Milan city guide

My childhood friend and his fiancée visited Milan a few months ago and they returned absolutely mesmerized by this classy part of Italy. I asked them both what was so great about it, she mentioned fashion and wine, while he couldn’t shut up about football. But even if you are not a huge fan of either of those Milano will certainly seduce you. Some people compare Milan to one of the models that constantly roam this city in search of a career, awesome on the outside but a bit shallow on the inside; ”no soul” as they say. In my opinion, it’s only because people compare it to Rome and let’s be real: everything pales in comparison with the Eternal City. Does it mean Milan or Milano as the Italians call it is not worth visiting? Not in the slightest, this city is unique in its own regard and totally worth spending a few days. Also known as the capital of Lombardy, Milan is a city that isn’t as grounded in the past as the rest of Italy, it’s the city of banking, business conventions, modelling, fashion and decadent luxury. If your credit card allows you can indulge yourself in the overwhelming presence of Armani, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci boutiques. I always attributed this aura of expensiveness to the nearby border with Switzerland. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any historic wonders to witness.

Duomo di Milano in Milan during sunset

The giant white marble cathedral Duomo di Milano, made in the ornate style of flaming Gothic (late Gothic architecture), has become a symbol of Milan and one of the most famous buildings in the world

The enormous train station (Milano Centrale) restored in 1931 is a remnant of fascist architecture, quite common in Milan as it was the centre and the end of Mussolini’s rule over Italy. Dictators have this thing with building huge monuments, obviously larger than life, as if they’re compensating for something, just like the Catholic Church. The Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) is in fact the third largest in Europe. It took six centuries to build and to this day functions as the throne of the archbishop. It’s huge, gothic, over the top and it’s mostly made of marble, someone really went all out on this one. Visiting the Duomo is an intense experience. Even if you’re not into churches it’s still worth entering and climbing on the rooftop, if only to enjoy the amazing view of Milano and the golden statue of Virgin Mary overlooking the city from the top of a spire. San Bernardino alla Ossa is another, very unique place of worship, it looks plain on the outside but the inside is shocking, the church cemetery ran out of room to bury people at one point and they decided to put peoples’ remains into a chamber called the ossuary, it looks like something out of H.R. Geiger’s art book.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the second most characteristic building in Milan, named after the man who somehow managed to unite Italy. It’s essentially a shopping mall but more like an entire shopping district, or block under a glass roof held by an iron frame. Paintings and mosaics adorn buildings and floors, one of them representing Turin or Torino. The small bull is said to bring good luck if you step on its testicles, “bulls balls” if you will. Only the most exclusive brands are allowed to set up shop here. They even gave McDonald's the middle finger when they aimed to open a restaurant under this prestigious roof.

Galleria Vittorio in Milan from the inside

The shopping gallery, connecting the two pearls of Milan – the Duomo Cathedral and the world-famous La Scala Theater – is simply a work of art

Milan is also the city of the famous renaissance icon Leonardo Da Vinci and none of his works are more recognizable than the Last Supper. Santa Maria Delle Grazie is a convent that houses that masterpiece, it was bombarded during the war but the fresco somehow survived the disaster. Getting to witness all of its glory in person is not that easy, Da Vinci painted it using experimental methods, because…well, he was Da Vinci and it’s quite fragile. You’ll need to book in advance and undergo a process that minimizes the humidity you could add to the chamber. Canals in Milan are also one of the remaining projects designed by Leonardo, or so the legend says. They were connected to the nearby lakes and used to transport the elusive black marble used while building parts of the Duomo. Nowadays some of the best restaurants and bars are located along those waterways. It’s better known as the Navigli district and the canals are the place to go for traditional Italian cuisine and aperitifs. You can visit a charming bar, grab a drink and you’ll have access to a buffet with some of the best pizza, plates of pasta, meat dishes and all kinds of little snacks, sort of like tapas in Spain. Of course you can also spend an evening at the opera in the world famous La Scala is another classic way to spend an evening in Milano.

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