Three reasons why everyone should visit Italy at least once in a lifetime: Food, culture and la dolce vita! 😉 I’ve never been to Italy before and so I was thrilled to make the most out of this week-end and discover the Italian way of life.
Two or three days are sufficient to get a good impression of the city. In advance of this trip, I’ve read here and there that Milan is not a beautiful or at least not the most beautiful city of Italy. In my opinion, this is not true and I feel I have to put in a good word for Milan. Although I can’t compare it to Italian’s more famous cities like Venice, Florence or Rome as I haven’t visited these places yet, I really loved Milan! It definitely allows to wander along the tracks of the Italian culture, discover historic sights and get a feeling of la dolce vita. Also, people in Milan are said to be arrogant, but we always felt very welcomed and can only say everyone has been really helpful and friendly.
So here’s my personal top ten of what you shouldn’t miss when visiting Milan:
1. Il Duomo: Architecture, paintings and a great view over Milan
This is a classic – when thinking of Milan, the Duomo is the first thing that comes to one’s mind. Although I’m trying to avoid the typical tourist things, this was a great experience and much fun. We decided to go there on Friday morning to avoid the big masses. This was definitely the best decision as on Saturday the whole forecourt of the Duomo was crowded due to a big demonstration.
We had purchased our tickets in advance to avoid the long queues at the ticket counter and luckily payed a little bit more for the elevator option. There are different entries depending on whether you’re taking the stairs or the elevator. Additionally, you can pay an extra fee to book the fast track lane. We went at the Duomo around 10:00 AM and while the queue for the stairs was pretty long, the entrance for the non-fast track elevator queue was almost empty. After only 10 minutes, we stood on the rooftop and enjoyed the view over Milano.
Although we were not too much interested in religion, museums or architecture at this trip, it was great to see the Duomo from within – so I really recommend paying a little bit more. I found the high ceilings, colorful glass windows and paintings very impressive and felt really small there.
2. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II: Window Shopping and Good Luck To Go
A nice contrast after visiting the Duomo is the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II right next to the cathedral. Trust me, you can hardly miss it. 😉 The building has a beautiful architecture and all the big fashion labels can be found here with one artistically designed window shop after the other. Even if these shops are out of your budget or you’re not into fashion, it’s fun to admire those appealing decorations and window displays presented in the most artful way I’ve ever seen.
But don’t forget to pick up some good luck to go: The floor is decorated with mosaic tiles and shows a bull at the center of the passage . Put your heel on the bull’s balls and spin three times around – according to an old tradition, this will bring you luck. So don’t miss this chance to collect some good fortune for this trip.
3. Food, food, food: Pizza, Pasta e Gelato
For breakfast, I loved the Mint Garden Cafe. Super fresh and tasty, nice decoration and a very friendly waiter! This was the best spot to enjoy some coffee and start the day in a chilled and relaxed atmosphere.
During the day, we had the best pizza at Un’Altra Pasta. It’s rather a snack stand than a restaurant, but we haven’t found a better pizza anywhere else during our stay. It’s not too expensive (around 7-8 EUR for a pizza). Despite being near to Il Duomo, it’s not overcrowded and in a quiet side road. This is a less touristy spot and we enjoyed our pizza on the second floor next to some original Italian construction workers.
Ice-cream parlors are everywhere and it seems you can’t go wrong no matter where you end up. We had the best ice-cream in Milano at Amorino (Brera quarter). They form it like rose petals – almost too beautiful to eat! But also too good to let it melt! 😉
In Milan, it’s almost impossible to have a bad meal – there are a lot of great restaurants and especially on week-ends you should book a table in advance. Italians go out in big groups and so restaurants become quickly crowded.
For dinner, we were lucky to get a table without a reservation at Platina. They’ve specialized in fresh pasta and I found the Spaghetti alla chitarra ai frutti di mare so delicious. I paid 15 EUR for a good amount and enjoyed every bite. And for dessert, the Tiramisu is a must – no matter how full you are! 😉
4. Palazzo Brera: Heaven for Lovers of Architecture and Books
When looking for beautiful pictures and places of Milan, you’ll find many pictures of beautiful balconies which look typically Italian. Most of these are taken in Brera, a quarter of Milan located between Parco Sempione and Giardini Pubblici and a little bit north of the Duomo.
We wanted to see this Instagram photo spot ourselves but had a little difficulty to find it on the map. So we used the Palazzo Brera for navigation without any intentions to have a look at it.
But we found the balconies and streets of Brera quite overrated (actually, it were just one or two busy streets full of tourists), while the Palazzo was surprisingly interesting.
The Palazzo’s architecture is beautiful and reminds me of an ancient Roman mansion or palace, although it was built in the early 17th century. We went inside as the entry is free and had a look at the inner court, the corridors with beautiful statues and the impressive Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense.
