Milan is one of the most popular and touristically attractive cities in Italy. The second most populous city in the country (the first is the capital Rome), is growing every year, being visited not only by foreigners but also by locals. From the first minutes of acquaintance with the metropolis, you will realize how different Milan is from the good old patriarchal Italy. Noisy, trendy, diverse — in one street there is a fashion show, in the second a movie premiere. We have not forgotten the treasures of medieval and contemporary art: the city has many museums, art galleries, and exhibition halls. Milan annually holds the Week of High Fashion, as well as hosting international design and economic forums.
But for all its modernity, Milan is also the center of ancient Lombardy. Few tourists of the XXI century knew that the capital of fashion and good taste was also one of the oldest cities in the country. Its history goes back to the Roman Empire. The city has preserved the living "witnesses" of those times. But Milan reached its heyday in the Renaissance. The city's main cultural and architectural highlights dating back to the Renaissance: Sforza duke's castle, the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, and, of course, the Duomo Cathedral of Milan.
For travelers who do not need to save money, there are boutiques by famous designers. If desired (and financially possible), you can order a walk with a professional stylist who knows the best brands and stores. Beautiful showcases, stylishly dressed people, and new shopping ideas await you in Via Montenapoleone. Even if you don't plan to make any global purchases, take a stroll — the boutiques are tastefully decorated.
Then you can continue the evening in the style of Milanese tradition. Aperitifs are light cocktails, glasses of wine or vermouth served in most Milan bars to get guests in the mood for the evening's activities. Aperitifs are accompanied by the best Italian snacks: olives, mini-pizzas, bruschetta, tomatoes, and cheese. All this is very romantic to taste in the bars of the Navigli district, overlooking the picturesque Milanese canals. Milan offers a thousand activities to choose from — just take your pick. Come to the capital of Lombardy and you'll see for yourself how beautiful this city is.
Areas of Milan
The historic districts of Milan are not that large. The center itself is bounded by the inner ring (according to the location of the medieval walls that have not survived to this day). The "circle" following it is the area that used to be surrounded by the Spanish walls of the 16th century. There is a fee to enter these two areas (Area C) by car. Almost everything a tourist needs is in the inner circle, with the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II standing at the center. At the northern end of the circle are La Scala, the Brera quarter (art galleries and stores), Monte Napoleone (another trendy quarter), and Milan Central and Porta Garibaldi train stations. In the south are the University, Torre Velasca, and San Lorenzo, the old "novilla" canals with numerous bars. In the west, there is the Scientific Museum in Sant'Ambrogio, Santa Maria Delle Grazie, with Da Vinci's Last Supper and Castello to the northwest. The Triennale, with the Sempione Park to the northeast, and the Giardini neighborhood, with its gardens and Villa Reale to the northwest, are just beyond the inner circle.
Milan's Central Station is an architecturally stunning sight to behold in its own right — but only during the day. At night, the area around the station is not the most pleasant in the city, although this is where you will find many good budget hotels and business hotels of large international chains. The business district (skyscrapers) is lively during the day but almost extinct at night.
Milan's main business district is Porta Nuova. The Porta Nuova neighborhood owes its name to the well-preserved Napoleonic Arc de Triomphe, built in 1813. This arch is the only structure in Porta Nuova that is more or less old: the rest of the neighborhood was built up in the late 2000s and continues to expand: about 25 skyscrapers have grown here, including the Pirelli Tower, Unicredit, Palazzo Lombardia, "Verticale Bosco" and others. Porta Nuova combines the districts of Isola, Varesine, and Porta Garibaldi and is very accessible because of the railway station of the same name located in the latter.
Citylife is also worth a visit for lovers of modern architecture and skyscrapers. The area is still under construction, but today you can already see the famous "straight" — Il Dritto, one of the highest skyscrapers in the country; "twisted" — Lo Storto; and "curved" — Il Curvo. Among other things, CityLife is also the largest car-free area in Milan (and one of the largest in all European cities).
It's hard to find anyone who would be indifferent to the magnificent Gothic building of Milan's cathedral. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Nascente (or simply Duomo) is the largest in the world. It can accommodate up to forty thousand people at a time. Besides, it has no equal in beauty in exterior and interior decoration. The cathedral is located in the main square of Milan, and if you look at the city from a bird's eye view, it is this building that catches your eye first. All the ancient streets of Milan lead to it.
Construction of the Duomo (which means "cathedral" in Italian) began at the dawn of the 14th century, but the grandiose building was completed only in 1813. But the project of its erection has not changed, so the building is so harmonious. It is the best example of the Gothic style, which can not be surpassed. More than a hundred spires, the main of which is crowned with a figure of Madonna, the heavenly patroness of Milan; thousands of sculptural compositions on the marble walls, illustrating biblical scenes, scenes from the lives of saints, but also images of angels and even fantastic unprecedented animals.
The most popular castle is Sforza Castle, built in the mid-15th century. What is so remarkable about it? First of all, the shape of the towers and the crown of teeth crowning the wall are like two peas in a pod, similar to the Moscow Kremlin. There's nothing surprising about that: Milanese architects, who have been invited to work on the Moscow Kremlin project, have taken the look of the Sforza fortress, hence the resemblance.
