A Week in and Around Milan

The traditional seat of business and fashion in Italy, Milan is the place other Italians love to hate—which means that it obviously has much to love. On the obvious side of the scales you’ll find Leonardo’s “Last Supper” and an outrageously beautiful cathedral, less so are the art and dining scenes which become more complex by the day. Ranging further afield, travelers will discover day trips to great wine regions, incredible contemporary art collections, and Lake Como (and George Clooney).

Via Fatebenefratelli, 16, 20121 Milano MI, Italy
A. Caraceni is often described as the very best in Milan when it comes to tailors. At this shop, you’ll only find high-quality suits, impeccable cuts, and polished styles. The Caraceni tailoring legacy goes back more than a century, when the needle-working family was still in Rome. What followed was a line of talented tailors who have traversed continents to create beautiful suits. Everything at the store is hand-sewn, from formal smoking jackets to more casual hunting wear. Pick up a double-breasted jacket, the shop’s signature piece.
Piazza Pio XI, 2, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
The Ambrosiana Library is an oasis for book lovers. Founded in 1609, the library contains over 800,000 books and 35,000 manuscripts, including writings by Dante and Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus. The pinacoteca art gallery is a treasure as well, with paintings from the 15th to 20th century. Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio and Leonardo, among others, all hang out here.
Piazza del Duomo, 8, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
The Museo del Novecento (Museum of the 20th century) is a visual lesson in one century of Italian art history. Housed is the 1930s Palazzo dell’Arengario by Rationalist architects Piero Portaluppi and Giovanni Muzio. The Novecento also houses an amazing collection, Who’s Who of the 1900s, including Italians Balla, Modigliani, Boccioni, Martini, Morandi, and De Chirico and international artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Klee. In fact, the museum is considered one of the world’s most important collections of Italian and international 20th-century art in Italy—Futurism, Spatialism, and Arte Povera. Keep your eye out for Piero Manzoni’s clever Arte Povera pieces, Arturo Marini’s large stone figures, and Pellizza Da Volpedo’s monumental painting Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate). Martini also did the palazzo’s exterior bas relief. Bonus: The upper level bar/restaurant overlooks Piazza del Duomo.
Largo Isarco, 2, 20139 Milano MI, Italy
Fondazione Prada reopens its Milan exhibition space in a 205,000 square foot space designed by OMA (by Rem Koolhaas). Prada always has the most engaging shows-- getting the best of contemporary art.
Corso Magenta, 15, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
Sometimes called “Milan‘s Sistine Chapel” because of its profusely--and beautifully-- decorated walls and ceilings, San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is well worth a visit. The Renaissance paintings commissioned by the Sforza family (the primary sponsors of Leonardo da Vinci), adorn the walls of a cloistered convent founded for noble ladies in the early 16th century. Built on an ancient Roman site, the church was built and decorated in stages over several centuries, every interior wall covered in luminous colors befitting the pomp of Lombard aristocratic taste. In particular, frescoes by Bernardino Luini, student of da Vinci, blend the sacred and the profane, using members of the court as models for portraits of saints. Most of the numerous religious and secular works of the Milanese painter have been lost, so San Maurizio is the best place to see his works. To get the most out of a visit to this little gem of art history, go with a knowledgeable guide. My husband and I toured historical Milan with Ludovic Goudin of Walks of Italy, who offer a variety of tours in Milan. San Maurizio was just one of the fascinating places we visited!.
Via Antoine Watteau, 7, 20125 Milano MI, Italy
Leoncavallo is both a cultural center and a concept. The buildings lining the run-down road are covered in amazing art by epic artists and upcoming writers. During the day, you’ll find photographers documenting the work or shooting for fashion mags and street art aficionados snapping the latest work. The building inside also gets painted by artists, local and international. Best way to get a peek is to visit for a project or concert.
Via Neera, 24, 20141 Milano MI, Italy
Artist Dan Flavin’s last installation is the Church of Santa Maria Annuciata in Chiesa Rossa, fondly known as simply Chiesa Rossa. Flavin’s light installation is a technicolor dream of electric hues across the main nave and central apse.
