36-48 hours is the perfect length of time for exploring the city of Milan. Read on for my Milan city guide, setting out my Milanese highlights…
Milan City Guide
We arrived smack bang at what was simultaneously the hottest and busiest part of the day. Piazza del Duomo was positively heaving with people. After the calm of Lake Como (read here), I wasn’t ready for this level of hustle and bustle. Needless to say, Milan and I did not immediately click.
In order to cheer me up we jumped onto the metro and went in search of gelato… Now, if you are anything like me you spend all too much of your time thinking about sweet treats, looking for sweet treats and, of course, eating sweet treats. I was expecting big things from Milan on this front. I’m pleased to say that it most certainly delivered. One pistachio-flavoured gelato later and Milan and I were beginning to see eye-to-eye
The primary reason for our trip to Italy was to visit the beautiful towns situated on the banks of Lake Como. When travelling form the UK, the most convenient way to get to Lake Como is to fly into Milan and then take the train. Milan was very much an afterthought – we tagged it on to the end of the trip. For a city of its size, there wasn’t a great amount that I wanted to see in Milan. I found that 36 hours was more than enough.
~ What to Do and See ~
1. Check out the Last Supper
There were two main things that we wanted to see in Milan. The first was the Last Supper. Unoriginal I know, but you can’t really go to Milan and not see one of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpieces. My friend sorted out the tickets and, as I understand things, they can be notoriously difficult to get hold of due to tour companies snatching them all up. We were fortunate that the opening hours were extended and we managed to squeeze in late on our first night. If you want to see the Last Supper, book your tickets a couple of months in advance (if possible).
The viewing is regimented. Visitors show up at their allotted ticket time and then in small groups of 20-25 people have 15 minutes to hall in which the Last Supper is painted. The painting dominates one of the walls and, although but a tiny fraction of the original paint strokes remain, da Vinci’s mastery is evident.
One thing that I would question, however, is Jesus’ table ordering etiquette.
“Hi, its Jesus. I’d like to make a booking please.”
“Jesus? Of Nazareth?”
“Yep, one and the same.”
“Oh cool. We would be delighted to have you. A table for how many people?”
“You’re lucky, we should just about be able to squeeze you in.”
“So yeah, here’s the thing, we all want to sit on the same side…”
Whilst it is overshadowed by the masterpiece within, the building in which the Last Supper is housed – the Convent of the Santa Maria delle Grazie – is a beautiful building.
2. Explore the Duomo
Second on our list of ‘must see’ material was Milan’s Duomo. It is a masterpiece of gothic design. Some 600 years passed between the first foundations being dug in 1386 and the cathedral’s completion. The scale of the project meant that new canals had to be dug in order to transport the huge quantities of pink veined which marble from which it is constructed.
The numbers make for impressive reading. The Duomo di Milan is one of the largest churches in the world and its cavernous interior can house up to 40,000 worshippers. The Duomo also has the most statues (over 3,000) and spires (135) of any building in the world.
The roof of the Duomo provides some great panoramas across Milan, so I would recommend purchasing a ticket which includes a visit to the roof for this very reason. Access to the roof also allows you to get up close to the many spires (there are hundreds of them) and appreciate their intricate details.
As the hotspot tourist attraction of the city, massive crowds swell in the Piazza del Duomo throughout the day. I’m not the biggest fan of dense crowds and much preferred the cathedral in the quiet of the early morning light.
3. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Milan is rightly recognised as one of the fashion capitals of the world. But i didn’t visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II for the Louis Vuitton, Prada or Gucci shops. No, I had come to admire the architecture.
The Galleria is located on the northern side of the Piazza del Duomo. As with the Piazza itself, during the day it proves to be incredibly popular and, as I found, you’ll need to push your way through the throngs of people to get anywhere. Its certainly less crowded in the evenings.
The facades of the four-story arcade are airy and intricate. The Galleria’s octagonal centre point is ordained by a glass and metal dome from which light floods in. Italy’s oldest shopping mall is beautiful.
4. Visit Sforzesco Castle
Sfornisco Castle is an imposing citadel which, in the 16/17th centuries was one of the largest in all of Europe. Today it houses a number of Milan’s museums. We skipped on the museums – the weather was beautiful – and instead took an enjoyable stroll around the grounds.
5. Stroll along the canals in the Naviglio district
South-east of Milan’s historic centre is the Naviglio district; defined by its series of canals and waterways. In the evening its selection of bars, eateries and offerings of live music make it a popular haunt for Milan’s younger crowd. During the day, its fairly chilled and a fun place to explore. It’s also great to chill out canal-side with a coffee or some pasta. The still waters of the canals make for some instagrammable photos…
~ What to Eat ~
One of my favourite things about Italy is the food and Milan was no different in this respect. Here you will find yummy samples of all the best Italian staples: I’m talking pizza, pasta and gelato. Read on for some of my recommendations…
For Pizza: Pizzeria di Rita e Antonio. The exterior was a little run down and the building needed a little TLC. Inside, the staff were friendly and the pizza was delicious. A thin base, plenty of fresh toppings and left in the oven for just long enough. No burnt crusts here.
For Pasta: when exploring the Naviglio district there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat. We stopped at Ristorante le Vigne Milano, which had a variety of pasta dishes. and I opted for a very pleasant, light and summery asparagus and pea tagliatelle.
For Gelato: I bloody love gelato and am pleased report that there are so many gelato shops in Milan and it really is hard to go wrong. For me, the highlight was Chocolat. Their pistachio gelato, in particular, was scrumptious. It was some of the finest gelato I’ve ever had and my inner glutton was more than satisfied.
~ Final Thoughts ~
I certainly didn’t fall in love with Milan. This tends to match the general consensus when speaking to others who have visited. For for me, it was very much a stepping stone for visiting Lake Como. If you are visiting the lakes, it is likely that Milan will act as your arrival and departure point and is worth a day or two of your time, if for nothing else the to see the Last Supper and the Duomo.
Anybody else feel the same way about Milan? What were your highlights of the city?