In the castle there are rare paintings, various sculptures, and busts of great Italians. There is a hall devoted to the works of Leonardo da Vinci. He, by the way, was personally engaged in the decoration of the castle. Also, you can see furniture, clocks, household utensils, and linens that were used by nobles in their homes since the 15th century. In the castle museum you can also see the last (unfinished) sculpture by Michelangelo, Pietà Rondanini, paintings by Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Filippino Lippi, Correggio and Pontormo, as well as a curious collection of musical instruments.
Museums in Milan
Milan has several excellent art museums. The Brera Gallery (one of the most important collections of Renaissance art in the country; over 500 works from the 14th–20th centuries), the Ambrosiana Gallery (one of the oldest in the city, contains an excellent private collection of paintings and sculptures) with the adjoining historic library Ambrosiana (the famous Codex Atlanticus by Leonardo da Vinci is kept here), the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, and the Novecento Museum of Modern Art. Other notable museums in the city are the Museum of Science and Art, the Museum of Art and Technology (the world's largest collection of models of moving objects, including those made from the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci), the Museum of Natural History (the oldest public city museum, located in the public garden), the Museum of Armani Silo, dedicated to the works of Giorgio Armani in the last 40 years (about 600 works of the couturier in the exhibition) and the new MUDEC, dedicated to cultures of the world (the oldest exhibits date back to ancient times).
Historic buildings in Milan
A must-see is the Castello Sforzesco, the castle residence of the rulers of Milan and later the governor of Austria. There are several museums on the territory of the fortress today. Other famous buildings in the city include the famous La Scala (inside there is a theater museum), the beautiful old Art Nouveau Cimitero Monumentale, Palazzo Reale (former royal palace, today a modern exhibition space), Palazzo Clerica (beautiful mirror gallery and frescoes by Tiepolo), the elegant baroque Palazzo Litta, Palazzo Marino (amazing Mannerist architecture and a fine inner courtyard), the neoclassical Palazzo Serbelloni, Palazzo Visconti da Grazzano (or da Modrone, one of the most beautiful Rococo palazzos), one of the oldest Borromeo, Casa Campanini in art nouveau, etc. Of not so old but also very interesting buildings, we should mention the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, "the mother of all shopping malls", built in the 19th century, with a glass roof and dome and a beautiful mosaic floor. The Pirelli skyscraper in Piazza Duca d'Aosta (by Gio Ponti), the castle-like Torre Velasca (one of the first in the country) and the famous San Siro Stadium (AC Milan's base) are also worth seeing.
Shopping in Milan
Everyone knows that Milan is the capital of the best shopping. But this is not the place where you can buy cheap clothes — oh no! In the city, there are show-rooms and boutiques of probably all the trendsetters of modern world fashion, so the sense of Milan shopping is in the richest choice and authenticity of goods. The temples of high style are the Quadrilatero della Moda ("fashion square"), which begins just behind Piazza del Duomo; Via Spiga, Via Montenapoleone, Via Vittorio Emanuele, Via Sant'Andrea, Via Manzoni, and Via Porta Venezia. Here are the most prestigious boutiques and showrooms in the world (D&G, Prada, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Versace, Cavalli), and people come here more for prayer than for shopping.
The less expensive stores can be found in Corso Buenos Aires. It may not be the main fashion mecca of the city, but it is the most popular and biggest shopping zone, with a large variety of outlets, from designer boutiques to second-hand goods, from antique shops to trendy designer funky stores. It is the best place for treasure searching.
What to taste in Milan?
Despite its modern rhythm, Milan remains one of the strongest bastions of traditional Italian cuisine, where homemade products and dishes are still very much appreciated. The best dishes from the city are veal shank stew "osso buco" and risotto alla Milanese (with chicken breast and saffron). Another famous Milanese dish is cotoletta alla Milanese, a cutlet of tender veal tenderloin. Just like in the rest of northern Italy, in Milan, people love polenta made of corn grits, but this is more of a seasonal winter dish. And in early January, it's the turn of cassuela — pork stewed with Savoy cabbage. And, of course, we can't ignore the best Italian dessert: just like everywhere else in the country, Milan has amazing ice cream.
Where to eat in Milan?
It's hard not to find a good place to eat in Milan. However, try to avoid restaurants around the Duomo: the quality of food is not the best, prices are high. This also applies to restaurants near Central Station. Milan is not the most "pizza" place in the country, but there are enough pizzerias, and some of them are very good. The best pizzerias are considered to be in the areas of Via Marghera, Avenue Vercelli, Navigli, and Brera. In the northeastern part of the city, there are good little pizzerias in Via Fulvio Testi in the Greco area. Prices here are quite reasonable: a pizza with beer can cost about 10 EUR per person.
In recent years, happy hours, which are held in bars from 19:00 to 21:00, have become increasingly common in Milan. Despite the fact that the Milanese in general are rather low-drinkers, these hours are an opportunity not so much to get drunk economically, but to sit and chat with great company with pleasure. "Happy hours" involve a fixed price on all drinks and a free buffet snack to go with them: olives, salami, green salad, rice, bread. Aperitifs in Milan are usually Prosecco or Campari with soda.