There is something about this Italian city. That something, that spark, made me visit Milan three times. Twice during the magical time that is Christmas and once during a hot summer. Both seasons give the city a different vibe and both times are worth a trip. It’s also perfect for a January escape – sales in the global capital of fashion sounds like a good reason to travel, doesn’t it. Milan is fairly small, but there is lots to do (besides shopping) and I will walk you through all of that in my 3-days itinerary.
For the first visit, I went with friends and we stayed in a friendly hotel away from the city centre – about a 15 minute metro ride. The second time, we went for a cute tiny family hotel also located a short ride from the main sites. It wasn’t bad, but for Milan I recommend staying in the city centre seeing as it is very small, and you won’t need to use public transport. That’s what we did for our third visit and we literally were walking distance from everything. You can find some budget friendly hotels in the very heart of Milan and save money on transport. Although, if you decide you do want to stay outside of the city centre, don’t worry, Milan’s transport is well organised and easy to use.
If you are coming by coach from the airport, it will drop you off at Milano Centrale – the main railway station. This building is magnificent and will make you fall in love with Milan straight away. However, be cautious, you will be ‘welcomed’ by many local ‘black market’ sellers and a rather large amount of homeless people. Sadly, this is a big issue in Milan so be prepared for it as they can be quite rude sometimes. Don’t let that put you off though, from embracing the beauty of this city and this stunning rail station. Opened in 1931 it has a rich historical vibe. Give yourself some time to explore it, it is full of shops, restaurants and beautiful architectural elements. When you are done, there is direct access to the metro and plenty of taxis waiting outside so that you can make your way to the hotel.
Where to next? There is a lot going on in Milan – it is the global capital of fashion and design, it is a financial hub, it is full of art exhibitions and historical sites, and oh my God – the local food is just yummmmmy (tip: Try avoiding the main streets as they are the tourist hotspots and the food is nothing like the proper local cuisine. Get lost in the tiny side streets instead and go on the lookout for a cosy local family restaurant). Even if you are here only for a weekend getaway, you can see it all!
Here is how to make the most of Milan in three days.
They say save the best for last. I am going to give totally different advice for your Milan experience – jump right in and start your tour in breathtaking Duomo Cathedral. It is perhaps the most beautiful building I have ever seen in my life. Its’ architecture is spectacular. What makes it really fascinating is the colour of its façade that changes during the day as the sun goes around. Oh I just love that building! It is stunning inside and out. If you are planning to go in (and you certainly should), don’t forget to make sure your shoulders and knees are covered or you won’t be allowed in. There is a very strict photo taking policy. During my first visit, it was not allowed at all. For our most recent visit it was allowed but at an additional fee. Pay particular attention to the floor at the entrance so as not to miss the Sundial. But then look up and enjoy the extraordinary beauty of this place.
The highlight of the visit is a walk on the rooftop of the Duomo. I strongly recommend not taking the lift, if you can. I am by no means a fan of stair climbing, but in this particular instance, it is worth all the effort. As you go up, the cathedral offers stunning views over the city and its architecture. When you are up there, just sit down for a little while, take a deep breath and enjoy the view.
When you get down, treat yourself to a cup of coffee in one of the cafes on the square and do not forget to taste some Cannoli. Oh boy, do it tastes good!
Moving forward, right next to the cathedral, you will find the Museo del Novecento where you can enjoy some twentieth-century art. Part of it is free, however the tickets to the main exhibition cost €10 and can be pre-purchased online or at the door. After you finish your tour of the museum, treat yourself to a nice lunch. There are many restaurants on the main square, but as recommended earlier, rather than going on the high street, try one of the smaller local restaurants or cafés. Don’t worry, there are plenty.
Then make your way to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which is the world’s oldest shopping mall. It is not a budget friendly place, but is worth a visit nonetheless. In the middle of the galleria, there is a mosaic picture of a Taurus on the floor. You will notice there is a hole right where his testicles would be. That is because the legend says, if you put your heel right there and turn around three times anticlockwise, you will avoid bad luck. Worth a try, right?
The city of Milan is famed for being ‘a shopping mecca’. That’s why I suggest spending the rest of of your first day browsing the shops on the main promenade leading to the city centre. Trust me, whichever direction you take, there will be shops. Even if you are on a budget, it is worth walking around and checking out the beautifully decorated shop windows! There are also many street artists performing a variety of acts, from music to magic tricks. Let them entertain you :).
Now that you have fully embraced Milan’s atmosphere, it is time for a bit of history. Make your way to the Castello. It is not the most beautiful of castles, but it nonetheless makes for a nice morning walk around it. The castle defences were designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. The castle exit will take you straight into the Parco Sempione. It is a very beautiful park and I recommend giving yourself some time to relax there. The greenery spreads across 116 acres with some interesting things to see, including an aquarium (Acquario Civico), a sports stadium (Arena Civica), a tower (Torre Branca) and the palace of arts (Palazzo dell’Arte). Don’t forget to cross the Ponte delle Sirenette (bridge of mermaids) which is the most romantic part of the park and a popular marriage proposal location. At the end of the park, you will find the Arco della Pace (arch of peace) which was built as a tribute to Napoleon’s victories.
Then make your way to the canals. Navigli a Porta Romana is a perfect place to end your day. Take the metro to Porta Romana. Navigli is a short walk from the station. It is a lively area with lots of shops and bars. The market is located on either side of the canal. Get yourself a yummy gelato and walk around the canal. In the evening, the bars offer ‘all you can eat’ buffets at very attractive prices. (Tip: have a walk around first to compare what is included in the price as some buffets are more generous than others and some even have a welcome drink included). Later in the evening, the whole canal transforms into one big party. Have fun!
On your final day, go and explore Brera. This neighbourhood is full of small family shops offering local goods. What a treasure! You will easily spend a whole day here. There is no shortage of places to eat either. Spend your last euros in outlets- there are a few of them in Brera, and get yourself a glamorous outfit for your evening at the Opera. Teatro alla Scala will be a perfect end to your trip. Don’t forget to book your tickets in advance!