Milan is a lot more than just a fashion capital. It is one of the most important cities of northern Italy with a very distinctive culture of its own since there has been so much history in different parts of this country. It is also a financial hub and home to Italy's national stock exchange which has made the city much more glamorous owing to a lot of high-end restaurants and shopping destinations.
But fashion is Milan's salient essence and probably Italy's also. Italy is a profoundly beautiful country. It is the birthplace of renaissance and a keeper of best work of art that has happened in the history of the world. It was also obscenely lavish when it came to lifestyle. The mix of its beauty and extravagance pushed over to the modern world has made the Italian fashion as it is so today.
But it's not just about fashion. It is about style. Italians has great physique which also comes from their favorable food habits and they like to wear garments which have great fit unlike the baggy-oversize t-shirts we call upon for comfort. There is not a lot of flamboyance to their attire but they do mix simple clothes with statement accessories. Leather is one of their most loved materials and almost everyone owns a leather jacket in varied colors.
Talking about colors, Milan is dull in winters. Stylish but dull. You could only see a sea of black, grey, beige, white, blue and brown for colors unlike in the east. It does come alive during summers but since most part of the year is cold the eyes can starve for a bit of color.
And where did it come from
It all began in 14th century when the flourishing noble houses including the house of Medici started emphasizing a lot of art and the softer elements of lifestyle. Eventually, affluent Florentines started spending a considerable amount of their wealth into clothing. But in the 19th century when the prices of garments dropped after the invention of the assembly line, Italy started showcasing some of the best collections in fashion beating its fast rival Paris in pricing.
This was then fueled by shooting a number of Hollywood movies like Roman Holiday shot in Italy which went on to be a blockbuster and Italy found many American actress hanging around which in turn was covered by media and thus got Italy its place in the world fashion playing field.
Go Shopping in Milan
If you are looking to attend the bi-annual Milan Fashion show, then check out the dates a season ahead. They usually tend to be in February/March for Autumn-Winter and September/October for Spring-Summer collection.
The garments of haute couture go on sale (yes, you heard it right) before the arrival of the next collection that is in January/February for winter collection and July-September for summer collection. If you want to buy from the brands themselves then head directly to the luxury outlets. But that is not what we are discussing here.
There are more affordable designer outlets a little on the outskirts of the city where you can buy the same products at a discounted price. By designer outlets in Italy I mean something like a plaza or an open mall where you will find multiple brands lined along with restaurants and place to hang out.
The discount of the products can vary from 5% upto 70%. Also take in consideration that there is no return policy on these garments. So try everything on before you buy. A very common trick of the shopkeepers is to mix the discounted products with the full value so check the price tag for discounted items.
For the tourist in Milan
Although Milan is a big city, the tourist area is limited to quite a small space which you can also see in a full day of sightseeing. You don't need to tickets for most places but for the ones there is, it is always better to book tickets before hand online to avoid wasting time in the long queues there.
Santa Maria Delle Grazie
You can always start with one of the greatest art pieces in the world - The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci which represents the last dinner between Jesus and his disciples. It now sits on the wall of the dining hall of former Dominican covenant of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. Since only 25 people are allowed in the hall at a time, you need to book your ticket in advance and reserve your date and time of visit.
You can book them on their official website or through websites if you find fairly decent prices. If you are looking to save a little more, you can check the website consistently for they go on flash sale sometimes without any notification. The tickets may automatically get clubbed with that of other museums for higher prices so remember to pick the right option.
How to get there: It is a 5 mins from Cardona (its nearest metro station). If you are coming from the Duomo tram #16 stops right in front of it.
Timings: Tuesday - Sunday 8.15am to 6.45pm. Closed on Monday
Price: The church is free to visit but you need to book tickets for Last Supper online for 24 Euros with English Guided tour for 15 minutes
San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
San Maurizio al Monstero Maggiore is a church in Milan at a 10 minutes walking distance from Santa Maria Delle Grazie and is now in use as Civic Archaeological Museum.
Like most of the other famous buildings in Milan and northern Italy, this place is also an example of subtle Gothic architecture. You may find the façade quite unimpressive but you need to step in to get more.
A delight to the eyes, the complete ceiling and the walls are covered with fresco paintings in vibrant colors in renaissance style from the 16th century while the ceiling is covered in biblical scenes. This is a church attached to a small nunnery called 'Halls of Nuns'. You can even find an organ (musical instrument) from the 16th century.
How to get there: It is 3 minutes from Cardona (its nearest metro station) and a 10 minutes' walk from Santa Maria Della Grazie
Timings: Tuesday - Sunday 9 am to 7.30 pm. On Thursday it is open additionally till 10.30 pm . Closed on Monday
Price: Free to visit but a donation is usually appreciated
Sforzesco Castle, Sempione Park and Arco Della Pace
Castello Sforzesco was earlier a Visconti fortress, a noble family from the middle ages which was then taken over by the Sforza dynasty who ruled the renaissance Milan and transformed it into a palace in much grandeur while inviting famous artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante to work on the palace. The defense of the fortress was also designed by the multi-talented Leonardo Da Vinci.
But the main attraction for the tourists is its park. Apart from the lush green space in front of the castle lined with benches and food stalls, Sempione park which is at the other side of the castle. It is a refreshing break from the mad crowd of the tourist spot and you can sit around to watch some ducks, turtles, fish and birds around the pond. If you are with your family, it's a great spot for kids for spend a couple of hours or more.
