Milan often suffers from the same naive assumption that most people (including i) make when thinking of things to do in a city. Which is shopping, shopping, stop for lunch, and a bit more shopping. I had travelled through Milan once before and had decided after seeing the vast queues of gleeful consumers waiting to all but sprawl through the doors of Armani and Versace, to continue further south for a more picturesque and fulfilling experience. However, after years of being submerged in tourism academia, i finally broke the mould and came to the realisation that like most, I was only scratching the surface and had allowed my perceptions to curb my potential for exploration.
Now on a personal note, I do have to say that the one thing England and my hometown of Manchester can learn from Italy, is how to do public transport. From start to finish my trip was affordable and comfortable, and as you can see from the view of the Milano Centrale, Italy knows architecture. Made up of large cupolas and monumental ornamentation, the century old Ulisse Stacchini designed building is the second largest station in Italy, and the hub of all travel connections around Milan; so mark this as a point of interest. One thing I do have to mention is although confusing at first, getting around Milan and other major cities in Italy is easy work. Tickets can be bought from various stations for trams, trains and buses and usually one ticket is all you need. Take note of any tobacco shops (there is a lot) as they also provide tickets. The major difference is that you just hop on and off, scan your ticket when needed, and all within an allotted time. Be aware though that there are random inspections and the financial penalties for not having a ticket are steep.
Milan’s main square; Piazza del Duomo has been the focal point of Milan since 1859 and consists of the Duomo cathedral, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Royal Palace of Milan, the Palazzo Meridionale, Palazzo dell’Arengario, and Palazzo Carminati. The Pinacoteca di Brera and the Museo del Novecento were a particular highlight; showcasing some of the best Renaissance art collections in Italy from the 14th-20th century. My advice is book early to avoid queues, especially in the summer as waiting times can be up to 4 hours. Purchase combination tickets where possible as most museums have partnerships with other attractions, offering discounts on websites and travel apps. A few minutes’ walk from here is the Teatro alla scala; a world famous opera house designed by Giuseppe Piermarini which opened in 1778. Admission is around 10 to 15 Euro however, I would recommend booking a show in advance to get the full experience. The walk around lasts around 10 minutes and you only get a glimpse of the famous stage.
Circling back to the Piazza del Duomo, we come to what is in my opinion the crown jewel of Milan; The Duomo di Milano. The city’s main catholic place of worship; construction began in 1386 and amazingly is still ongoing today. One thing you’ll notice with anything I post is I always look for a view and this one is breath-taking. The church can accommodate up to 40,000 people and is a staggering 109 meters from the central spire to the ground. The Madonnina is displayed at the highest point and is one of the most famous cathedral statues in the world. The replica statue in the main cathedral is a landmark for religious pilgrimage, and you can often see someone taking a moment to reflect. Despite being raised roman catholic, I have drifted into the world of science more and more however, standing inside something so architecturally complex and inspiring, you can understand why faith is still so important to many in Italy.
Tickets are reasonably priced and can include entrance to the rooftop, underground and the Palace of Milan Museum for around 35 Euro. There is lift access if needed as climbing the winding staircase is a challenge however, I would recommend it just for fun. 15 minutes’ walk is the Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses The Last Supper fresco by Leonardo da Vinci. Admission to see the fresco is around 10 Euro and only a few people are allowed in at once to protect it from contamination so expect large queues. The longevity of this building is remarkable as since its construction in 1490, it has survived being used as a training outpost by Napoleons troops and even WWII bombings. Other notable mentions include; Santa Maria Presso di San Satiro, San Maurizio al Monastero, Cimitero Monumentale and the San Siro. If you’re like me and you want a bit of relaxation, why not take a picnic to Parco Sempione and enjoy the sight of Castello Sforzesco whilst maybe catching up on a few Z’s, which in 38-degree July heat I can assure is easily achievable.
When talking about food, Italy like many places is full of the so called “best pizza places in world”, these tourist traps often are around major attractions and public squares, so planning in advance is recommended. Public toilets are also hard to come by, and most food outlets require you to be a paying customer so having an idea where you want to eat is handy. If your planning excursions pay a trip to the local supermarket. I travelled during a heat wave in mid-July, so having a steady water intake was important, and the various locals I spoke with recommended this as food outlets usually charge a premium. What I can say for definite, is Italy is an ice cream dream. There was not a single place I tried and did not enjoy. From flavour to texture, the variations of gelato are never ending ,and since you’re on holiday, it’s OK to eat it for breakfast lunch and supper. Other tips I would say include; walk between sites instead of taking public transport; local ATM’s are often cheaper than buying Euros at home; drinking tap water is normal here and will save you a fortune.
I would probably recommend that with planning, Milan is a 2-day trip like most cities. You could potentially extend you trip and enjoy a relaxing cruise in nearby Lake Como for around 60- 80 Euro, or even head north for a train tour in the Swiss Alps. I always try to navigate through my own positive experiences and just leave little nuggets to take away. Tourism is a wonderful thing, and with consideration of local people, businesses and the environment, it can be a great experience for everyone. I just wanted to finish by thanking all the people we met along the way who carried their day with a smile and made each memory extra special. I can finally say that I was wrong about Milan.