Milan Travel Guide
In a country renowned for its contributions to art, fashion and science, Milan is bursting with creative flair both past and present, seducing the senses with chic design, timeworn yet timeless architectural styles and unparalleled panache. Where futurism was founded, Milan has a history of trail blazing; aside from Valentino, Moschino, Miu Miu and Armani, Milan also gave us the world’s greatest examples of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance art à la Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Bramante. Marvel at the city’s cathedrals, opera houses and palazzos as they meld seamlessly with bohemian boutiques and voguish bars. No place is perfect however and orthodoxy holds up the pursuit of LGBT rights across Italy. In Milan however, the queer scene is defiantly alive, particularly in Via Lecco and Via Sammartini. For your definitive guide to Milan points of interest, you’ve come to the right place.
The best hotels in Milan
Featuring spectacular views over the Piazza del Duomo and cutting-edge, bespoke bedrooms created by a collective of leading local designers, a stay at the understated yet opulent Townhouse Duomo will be a stay to remember. More than just a hotel, guests can enjoy Michelin-star dining at Felix Lo Basso Restaurant followed by a nightcap at the chic Terrazza Duomo 21. Or walk the rooftop path at Highline Gallery, crossing over into the famed Vittorio Emanuele Gallery. Michelin stars are rife in the city, with the chef at Porta Volta’s Hotel VIU Milan also carrying. In addition to stellar cuisine, VIU boasts a rooftop pool, modernist designer rooms and vertical forest architecture just minutes from an array of Milan points of interest, such as the futuristic Gae Aultenti Piazza and the Brera art district.
Also in Milan’s historic heart is the retro-mod Room Mate Giulia fit for even the most design-conscious urban travellers. Cutting-edge yet surprisingly homey, this stylish stay spoils guests with extra-convenient amenities such as leisurely breakfast until noon and Wi-Fi coverage around the city. Minutes from upmarket shopping streets on via della Spiga, lies the Senato Hotel Milano, an urban oasis of bespoke style and glitz. Hosting an marble-lined entrance extending through the book-lined hallways and leading to a tranquil inner courtyard, the Senato is a place of understated chic, also home to a retro-chic café and a minimalist rooftop lounge, ideal for sunny breaks.
Built atop a former perfume factory, the Magna Pars Suites Milano combines equal parts high-tech innovation and eco sensibilities in a sophisticated multi-tiered, loft-style space of steel and glass. Inside you’ll find minimalist design enhanced by cutting-edge furnishings, snippets of colour and subtle olfactory triggers in each room from jasmine to patchouli. The Da Noi In restaurant, run by 2-star Michelin chef Fulvio Siccardi, entices with creative takes on regional ingredients in a relaxing space featuring a fragrant interior garden.
Things to do in Milan
A city with unrivalled cultural and historical attractions, curating the list of things to do in Milan to fit on one page is a tricky job. Nevertheless there are some figures from Italy’s history who can’t be ignored. The Leonardo Da Vinci Museum’s namesake is one of them, one of the most famous science and technology museums in the world, dedicated to da Vinci’s many innovative projects within air and rail transport, modern technology and much more. Another of Milan’s noteworthy museums includes the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, home of the extensive collection of well-to-do heir Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. Housed in his former upscale residences, the ‘house museum’ style exhibitions span great art periods including the Middle Ages, early Renaissance and baroque eras.
For a high-end shopping experience to melt your credit card, head to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping street, a 1800s arcade turned luxury mall featuring the crème de la crème of designer brands and swanky dining experiences. Those not keen on the price tags can come to window shop and people-watch over an espresso or two in the plaza. If Valentino and Versace weren’t cultural enough for you, to get one up in the culture stakes you might want to try the opera. If you are an opera lover, the Scala Theater should top your list of what to see in Milan; it is the world’s most famous opera house after all. And while its fame means that getting a ticket to a performance can seem near impossible, there is an option to take part in a guided tour of the theatre to gaze at the impressive interior and study the venue’s illustrious star-studded history.
