their summer holidays, many businesses and venues shut down (with the notice Chiuso per ferie, or shut down for vacation). The city may become quite empty with the odd tourist strolling around, and with several of the main sights shut down. Despite it's not the best time for shopping and the weather's not at all times very pleasant, it's good if you want to enjoy the city to yourself when it's quiet, and maybe want to stroll around, sipping at the odd open bar or at an ice cream, or walking in a silent park. Despite many businesses shut down, some still do remain open, and you will still be able to find some open shops, restaurants and museums.
- Exhibitions - Many exhibitions are held during the year, ranging from wines to computers, industrial equipment and chocolate. The fieramilanocity is the old exhibitions ground in central Milan a few km northwest of Duomo (MM1 Amendola Fiera or MM1 Lotto - Fiera 2 Stations), the new fairgrounds of fieramilano are in Rho (northwest of Milan, MM1 Rho Fiera Station, A4 highway Pero exit).
- La Scala, one of the world's most famous opera houses are located in Milan. It also hosts classical music concerts. Other places to enjoy classical music include Teatro dal Verme, Auditorium di Milano and the Giuseppe Verdi conservatory.
- If you like theater and preferably understand Italian, there are a couple of theater houses in Milan. Piccolo Teatro di Milano has three theaters, Teatridithalia - Elfo e Portaromana Associati has two.
- From Torre Branca and the roof of Duomo you have good views of the city - certainly worth taking a couple of photos of.
- If you're into Italian fashion, there are few, if any, better shopping destinations than Milan. All the usual suspects have their brand stores in the historical center. Moreover, Milan Fashion Week, one of the "big four" fashion industry events in the world are held twice yearly.
- Corteo dei Re Magi. Jan 6, yearly. A parade in Milan featuring the Biblical Three Wise Men who visited Jesus on Epiphany.
- Oh bej, oh bej. Dec 7, yearly. Translates to "oh beautiful, oh beautiful" and is a feast to the memory of Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan. Formerly the festivities were held in the church named after him, nowadays a more commercialized version of it, perhaps more interesting but less colorful, is held in the old exhibition center.
Although Milan is a city that changes its mind as quickly as fashion trends come and go, it remains one of the strongest bastions of traditional Italian cooking, where homemade elements are still very much praised and appreciated. There are trattorias, enoteche (wine bars) and restaurants (including luxury ones) everywhere that offer traditional Milanese and Italian dishes to eat. This city's traditional cooking is based on filling dishes like osso buco (braised veal shanks) and risotto alla milanese (chicken-broth risotto made with saffron).
Dining times tend to be a shade earlier than in Rome or Florence, with lunch generally served between 12:30 and 14:30 and dinner from 19:30 to 21:30. Dinner, and sometimes lunch, are usually preceded by that great Milanese institution, the aperitivo—a glass of sparkling wine or a Campari soda in a sophisticated hotel bar.
Avoid the restaurants around the Duomo, they tend to be tourist-only spots, with low quality food at inflated prices. Be aware that most restaurants charge an extra "serving tax" or "table rent", about €2 per consumer. Also avoid restaurants or cafes around the central station, where it has been reported that hidden serving tax can be up to €5 per person with cheap quality food.
There is much confusion regarding tipping in Italy. Italians do not typically leave tips anymore at restaurants. In touristy locations there will often be a line (a recent trend) left blank for a tip to be added. Just draw a line through it and leave a couple of euros. Never leave tips at bar counters.
In bars you can enjoy great caffè espresso, cappuccino and a brioche for as little as €2. At bars in the Duomo and San Babila areas, breakfast can be very expensive if you sit down. If in doubt go to the bar and eat there, you'll pay what the Italians do- and they will admire your audacity too.
Milan, as a big city, is filled with several different forms of fast-foods, from the foreign giants and national chains, to independently-owned take-aways and sandwich bars. Most fast-food restaurants are found in the Duomo, Buenos Aires and central station areas, as these are the most crowded and busy ones in the city. In the Piazza Duomo and Galleria, one can find international fast-foods such as McDonald's and Burger King, but Italian chains of the Autogrill group such as Spizzico and Ciao and Autogrill can be found all over the city. There are several Ciao outlets in places such as no. 12 Corso Europa or no. 54 Via Montebianco, and for McDonald's, you get a restaurant in the Piazza del Duomo and Galleria, and also some in the Corso Buenos Aires, plus some others in places such as Corso Vercelli or Piazzale Lotto. Other fast-foods which can be found in Milan include Garbagnati (Cordusio metro station) which is a self-service restaurant and bakery, which has several vegeterian courses, or the Luini (Duomo metro station) which is a restaurant which is famous for making Southern Italian-style pieces of dough with mozzarella and tomatoes inside.
Although Milan cannot claim to be the birthplace of pizza, (that claim belongs to Naples), you can still find good pizzas in Milan. The best areas for pizza are near Via Marghera (at the end of Corso Vercelli), and on the Navigli, on Brera. Expect to pay €8-15 for a pizza and a beer. In Milan, pizza is often eaten with a knife and fork, but of course eating with one's hands is possible and welcome. Most people do both.
