Photo Courtesy of Stefan Karpiniec
Milan is Italy’s quiet triple threat—capital of fashion, finance, and design. Begin at the heart of the city in the Piazza del Duomo; the rest radiates outward in a mosaic of neighborhoods where history, art, and fashion overlap. Walk around the tony Brera neighborhood and peruse the shops of the Fa…shion Quadrilateral, literally a rhomboid dedicated to the world’s best designers. Head to Navigli for a cocktail when the sun is about to set. Wander the Isola neighborhood for homegrown designers and unique boutiques. By night, Milan’s marble and modern architecture is incandescent, so between aperitivi, make sure to stop and take it all in.
What to know before you go to Milan
The best time to visit is late April and May, or mid-September through October, especially if you hope for mild weather and a bit of sunshine. From November through March, the city is cold and foggy, but lovely for its tranquility. Summer months are quite hot, and city residents head out of town for long weekends and even longer vacations.
Two airports lie astride Milan: Malpensa to the northwest, and Linate to the east. Choose which one based on where you are staying. A city-mandated fare of €90 (about US$120) gets you from Malpensa to anywhere in the city center, while the cost from Linate is based on a metered rate. Trains also run from Malpensa to Milan’s Stazione Centrale (central station) via Malpensa Express. And coach bus travel is available from both airports to the city center. Additionally, Milan is well-connected by rail regionally, nationally, and internationally. Stazione Centrale is the main hub and serves TreniItalia and TrenoNord railways, while the newly renovated Piazza Garibaldi is hub to Italo railways as well as Trenitalia and TrenoNord.
Milan has a comprehensive public transit system of buses, trams, and metro lines, and the city center is easily walkable. Taxis are prevalent and can often be hailed, but your best bet is to reserve one via taxi stand or phone.
Take time to visit Villa Necchi Campigli, a 1930s time capsule of Milan life, and Italian art and architecture.
Over the past few years, the quiet city has undergone a culinary and cocktail revolution. From street food, gelaterie, and pastry shops to osterias and restaurants, the scene has reinvented itself, showing off traditional recipes like risotto al milanese (a rice dish rich with marrow, accented with saffron), polenta, and cassoeula (meat and vegetable potage slow-cooked in a casserole) in often creative interpretations. A private walking tour, Savoring Milan Food, organized by AFAR’s partner, Context Travel, is led by a local chef or culinary historian who can lead you to the tasty heart of Northern Italian cuisine.
Milan is the discreet sister to gritty Rome, and it's a city fully immersed in culture. Whether the art of the aperitivo, the spectacular art scene, or an amazing panorama of architecture that spans styles and milennia, Milan is an oasis of style, art, and architecture. Depending on the time of year, Milanese life can be found indoors at cafés, restaurants, and cultural centers, or outdoors in an interactive catwalk of design and fashion.
The city celebrates its patron Saint Ambrogio on December 7, and then adds a week to carnival for Carnevale Ambrosiano. In fall and winter, the city holds court as fashion capital for its women’s and men’s fashion weeks (held at separate times). For two days in both spring and fall, Milan’s amazing “museum homes” are open to the public for Giornate FAI (Italian National Trust). The mid-April Salone del Mobile turns the entire city into an indoor/outdoor party dedicated to design, and this is perhaps one of the loveliest times to visit Milan, if you can get a hotel room.
- Being polite goes miles in Milan, a city built on etiquette. "Grazie" and "Piacere" (a pleasure) will be your most useful terms.
- Tipping is not required, and should be modest at most. Hotel porters and cleaning staff should be tipped. There is no need to tip taxi drivers.
- Public transportation is great but many Milanese use BikeMi, Milan’s city-organized bike-sharing initiative that anyone can sign up for—daily, weekly, or yearly.
- If you happen to hear the phrase "cortili aperti," stop in your tracks. Milan's very best secret courtyards, in the city center and surrounding neighborhoods, are rarely opened to the public, with a single Cortili Aperti event happening in late spring, usually with a last-minute announcement because, well, Italy.
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Erica Firpo is a journalist with a passion for art, culture, travel, and lifestyle. She has written and edited more than 20 books and her travel writing has appeared in Yahoo Travel, Discovery Magazine, BBC Travel, The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Fathom, Forbes Travel, and Huffington Post. She is a contributing editor to Fathom and European correspondent for Forbes Travel. Her photography has been featured in CCN, SFGate, Mashable and Instagram. Her website is ericafirpo.com.