After wandering the streets for days, your feet will thank me for this next one in our Milan guide. The QC Termemilano is a spa not to be missed during your visit, as well as all the usual spa features, including whirlpools, saunas, relaxation rooms and steam baths, the QC Termemilano is so much more. With cutting-edge architectural design, the spa itself is enclosed within the ancient district of Porta Romana, an area famed for its Spanish colonial history, making this the ultimate cultural treat.
What to see in Milan
Those wondering what to see in Milan should know that the whole city is in fact a living museum offering up an endless supply of stories for those interested in its history. The historic Navigli District, for example, an area closely linked to the city’s complex canal system, was once a key import and export trade hub for the whole of Europe. And while many of the water highways have disappeared, the district is now a cultural hub of compact pastel-coloured terraces housing hip boutiques, restaurants and bars. East of Navigli you’ll find famed fashion house Prada’s additions to the cultural space, in the form of Fondazione Prada where its permanent contemporary and 20th Century art collections and installations are on display. Housed in a former distillery designed by Rem Koolhaas, this art gallery’s chic terrazzo-tiled floor is also shared by unexpected cultural iconography including the Wes Anderson-themed Bar Luce and other cinematic surprises.
One of the coolest things to do in Milan for free must be walking through Parco Sempione, a park and open-air museum extending north behind the Castello Sforzesco. Check out the fascist architecture on display at the Palazzo dell’Arte and Torre Branca as well as the enduring styles of the Art Nouveau at the Acquario. Another key figure in Art Nouveau history is the Villa Invernizzi, a stile liberty palace overlooking Corso Venezia in the Porta Venezia neighbourhood. But rather than focusing on the villa’s architecture, it’s the garden which wows, home to flocks of pink flamingos and peacocks. While the villa has restricted access, visitors are free to roam the gardens.
Turning mansions into museums everywhere you look, Milan has an amazing range of residential delights to explore. One such offering is the Villa Necchi Campiglio a 1935 home hidden within lush gardens on Via Mozart in the heart of the city centre. Occupied by the Fascist Army during World War II, this building received a post-war overhaul by architect Tomaso Buzzi who recreated the rationalist structure into a lavish 17th Century-style abode featuring terrazzo flooring, velvet furnishings and gilded finishes.
Milan’s undeniable creative nature means traditional dishes are often re-invented and served in linger-inducing design-centric venues
Where to eat in Milan
Don’t let the fashionable façade fool you, Milanese cuisine is all about decidedly unglamorous hearty staples that please the palette considerably more than the eye. Popular dishes include risottos, flavoured to perfection with the pricey spice saffron, earthy minestrone and the veal dish coteletta. Thankfully, Milan’s undeniable creative nature means traditional dishes are often re-invented and served in linger-inducing design-centric venues.
Conspire with nature at Un Posto a Milano; a late 17th-century farmhouse renovated to host meals, drinks and events inspired by the region’s freshest bounty. Erba Brusca, juxtaposed between city and country salutes natural materials from woods to the hearth in a spirited venue featuring food crate wine shelves and vivid colours depicting vegetation. In the leading edge Navigli district, 28 Posti serves bistro bites in an inspired design venue featuring recycled furnishings made by Bollate Penitentiary inmates. For mod moments in Milan’s newly face-lifted financial district, rooftop Ceresio 7, offers contempo cuisine surrounded by dark deco interiors and a panoramic terrace with two glistening swimming pools and greenery.
On the cusp between retro and high end, Pisacco serves creative classics housed in a sea of street art and daring design. In a warehouse space adorned with a contrast of distressed walls, crystal chandeliers and tables draped with crisp linens and fine china, Carlo e Camilla host kitchen soirees and cocktails based on raw, seasonal ingredients. White-on-white and chic beyond measure, Lume is the spot to be when nothing but Michelin star excellence will do.
