This provocative (and hilarious) marble middle finger is L.O.V.E by artist Maurizio Cattelan. It stands tall outside the Italian Stock Exchange and is a brilliant example of what makes Milan so great. Milan is a vibrant, cosmopolitan and artistic city. Often when people plan a trip to Italy they head straight to the big three: Rome, Venice and Florence and skip Milan completely. Well these people are missing out and here are 5 reasons why!
1. Free Food
Yes, I said free food! Aperitivo of course. The delicious early evening indulgence of a cocktail accompanied by nibbles, socialising and relaxation. Of course, you can find decent aperitivo throughout northern Italy but for me, Milan does it the best. Maybe it is because they are well practiced. The story is that Mr Gaspare Campari (of Campari fame) introduced aperitivo to Milan back in the 1860s.
The concept of aperitivo is to “aperire” or “open” your palate. And I believe the key to a perfect aperitivo is selecting the right bar. Some places will offer a few crisps or bread while others will charge a fee. But there are a fabulous few that not only offer fantastic cocktails but also an overflowing plate of delights. I am quite happy to admit that aperitivo was the highlight of my weekend in Milan. Here are my recommendations to save my fellow time-poor traveller some vital time seeking them out for themselves.
Rebelot– fantastic little bar with dark wooden tables and exposed brick. The staff are serious mixologists and will serve you a top notch cocktail. The atmosphere is relaxing and the canal-side location is perfect for people watching. And then there is the aperativo…Free and sublime. A plate of foccasia, meats, cheese and crisps with every cocktail. No wonder the Italians eat dinner so late, they are full after aperitivo.
Rita -around the corner from Rebelot. Their aperitivo is also free but is a little more on the nutritious side. Including veggie sticks, veggie chips, dip, nuts and a little shot of tasty gazpacho. Rita is a popular place with a relaxing atmosphere and comfortable conservatory. I could have quite happily stayed all night.
Mag Cafe– Quirky cocktail bar serving FREE generous plate of meats and cheese. A cool place for some canal-side aperitivo.
2. Navigli District
Maybe before you get stuck into an evening of aperitivo you could explore the Navigli district, the home of those great bars I have just mentioned. Navigli means canal in Italian. The historic canals were originally built to transport goods and were designed with the help of Leonardo Da Vinci. Today the district is buzzing with an overwhelming selection of bars, restaurants and boutiques, some even floating on the canal itself.
There is also a flee market held on the last Sunday of the month as well as the incredible
Mercato Metropolitano covered street food market. This place is sensational and offers an incredible range of local produce, delicious food stalls and enticing booze (Sadly closed in 2017). But if all this seems too much why not pick up some take-away meat and cheese and find a secluded spot for a picnic. I recommend hiring some bikes from Milan’s BikeMI bike hire service and then explore a little further along the canal. We cycled west to the beautiful Chiesa di San Cristoforo sul Naviglio Church, well away from the hustle and bustle where there are some lovely benches perfect for a picnic.
3. Walk on the roof of the Duomo
Just a short tram ride on number 2 or 14 tram (yes they are the cute, yellow vintage ones) from the Navigli you will find yourself at the Duomo and the centre of Milan. Most big cities across Europe have large, ornate central cathedrals. But not many of them let you walk around on the roof. For 13 euros (or 9 if you are willing to take the stairs) you can wander on the rooftop terrace enjoying the view and admiring the magnificent white marble, wedding cake-esque structure. The roof is also gives you the opportunities to see some of the 3,400 statues and 135 spires adorning the Duomo up close .The view across the city is pretty good too.
4. Impressive Art
Art lovers make a bee line for Florence but Milan has also got it’s fair share of amazing art. It is the home of The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci to start. As well as works by his mates Michelangelo and Raphael scattered in different galleries across the city. The Brera Gallery is also fantastic and has an impressive collection of Italian art. It was Milan’s first museum and is housed in a beautiful 17th Century building which makes a visit particularly special . A joint ticket to the Brera Gallery and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (to see The Last Supper) is €23.50 but be warned, the queues to see The Last Supper are long. You may want to take a tour to avoid the wait.
For something a little more modern, I recommend visiting the Museo del Novecento. Located in Piazza del Duomo, this shiny new museum is not only architecturally beautiful but is also home to 4000 Italian 20th Century art works. But if none of these take your fancy why not just take a stroll to Isola just north of Porta Garibaldi Railway Station. Isola translates to “island” and is the cities hip district and a great place to check out some street art. Just be sure not to miss L.O.V.E.
You can’t come to one of the fashion capitals of the world without doing a bit of shopping. Your first stop should be the historic Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II. Building was complete in 1877, making this historic glass-roofed shopping arcade one of the oldest in the world. Situated right next to the Duomo, Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II is like a cathedral to fashion and a wonderful place for some window shopping. Although be warned, you will need a huge credit card limit to shop here, as it is home to stores such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton as well as Prada’s flagship store.
Another beautiful shopping experience can be had at 10 Corso Como. Described on their website as a “visual narrative”, 10 Corso Como is a modern and airy art hub selling the latest and greatest of design and fashion. The courtyards, art gallery and couture are all enticing, but of course there is a price range to match. If you are desperate to bag a designer bargain try Il Salvagente or Dmagazine but be warned, outlet shopping in Milan is not for the faint hearted.
If you prefer alternative shops, vintage and cute boutiques then the Ticinese or Brera districts are for you. Or if like me you find the world of designer fashion overwhelming then I recommend Corso Buenos Aires. A shopping street selling familiar high street brands that a shopper can rely on. So when your friends ask you were you got your new artsy top, you can have the joy of saying “Oh, I picked it up in Milan”. Just don’t mention you got it from the Corso Buenos Aires branch of H&M!