By Jim Ferri
Milan is a city geared to commerce and finance, not tourism, which is why many travelers ignore it entirely. That’s a mistake.
Milan does have some interesting sights, although not as many as you’ll find in Florence, Rome, Venice and several regions throughout Italy.
This past week my wife and I spent a full day and two nights in Milan and enjoyed the city immensely. It’s clean, easy to get around and Milanese food is delicious. Add to that a handful of several interesting sites and you’ll find it’s worth a quick stopover when you’re in northern Italy.
We stayed at the Windsor Hotel Milano, primarily because it was rated as a four-star hotel and we got a good deal on it ($127 per night through hotels.com). It turned out to be not quite four stars, but close. It’s a small hotel, that’s clean, with good service and a bar and restaurant (the breakfast buffet was quite good although dinner could use a bit of improvement). It was also well located within easy striking distance of Central Station and less than a $10 taxi ride from any of the places listed below.
If you can spend 36 hours in Milan, here are the top things to experience. Note that the Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and La Scala are all adjacent to one another.
Teatro alla Scala
One of most prestigious opera houses in world, Teatro alla Scala first opened in the late 18th century. Today this beautiful Neoclassical theater is still world-renowned and has one of the largest stages in Europe.
If you want to catch a performance but also stick to a budget, you can try to snag one of the 140 discounted tickets that go on sale two hours before most performances.
One of the largest churches in the world, Milan’s Gothic Duomo took 500 years to build, one of the reasons its façade includes Gothic, Renaissance and Neoclassical styles.
Milan’s Duomo, however, is best know for its incredible roof that is covered with spires, gargoyles and statues, which all give it an incredibly ornate appearance when you stand on the huge piazza that fronts it. Inside beautiful stained glass windows illuminate a vast interior that includes 52 pillars and many tombs and statues.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
To the left of the Duomo is another of the city’s treasures, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, also known as Il Salorro di Milano, an ornate 19th-century shopping arcade with ornate mosaic floors. It’s set in the shape of a Latin cross (with the different sections representing Europe, America, Asia and Africa) and crowned with a magnificent glass roof and dome.
Interspersed with Prada, Armani and other crème de la crème of fashion are numerous restaurants including the famous and historic Savini. It’s unlike anything you’re likely ever to have seen before.
Peck is the legendary Italian food store, Milan’s answer to London’s Fortnum & Mason and Harrods food halls. Although much smaller than either of its British counterparts, its three floors are filled with the best food and wine from Italy. There’s also a restaurant. It’s the top spot for Italian gourmands and only a block or so off the piazza in front of the Duomo. Buon appetito!
Da Vinci’s Last Supper
Santa Maria delle Grazie is a 15th-century convent whose claim to fame is Leorardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painted on its dining-room wall. Since the painting is tempera painted on a dry wall and not a fresco, it has deteriorated badly over the years despite attempts at restoration.
You need to make a reservation and buy tickets in advance for the 15-minute tour, which you’ll often have to purchase through tour companies that buy up many of the tickets and charge a surcharge. Or you can do as we did and arrive at the convent when the ticket office opens at 8:30am and hope for the best. We were able to buy two tickets for the 9:30 tour and spent a pleasant hour at Caffé Le Grazie, a pleasant coffee shop across the street.
Pinacoteca di Brera
You’ll find the city’s best collection of art in Pinacoteca di Brera where the Accademia di Belle Art was founded in the 18th century. Here you can enjoy a diverse and interesting collection that includes works by Modigliani, Canova, Montegna, Bellini, Raphael, Tintoretto and others, all spread through 38 small galleries.
Time your visit for mid-morning and stay in the neighborhood to lunch at one of the small restaurants in the area. We had a nice lunch at La Taverna del Borgo Antico, two nice pastas and wine for €36.
The “Fashion Quadrilateral”
After lunch my wife suggested we make a visit to the Milan’s nearby fashion district. It was an interesting idea since despite Milan being one of the fashion capitals of the world, most people never think doing a quick fashion tour of the city.
Some guidebooks call it the “Fashion Quadrilateral” because the small four-square block area is located within the borders of Via Mazoni, Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga and Via Sant’ Andrea. There you’ll see most of the Italian flagship stores of the kings and queens of world fashion, walking about the entire area in about an hour.
If you go:
Taverna del Borgo Antico
Via Madonnina, 27
Tel: 02 864 611 86
Via Spadari, 9
Tel: +39 02 802 3161
Windsor Hotel Milano
Via Galileo Galilei, 2
Tel: +39 02 6346
Caffè Le Grazie
Corso Magenta, 69
Tel: +39 02 4801 1458