Watch out for frozen pizza in Milan (it usually states it on the menu). Always check the restaurant has a wood burning oven and that they are using it.
If you are in the Northeast area, there are many little pizzerias on Viale Fulvio Testi(the northern extension of viale Zara) in the Greco area, of which an excellent choice is Pizzeria De Pino. Ask for John Luca, and don't miss the lasagne. Here you may also get homemade Mirto (as you can at many other places). The prices are very reasonable in these establishments; expect to pay about €4-5 for pizza and €3-4 for beer. These places are where the locals eat, they are very friendly and helpful but few speak anything but Italian. Take the phrasebook with you.
In the last several years, Milan has established a local version of the Aperitivo or Happy Hour. Italians drink very moderately and "happy hour" is not a drinking, but a social event.
Roughly from 7PM to 9PM, many bars offer drinks and cocktails at a fixed price (€5-8 each), accompanied by free all-you-can-eat buffets with snacks, pastas, and many other small appetizers. But be careful not to confuse "aperitivo" with "free dinner". It's a snack to be enjoyed with a drink. Italians will immediately see you as a buffoon- and it's seen as tacky to fill up on finger food for dinner, although it's common to spot them doing so.
A whole lot of these places can be found in Southern Milan. Another great area for aperitivo, not far from Duomo, is Corso Buenos Aires.
In summer enjoy gelato, excellent Italian ice cream. The quality mark gelato artigianale ("artisanal ice cream") indicates gelaterias that produce their own ice creams, without industrial processing. Bakeries are open every day, you can enjoy great and inexpensive bread-related food, such as pizza and focaccia. You can find a bakery almost everywhere in Milan, even in the Duomo area, and is a good alternative to bars for a fast lunch.
There are plenty of bars and cafés in Milan of all kinds - from fancy old-fashioned ones, where you can enjoy a formal hot drink, to avant-garde modern places, and youthful spots for a happy hour/late-night drink. Some also offer some food too.
Milan by night
Milan has a great variety of places where you can have fun. A great starting point is Como Avenue (Corso Como), near Garibaldi Station, full of bars and glamorous clubs. In the summertime, this street is packed with young and attractive people.
Another place where you can go is the Navigli quarter, near Porta Ticinese Avenue and XXIV Maggio Square, where you can find a lot of small pubs, open air cafes and restaurants by the water canals (navigli). In many pubs and bars you can find a free booklet named Zero2 which is a guide to Milan Nightlife: if you don't know what to do or where to go, do grab one!
Other popular night spots with bars and people are Viale Monte Nero (on Wednesday it's packed with people in the piazza in front of a bar called "Momo"), Piazzale Susa (and nearby Citta' Studi area). Nights are overwhelmingly crowded at the Colonne di San Lorenzo (not far from Navigli quarter), and in the cozy Latin-quarter of Brera. Another good spot is the pedestrian part of Corso Sempione near the Peace Arch (Arco della Pace).
There are bars and clubs open all week long but usually few people go out at night on Mondays or Tuesdays, the vast majority prefer to have fun on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. However, Wednesday night appears to be one of the coolest to go out in stylish VIP-frequented clubs.
Milan has an alternative club scene, with a few crews making electronic music parties outside clubs. Ultracheap, every time in a different location (lofts, warehouses, farms, pools, city parks) those kind of parties attract people aged 20–28. The biggest one is called RESET!and attracts 1500-2000 people once a month
Gay and Lesbian Travellers
Although Milan has a variety of bars, clubs, restaurants and venues for gay and lesbian travellers, many only operate one night a week. Choosing from one of the "mainstays" below and asking anyone where to go should lead you in the right direction. Also, venues are not concentrated in one area of town, but rather spread throughout the city.
Foreign travelers are often confused by the ARCI card regime that is required for entry into many clubs. It's a relic from the times of police raids that has now conferred tax benefits on these private club owners. No need to fear—just show up and purchase one at any of the clubs. You must bring some ID or you cannot purchase one.
- L'Elephant, Via Melzo 22 (subway: MM1 Porta Venezia Station). Wednesday and Thursday nights hosts a gay crowd at L'elephant
- Hotel Straf, Via San Raffaele 33. Thursdays aperitivo at Hotel Straf near Duomo is well worth a look.
- Amnesia, via Alfonso Gatto (near Linate airport, reachable by taxi or #73 bus). Saturday nights at Billy or Amnesia,
- Binario1, Via Plezzo 16 (MM2 Lambrate). or BinarioUno disco,
- Black Hole, Viale Umbria 118. or Black Hole (former lesbian club).
- Borgo del Tempo Perso, via Fabio Massimo (subway:MM3 Porto di Mare). open year-round although outdoor area open May-Sept only. On Sunday nights, hundreds flock to the largest and classiest spot in town, the Borgo del Tempo Person.