Café culture is alive and well in Milan as evidenced by the quaffed, well-heeled folks spotted sipping fine roasts all about the city. One popular trend is the influx of lifestyle venues offering more than just java and respite. Australian brand Deux ex Machina offers arguably the best example of the one-stop phenomenon; vintage motorbikes (a la Steve Mc Queen), surfboards, accessories, barber shop and café mesh perfectly in a woods on leather, an industrial haven of cool. Gogol & Company is the retro-fab indie bookshop, art gallery and coffee bar everyone wishes was on their corner street, while cosy and quaint Pause doubles as a vintage clothing store. But if coffee and conversation are all things needed to suit your humble goals, then take a break at the Prada Foundation’s Bar Luce, a 50’s-inspired designer dazzler of wood-panelling and formica. Or why not have your (homemade!) cake and coffee too at the industrial-design darling, Pave-Break café.
Shopping in Milan
Milan’s pioneering concept shop 10 Corso Como is still the epitome of must-have avant-garde styling, more than 25 years after its inception. It is here that savvy shoppers find fashions, books, artwork and 3-room hotel in a gallery-esque space and hip garden café ideal for carousing your wares. Other concept notables include the whimsical gallery/furnishings store (don’t miss the Alice meets Wonderland event space) Rossana Orlandi selling outlandish house-ware designs from international talents such as Nacho Carbonell and Dechem Studio. But if your décor tastes tilts towards streamlined minimalism with a dab of Italian ingenuity, De Padova has just the ticket.
Round off your shopping experience with accessories or threads from a select collection of head-to-toe boutiques for gents. Make a stop at the urban-casual Dictionary for street-wear with personality from the likes of Brosbi, Yohji Yamamoto and Void watches. For urban clothing, footwear and statement bowties Full has a fine selection, or if brands are your signature style, Biffi offers the latest ready to wear garbs from Alexander Wang, Paul Smith and Fendi.
Inspired by the bustling second-hand marketplaces of East London, East Market is a mecca for vintage clothing, antiques and odd knicker-knacks you can’t live without. Visitors can buy, barter or bargain any item or spend a lazy afternoon wandering the former WWII factory’s international food stalls. For serious antique shoppers, the Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande boasts over 400 stalls of furniture, books, toys and assorted collectables along the canals of the Navigli district, the last Sunday of every month. This event really draws in the crowds; neighbouring galleries and eateries open late to the delight of visitors. Two other vintage markets worth the trouble are the open air Fiera di Sinigaglia and Porta Genova’s hit or miss Viale Papiniano flea market.
Mono Bar meanwhile is a queer-friendly spot for boys, girls and all stripes to enjoy a rotating line-up of themed event nights
Milan is the quintessential playground for night owls with a penchant for mayhem. And for hungry souls (literally, that is), the pleasant surprise of most Milano cocktail joints is that they routinely offer buffet-style (aperitivo) options generous enough to substitute a meal. A hot spot supporting this particularity is the art deco beauty H Club Diana, an oasis of sophistication featuring signature cocktails, an opulent private garden and resident DJ beats. A wackier combo that actually works is the culinary marriage of craft cocktails and pizza at hipster hangout Dry. Meanwhile, food plays second fiddle to the artsy design and sounds at Le Biciclette, a popular venue offering a platform for on-the-rise artists and DJs ready to make their mark.
Mono Bar meanwhile is a queer-friendly spot for boys, girls and all stripes to enjoy a rotating line-up of themed event nights. Sonic Wood is a weekly crowd pleaser spotlighting DJ sets playing disco, camp, R + B and everything in between. Atmospheric and divine, boy bar Blanco is like a blank canvas come alive with a changing kaleidoscope of lights. Popular among the fashion set, it’s the place to peacock while sporting designer duds. Those looking for bigger and brighter things – with a body-vibrating bass to match – should look no further than TRACK Milano, a club known to host all the best gay events, including popular parties organized by BLOCK, GATE and COX. Offering laser light shows in the style of a 90s Ibiza rave, the venue is also home to horrendously hot go-go boys and a pay system that puts a stop to endless queueing at the bar.
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Gogol & Company | Photo: Andrea Kate Ferrario