Renowned as Europe’s capital of fashion, Milan was always going to impress me. I was expecting the large windows displaying luxury items and the beautiful people walking the streets like a catwalk. I was expecting art and culture. What I wasn’t expecting was a city filled with bohemian character, hideaway graffitied streets and vintage stores filled with treasure. Milan went above and beyond my expectations.
I flew from Dublin to Stansted, where I met Chris and then from Stansted to Milan Bergamo. This was a logistical move as we were both in different countries at the time but it actually worked out cheaper. My flight to Stansted was €15 and a flight from there to Milan cost only €35.
We arrived in Milan Bergamo airport in the afternoon and got a bus to the central station. There are a number of buses available that go directly from the airport to the centre and they all cost €5 one way and take about 50 minutes.
Where we stayed
We stayed in Hotel Canova which is situated near the central station, an excellent base for sight seeing. The hotel has a really quirky character and I loved the fun decor. The underground was a two minute walk away and the restaurants around the hotel served beautiful local cuisine.
What we did
We both love walking so didn’t use the underground much at all. It was 38 degrees on our first day but we put on sun cream and braved the heat walking from our hotel to Il Duomo. I was so glad that we walked because we came across a number of really quirky places that I had spotted on Instagram before our visit.
If you love cats then Crazy Cat Cafe on Via Napo Torriani is a must see. I’ll admit we didn’t try it but we looked in the window to see cats sprawled out in hammocks and walking between the legs of patrons who sipped coffee nonchalantly, one hand stroking a cat, the other holding a cup. The cafe owners have six rescue cats, all of whom roam freely throughout. It really is an interesting spot.
We made our way past Teatro alla Scala, one of the leading opera and ballet theatres in the world, and from there we could Piazza Della Scala. The Piazza is home to the famous, Statua di Leonardo da Vinci and is a really lovely place to sit and watch the world go by.
Next stop was Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is the world’s oldest shopping mall. It is also one of the busiest parts of Milan, full of tourists taking photos and window shopping. The roof and floor of the centre are both works of art and if you visit, be sure to find the bull mosaic and spin your heels on the “bull’s balls” for good luck. Chris was convinced that I had made this up until we found the mosaic and there is actually a hole in it from all the spinning!
We then went to Piazza del Duomo to see the most iconic landmark in Milan, the Cathedral. I could write about its beauty and gravitas but you really have to see it for yourself. Like the Sagrada da Familia in Barcelona or Cologne Cathedral, Il Dumo is the heart of this vibrant city and the architecture is truly impressive.
We bought a ticket that allowed us to visit the inside of the cathedral, the roof and the adjoining museum. The cathedral has a beautiful interior and you can spend quite a while inside but it is the roof that really impressed me. It was amazing to walk along the terraces and get a panoramic view of the city.
We then went to the museum which houses numerous artefacts from the construction of the cathedral as well as a huge model that was used in the original commission for Il Duomo.
We didn’t get to see The Last Supper, it was booked out for our entire stay. I didn’t book in advance because I heard that August was a really quiet time with little or no tourists, it’s not! It’s a sore point and I’d prefer not to labour on it.
We went out of the main area for food and found a really nice (and cheap) pizzeria down a side street.
Top tip: Try to avoid eating in and around Il Duomo as the restaurants there are a tourist trap.
It was Saturday night so after dinner we headed to Isola, Milan’s best kept secret. Isola, as the name suggests, used to be an isolated area of Milan. It used to be the working class area where factory workers lived. Its remoteness attracted artists and although the area is now becoming more built up you can still really feel that artsy vibe. We spent Tuesday here too so you can read more about the area below. The main reason we went here on Saturday night was to try out Frida, a super cool cocktail bar that I heard about (using my secret ways) before our visit.
Chris- “How do you find these places?”
Me – “Secret ways.”
Frida is a cafe and bar, hidden behind a graffitied wall in a disused warehouse. I mean come on, I’ve said enough! I couldn’t really figure out the menu so I ended up drinking the strongest and greenest cocktail of my life. I would definitely recommend this bar but be aware, you will be the only tourists!
Sforza Castle and its museums have free entry on the first Sunday of every month so it being the first Sunday of August we decided to spend our second day in the Castle.
The castle was once a Visconti fortress and later the home of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan.
The most interesting part of our visit to the castle was getting to see Michaelangelo’s last, unfinished work, the Rondanini Pieta. This was really incredible. The statue sits in a bare room and there was complete silence as we looked at it.
We also visited the other museums in the castle, some of which included Da Vinci frescos. (Yeah I know, still not The Last Supper!)
We stepped out to see Porta Sempione, a city gate of Milan and happened upon a marquee where there was a country western dance off. I was almost pulled in to take part but had a lucky escape!
That evening we returned to the castle to see a musical performance that was part of the Milano Estate cultural festival. This was such a beautiful experience. The grounds were lit up and the music echoed throughout. We were eaten alive by mosquitos that night but that’s a story for another day! Top tip 2: If you’re going to Milan, bring insect repellent!
Our third day in Milan was probably my favourite. Nursing our mosquito wounds (I think we’re both allergic!) we took the underground to the Navigli district. Navigli is the area of Milan bounded by Navigli Grande and Navigli Pavese which are two canals. It’s a whole other world from the bustling city.
The canals are lined on either side by rustic eateries, each with their own vibe and character. We sat and had a gorgeous meat platter in a place called La Prosciutteria. La Prosciutteria prides itself on only serving fresh, local and organic produce and this was really evident from what we ordered. The platter was delicious.
We then continued on to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, stopping off in bookstores and vintage clothes shops along the way. There is a real bohemian vibe here and it is a hipster’s paradise.
One of the main attractions of Navigli is Apertivo. Although Apertivo is available all over Milan (and indeed most of Italy) Navigli is where it all began. Apertivo is where you order a drink and have access to a buffet or are given a small bite to eat. It’s meant to fill the space between finishing work and going for dinner and is a popular past time in Milan. It has become slightly more commercial in Navigli (hasn’t everything?) due to tourists and I’d be lying if I said we went to the more local spot. We considered it, yes, but the more touristy version had a bigger buffet and we were feeling peckish. It was still amazing to sit outside, sipping mojitos and people watching on the canal.
We were incredibly lucky and were invited to try Panini Durini during our stay. We were invited in for breakfast on our fourth day and I will have a blog post all about our experience on Monday.
After breakfast we made our way to the Isola district that I mentioned before. We came here to admire the street art and stopped for coffee and focaccia.
Milan is beautiful, don’t listen to people who say it isn’t.
There are lots of things to do from shopping to art to visiting the districts on the outskirts.
Vintage shopping is great here.
Book tickets to see The Last Supper before you go.
You have to try Panini Durini.
It’s HAWT in August and mosquitoes are a killer.