The last leg of this place is Arco Della Pace which is an arch built much later and inaugurated in 1838 by the newly crowned Austrian kind and dedicated to the cause of peace among European nations.
How to get there: The closest metro station is Cairoli Castello which is hardly 2 minutes walk from the Sforza Castle.
Timings: All days open from 7am to 7.30pm.
Price: Free to visit. The museum charges are Euro 3-5 and can be bought at the spot
Only Italians can make death beautiful too. Maybe the Egyptians can do it grand but Italians can make art out of it. This is a cemetery designed by an architect named Carlo Maciachini and opened in 1866.
You will find some them as gorgeous and a few maybe even weird. The more powerful and wealthy noblemen have more plush and opulent display around the graves/crypts of their loved ones. To be buried here, you need be in the Milanese high society or a famous personality.
If you want to hear the more interesting stories, you can hire a local guide. This place is still not extremely popular with the tourists and therefore you will not find a lot of crowd. You can loiter around for an hour and read a lot of interesting things on the graves. Just don't be loud
How to get there: The closest metro station is Monumentale which is just next to the cemetery.
Timings: Tuesday - Sunday 8am to 6pm. Closed on Monday
Price: Free to visit. Taking a guide will be additional charges
Teatro Alla Scala
Teatro Alla Scala or La Scala is a world famous Opera house. It would be a treat and a great luck if you can get a ticket to any performance occurring here during your time of stay. But if there is not, you must visit this place.
The opera house is like a huge treasure chest adorned with golden ornamentation, luscious red velvet and shimmering crystals with rows of seats to witness the splendour of the musical spectacle that take place here. There are boxes which are only reserved for the ones who can afford it but you can always have a look when there is no performance going on.
If you are really looking to attend a concert, book your ticket at least a month or more in advance online. It is absolutely jam packed. The dress code is usually adhered to but is not strict although it's Italy so you better put your best stuff on. There isn't a lot of food options available so eat and go beforehand
If you are just visiting, there is also a museum where they keep the instruments from the famous artists who played here. It is a mesmerising collection.
How to get there: The closest metro station is Duomo at hardly 10 minutes walking distance. Manzoli Scala is the closest tram station on line 1 and 2
Timings: Open on all days except public holidays from 9am to 5pm
Price: Ticket price to visit is 9.75 euro including the museum. The tickets for a concert vary the lowest starting at 20 euros and can be booked online
Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II
When Italy defines fashion then how can they not bring it together? Galleria Vittoria Emmanuelle II is today known as the world's oldest functioning mall inaugurated in 1867. It is named after Victor Emmanuelle II who was also Italy's first king.
It may seem that it is a beautiful old crumbling mall of 150 years with classy archaic brands but it is far from it. It is an eye-popping interweave of the classical old and the glass dome structure in the alleyways from the modern age. The whole place is spotless and lined with all the popular global brands with their latest collection.
Apart from the shops there are rows of lovely restaurants which is a meal with a great view of that of the Duomo and of the bustling crowd which may get overwhelming at times. It also offers an even more impressive view at night.
How to get there: The closest metro station is Duomo which almost opens up to it
Timings: Open on all days
Price: No ticket required
Duomo Di Milano
As soon as you put your eyes on the Duomo is takes a good few seconds to sink in that magnificence. It took good 6 centuries to build the Duomo and then can you fathom what can the Italians artists do in 600 years.
Duomo is supposed to be the greatest example of Gothic style of architecture. Every sculpture tells a story and is detailed to the hair and no nook is spared the artistry it deserves. It is the largest church in Italy and fourth largest in the world.
The interiors are as awe-inspiring as the exterior. The main feature of gothic architecture, the tainted glass paintings are novel and very exquisite. A lot of work has been done on the ceilings and the pillars. Spend some time here and enjoy the experience of time-travel.
You can also climb up the Duomo to the terrace which will give you the view of the complete palazzo and more but you need to shell out more money in that case
How to get there: The closest metro station is Duomo as the name suggests
Timings: Open on all days. Church entrance from 8am-7pm.
Price: Ticket price starts with 3 Euro for cathedral entry and more for additional areas. The ticket for the rooftop starts from 13 euros and more for skip the line. Buy tickets online here
If that was not enough I have a bonus place for you. Now that you are done with shopping and tourism, it is time to eat, drink and relax and a little water will add to the affair a lot. Head to Navigio Grande, a place lined with busy restaurants on both sides of simple canal. The canal is not out of the world but the experience is.
Italy is also known for its love of food and Milan especially has a very popular culture of aperitivo. This is an evening drink mostly a spritz or even a lemonchillo along with a few appetizers which acts as an enhancer of the digestive process and prepares the stomach for dinner, which in Italian culture is light and late. Aperitivo is also a great time to sit and catchup with friends and family.
Although with Italy swarming in with backpackers and budget tourist, some of it has changes. A lot of restaurants now offer huge buffets with a drink from 6pm to 10pm at night and this then acts as dinner. This is what we did.
For 11 euros you will get a great spread of Italian dishes from olive bread, pizza, lasagna, hash brown potatoes, pasta, salads, cut fruits, cheese, pies and deserts we dug in shamelessly. The food was good, the music was light, the canal was scenic and the vibe was happy.
You can also skip a few of the above as per your interest and budget to have a more relaxed day in Milan because whatever you will do, you may still end up missing some of it since there is just so much in Italy. So maybe relax a little and enjoy what best you can.