Milan is one of the most overlooked Italian destinations, often ranking fourth or fifth on most lists of desirable Italian cities for travelers. And that, my friends, is just one of the things that makes it more desirable for experience junkies like us. Would you rather share the Coliseum in Rome with its average 4 million annual visitors or stand in awe of Michelangelo’s Last Supper which can only be seen by a maximum of 332,175 people per year? Perhaps you think Venice sounds good? So do 20 million other people. Every. Year.
Milan sees an average of only 2 million visitors per year. The excitement from last year’s Expo has died down, but the city put a lot of effort into infrastructure and general tidying up for the six-month-long event, making this the perfect time to go. Whatever else you decide to do in Milan, here are the experiences you won’t want to miss in roughly the order you should experience them in.
Eat it on every street corner. Don’t walk past all those rainbows of color. Quit worrying about calories or spoiling your dinner. Just eat it. You are in Italy for crying out loud!
Take in the beauty of Piazza del Duomo.
I’m not taking about just walking through, snapping pictures of the most beautiful cathedral you may ever see in your lifetime. Put down the camera and the phone. Sidestep the guy selling selfie sticks. Then stand in the center between the Duomo and the monument to King Victor Emanuel II and just take it in. Slowly turn 360 degrees and really see the piazza. This is the essence of the old city of Milan. It’s easy to lose it in the hubbub of the modern city. When you return home, exhausted from the shopping and the museums, and over-stuffed from the risotto and the gelato and the wine, it is this moment that you will wish you’d have stretched just a bit longer.
Visit the Museo del Duomo
While the Duomo itself is an astonishing structure, its museum holds the stories of the lives lived and lost during the six centuries of construction. The art, in all its opulence, from rough sketches to finished works, is on display in the galleries of the museum. Plan to spend an hour or more exploring the museum before you ever set foot inside the cathedral. It’s a historical experience that may very well shape how you view the rest of the city during your stay.
Sleep in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Connecting the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza del la Scalla, the vast expanse of glass, steel, and mosaic tile-covered thoroughfare was completed in 1877. It is now home to the likes of Versace and Prada, amid an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. Front row seats, or should I say beds, are the highlight of the TownHouse Galleria Hotel. Luxury accommodations anywhere in the City Center are always a memorable experience, putting you right where you want to be in Milan for shopping and sightseeing. But other hotels fall short of the experience you’ll have in the selection of rooms and suites offered by TownHouse featuring windows and balconies that open directly into the Galleria. There is something transforming about throwing open the windows and hearing the echoes of shoppers below on the tile floors. And the views of the mosaic art high in the arches are breathtaking.
Confession: I am a tea drinker. I don’t drink coffee. There. I said it. A seventh-grade science teacher once told me that I had a super-taster gene, which meant that coffee was too bitter on my tongue. She may have been correct, but I can tell you that I was not about to miss this experience when I was in Milan. And you should not either. Pick a corner coffee shop, step inside and let the aromas waft around you. Step to the counter and order a simple Cappuccino. This is not Starbucks, so don’t go all caramel macchiato half-caf on this. It’s Italy. It’s their drink. When in Milano…
Have a Slice of Pizza and a Beer
There is pizza, then there is Milano pizza. Eat your way through town. Between gelaterias and leather shops, just snag a slice and eat it at the counter. Or in the street. Wash down with a light beer. Repeat.
Eat more gelato