From Milan, with Love
- Duomo di Milano, Sforza Castle and Galleria Vittoria Emmanuelle II are the three key landmarks.
- Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ can be found in Santa Maria delle Grazie.
- Walk along Via Dante to discover authentic Italian restaurants, bars and shops.
Dynamic. Stylish. Historic.
Many criticise this great city for being the industrial fourth capital of Italy and according to its critics it has neither the flair of Florence, the romance of Rome, nor the vibrancy of Venice.
Milan is different – I get that – but it’s not boring and far from monotonous.
Despite the preconceived overwhelmingly negative perception of this great city, Milan is steeped in rich culture and its history runs through the veins of the city – in its buildings, businesses and the very fabric of the lifestyle of its people.
Having visited Rome earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to return to Italy.
I wanted to visit Milan in particular to find out if it really was “too industrial”, “too commercial” and “too touristy”.
Well, having had the chance to visit the fashion capital of the world, I can now confirm its critics are wrong.
Milan is just like any other global city – it has its poor parts and its wealthy parts, it has its shopping malls and its lakes and parks, and it has its tourist hotspots and its sprawling piazzas.
Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II (> 1 hour)
Nowhere is the city’s wealth more evident than in Piazza Duomo where the glamourous Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II is located.
Exclusive shops like Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci grace its halls and expensive restaurants offer authentic Italian cuisine.
Opened in 1877, and named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy, this palatial shopping mall – designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni for the Commune of Milan – is housed within a four-story double arcade in central Milan.
Even if you’re not out to shop, I’d recommend going for a short walk through its halls to admire its architecture and glorious character.
*Note to tourists: standing on the genitals of the bull of Turin and rotating three times brings good luck (apparently), as centuries ago the bull was a symbol of fertility.
You can get to the Galleria quite easily – just take the Metro three stops towards San Donato from Milan Centrale and you’ll arrive at Piazza Duomo.
Duomo di Milano
Just a short walk from the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II is Duomo di Milano (the cathedral church of Milan).
The impressive Italian gothic structure is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity, took six centuries to complete and stands 108m tall.
It is one of the biggest cathedrals of its kind in the world and ranks alongside St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York and Seville’s Cathedral.
Interesting fact: Duomo di Milano is the biggest cathedral in Italy (remember, St Peter’s Basilica is indeed bigger, but it happens to be located in Vatican City – the smallest state in the world by both area and population – with sovereignty being held by the Holy See, which makes it a separate state).
Lead architect and first chief engineer Simone da Orsenigo was commissioned by Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo in 1386 to manage the project and build it from brick with Candoglia marble from Lake Maggiore. Interestingly, the site was consecrated in 1418 but large parts of the cathedral remained unfinished until the project was more or less completed in 1965.
However, superficial work continues to this day and considering construction is still ongoing, this may be the longest-worked cathedal in the world.
Interesting fact: There are more statues on this gothic-style cathedral than any other building in the world!
I would strongly recommend buying tickets to enter the cathedral as this includes a visit to the rooftop. From the terrazza you can fully appreciate the grandeur of Milan’s most iconic landmark, look down on the piazza to see the contrast between old and new architecture, and have stunning views across the city and out towards the snow-capped peaks of the Alps.
One to watch out for: Keep an eye out for the famous Madonnina, the gold-coloured statue of Mary that stands on the cathedral’s highest spire.
Parco Sempione, Sforza Castle and Da Vinci’s masterpiece (3+ hours)
If you want to get out of the busy city centre and relax in an idyllic spot then I highly recommend venturing 20 minutes out of the city centre to Parco Sempione.
The park surrounds the 15th century Sforza Castle which was built by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan.
Within the complex of the castle you can visit its civic museums, including:
- The Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, which has an art collection which includes Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio madonna and a selection of masterpieces by Canaletto, Titian and Tintoretto.
- The Museum of Ancient Art which has a large collection of sculptures from the late antiquity, Medieval and Renaissance periods.
- The Museum of Rondanini Pietà which includes Michelangelo’s last sculpture (the Rondanini Pietà).
Photo opportunity (see below): There’s a great photo opportunity at the entrance of Sforza Castle with the Fontana di Piazza Castello in the foreground set against the enormous castle as the backdrop.
A 15 minute walk from the Fontana del Piazza Castello is Santa Maria delle Grazie – the Renaissance church which contains the mural of ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci.
Due to the close proximity of each of the city’s iconic landmarks, it’s an effortless amble to visit all three in a short time. And if you’re only on a day trip – fear not – you can easily visit all the tourist hotspots (our trip lasted three days which also included a visit to Como).
Again, as with Rome, the food was remarkable and if it’s a special occasion then check out to La Rinascente and head up to the seventh floor to enjoy cocktails and food whilst admiring the view of the Piazza Duomo and Duomo di Milano from the roof terrace.
- Catch an opera performance of Italian classics at Teatro alla Scala
- Visit Santa Maria delle Grazie Church to see Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’
- Head over to Pinacoteca di Brera – an art museum specializing in Italian art
- For Neoclassical ducal architecture and fine art head to the Royal Palace of Milan
- Stroll through the columned courtyard of the 12th century Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio
Suggested Milan Playlist:
We stayed at Hotel 38 which is a five minute walk from Parco Sempione and Sforza Castle and a 20-25 minute walk from Duomo di Milano and Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II.