As a full-time student in Milan, where I studied Fashion and Luxury Goods Management, I made a point of exploring Milan every weekend and getting into the Italian way of life. Living and studying in a city you get to know it quite well.
These are my top 10 things to see and do in Milan if you are a visitor for the first time. As Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world, many of my suggestions involve shopping. Of course!
1.Milan Hop On Hop Off Tour. I love the hop-on-hop-off red bus. I love just sitting up there and watching the ‘goings on’ of life in Milan. I always do one lap where I sit there and don’t get off and then I do a second lap where I do get on and off at certain places and key points of interest. In Milan there are three choices of the circle bus and one ticket will get you on all three. Any of these three options will give you a good overview of Milan and the inner suburbs, however if you have to choose I would go with Line A because it includes my old neighbourhood of Navigli, which is a hip and happening area.
- 2.The Duomo is Milan’s famous cathedral. It really is breathtaking and you can do a tour or buy tickets so you can explore inside and go up some of the spires on to the rooftop for a birds’ eye view of the surrounding streets. The Duomo is located in the centre of Milan surrounded by many of the main streets and great shopping. It is the third largest cathedral in the world and certainly one of the most famous. Construction of the Duomo began in 1386.
- 3.Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the worlds’ oldest shopping centres. I don’t like referring to it as a shopping centre because it is an amazing historical architecturally designed building and nothing like a shopping centre at all. The architecture is breathtaking. I suggest you have a coffee there at Gucci Café and do some serious 'luxury people watching'. As a student I had to stand inside the centre and survey/interview people who were shopping for luxury goods. GVE houses Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tods and more. It is luxury handbag heaven as well as architectural heaven too.
- 4.La Scala is one of the world’s great opera houses and it was built in the late 1770s. It has hosted premiers of some extraordinarily well-loved operas, including works by Rossini, Puccini and also Italy’s beloved Verdi. If you’re not lucky enough to see a performance of opera or ballet when you’re there, at least do a tour and visit La Scala museum.
- 5.Quadrilatero d’Oro the golden fashion rectangle. Some of the world’s most famous designer labels have some really beautiful and amazing flagship stores in the tiny cobbled pedestrian streets of via Montenapoleone and via della Spiga. This quadrant is home to superstar designers such as Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Trussardi, Versace, Prada, Valentino, Blumarine and more. The elegant via Manzoni is home to Spazio Armani. In this Giorgio Armani multi-concept store you can check out the Emporio Armani showrooms, Armani Casa and Armani Fiori, then stop for an aperitif at the Emporio Armani Cafe.
- 6.The department store La Rinascente, is Italy's oldest department store. You’ll find designer brands from around the world including Max Mara, Moreschi, Bruno Magli, Pollini, Victoria Beckham and many more. I love doing the handbag level in this store. It’s so easy because all the designer handbag labels are on the one floor. It’s in a prime location right next to the Duomo and if you go up to the top floor you can have lunch in an outdoor restaurant or café that is at the same height as some of the spires of the Duomo. Lunch here is beautiful and the view of the Duomo is spectacular.
7.The Castello Sforzesco (or Sforza Castle) is a huge, classically crenellated pile of red-brick masonry on the western edge of central Milan. It was built in the 1400s. Today the castle houses a handful of small museums and galleries. You can see sculptures by Michelangelo in the Museum of Ancient Art and a rich collection of paintings by the likes of Titian and Bellini in the Pinacoteca ("art gallery") on the 1st floor. Wooden sculptures and furnishings fill the Museum of Applied Arts and next door is the Museum of Musical Instruments. You’ll also find Egyptian and prehistoric collections in this huge castle.
8.Santa Maria delle Grazie. Most visitors seek out the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie to see the famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. The famous mural is housed in the refectory of the adjoining Dominican convent.
9.Navigli is the canal side district of Milan. It is quite a hip and happening area that has a bit of a seedy past. Navigli is where I lived as a student and so it is quite a young and lively area. There are 2 main canals in Navigli and I suggest you go there in the evening for a stroll along the canals, aperitivo in a canal side bar and dinner outdoors, also canal side.
10.Shopping. Well Milan is all about shopping really isn’t it! After you’ve done the Golden Rectangle, La Rinascente and Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II then you might like to cruise the long shopping streets for high street labels and also some cute little finds as well. Give these streets a try –
Corso di Porta Ticinese. This is a long street that stretches from the Duomo towards Navigli. It’s a bit likePortobello Road in London and is characterised by unique clothing, record and food stores. An alternative to the designer labels of Milan, it specialises in offbeat fashion brands and is a great destination for denim – Levis, Diesel, Vans and Camper. My favourite walk on Saturdays was along this road from Navigli to the Duomo.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele IILocated near to the Duomo this street is amazingly crowded on weekends but it is great for high-street and mid-range brands, making it one of the best places in Milan to shop for young fashion and international labels. Zara, H&M, Mango and Bershka are all there. It’s also the best place to shop for the perfect souvenir of Milan and to do some people watching.
Corso Buenos AiresCorso Buenos Aires is reputed to be Europe’s longest shopping street and is comparable to London’s Oxford Street. With over 350 international ready-to-wear brands, the 1km-long street offers one of the highest concentrations of clothing stores in Europe. The bustling road features some of the city’s more affordable shops including H&M, Swatch, Desigual, Benetton, Boggi and more.
Milan is quite a small city, so you can literally walk to most of the places I have suggested if you are in comfortable footwear. I hope you have a blast!