Most visitors to Italy use Milan as a stopover on the way to Como or Venice from some other fabulous European location. Those who just pass through are truly missing out. This city is easily the most underappreciated city in Italy and should be enjoyed and celebrated! It is an exciting juxtaposition of ancient and modern, where Roman ruins lie exposed below rising 19th century apartment buildings. The name Milan traces its roots to the ancient milliners who helped make the city famous for its textiles and fashion. It is the banking capital of the country and is certainly the most progressive and modern city in Italy. You can appreciate its dramatic Italian Gothic cathedral, wildly different than any other cathedral in the country, as well as admire such modern architectural feats as the renowned Vertical Forest, a towering residential development in the city’s Porta Nuova district consisting of two skyscrapers covered in trees and other foliage. It is a city full of contrasts and innumerable things to do and see.
No stop in Milan is complete without seeing the Piazza del Duomo. The beautiful white jagged cathedral sits proudly in the center of the crowded piazza flanked by the stunning shopping area Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on one side and the Duomo Museum on the other. All three sites are worth any amount of time spent there.
On the other side of the Galleria is the world renowned La Scala Opera house, recently renovated, it glitters majestically inside and out. If you can get tickets for a performance there, consider yourself lucky. I spent a blissful few hours on a Sunday afternoon listening to a rehearsal performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto (luckily the backs of the seats have small monitors that can translate the opera into various languages for those who may want a translation of the performance). A few blocks from La Scala is the historical Brera neighborhood. Full of boutiques and tratorrias, it is a lovely way to spend a few hours of strolling. The lanes are narrow, winding and intimate with vendor stalls set up alongside streets full of antiques, jewelry, and artisan brickabrack. The Pinacoteca Museum, located in the Brera district, is one of the best museums in Italy and should not be missed. Lines can get long, I recommend a visit early on a weekday, if possible.
When the weather is nice, as it often is in the fall and spring (summers can be hot and sticky) a trip to Parco Sempione, the huge park a few blocks down from the Duomo, is a pleasant way to spend some time outdoors and away from the tourist traps. While there you can wander the grounds of the Castello Sforzesco and tour the museum there. This castle is steeped in Italian history and is like walking back in time to a land of knights and chivalry.
For those who have the time and would like some off-the-beaten-path sites, I can’t go on enough about the amazing Cimitero Monumentale di Milano, Milan’s beautiful state cemetery! It is a short metro ride from the city center, in an area not often visited by tourists. The outside is imposing and the grounds fascinating. The Italians really know how to celebrate the dead as exhibited by this endless and haunting place.
For a taste of the hip, vibrant nightlife you must visit the Navigli Grande, a series of canals designed by Leonardo (his influence can be found throughout the city, he is considered a treasured son of Milan) lined with quality restaurants, bars, night-clubs, cafes, and shops. Stop into any one of them for an early evening aperitivo, a classic Italian happy hour consisting of a drink of your choice and several complimentary light snacks.
The shopping in Milan is chic and extensive. Via Monte Napoleone is the place to be if you want to shop the high-end designers and exclusive boutiques.
Several gorgeous hotels are near the Piazza del Duomo, Brera and Monte Napoleone areas that are the perfect spot to rest your weary head after a day of sight-seeing. The Mandarin Oriental Milan is a sophisticated property with perfect proximity to all the important sites and surrounded by interesting galleries, shops, and restaurants. It inhabits four classic 18th century buildings and provides the perfect stepping off point for your stay. The Spa at the Mandarin is also the city’s first offering a holistic approach. The Park Hyatt Milan is a bit closer to the action being adjacent to the Galleria and just steps from both La Scala and the cathedral. The rooms are spacious and decorated in a classic contemporary style with original architectural and design details. Both hotels offer Virtuoso amenities.
A trip to Milan will surprise and engage any traveler. It has attractions and charms in abundance. Contract your Herff travel advisor for assistance to book a trip to this sophisticated, vibrant city soon.