Via Privata Cuccagna, 2, 20135 Milano MI, Italy
Country kitchen and slow food oasis in the middle of Milan. This is the place where you will want to have your Sunday, especially if the weather is good and you can get an outdoor table. Cuisine plays homage to Lombardy’s best and favorites, using only locally sourced products.
4 Via Borromei
Tucked in an alley near the historic downtown you’ll find this small restaurant serving traditional, regional dishes (at a great price especially for the area). With open-air courtyard seating surrounded by vines, it makes for a relaxing lunch. For the best and freshest thing on the menu, take advantage of the friendly staff and ask for a recommendation– they’ll point you in the right direction. If you’re like me and spend the entire day walking until you’re ravenous, this is a great place close to the Duomo. Try the stuffed zucchini flowers (one of my favorites in any Italian restaurant)!
Vicolo dei Lavandai, Alzaia Naviglio Grande, 14, 20144 Milano MI, Italy
A pleasant way to spend an evening in Milan is to stroll along the Naviglio Grande, a 12th century canal in the south of town. The warehouses along the towpath are now home to lively restaurants and bars. I recommend El Brellin. The second floor restaurant offers refined modern Italian fare with ambiance to match and the bar below gets busy on the weekends.
Via Ponte Vetero, 21, 20121 Milano MI, Italy
Every city has an eatery that’s a mainstay for shoppers, and in Milan, it’s the tony Brera neighborhood restaurant Convivium. House specialties include complimentary rosemary flatbread, four-cheese pizza, and sea salt−encrusted sea bass for two. Via Ponte Vetero 21, 39/02-8646-3708.
Piazza Tito Minniti, 20159 Milano MI, Italy
Isola is Milan‘s sleeper neighborhood because of its great location, hip shops and local vibe. It is also a great area to hang out in because, well, it feels like a neighborhood. Weekend street markets, clever graffiti, cute boutiques, artisanal shops and great bars. Add in there a strong sense of AC Milan fans and lots of people to meet, you’ve got your weekend.
Naviglio Grande, Italy
While few in number, Milan‘s canals can be charming. Naviglio Grande, the largest, is my favorite to walk along. Lined by shops, outdoor cafes and bars, there is life alongside the water anytime of day. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the Antique Market that fills up the walkways on some Sundays. It is a treasure trove of pottery, jewelry, vintage designer clothes, and Murano glass—Milanese have impeccable taste for both the old and new.
The Milan Cathedral, or Duomo, occupies a site that’s been holy since the time of the Romans, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century when the finishing touches were finally placed on this massive building. The Duomo is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and one of the top tourist sites in the northern Italian city. Entrance is free, but a small fee is requested if you wish to take photos. Inside the church is even more magnificent then the outside, with scores of shrines and altars dedicated to saints and notable Milanese. During the Christmas holidays the city’s night market takes up residence next to the cathedral, adding one more reason to visit this central site.
30 Via Paolo Sarpi
Considered by some as a Milan institution, Cantine Isole is a small wine bar/enoteca with a lot of history and great atmosphere. It’s located in the Chinatown neighborhood, near Garibaldi station and the Isola neighborhood. Expect a lot of character.
Piazza Litta, 1, 21100 Varese VA, Italy
Don’t let your eyes fool you. Villa Panza is a not just a gorgeous 18th-century estate. The villa and grounds host the spectacular Panza Collection, an amazing grouping of art from the 1960s through 1980s, with particular attention to American artists. The individual pieces (paintings, sculptures, drawings) are incredible but what makes the collection are the site-specific installations from artists such as Dan Flavin.
Piazza del Duomo, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is more than a shopping center, it’s a place for coffee, drink and dessert. Even more, in the center of the shopping center, there is a mosaic art of bull, which is said that if you spin your heel on the ball three times, it will bring you good luck. Of course a lot of people were spinning on the ball, and there is a hole on the mosaic art.
Gandria, Lugano, Switzerland
Behold Gandria! When my Airbnb host first suggested I visit Gandria I was a little unsure, mostly because of it’s name. But boy was she right, this little village navigable exclusively by foot was so picturesque and quiet. Situated on a hill just off of the Lugano Lake this place is perfect day-trip distance from almost anywhere in Switzerland. Lugano and Gandria are only several thousand feet from the Swiss-Italian border making these towns seem like extensions of Italy. They speak Italian, serve great pizza, and even better coffee.
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