If you are interested in arts or astronomy, check out the Museo Astronomico and the Pinacoteca di Brera. You’ll also find a beautiful botanical garden there. For more information go to the offical website here.
5. Castello Sforzesco: The Impressive Walls of Milan Castle
The Castello Sforzesco is a must-see. Pictures don’t really show the impressiveness and size of this building. In advance, I thought this seemed quite boring – just a square building and some old walls. But believe me – standing there is something completely different, so we’re glad we threw a closer look at it when being at the Parco Sempione anyway.
And for anyone who’s interested in history or just needs to have an alternative on rainy days, there’s a museum you could visit.
But even if you’re not into history, it’s a nice place to be on sunny days: We had a break at the Castello and listened to a street musician – it felt very laid-back and we gained some new energy to continue exploring Milan.
6. San Bernadino alle Ossa: The Church of Bones
Yes, correct: Bones! And above all, bones from real humans who’ve once lived a few hundred years ago. This place is scary and fascinating at the same time. I couldn’t get enough of watching and imaging the lives behind those bones. People with weak nerves or stomachs might be a little overwhelmed by this sight, but it’s something you’ll never forget again.
Besides, we were lucky to listen to a guide of a group explaining that death was seen as something completely normal as it was part of everyday life. He stressed that death is nowadays a bigger taboo than in earlier times and that people had a more natural understanding of it in the past. We’ve also learned that these are mostly skulls and bones of grown-ups. In the past, Italians have been even smaller and grown-up man had the size of a teenager nowadays.
7. Torre Branca: 98 Meters above Milan
Although we’ve already enjoyed the view from the Duomo, this view was still stunning. I don’t know exactly but guess that the Torre Branca is higher than the Duomo rooftops – at least it felt that way. The contrast between the green of the Parco Sempione and the rest of the city is really stunning.
The entrance was a little bit difficult to find – you have to leave the park to get there. Plan also for some time to wait as there’s only a limited amount of people which can go up together, approximately 15 persons I think. The stay on the observation deck is limited to about 10 Minutes, so you can do the math how long you’ll have to wait 😉 Especially, when a kindergarten group arrived only 5 minutes before you.
8. Relax in Milan’s Beautiful Parks
Milan doesn’t look that green from above in Google Maps – but still it felt much greener than expected. Except for all the balconies which were all teeming with plants and flowers everywhere, there are two big parks: The Giardini Pubblici Indo Montanelli and the Parco Sempione. We’ve visited both and while the Giardini Pubblici was OK, we loved the Parco Sempione. Due to the Arco della Pace, the Acquario Civico and the Civic Arena it’s more varied than the Giardini Pubblici. Plus, we’ve seen more homeless and drug addicts around the Giardini Pubblici, so we’ve felt a little unsafe when we had to pass these people in order to enter the park.
As we went there to relax, we didn’t take any pictures except for a few selfies. So I gave us some funny emoji heads to keep the privacy of my sister 😉
9. Enjoy the Italian Aperitivo Culture
Exploring a city makes one hungry – and as mentioned already, Milan offers so many great possibilities to satisfy you. One special and typical Italian thing is taking an Aperitivo to start the evening. When ordering a drink, it’s accompanied by a little composition of antipasti and bruschetta. In some restaurants, they even offer a buffet to which every guest can help himself for free.
I can recommend the restaurant River in the Navigli quarter – for only 10 EUR I got a pint of Heineken and a full plate of great home-made antipasti, crisps and bruschetta. In the end, I was so full that I even had to skip dinner.
10. Bergamo: The Home of Straciatella ice-cream
Bergamo is a one-hour train ride away from Milan and perfect for a daytrip if you’ve had enough of the city or to fill your day of departure when you’re flying from Bergamo Airport. It’s not hard to get there by train, but in case you’re having difficulties to find out (as we had), read my post How to get from Milan to Bergamo.
Bergamo itself is divided into an Old Town (Città Alta) on the hill and a modern part in the valley. The view from the hill is beautiful, you can even see the outlines of the Alps rising above the green countryside.
We’ve taken a bus to the Old Town and besides the big walls and historic alleys, the cute little shops with fancy foods, clothes or other souvenirs are just great. You can spend a few hours window shopping and trying culinary specialties here and there. The main alleys are touristy and overcrowded – go just around the corner and you’ll have the lovely alleys all for yourself.
If you want to taste the original Straciatella ice-cream, you have to get some at La Marianna (right at the bus station). We found it tasteful and will never be able to enjoy Straciatella anywhere else the way we did before. 😉
Of course there are many more sights and things to discover in Milan, especially if you’re interested in arts and visiting museums. But this wasn’t something we were looking for on our girls’ week-end. But when coming back to Milan someday, I’ll definitely have a look at one or another museum or gallery.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences about Italy in the comments 🙂 If you’ve already been to Milan or Bergamo, I’d be happy to read about your highlights during this trip and if you loved the city as much as we did.