Cruising clubs such as the "Flexo" and "Depot" are hugely popular in Italy, perhaps even more so than saunas.
- Flexo, Via Oropa 3.
- Depot, Via dei Valtorta 19.
The best saunas in 2008 include Metro and Royal Hammam, mostly packed during the weekend especially at night as they are open 24 hours.
- Metro, via Schiaparelli (near the Central Station, subway: MM2 and MM3 Centrale).
- Royal Hammam, via Plezzo (near BinarioUno club, subway: MM2 Lambrate Station).
Open air meeting places such as Parco Nord, the gardens behind Cadorna station or Ortomercato are not recommended (criminals and hustlers). The safest way to cruise is to take the late night metro and get into the second-last coach, which is usually occupied by the gays and lesbians.
Milan, being a worldwide trendsetter, is a fashion shoppers' paradise.
There is pretty much every form of shopping in this city that one can imagine: from the designer's prestigious emporia, retail giants' outlets, small entrepreneur's tiny and funky boutiques, to second-hand average shops.
The main shopping area is the so-called Fashion Quadrangle (quadrilatero della moda), a set of blocks roughly between Duomo Square (Piazza Duomo), Cavour Square (Piazza Cavour) and San Babila Square (Piazza San Babila). Here in Montenapoleone Street (with prime brand shops), Della Spiga Street, Vittorio Emanuele Street, Sant' Andrea Street, Porta Venezia avenue and Manzoni Street, it contains the most prestigious boutiques and showrooms in the world. Everything reeks of ostentation and the splendor of a chic, fashionable lifestyle. Shop windows shine, exhibiting the trendiest shoes, coolest glasses, funkiest dresses, most glamorous clothes, and most luxurious crystal chandeliers.
For people wanting to spend a bit less while still buying beautiful pieces, other areas are better. One of these is Corso Vercelli (MM1 Pagano, MM1 Conciliazione subway stations), another one is Buenos Aires Avenue (MM1 Porta Venezia, MM1 Lima, MM1/MM2 Loreto subway stations), reputed as being the longest shopping street of Europe. Corso Buenos Aires connects Porta Venezia to Piazzale Loreto, and is even more commercial: here you can find Calzedonia, Alex Fashion, Luisa Spagnoli, Furla, Brian & Barry and Nara Camice.
The Brera district (Lanza, or Montenapoleone metro stops) is also not to be missed for trendy and young, yet stylish, boutiques. The Brera district is great for other things, such as browsing through ancient rare art stores and galleries, sipping a hot drink at a refined-air cafe, attending a funky disco, or looking for exotic furniture. However, today, there are a lot of young designers who have up-and coming boutiques, which are slightly less expensive than their Montenapoleone counterparts, but are quite fashionable and of high quality. The Brera district is great because it combines chic, old-air shops, with zeitgeist, modernist and youthful ones. Jewelry stores include Papic oro e argento or Alcozer & J. Bijoux, fashion shops include Accessori or Laura Ashley, and furniture stores include Zohar or Lucitalia.
Let us not forget, the Piazza del Duomo, Via Dante, Piazza San Babila, and the Corso Giacomo Matteotti which are excellent shopping places. In the Galleria, you get brand fashion stores, two bookstores (Rizzoli and Libreria Bocca) and a sliverware store called Bernasconi plus a Gucci cafe (and many, many more!). In the Corso Giacomo, you can find Abercrombie & Fitch, in Piazza del Duomo you have Grimoldi, Ruggeri, Donna and La Rinascente department store, in Piazza San Babila you can find Upim, Eddy Monetti, Guess and Valextra, and there are loads of shops in the Via Dante, so there are really heaps of shopping opportunities in this area.
For hipsters, there's the elongated Porta Ticinese area, especially on Saturday, when the flea market Fiera di Senigallia takes place near the Darsena (2008: currently that area is closed and Fiera di Senigallia has been moved to a place near Porta Genova MM2 subway and train station). This is a great place to wander and browse, and save money if you've somehow survived Milan's high end boutiques. Sort through new and second-hand clothes, old furniture, fake art nouveau lamps, perfumed candles and every kind of essence, books, comics, records, videos and DVDs. In the Corso Ticense, several shops, such as Diesel, RVM Orologi, Dress, Energie, Colors & Beauty, Tintoria La Boutique, Blu Max, Le Jean Marie, Brazilian, Ethic, L'Uomo outlet, Les Tropezziennes, Atelier cucine e ..., Panca's Show Room, or Cinius (and loads more) are present. There are also several banks and post offices, such as the Banca Popolare and Poste Italiane, and a CTS Viaggi travel agency. Thus, with so many shops, you can keep your shopping bags full, and browse even further.
The other market in Milan is the Mercatone del Naviglio Grande. This takes place along the Alzaia Naviglio Grande on the last Sunday of each month. Dedicated to antiques, the market has over 400 exhibitors, so you're certain to find something that catches your eye.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Milan on Wikivoyage.