What to do in…Milan
I have been meaning to visit Milan ever since a very good friend moved there almost 2 years ago and as the other half has done lots of business in the city previously he assured me we would be able to have a great weekend break there so using some reward flights we had with British Airways we booked up.
How to get there
Milan is very easy to get to and if you fly into Linate airport, the closest to the city centre you can almost do home to hotel in just under 3 hours (this is of course pushing it with less time at the airport but is really just to indicate how close it is at just 1 hour 50 minutes from Heathrow). We used reward points (Avios) to pay for our flights but all the major airlines and budget carriers fly to either Linate or Malpensa airport, I would say Bergamo (Milan’s 3rd airport) is maybe a bit too far and would eat into too much of your precious weekend time. Getting to and from Linate airport is super easy and for convenience we took a taxi straight out of the airport to the hotel which cost approx €25 and was a short 20 minute journey. Otherwise it’s a simple bus journey to Milan Centrale Station on then onto the Metro to get your chosen digs. Malpensa is a bit further out so would be a lot more in a taxi, as our return flight was from Malpensa we decided to take the Malpensa Express which goes from either Centrale or Cadorna station every 30 minutes with the journey taking about 45 minutes and costs €12 each.
How to get around
I opted for a hotel close to the main local sights such as the Duomo so that we could walk everywhere (and not feel guilty for eating so much pasta and gelato) so we didn’t use much public transport except for on our day trip to Lake Como, details of which will follow in another post. The metro in Milan is pretty cheap and efficient as is the tram but make sure you buy a ticket from a Tabacchi shop if you decide to take the tram as the inspectors are not particularly helpful or friendly when it comes to tourists who don’t have tickets. We learnt the hard way on Sunday evening when no Tabacchi were open and we decided to chance it and hope that any inspector would take pity and let us pay on the spot…No we discovered that this is not an option so we paid our €36.50 fine each and went on our way exclaiming at the absurdity of the situation as there was genuinely nowhere open to buy a ticket! So don’t attempt to ride the tram without a ticket or try to buy a ticket on a Sunday as both of these will end in disaster!
Where to stay
I wrote about the booking site Rocketmiles in another blog post on top travel apps and websites and how a booking with them can earn you reward points or airmiles for your preferred scheme so used them to look for a hotel in Milan. After much deliberation I booked 4-star Uptown Palace Hotel on Via Santa Sofia as it was just a 10 minute walk from the Duomo. The hotel turned out to be a brilliant find, as well as earning us an extra 3000 Avios points, we got Breakfast, Wi-Fi and genuinely fantastic service included. The classic rooms are not huge but perfectly appointed, stylish and have everything you need for making your city break comfortable. The hotel bar impressed us too, as lovers of a G&T they didn’t even forget the cucumber for our Hendricks…perfection!
What to see/What to do
Milan doesn’t have the wealth of historical and archaeological sites such Rome nor the picturesque canals of Venice but this does mean that you can slow down the pace, pause and just enjoy your surroundings without really feeling like you are missing out. There are of course some must do’s…
The most impressive and infamous site is of course the Duomo, as the 5th largest church in the world I was also surprised to find out it is the largest church in Italy with construction dating back to 1386. Tickets are easy to purchase on the day you wish to visit or in advance from the ticket offices or online. We found the ticket office nearest the shops on the left-hand side to be much quieter than those on the other. Tickets are €15 each for a combined entrance to the church, all museums inside and the lift to the roof terraces. If you would prefer to climb the many stairs to the roof then it’s just €12. I am so glad we took the lift, the roof is not to be missed it really makes you appreciate the level of detail and craft that has gone into the cathedral. You can spend as much time as you want on the roof there are no timed entrances or exits so you could take hundreds of photos and observe the view on all sides. The inside of the church is equally as impressive, the stained glass windows are stunning with each pane depicting a different scene.
From the Duomo it’s a very short walk across the square to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls which famously turned down McDonald’s application for renewal of their lease after 20 years of serving burger and fries from it’s glass vaulted arcades. Prada now proudly stands in its place alongside other luxury boutiques and some of the oldest restaurants in the city.
At the other end of the Galleria you will find another must see in Milan if Opera or Ballet are your thing, the Teatro alla Scala has played host to all of Italy’s greatest operatic artists as well as international Opera stars. Tickets are available to buy if you want to get inside the theatre or you could book a guided tour for your own chance to tread the boards.
Another short stroll will bring you to Sforza Castle, built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan the history of the castle is eye-opening and I would fully recommend taking a city guided tour to get all the key details such as the underground passageway that the Duke had built to ensure he could easily escape the city when threatened or for him to be able to visit the monks at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie for dinner. The church is home to one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous works, The Last Supper and is the hottest ticket in town with the majority of time slots being sold out at least 3 months in advance. This is the official website for tickets but if you would like to combine your 15 minute viewing of the painting with a guided tour and discussion on Da Vinci then I can highly recommend Tickitaly who offer a range of tours that combine your Last Supper ticket price with a short tour of other sites such as the Castello.
As a major fashion-week hub Milan is of course home to some fantastic shops and you could easily part with some serious cash on a weekend here and until the 31st October you could also drop into the World Expo so plenty to keep everyone busy. If you do want to escape the city then a day trip to Lake Como is exactly what you need and details of this will follow in a separate post.
If you know you’re going to be visiting many of these sights (and more) in Milan then I recommend purchasing a city pass in advance as not only will you get entrance tickets to all the major sights, your airport transfer is included and you also have the option of adding on a metro card for a great discount if you’re staying a bit further away from the historic centre.
Where to eat
On our first day we ignored all guidebooks/bloggers/general travel knowledge and decided to eat near a main tourist attraction. Bar Madonnina just to the rear of the Duomo looked busy, had decent looking plates coming out of the kitchen and was in a prime people watching location so we bit the bullet and ordered. We decided to share a pizza, buffalo mozzarella and parma ham all washed down with a humongous glass of prosecco. The portion sizes were fantastic and we had nothing to complain about.
That evening we walked with friends through Parco Sempione to Duomo dal 1952 to partake in the classic Italian ritual of aperitivo. Traditionally this would be a pre-dinner drink with some small food offerings or nibbles in order to prepare you for an evening meal but has now become something of a meal event in itself with several places in Milan upping their aperitivo game. At Duomo dal 1952 you can feast on a whole host of Italian fare at their buffet for just the price of a cocktail.
After our day out at Lake Como we opted for something less traditional and decided to see if the promise of Italy’s best ribs would ring true as we walked to Hat’s Off on Via Circo. We were warmly greeted by owner Cecille who quickly brought me a glass of prosecco without hesitation and free-poured the other half his spirit choice for the evening, from this moment we knew we were in for a good night. Cecille is the perfect host and we were genuinely interested to hear about how she had opened the restaurant and where the ribs came from (It turns out almost all the best ribs served around the world come from Holland) After some great starters we got onto the main event, the ribs. They were incredible, so tender the meat fell away from the bone with BBQ sauce perfection and baked creamed spinach that worked so well with the meat. I didn’t take any pictures – I was in food heaven.
We also ate some fantastic pasta at Il Tavolino near Central Station, had the best gelato from Van Bol & Feste on Largo Cairoli and drank amazing coffee from everywhere we went to.
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