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Milan Guide. Leisure Guides.

 

Italy’s economic powerhouse is synonymous with style thanks to its bi-annual fashion week. But it’s not all glamour. From striking medieval architecture to Leonardo’s magnificent Last Supper, Milan is also a haven for those in search of more cerebral pursuits.

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Getting around


Milan boasts a comprehensive public transport network comprised of four subway lines, one suburban overground rail link and numerous bus and tram lines. Run by Azienda Trasporti Milanesi (ATM), most buses and trams run on time and between them cover most of the city centre. Prices are low, timings are regular and the whole network is open until midnight, seven days a week. In short, taking the bus or the tram is by far the easiest way to navigate Milan, particularly if your visit is to be a short one. 
 
Although tickets must be bought before boarding, it is possible to buy an integrated travel card covering the entire Lombardy region, barring the Malpensa Express (which goes to and from the airport), while children under 14 travel free. Taxis in Milan are also widely available and relatively affordable, although it is worth pointing out that the majority of drivers share the Italian passion for speed. 
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Hotels


Milan’s fashion industry has made it a hotspot for the world’s style-hunters so it’s hardly surprising that the city’s hotels are just as cool. There’s even an overlap, courtesy of the five-star Armani Hotel (Via Manzoni 31), which is decked out in the veteran designer’s typical low-key luxe style. Think neutrals galore enlivened with striking dark wood and gold fittings, and you’re half way there. 
 
Equally luxurious is the Bulgari Hotel (Via Privata Fratelli Gabba 7/b), owned, designed and run by the jewellery brand, but most stylish of all is the Principe de Savoia (Piazza della Repubblica 17), which is where the fashion world’s great and good stay during Milan Fashion Week. Its Winter Garden Bar has played host to some legendary parties, while rooms are wood-panelled and silk-curtained. Less expensive but no less stylish is TownHouse 31 (Via Carlo Goldoni 31) and its sister property, TownHouse 12 (Piazza Gerusalemme 12), both of which benefit from central locations and affordable prices.
 
To book a hotel click here
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Nightlife


Although Milan has seen its fair share of no-holds-barred parties, the Milanese are homely sorts at heart, preferring to while away an evening over a good bottle of red in one of the city’s many restaurants. That said, there is no shortage of bars, pubs and clubs, many of which have formidably cool – if unspoken – dress codes. 
 
Once you’ve donned head-to-toe Versace, head out early for an aperitivo at one of the designer bars such as Dolce & Gabbana’s Gold (Piazza Risorgimento) or Armani Privé (Via Manzoni 31). Both are bastions of blingy Italian chic but do a nice line in Prosecco and bank-busting cocktails. More laid back is Cape Town (Via Vigevano 3), a chilled South African bar that does excellent beer and a daily happy hour. Clubbers should make a beeline for Rolling Stone (Corso XXII Marzo 32), which offers live rock music during the week and ear-splitting dance beats at the weekend. 
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Restaurants


Milanese cuisine is heavy on the dairy compared to the rest of Italy, with local specialities including a huge range of cheeses such as gorgonzola, taleggio and ricotta, as well as infinite versions of risotto. The best place to sample local fare in Milan is Antica Trattoria della Pesa (Viale Pasubio 10), which is based in what was a 19th-century garage. Top pick is the classic costoletta alla Milanese (breaded veal), which is served up in gigantic portions. 
 
Alla Cucina Della Langhe (Corso Como 6) is a ridiculously chic dining spot that specialises in seriously expensive wine and miniaturised versions of classic Italian dishes. Less exalted and much more filling is the fare on offer at Al Pont de Ferr (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 55), named after the neighbouring iron bridge, which serves up honest Italian grub, including the ubiquitous pasta, pizza and risotto in a tavern-like atmosphere.
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Shopping


Finding something special is never a problem in Milan, which along with top designer names, boasts throngs of interesting little boutiques, craft shops and antiques galleries. The top spot for the big designers is the Quadrilatero d'Oro (‘square of gold’), where you’ll find everyone from Armani to Zegna. Most of what’s on offer commands stratospheric prices but if money is no object, there’s plenty to choose from. 
 
If you still want the big names but don’t want to cough up the full price, head to one of the factory outlet malls that ring Milan. Fidenza Village is one of the biggest and is home to 100 boutiques which sell brands like Paul Smith, Valentino, Michael Kors and Missoni discounted by up to 80%. For one-off and high-street buys, head to Corso di Porta Ticinese or Brera, where most of the big franchises such as H&M, Cos and Zara are to be found.
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Top 10 sights


Top 5 sights for first-timers 
 
Duomo di Milano

Milan’s magnificent Duomo is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. With 135 spires and 3,200 statues on the roof alone, it took over 500 years to complete. Climb the stairs (or take the lift) to the roof for superb views of the Renaissance Piazza del Duomo below.
 
Via Arcivescovado 1
www.duomomilano.it 
 
The Last Supper

Along with the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper (1495) is arguably the most famous of all Leonardo da Vinci’s works. Commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, the tempura mural covers an entire wall of the dining room in the UNESCO-listed 15th-century Santa Maria delle Grazie convent.
 
Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2
www.grazieop.it 
 
La Scala Opera House and Museum
 
The spectacular neoclassical La Scala is one of Italy’s oldest opera houses and comes with what has to be one of the world’s most unusual museums. Whether or not you’re an opera fan, you can’t fail to be enchanted by the antique musical instruments – ranging from the beautiful to the utterly bizarre – on display. 
 
