Updated: May 12, 2022
A colleague of mine asked me recently for a quick guide to Milan: he had just a couple of days to spend in that beautiful city I lived 7 years in, so I packed this short itinerary of Milan city centre. It's a walking-only guide, or you can take some public transport - my friend didn't have a car so that was important.
This guide is about the main things you shouldn’t miss - with a touch of mine. I won't cover the hidden corners I discovered and loved to spend some time at. For that, it would take a looooong time! Here are the areas I'll cover:
Milan city centre walk
How to travel through the city
What to eat in Milan
More things to see
Three tips for visiting Milan
Extra: Como Lake
Milan City centre walk
Walk by the city centre: start from Piazza Duomo, visit the Duomo – if you are interested there’s also a lift to the rooftop, which is spectacular. Then head towards Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which you’ll access via the giant arch. On the left-hand side of Duomo, Corso Vittorio Emanuele begins: it’s the main shopping place. In piazza Duomo there is also Museo del Novecento (arts from the XX century) and Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace), for more modern art temporary exhibitions.
If you walk the Galleria until its very end you will get to Piazza de La Scala, where you’ll find the famous opera theatre and a statue of Leonardo da Vinci. Behind that you can easily find the Brera quarter, with the Accademia di Brera (the Brera Fine Arts Academy): the whole neighbourhood is charming.
Stop for one of the best cocktails places in Milan, at Cinc (pronunciation is something like: cheenk) - you might have a nice aperitivo there, the little square where it’s located it’s lovely (piazza Formentini), you’ll see – and taste! Also via Montenapoleone and via della Spiga are close-by: they are the street of the fanciest (and very expensive!) shopping.
Navigli is a system of canals designed by Leonardo da Vinci in order to bring marble from outside the city to piazza Duomo to build the church. The city had plenty of these canals, but in the 30s they have been covered. Just a few are left now. Those are called Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, and they are a place for hanging out in the evenings and having drinks. Also, on Sunday mornings you can also find the flea market.
My recommendation is to visit Vicolo de’ Lavandai, which is very characteristic. A very good aperitivo or cocktail place is Mug. Not really by the Navigli, but not far away, is a lovely place for lunch or dinner, which is Fonderie Milanesi (book! And ask for a place outside). Or if you want to go for something very fancy and traditional Milanese, go to El Brellìn restaurant. I’ve personally never been, but it’s very famous.
Another nice walk you can do starts from Lanza tube station (green line). You should take Corso Garibaldi from there and walk through Corso Garibaldi. It will lead you to a lovely square, called piazza della Moscova, where you can go to Princi bakery and have one of the best real Cappuccinos you can have in Milan. I also love their croissants, I used to work in the area and I used to go there for breakfast sometimes (good memories!).
Then keep going on through Corso Garibaldi and you’ll reach Corso Como, the famous and fancy street. Corso Como 10 is a place for aperitivo with art exhibitions. The head towards piazza Gae Aulenti, and you’ll find the contemporary side of Milan: it’s a high-located square with shops, cafes and a fountain, surrounded by skyscrapers. For a “rustic” food experience there you can go to L’Altra Isola restaurant, or Da Tomaso restaurant (always call before and book). They are particularly authentic. The owners too are particularly authentic Milanese: grumpy but good, in their deep (this is how the Milanese are known for!).
How to travel through Milan
You can take the tube, there are 4 active lines, easy to guess, but if you are planning to stay within the city centre, and go to the Navigli, check the tramways: if you are lucky enough to get the old-fashioned one, you’ll have such a peculiar experience! And - most important - you’ll see the city while moving. Use the app City Mapper to find the right paths and times. Buy a day ticket.
What to eat in Milan
Ossobuco, risotto (the most typic is saffron risotto), gorgonzola, shnitzel – called “cotoletta” (you should naturally pronunce it correctly as you read it!). Plus anything Italian. Also, whenever you are on the go, and you are hungry, and you see a panini truck, you’ll be sure their paninis are delicious, so go for it.
Drink: Spritz, Prosecco, Negroni, Sbagliato.
More things to see in Milan
Milan has a huge Art Nouveau side, which I love. Most of the Liberty buildings are around Porta Venezia and Palestro (red tube line): wander by via Malpighi and the Library in via Frisi. Also, there’s a good gelato place at the very beginning of Corso Buenos Aires. Special tip: in via Cappuccini there is a private garden with real flamingos by a pool! You can spy on them through the plants!
You can go up to the Torre Branca and see the city from above, it’s very romantic.
Another option is the Castello Sforzesco (there’s last Michelangelo’s sculpture there, an incomplete Pietà, but watch out for the opening times). From the castle, you’ll enter Parco Sempione, one of the biggest parks in Milan. If you cross it, you’ll end at a big Triumphal Arc, called Arco della Pace (Arch of peace) and from the Arch, Corso Sempione begins. It’s a famous place for drinks, but it isn’t really my area.
Triennale is a place for design and art exhibitions, as well as Hangar Bicocca, and Fondazione Prada. Fascinating places.
Three tips for visiting Milan from an Italian
Always bring some cash with you. Many shop workers are reluctant to card payments.
Always bring anti-mosquito spray with you, especially on Navigli - this VERY important.
Tips are not required in bars and restaurants in Milan, but they are obviously appreciated.
Extra: Como Lake
If you have time to outside, here are some names and address for a visit to Como Lake.
Don't miss the Como-Brunate funicular: it's fun for the kids and you’ll get a spectacular view at the top.
The Bellagio town: a famous village by the lake. Go for a walk or for dinner.
Crotto dei Platani: very romantic restaurant by the lake. They cook mainly lake fish – I actually discovered there I like it! It's a place so fascinating that you expect someone to propose to you, just random - can you imagine?
I hope this guide to Milan will be useful, if so let me know! And remember: the motto is "Milan l'è un gran Milan" (meaning: Milan is such a grand thing)!
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