In many ways, living in Milan feels like living out scenes from the Italian Classic Ieri, oggi, domani (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow), a 1963 film that stars classic beauty Sophia Loren alongside Marcello Mastroianni. The art, culture, architecture and general atmosphere that make up the sights and sounds of the town are just as you see them in the film. Milan is Italy’s financial center and the second most populous city but is mostly famously known for its high fashion and glamour and rightly so. In the 2 years I have lived here, I have run into Dolce, a couple of times on my street. I can’t quite brag about it though as it is a thing of a norm here; you will mix and mingle with the locals, celebrities included wherever you go. The city is only 3 hours away from the capital, Rome on a fast train and less than 3 hours to the famous city on water, Venice as well as other magnificent Italian towns like Florence.
This European fashion capital is also home to both A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale Milano, two of Italy’s top teams making it a desirable destination for football lovers especially during the peak football season. While I have not been to see a match yet at the world famous, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, commonly known as the San Siro, I am happy knowing that if I did catch the football bug, I could easily jump on the train and be there in 45 minutes. The underground trains run all over the city complementing the buses and trams in other parts of the city and one doesn’t need a car to get around.
The weather in Milan is generally good with bearably cold winters. It gets really hot at the peak of summer in August so that’s a good time to take a trip to the seaside. Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy has an amazing view, serene atmosphere, with many small islands and generally mild temperatures all year round. The shores of Lake Como are also beautiful and relaxing and both lakes are just an hour away from the city. The city is usually deserted in the summer when most locals take their vacations so this could be ideal for travelers that prefer some tranquility in fast paced Milan.
Evenings in Milan are always exciting with the aperitivo (long happy hours) every day, at almost every bar in the city. I should tell you that there are bars at every other corner of the street so you just have to choose one with an ambience that suits you. During aperitivo an endless buffet of 2-3 course meals is served. The foods range from traditional Italian pastas to muscles and other sea food delicacies. The biggest attraction though is that one can eat to their heartÆs fill for a paltry 8-15 Euros and this includes a drink. This is a great way to start off a night out.
Milan’s symbol, the Duomo is definitely a must see. You need to go up to the rooftop to take in the aerial view of the city and more of its architectural beauty. Overlooking it is the Vittorio Emanuele gallery which is one of the most elegant shopping malls you will ever see, with numerous restaurants, cafes and bars. Watch out for the overly priced service in this area though as it is targeted towards tourists. The mosaic floor in the gallery is made of rare marble with a symbol of the city Turin, the black bull with worn genitals. Legend has it that revolving three times on one leg placed exactly in the position where this symbol is brings good luck. I am not superstitious but I must confess that I tried it and well, I’ve been pretty lucky lately.
A taste of the delicious Italian ice cream in the gelateria (ice cream parlors) found on every block is a must. Navigli canal district is a very fascinating part of Milan with a chain of bars, cafes and restaurants overlooking the water canal and plenty of live music which is a wonderful way to spend the evening outdoors especially in the summer.
Fashion and Shopping
Walking on most streets in Milan feels like walking on a runway with the famous designer stores at almost every other corner. Also this image is enhanced by the fact that most locals dress like they just walked out of a magazine. Milanese pay a lot of attention to brands and appearance is everything. Famous zones for high end shopping include via Montenapoleone, via Manzoni and via Della Spiga. Here you will find D&G, Prada and Armani accessories, Fendi, Roberto Cavalli, Armani, Gucci, Versace, Valentino among other big names. The shop attendants are always welcoming even to the window shoppers so do not be afraid to walk into any one of these shops even if it’s just to be in the presence of high fashion. áAlternatively cheaper shopping streets with some of the popular chain stores like Zara and H&M, are on Corso Buenos Aires and Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
Every area has a street market on different days of the week where you can get good bargains for the same famous brands. Here you will also find vintage items, clothes and shoes from previous seasons, items from stores that have closed down, all at give-away prices and the best part is you can haggle. Fresh food, fruits and vegetables and ingredients for many Italian traditional dishes can be found here.
Restaurants and Cafes
You are in Italy so you will find delicious food just about anywhere. The mouthwatering pizzas, pastas and great coffee are a must try. My best pizzeria is ‘Pizza Ok’. It has many different locations including one overlooking the large city park, Parco Sempione, another Milanese landmark.
Il Salernitano restaurant is one of the best places to try the spagetti al cartoccio (baked pasta). For seafood lovers, you can spend a cozy evening in the exclusive Brera area at Osteria di Brera and for an even more glamorous evening, the Gold Restaurant by Dolce and Gabbana located at Via Carlo Poerio is the place to go. Armani cafÚ at the end of the Montenapoleone shopping street is a nice resting place after some heavy shopping.
Understandably for a short stay one is not interested in having anything but Italian but just in case, the town is not short of other ethnic cuisine restaurants including Ethiopian and Mexican
Just Cavalli on Via Luigi Camoens guarantees you a good time and I love it more in the summer when the party is moved outdoor. Corso Como is Milan’s version of Kabalagala in Kampala. It has a string of bars, clubs, cafes where you are very likely to bump into numerous celebrities. From time to time, clubs host African nights and these because with the playlist, a good time is guaranteed.
Art and Events
Milan’s calendar is always crowded with entertaining events and festivals all year round. There are weekly opera, ballet, concert performances at the La Scala theatre. You will have to book your ticket in advance for the more famous artists but the theatre is worth visiting, even just to glimpse at the inside of this, it is breath taking. Milan being an international capital for furniture, the furniture fairs are big here and of course I shouldn’t have to tell you about the legendary bi annual fashion weeks.
For an avid art lover, the city is a dream destination as it hosts some of the biggest exhibitions from contemporary and legendary artists and painters alike. In fact the last supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci can be found in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Pinacoteca di Brera also has a collection of Italian artists and paintings. Museo del Novecento museum boasts of masterpieces from Italian and international artists like Picasso. Castello Sforzesco is another famous monument with great history behind it.
Because of it great history and such a rich culture, one would need years to explore Milan but with this guide you should see quite a bit in a short while.