Welcome to Milan, one of Italy’s leading cities in fashion, cuisine, culture and design. Often skipped over in lieu of more touristy spots like Rome or Florence, Milan is definitely worth a visit. Here are some of the best activities you just can’t miss in this Northern Italian gem.
Explore the Canals of Navigli
Venice isn’t the only Italian city where you can admire the sunset over canals. Milan’s Navigli district has five of the small waterways: Naviglio Grande, Naviglio Pavese, Naviglio Martesana, Naviglio di Paderno, Naviglio di Bereguardo. The canals are lined with shops, restaurants and bars and even the occasional street fair. You can boat down the canal, walk across via charming footbridges, bike alongside the water or check out the street art along the canal walls. It’s also worth picking up a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket to more efficiently navigate the city before and after the cruise.
Visit the Cathedral
It may be touristy and crowded, but you can’t leave Milan without seeing its famed cathedral, simply known as il duomo — the fourth largest in the world. If you want to see it properly, and avoid lines when you’re there, be sure to book your entrance ticket and get rooftop access ahead of time. The majestic building towers over one of Milan’s most central squares, crowded with tourists, locals and even pigeons, but its stature is so impressive you won’t really notice the chaos around you. That’s a solid reason you should hang on to your personal belongings though. You don’t want your infatuation with the facade, which seems to be dripping in opulent Gothic styling, to distract you from potential pickpockets or overzealous street vendors.
Chow on Some Pizza
Milan has an up-and-coming, expansive dining scene — and some of the best pizza in the country (with both Neapolitan thin-crust and Roman square cut-styles). Piz is popular for its no-frills, colorful atmosphere and delicious, wood-fired margarita pizzas, which ooze melted mozzarella bufala. For a trendier take on the panned dish, make a reservation at Dry Milan, which pairs chic, creative cocktails with fancy pizzas topped with things like lemon zest, smoked pork cheek and salted shallot in a low-lit, trendy atmosphere.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Known as one of the world’s trendiest fashion capitals, shopping in Milan is practically a sport. You can peruse every fancy designer from A to Z around the high-end shopping district of Montenapoleone, visit vintage shops along Porta Ticinese or hit one-of-a-kind boutiques on Tortona. When someone back home asks where you got that cool leather wallet or original bracelet, nothing sounds cooler than responding, “Oh, just in Milan.”
Milan is one of the most fashionable cities in the world, making people watching one of the most interesting things to do in this trendy city. See men in designer suits riding bikes, dogs dressed in fancy outfits, impeccably-dressed elderly couples and models wandering about everywhere. Find a tree-lined street near the Sempione park, relax on a bench with gelato and watch the world go by.
Indulge in Gelato
Did somebody say gelato? Toss your diet out the window in and stop at one of the many gelato shops around town. While it’s near-impossible to get bad gelato pretty much anywhere in Italy, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you steer clear of touristy areas, like right around the Duomo. Gelateria Oasi has a massive selection of flavors, and also offers fruit shakes and chocolate bonbons too. You may have to wait in line at Gelateria della Musica, but the unique combination of flavors you can sample there is worth it.
See The Last Supper
Admire one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most renowned works The Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Plan to purchase tickets well in advance if you want to view the painting — guided tours are also available. We recommend planning to see the masterpiece sooner rather than later, which is in a rather fragile state due to years of wear and tear and a couple of botched renovation attempts.
Sip on Spritz & Vino
There’s nothing like leisurely sipping an afternoon Aperol Spritz overlooking the canal. An Aperol Spritz is made from prosecco, soda water and a bitter, orange-flavored alcohol called Aperol. If the refreshing drink doesn’t tickle your fancy, sample a wine local to the Lombardy region, like a refreshing Franciacorta. Winetraveler’s favorite spots to sip are at Rita & Cocktails, one of Milan’s coolest bars or Mag Cafe, a quirky, hipster hangout.
Spin on the Bull’s Balls at the Galleria
This one might seem rogue, but spinning on the marble floor image of the Turin bull’s nether regions at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II will apparently bring you luck. Walk through the gallery, and you’re sure to see a group of people gathered in a circle, snapping photos and photos of their supposed luck-inducing spins. Give it a whirl!
Go Beyond the City Limits
While there’s plenty to do and see in the city of Milan, heading out to see the nearby lakes, villages and mountains of the picturesque Lombardy region will give you a true sense of Italy. Bergamo, just a short bus or train ride away, is a Medieval town bathed in fog, perched atop a hill. There’s also the romantic spot of Verona, home of the sordid love tale Romeo & Juliet. You’ve likely heard of Lake Como, which makes for a sophisticated getaway, or there are also the less pretentious lake scenes of Garda, Iseo and Maggiore. When in doubt about where to head, Prosecco Road is just a short drive away!
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