Known as the fashion and business capital of Italy, Milan is always on the list of must-see cities to visit in that wonderful country; if tasked with the job of hosting an event for top customers in Italy, anyone would agree that the city is no-brainer. However, there are many preconceived notions of what Italy can hold, and while Milan lived up to some of them, it also ended up being one of the most unexpected experiences of the entire trip.
For one thing, the city is filled with graffiti — more than I’ve ever seen. It lines almost every shop and every street of the city, and let me tell you, it’s an odd combination when contrasted with so many gorgeously-dressed people walking around. But then again, the effortlessness that seems to exude from Milanese as they go about their days on their graffiti-covered streets makes it seem more like an urban-themed runway show than real life. And in line with that, the city was a wonder to explore, offering a different view into what Italian culture and life can really be.
Travel Tips for Stress-Free Adventures
But before we get into the don’t-miss aspects of Milan, let’s go over some basics when it comes to traveling in Europe:
1. Some cities in Europe have big problems with pick-pocketing, so always be conscious of yourself, your surroundings and your belongings. I always wear an “over the body” bag that zips closed; it’s far more difficult to steal.
2. If traveling in the summer, bring light, airy clothes. Italy in particular is hot, and sometimes humid. With all the walking you’ll be doing, you’ll need comfortable shoes and breathable clothes. My favorite pairing was a pair of sandals and a maxi-dress with hair in a beat-the-heat upswept style/bun. If traveling in the fall or winter, on the other hand, make sure to layer; the weather can be unpredictable, so it’s always nice to have a coat or scarf when needed.
3. Find your travel ritual. This is different for many people; it could be seeing the most popular monument, going to a farmer’s market, or reading in a park. My personal ritual is taking a walk before the city truly wakes up: around 7:30 a.m., shops are beginning to open, the air is brisk and quiet, and you can see locals heading out to work. It’s one of the most perfect things I do whenever I visit somewhere new.
Now, for the must-see’s of Milan:
Panzerotti di Luini
Via Santa Radegonda, 16, 20121
You must go to Panzerotti di Luini near the Duomo. What are panzerottis? Milanese fast food, sweet pockets of deep-fried bread filled with goodies. Our favorite was the fritta, which had gooey mozzarella and spicy salami inside it. Hello heaven. They also only cost a few euro, so are very friendly on the budget.
Via San Raffaele, 6, 20121
Gelato. What can we say about gelato — other than we got addicted to it while in Italy. We may have even had it for breakfast two times while in Florence. In Milan, there is a fantastic shop around the corner from Panzerotti di Luini (if you have a hankering for dessert), called Cioccolato Italiani. The fragola gelato was worth every lick (that’s strawberry for us English-speaking folks).
Duomo di Milano
This stunning architectural site is absolutely worth seeing. Even if you only have one day in Milan, this should be on your list! Building began in 1386, and took over five centuries to complete. It’s the fifth-largest cathedral in Europe, and Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned the King of Italy in these halls. We’re a bit of a history nerd, so you’ll have to forgive us, but there is something incredible about standing in a building that is over five hundred years old, inside which people have walked for centuries. It’s quite the moment when you realize how much history is standing around you.
Insider’s tip: Make sure to bring a cardigan or a wrap if you are wearing a tank top or sleeveless dress. They will NOT let you into the church if you are showing too much skin. This also counts for dresses deemed too short.
Via Generale Gustavo Fara, 12, 20124
One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in Milan. On a business agenda during my trip was a dinner with the European CTO and Country Manager of our company (both Italian), so we trusted they knew where to take us.
Once we arrived, prosecco (a sparkling white wine) was served while the table was made ready. Then the gentlemen started to order, and we were in absolute culinary awe. There was buratta, prosciutto, mushroom salad with parmesan and olive oil, a creamy risotto and pasta carbonara. For the main dish, they brought out platters of steak that were so delicious, we couldn’t stop eating them. Then there were little fried potatoes that were so simple, yet so flavorful. And the wine — oh, what can we say about Italian wine, other than perfect.
We concluded with tiramisu and Limoncello. Needless to say we slept like a well-fed baby that night. If you are ever in Milan, please go try Dalla Zia.
Via Andrea Maffei 12, 20135
Prog came on the recommendation by one of the local customers I had met the evening before. While it’s outside the main part of Milan — in an area called Porta Vittoria — it was absolutely worth the trip. The bar itself has a very cool — but at the same time cozy – atmosphere, and is incredibly unassuming in what it promises.
We had made reservations for an “aperitivo,” which is Italian for “pre-dinner drinks with small bites.” My drink choice: the “Maffei 7” (prosecco, gin and lemon), a simple yet delicious cocktail, one of the best I’d ever had. It was the perfect place to spend the evening, relaxing and reveling in all things Italy.
Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, 2, 20123
Seeing the great artwork in Europe is one of my great passions while traveling. Even if you are not an art person, going to L’Ultima Cena to see the painting of The Last Supper is an experience you shouldn’t miss. The tickets can sell out quickly; I bought mine online about three months before traveling to Milan, just in case.
Via Camperio 6, 20123
I would not normally recommend something so close to a large tourist spot (usually the food is not as good, and it’s more expensive because there are so many tourists), but I have to say I did love Risoelatte. It’s like walking into a time warp of 1962 in Milano – a very odd and eclectically decorated family run restaurant just steps away from the Duomo. The experience alone of this restaurant, from the excellent wait staff to the yummy food, is great for tourists and locals alike.
Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale 1, 20151
This recommendation may seem odd to some, but I consider this to be one of the gems of Milan. A very tranquil place filled with the most amazing tombstones, family crypts, gorgeous and somewhat strange sculptures with beautiful trees surrounding it all. I could spend hours wandering here, taking in the immense detail of the place.
Remember, any city you visit can be magical; it’s just about finding what makes that city uniquely itself. Milan was a wonderful, unexpected experience — and I cannot wait to visit again!