Via Filodrammatici 2
www.teatroallascala.org 
 
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

It might be cathedral-sized but the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is anchored in earthier pursuits, namely shopping. Built in the 18th century, the four-storey arcade boasts a glass roof and an intricate mosaic floor depicting the insignia of four northern cities: the bull of Turin, the wolf of Rome, the lily of Florence and the red cross of Milan. 
 
Piazza Duomo
 
Castello Sforzesco
 
The former residence of the Dukes of Milan, the Castello Sforzesco is a mighty medieval pile that now plays host to an ever-changing roster of art exhibitions. Once one of the biggest citadels in Europe, its outer fortifications were demolished during Napoleon’s reign and it suffered extensive damage – now repaired – during WWII.  
 
Piazza Castello
www.milanocastello.it 
 
Top 5 sights for old hands
 
Pinacoteca di Brera

A real treat for art fans, the Pinacoteca di Brera is a little gem of a gallery that is home to works by some of Italy’s most important artists. Housed in a 17th-century former Jesuit college, paintings include Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ, Piero della Francesca’s magnificent Madonna and Child with Saints, and many more from names such as Titian, Tintoretto and Caravaggio.
 
Via Brera 28
www.brera.beniculturali.it 
 
Idroscalo

Milan’s central man-made lake has an interesting history, having begun life as a watery landing strip for Mussolini, who was a firm believer in the sea plane. Today it is part of three square kilometres of grassy parkland and forest, and boasts an array of beach clubs as well as two open-air swimming pools.
 
Segrate
www.idroscalo.info
 
San Lorenzo Maggiore

One of the first basilica churches ever built, San Lorenzo has a unique place in the history of art. Originally built in the fourth century, it was all but destroyed by fires in the 11th and 12th centuries but was rebuilt in the 15th and 17th centuries. Outside the church stand 16 Corinthian columns; all that remains of the pagan temple that once occupied the site.
 
Corso di Porta Ticinese 35
www.sanlorenzomaggiore.com 
 
Piazza Mercanti

Often overlooked in favour of the nearby Piazza Duomo, the Piazzi Mercanti boasts no fewer than four different palaces of varying antiquity and a 16th-century pit flanked by two columns. These were used to humiliate miscreants, who were chained to them with their bottoms exposed.
 
Via Dante

Connecting Piazza Cordusio with Largo Cairoli, Via Dante is the Oxford Street of Italy: a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare enlivened by some wonderful architecture and thronged with street artists. Along with plentiful shops, the street is also home to the charming Piccolo Teatro (tiny theatre).
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Top 5 activities


Opera

Italy is the home of opera and there’s nowhere better to see it than at La Scala. The 18th-century opera house is also famous for its ballet and has seen all the modern greats tread its boards, including Rudolf Nureyev and Darcey Bussell. 
 
Shopping

Milan is famous for its fashion and as a result, shoppers are spoilt for choice. Whether bargain hunting in one of the factory outlets or splashing the cash in the Quadrilatero d’Oro, you won’t go home empty handed.
 
Boating

Milan is no Venice but it does have several canals, including the two in the Navigli district. There you can embark on boat trips that offer an unusual perspective on the ancient wash houses of Vicolo dei Lavandai and San Cristoforo, the Scodellino Bridge and the old Darsena port.
 
Spa

From the world’s only spa within a boutique (the ESPA spa at Gianfranco Ferré) to the gold-plated pool at the Bulgari Hotel, Milan’s spas are an affordable luxury. Lepri (Via Omenoni 2) is the fashionista’s choice, while the Hammam della Rosa (Viale Abruzzi 15) will banish aches and pains in a jiffy.
 
Football 

Italians love their football and Milan is no exception. The vast 85,000-seater San Siro is home to two of Serie A’s greatest clubs, AC Milan and Internazionale, and has an adjoining museum that contains an entertaining selection of memorabilia including club cufflinks dating from 1928 and a ceramic bust of Dutch footballer Ruud Gullit.
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Top 5 events


Carnevale Ambrosiano

A mixture of parades, street performances and circus acts, the longest carnival in the world transforms Milan’s medieval squares into a seething mass of benevolent humanity, as old and young alike take to the streets to enjoy the show. 
 
Date: February/March
Venue: Piazza Duomo
 
La Notte Bianca

In Italian, a white night translates as a sleepless one – apt for revellers partying the night away during Milan’s annual Notte Bianca festival. Don’t expect floats or theatre: this is all about whooping it up in the city’s bars, clubs and cinemas, which for one night a year stay open until 6am.
 
Date: June
Venue: Citywide
 
Sagra di San Cristoforo
 
The annual feast of the patron saint of travellers (third Sunday in June) is a big deal in Catholic Italy and Milan celebrates San Cristoforo’s day with a vengeance. Festivities centre on the square in front of the small church of San Cristoforo in Navigli and include a procession of decorated boats.
 
Date: June
Venue: Navigli
 
Monza Grand Prix
 
The only event to rival fashion week in the glamour stakes, Milan’s Formula One race takes place slightly to the north of the city in Monza. Expect all the big names, including the UK’s Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
 
Date: September
Venue: Monza 
 
Oh Bej! Oh Bej!
 
A must-do for food fans, the annual Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Festival (7 December) showcases local crafts as well as traditional food such as pancakes and roast chestnuts.
 
Date: December
Venue: Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 

Written by World Travel Guide

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