Italy: More to Milan than shopping? 

Beautiful architecture in Milan

Mr ESLT and I always try and celebrate birthdays/anniversaries etc exploring somewhere in the world and for my recent 32nd birthday we decided on Milan in Northern Italy. Now I love Italy and have never made a secret of that. It is possibly my favourite country in the world however Milan had never really been on my ‘bucket list’. So why choose Milan? Simply answer the flights were cheap! £40 each return from Manchester, England to Milan Bergamo via Ryanair. What a bargain! Quite often you can’t get from one side of England to the other on a train for cheaper.

Arco della Pace - Arch of Peace, Milan
Arco della Pace – Arch of Peace, Milan

My visit to Milan was my 6th visit to Italy and I was extremely surprised at how much this city has to offer and how beautiful the main square is. It’s true that there are some pretty sketchy parts of Milan too but isn’t that the case with all major cities? But in general I was very surprised just how much there is to see and do here…..not just shopping which is what I had previously thought of when thinking about Milan. Mr ESLT booked Guesthouse Ca’Monteggia, an awesome B&B just a 5 minute walk from Piazza Del Duomo (Milan’s main square) meaning all the main attractions and great restaurants where just on our doorstep. There are hawkers in Piazza Del Duomo but a simple ‘no, thank you’ was all it took to get rid of most of them. We were also lucky enough to visit in May 2015 and have the opportunity to attend Milano Expo 2015 which, if you are visiting between May and October 2015 I highly recommend, even if just for one evening. Also, if you’re a football fan check out the famous San Siro Football Stadium – this was a must for Mr ESLT.

The pitch at the San Siro Stadium, Milan
The pitch at the San Siro Stadium, Milan

Staying in central Milan meant the only thing cheap about this trip was the flight. Accommodation is, like all cities, cheaper in the suburbs but as we were only visiting for 4 days staying close to the action saved us money and time as we did not have to use the metro we could simply walk to most places. Food is reasonably priced with a pizza costing between €6 and €10 in the shadow of the Duomo and lovely large Italian gelato setting you back around €2.50. Booze however is mega bucks. A medium beer (around 3/4 pint) costing an eye watering €10 each!

Beer in Milan
Beer in Milan

Top 5 things to do in Milan

1. Duomo – it’s hard to miss the Duomo in Milan, it’s the huge gothic cathedral right in the centre of the city. It took over six centuries to complete. It is the largest church in Italy and the fifth largest in the word. If you are Catholic and wish to pray it is free to enter or just €2 if like me you just wanted to have a walk around inside yourself or why not pay for a guided tour? It is a beautiful cathedral and very different to ones in other Italian cities. Why not grab a gelato or drink from a local vendor and sit on the steps (weather permitting of course) and enjoy the view.

Duomo di Milano - Milan Cathedral
Duomo di Milano – Milan Cathedral

2. Sforza Castle – we ‘stumbled’ on the castle and I’m glad we did. It is a beautiful castle which we spent a couple of hours wandering around.  It was built in the 15th Century and is home to a number of art collections and museums including:

  • The Museum of Musical Instruments
  • The Museum of Modern Art
  • The Applied Arts Collection
  • The Achille Bertarelli Print Collection
  • Archaeological Museum of Milan
  • The Egyptian Museum
  • The Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco
  • Antique Furniture & Wooden Sculpture Museum

    Sforza Castle, Milan
    Sforza Castle, Milan

3. Food – apart from the usual Italian fare pizza, pasta, gelato etc you will also find Risotto alla Milanese which is as the name suggests risotto which you can only find in Milan. So what makes is Milanese? It has saffron in it which turns it a yellow colour. There are many stories based on why the saffron was added. Regardless as to why, it’s delicious and suitable for vegetarians too. Here is a list of other traditionally Milanese foods which you may want to try if you visit:

  • Piccata Milanese – Slices of fried chicken
  • Cassöla – meat and vegetable stew
  • Ossobuco – a braised veal shank
  • Büseca – tripe stew with butter, tomatoes and beans
  • Cotoletter – bried veal chop (fried)
  • Panettone – cake

    Risotto alla Milanese
    Risotto alla Milanese

4. Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ – how many times in our life do we get the opportunity to see a masterpiece up close? Here’s one of them. Why not visit the Santa Maria delle Grazie church to view Da Vinci’s paining which depicts the Last Supper. It truly is a work of art. Book your tickets in advance though otherwise you may be left disappointed as it is a popular attraction in Milan. Audio guides are also available which I would recommend as they give a lot of background information about the painting.

Santa Maria Delle Grazie church, Milan
Santa Maria Delle Grazie church, Milan

5. Shopping – my preconceptions about Milan being a shoppers paradise where true. There are plenty of high street shops (the usual European favourites H&M, Zara etc) if like me that’s more your budget. However if you have got more cash to splash you need to head to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II In Piazzo Duomo which was built between 1865 and 1877 making it one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Here you will find the high end shops – Gucci, Prada, Versace. Even if these are out of your budget the Galleria is beautifully ornate and well worth the visit just to see it and possibly do a bit of window shopping?

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

In summary I think 4 days in Milan was enough to be able to see the main things the city has to offer. But I’m glad I visited and would recommend others visit too. True it’s not beautiful like Florence or Capri for example but still worth exploring especially if you love Italy as much as I do. One last point and I’m sure if you are a savvy traveller this goes without saying – watch your bags and personal belongings especially in Piazza del Duomo. I don’t say this to scare you as I never saw any dodgy behaviour but just as a reminder that pickpockets are active in cities bustling with tourists.

Beautiful architecture in Milan
Beautiful architecture in Milan

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