Take in the view from the Duomo roof (Milan Cathedral)
Emerging from the steamy subway station at the Piazza del Duomo, look up and you can’t help but be blown away by the enormous white marble façade of Milan’s cathedral. The Duomo is the most famous of Milan’s tourist attractions, and rightly so. It took centuries to build and after the latest restoration it looks as impressive as ever. Walk around it to appreciate its size, or if you want to see inside, make sure you are dressed appropriately, covering arms and legs, otherwise you won’t be allowed in! Taking the audio guide tour of the interior is a treat and it’s the best way to get the most out of your visit – be sure to check out the magnificent enormous stained-glass windows behind the choir. Don’t miss a visit to the roof: take the elevator or stairs and enjoy the panoramic view of the city. The large square in front of the cathedral hosts concerts and other festivities.
Leonardo’s Last Supper and Santa Maria delle Grazie
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Il Cenacolo, is the ultimate attraction to see in Milan. This iconic fresco is located in the refectory of the monastery next to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, not far from city centre. But unless you have booked a ticket in advance, save yourself the trouble of going, as tickets always sell out and cannot be bought on the day. The best way to get in is to book one of the available city tours or guided visits, as these have pre-arranged tickets. Be aware that visitors are only allowed in for 15 minutes, in small groups. Afterwards (or before) don’t miss the church itself for its beautiful Renaissance architecture, frescoes and paintings.
Get some culture at the Teatro alla Scala
Typically Milanese, the discreet, neo-classical façade of Teatro alla Scala, the world’s most famous opera house, belies its opulent interior – featuring acres of red velvet and gilded balconies. Tickets to world-class opera and ballet performances aren’t as hard to get hold of as you’d think, if you’re prepared to be flexible about seating. Look out for a superb programme of popular operas throughout 2015, under new musical director Riccardo Chailly.
Milan’s fourth century father Saint Ambrose, the most famous Milanese archbishop, converted and baptised the influential Saint Augustine (in the Duomo). Ambrose is the city’s patron saint and has his own basilica which is another definite must-see in Milan, both for its very old and original architectural elements (façade, atrium, column capitals, bell towers), but also for the artwork inside: Volvinius altar, choir, sarcophagus of Stilichone and mosaics. There is also a museum and a treasury.
Sforzesco Castle, Parco Sempione and Giardini Pubblici
Visiting Sforza Castle? Don’t leave without scoping out the adjacent Parco Sempione, opened in 1888 and designed by architect Emilio Alemagna who wanted this gorgeous green space to frame panoramic views of the stately home. Aside from the outdoors sculpture gallery, there’s also an aquarium which is free to visit if you go on Tuesdays after 2pm and on the first Sunday of the month, otherwise it’s €5 (closed on Mondays). If you’re in the area, another of the most attractive things to see in Milan is the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, in the Porta Venezia district, home to the city’s Planetarium. It’s the oldest patch of green in the city, established in 1784, and the Planetarium hosts a series of family-friendly guided tours of the starry night sky, starting in June.Within walking distance from the Duomo, lies the impressive castle of the Renaissance Sforzesco family who once ruled Milan. It now hosts a collection of civic museums and offers access to the large Sempione park so combines not one but two of the best places to visit in Milan.
Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Pinacoteca di Brera and Museo del Novecento
It’s not just Florence that has the famous Italian Renaissance paintings: Milan has two large collections as well. Near the Scala opera theatre you’ll find the Brera Pinacoteca offering a large collection of works by the likes of Mantegna, Raphael, Piero della Francesca, Caravaggio, Bellini, Canaletto, Tintoretto and many more. The gallery’s website is all in Italian but offers a virtual view of what there is on display, and there are multilingual audio guides available. For the Ambrosiana art gallery (also near the Duomo) it’s wise to book tickets in advance online. Here you’ll find works on display from Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Brueghel, Titian, Caravaggio and Raphael, plus an interesting library with the Codex Atlanticus of Leonardo and a Virgilius manuscript.
To the right of the Duomo, facing the cathedral, are the beautifully restored twin Arengario buildings, one of which houses the new Novecento art museum. The museum houses many of the masterpieces of Italian twentieth century Modern art, like the impressive Quarto Stato painting of Pellizza di Volpeda (striking workers at the turn of the century – you’ll probably recognize it when you see it) and the famous Unique Forms of Continuity in Space statue by Boccioni (imagine a bronze Transformer). This piece is also displayed on the reverse side of the Italian 20 cents Euro coin. Top tip: if you enter one or two hours before closing, your visit is free, otherwise admission is €5. Head straight for the top floor of the building: it’s one of the best places in Milan to take in a magnificent view of the Duomo and square, especially after sunset.
Day trip: Pavia and Oltrepò Pavese and Navigate the Navigli waterways
If you’re looking for top notch places to eat in Milan on a Sunday night then you could be out of luck; most of the better restaurants are closed on Sundays. But instead of going to one of the very few that are open, or one of a lesser quality, turn that frown upside down and discover part of Milan’s hinterland. A real tradition in the Italian countryside is the Sunday lunch, or pranzo della domenica, during which whole families eat and chat together for hours in one of the many _agriturismo, _or farmhouse style brasserie. The Oltrepò Pavese wine region, just 50 km south of Milan, offers an excellent choice of such traditional restaurants – try the fabulous local wines while taking in magnificent vineyard vistas at the likes of Trattoria Quaglini in the village of Schizzola. You can reach the area in less than an hour from Milan and on the way visit one of Lombardy’s main treasures, the Certosa di Pavia monastery (free entry, closed over lunch time). On your way back from lunch, stop for a stroll around the laid-back historical city of Pavia.
Shop in style at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele or in the Golden Rectangle
With its glass-and-iron dome, magnificent mosaics and marble floorways, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele arcade is definitely one of the world’s most glamorous (and oldest – it was built in 1867) shopping malls. Among its claims to fame is the planet’s first-ever Prada store, here since 1913. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani – and most recently, Versace – all have a presence, but most visitors come to spin their heels in the famous bull’s testicles, part of a floor mosaic it’s said to bring good luck.
Purveying hot-off-the-catwalk clothes by the likes of Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Versace, it’s little wonder that Milan’s upscale fashion shopping district is known as the Quadrilatero della Moda – the Rectangle of Gold. The merchandise at most of the area’s shops is most definitely not for those on a budget, though you can always poke your noses into DMagazine Outlet, a discount fashion shop on via Manzoni, or simply enjoy a spot of window shopping, whilst clocking the well-dressed fauna that inhabits these style-conscious streets.
Get in with the in crowd at 10 Corso Como
Since its opening in 1990 in a rambling converted garage, the whimsical fashion and design emporium that is 10 Corso Como – with bookshop, café, restaurant, B&B and gallery – has become an essential port of call for anyone with the vaguest of interests in the fashion industry. Owned by former Vogue Italia editor Carla Sozzani, its interiors feature swirling, organic furnishings and monochrome abstract patterns that add up to a magical take on fashion land. Prices aren’t for the faint-hearted – but you may uncover the occasionally affordable notebook or accessory: snap them up, if only to get hold of one of the shop’s beautifully designed paper bags.
Eat by travelling on a Tram
If you want to take a more unusual Milan sightseeing tour, try the ATMosfera restaurant tram: dining in a classical tram while riding through the city. Book at the ATM website.