Weekend in Milan, experience the modern face of Italy

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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the oldest mall in Milan housing some of the most luxurious brands

Milano! The Italian city that you either love or hate. Well, after a recent visit, I am still stuck somewhere in between. Yet, nobody can deny that there is something special about this fast-paced metropolis, which brims with history, culture, creativity, and business. Milan is today’s of Italy.

Why to visit

Milan has been traditionally considered less charming than other Italian cities, mainly because of the city’s industrial background and architecture. Indeed, Milan’s beauty is not as apparent as that of Florence, Rome, or Venice. However, its grace is more esoteric, a secret well protected by locals, and highly craved to be discovered by tourists. But it takes only a stroll around the center to realize that Milan is all about elegance and sophistication.

Milan is all about elegance and sophistication

Milan is Italy’s financial hub and economic driver. Its privileged geographic position in the north of Italy, bordering with traditionally strong economies, has led the capital of the Lombardy region to flourish through the ages in the sectors of fashion, commerce, and finance. Rumor has it that for every church in Rome, there is one bank in Milan!

Milan attracts a multinational crowd and foreign investments

Even nowadays, Milan’s growing economy has led the city to bloom in arts, culture, and gastronomy, and the city keeps rebuilding itself, even more, attracting a multinational crowd and foreign investments. The Isola and Porta Nuova districts are perfect examples of the city’s economic development-futuristic skyscrapers and green residential buildings surrounded by parks are widespread in the area, evidencing that the city is continuously changing.

Isola and Porta Nuova districts have changed the face of Milan’s center, photo by ultima voce

Milanese are the driving force of the city’s success. They are hard-working, ambitious, and so stylish that Milan’s streets look like an endless catwalk. Besides, people here don’t follow fashion, they create it. Milan undoubtedly has a worldwide reputation as a shopping capital, with fashion being a lucrative industry injecting billions of Euros into the Italian economy.

What to see

Duomo di Milano is the most emblematic monument in the Lombardy region. It is even more impressive at night when the cathedral sparkles in splendor under the lights. The structure is purely made of Condoglian marble, transferred from Lake Maggiore through canals rumored to be designed by Da Vinci. Duomo took over 600 years to finish, mainly because of the Italians’ notoriously fickle temperament.

Duomo di Milano, the most emblematic monument in the Lombardy region

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the oldest mall in Milan, housing the most luxurious clothing brands. Fashion-pilgrims from all over the world swell here to update their wardrobe with the latest trends. Architecture enthusiasts pay a visit to admire the unique engineering and design of the structure, and tourists pause to take a photo under the magnificent arcade, to keep their memories from Milan alive.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the place to be for fashion lovers, stylish personas, and wannabes ⁣⁣⁣
The entrance of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The Galleria connects the Duomo and the opera house, Teatro Alla Scala, creating a glamorous atmosphere in the center of Milan. If you are a fan of ballet and opera, La scala is the place to be, since it is regarded as the most prestigious opera house in the world. The theater has an impeccable acoustic and opulent interior. However, the theater’s exterior is not as impressive; I almost passed by without noticing the building, but a group of Chinese tourists taking photos outside the opera eventually drew my attention to it.

La Scala of Milan is perhaps the most prestigious opera house in the world

A short walk from La Scala is the Quadrilatero d’Oro, a rectangle of streets packed with the most expensive Italian and international fashion houses. Quadrilatero d’Oro exemplifies Milan’s reputation as a fashion capital, with Via Monte Napoleone, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Senato, and Via Manzoni being always busy with jetsetters, trendy big-spenders, models and beautiful faces. In case you cannot afford shopping here, the window-shopping and people-watching are definitely worth the visit. But do not be discouraged by the price tags at Quadrilatero. In Milan, you can find a variety of shopping alternatives with high street fashion brands, such as Zara, offering similar high-level standards of shopping experience. Their flagship stores look like luxurious boutiques, selling limited editions that you usually can’t find back home.

Quadrilatero d’Oro, located in the center of Milan, is packed with the most expensive fashion houses

After a hardcore shopping session, you can visit Sempione Park, a beautiful green area in the center where locals enjoy some relaxing time away from cosmopolitan Milan. Next to the park, you will come across the Sforzesco Castle, which once served as the fortress of the Visconti family and nowadays is home to one of the largest and most important art museums.

The Sforzesco Castle used to be the fortress of the Visconti family
Enjoying the surroundings in the Sforzesco Castle

One of the most significant art attractions in Milan is Da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper, a mural painting of the 15th century housed at the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. The Last Supper is one of the world’s most famous paintings and to get a ticket you have to book a couple of months in advance.

Where to eat

Milan’s culinary scene is vibrant, offering to quirky gastronomy lovers from traditional Milanese and Sicilian dishes to gourmet tastes from international cuisines. However, I have to admit that, during my two days stay in Milan, I was not impressed with the quality of my food choices. Plus, eating in Milan is not cheap and dinner at an average restaurant costs around 30-45 Euros. Thankfully, the last day before hitting the train station, I stopped for breakfast at Mint Garden Cafe. The place amazed me with its peaceful environment and its cozy interior, which resembles a pretty flower shop. What’s more, the staff is friendly, and the snacks are tasty.

Mint Garden Cafe resembles a pretty flower shop
Where to stay

Choosing to stay in neighborhoods out of the historic center, such as Porta Venezia, Porta Nuova, and Garibaldi, won’t break the bank. It will also give you a better insight into the daily life of Milanese. I stayed at Porta Venezia, a peaceful and clean area, 25 minutes walk or three metro stops away from the Duomo. In Porta Venezia, there are plenty of restaurants and bars where locals go to enjoy la dolce vita in the most fashionable way.

Via Dante at night, with Sforzesco Castle in the background

Milan is the modern face of Italy. From incredible art, refined cuisine, excellent nightlife, and, of course, the ultimate shopping experience, the city seems to have it all. But as the night falls, the opulent stores close their doors and the streets rest from extravagant shoppers, some decent homeless people show up, taking a warm spot under the arcades of the big brands’ stores until dawn. Then the city wakes up and wears its glamorous face all over again. This contradicted image of Milan’s two faces reminded me of the challenges that the economy of Italy is currently facing. Nevertheless, Milan is an exciting and mysterious metropolis that you cannot decipher within a weekend. Ergo, I am eager to revisit Milan soon and explore the city’s hidden gems for food and local life.

– A. Yemenaris


How to arrive:

Milan Malpensa is the largest international airport in the Milan metropolitan area. Also Linate and Bergamo

Where to stay:

Historic center. For more authentic Milanese experience at Porta Venezia, Porta Nuova, and Garibaldi, close to a metro station

What to see:

Duomo di Milano, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Quadrilatero d’Oro, The Last Supper, Sforzesco Castle

Where to eat & drink:

Breakfast at Mint Garden Cafe

What not to miss:

Duomo di Milano during the night, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, The Last Supper, window-shopping at Quadrilatero d’Oro, opera at La Scala

Where to go for shopping:

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Quadrilatero d’Oro. More affordable options at  Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Buenos Aires

How to move around:

Metro, walk

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