From it’s Renaissance architecture of Church of Santa Maria, to its postcard-pretty canals in Navigli, to the heavenly gold hue of the Risotto Milanese, and a catwalk-highstreet scene which makes every day seem like Fashion Week – Milan has it all. Add to that a glorious climate, Prosecco on tap, and the fact that the beautiful, natural lakes of Nothern Italy are just a short train ride away – it ticks all the boxes for a weekend break.
My sister and I jumped on a 5:30am plane (ouch) last Saturday to visit my cousin, who has recently moved to Milan after spending her Erasmus year there. She was official tour guide and translator; the perfect way to visit a city is to be taken around by a local.
Located in Northern Italy, just south of the Alps, Milan is Italy’s industrial powerhouse and is at the heart of European fashion. It has been ruled by the likes of the Caesars and Napoleon, so it has a fascinating cultural history. But these days it leads the way with the largest post-war redevelopment in Italy whilst keeping most of its historical past intact.
Where to Stay
South-west of the city centre lies the Navigli District, which plays host to bars which spill out onto the street with unmatchable aperitivo offerings, and an emerging art scene which really adds to the area’s cobbled-street charm. My sister and I booked a charming studio flat on AirBnB complete with exposed brick walls and a juliet balcony – I’d die happy if I could find a place like this in London.
What to do whilst you’re there
If you’re visiting Milan on a weekend, spend one of your days exploring the city by foot and start your sightseeing trip by visiting Milan’s most famous landmark, The Duomo. It’s a magnificent white, Gothic cathedral, which is home to more statues than any other in the world. You can even climb the steps to the roof, where you can enjoy spectacular 360 views over the city.
Just to North of the cathedral, lies the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the world’s oldest shopping centre, where you can find the likes of Prada, Gucci and Ferrari. It’s four stories tall and highly decorated in marble with glass domed ceilings.
Castello Sforzesco is a must-see and is home to lakes and the most luscious green lawns I have ever seen in Italy. For a city that doesn’t shout about its history (unlike Rome, Florence and Venice do to excess), it’s the perfect place to visit and really gain a sense of Milan as it hosts 12 mini-museums.
Jump on a tram and head South until you reach the Prada Foundation, which is an institution dedicated to contemporary art. Make sure you get an Aperol Spritz from Bar Luce which was designed by Wes Anderson. It’s full of colour-blocked Formica tables, whimsical wallpaper and themed pinball machines and junk boxes – it could be easily be plucked from a glossy set.
Dedicate a day and head north out of Milan to Lake Como. We visited the quaint village of Varenna which is made up of pastel-coloured houses dotted along the steep slopes that rise from the lake.
Where to eat
Exploring Milan with an adopted Milanese meant that we were taken to places which were off the beaten track – and the locals all lunch at Luini which is just a stone throw away from The Duomo. It’s a hole-in-the-wall takeaway eatery, where they serve panzerotti – a fried dough parcel which is stuffed with tomato and oozing mozzarella, I’d call it Italian street food. It’s greasy and oh so bad for you, but it’s incredible.
I had one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever had at Pizza AM and it’s somewhere I would have never ventured to without my cousin and her Italian pals, where I learnt that it’s sacrilege to put meat on a pizza (whoops). But be prepared to queue for your dinner here, but as you wait, they will bring you a slice of Margarita and a glass of Prosecco! I was shocked when the whole meal came to €16 per person – and someone told me Milan was expensive.
On the doorstep of our apartment in Navigli, was MAGs Cafe. If you’re in this area for breakfast I’d highly recommend grabbing a custard croissant and cappuccino (fun fact: the plural for cappuccinos is actually cappuccini). It’s also the perfect place to grab a cocktail in the evening and watch the sunset over the canal.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Milan is during April to May or late September to October. Visiting during the spring and autumn months means you can avoid the summer’s scalding temperatures.
How much does it cost?
Milan is more expensive than many other cities in Italy, purely because it’s the country’s business centre. We were however taken around Milan by locals, so managed to do it on the cheap – and actually brought Euros home with us for a change! A coffee will set you back €2 and a beer or spitz in a bar or restaurant will cost around €6.