The best word to describe Milan is, very simply, cool. The first impression that you might get of a grey city, unfriendly and unwelcoming, couldn’t be more far from the truth.
Milan buzzes with art and excitement. With people coming from all over the world for financial business, artistic purposes, studies or just to soak up the glamour of its well-known fashion district, the city’s streets are a crossroad of cultures. A mixture of Italian tradition with a cosmopolitan touch, avant guard and history. The best place to yolo and enjoy life like only the Italians are capable of doing.
Ideally you should spend at least five or six days here in order to really experience the city but, according to the time of the year in which you choose to visit it – and with fashion weeks four times a year, design week, art week and a bunch of other cool events it’s pretty much always the right time – you might make the best of it by being in the right place at the right time.
During the – imminent – Design week (12-17 April) you might like to wonder around via Tortona, located right next to the Naviglio (the canal that crosses Milan making some of its areas quite similar to Venice) and packed full of cafès, restaurants with an ambience and interesting shops which all turn into temporary showrooms during this particular time of the year, featuring the works of worldwide designers. The main location of the event is the Superstudio (also known as Tortona 27), here is where all the big brands exhibit and also where, during the week end, you can find the best parties.
If you get tired of all the hipsters that haunt Tortona, you can go for a stroll on the cobbled streets next to the canal, admire the popular houses with their liberty architecture and their romantic courtyards full of flowers, have an “aperitivo” (Italian name for Happy Hour) in one of the millions of cafès or treat yourself with some shopping: the best shops in this area are “Salvatore + Marie” in Via Vigevano (design pieces from International artists, jewelry and handmade clothes) and “Guendi”, the best vintage shop in town. The Naviglio area also hosts a flea market every Sunday.
Another buzzing area during design week is via Ventura. This is where all the art galleries are located. Temporary and permanent exhibitions of niche designers are worth a visit.
During fashion week the main buzz is in the center of the city. The fashion shows mainly take place in locations in this area and the streets are crammed with amazingly dressed people, photographers, journalists, bloggers and, of course, models. Even if you do not have invitations for the shows themselves it’s still fun to walk around the area and you can easily get into one of the more accessible presentations. This area is also known as the “fashion triangle”, where you can find all the couture shops and flagship stores.
The center of the city you can find the Duomo, Palazzo Reale (ancient palace from the 13 hundreds that hosts modern and contemporary art exhibitions, currently one on symbolism), the Museo del 900 (20th century art museum) and the Sforza Castle. These places can be atrociously packed with queueing tourists, but they are however worth seeing .
At walking distance from the central area you enter Brera. This once used to be the bohemian art district, where painters and craftsmen had their ateliers. Now, in spite of the national art gallery and art academy still being there, it has become very posh. However it is still one of the most beautiful and romantic areas of Milan and you can still get the idea of what the city used to look like in the old times. From Breara you can easily reach 10 Corso Como, the amazing concept store owned by Carla Sozzani (sister of Franca, editor in chief of Vogue Italia).
1 Plan your visit in advance! During Design week and Fashion week hotels are packed full and overpriced. It’s probably better to go for airbnb or couchsurfing.
2 Italians are firendly and easygoing and Milan is generally a safe city. If you are girl travelling on her own however avoid romantic men with dark eyes offering you Prosecco… They can get very insisting.
3 There is only one language spoken in Italy: Italian! Younger people study English in school, but generally it is better to learn at least a couple of Italian words.