I recently travelled to Milan and I have to say I enjoyed it more than expected. After hearing it was just another industrial city with little to see, I was somewhat sceptical but I decided to start my journey without any prejudice.
I can see how Milan is not as exciting as Barcelona or Prague, but it does have a lot of qualities – beautiful buildings, friendly locals and incredibly tasty food. My conclusion? Some people just don’t seem to give it the credit it deserves.
We were there for 3 days, and THIS is what we did:
Piazza del Duomo
I did take along a pocket guide, but in the end we decided to freestyle it. The world was our oyster and no travel guide, no matter how well written, was going to keep us from doing what we wanted, when we wanted. Even though the weather didn’t really play along, we grabbed our very tiny umbrella and braved the storm (it rained for two whole days!).
Our first stop was Piazza del Duomo, a fantastic square filled with tourists, pigeons and street vendors who were very keen on selling us all sorts of objects. I felt slightly like on Las Ramblas in Barcelona – there they offer you beer, here it was bracelets (it is after all the capital of fashion).
The cathedral was spectacular – tall, grand and iconic. Without doubt one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. If not for the rain, we would have even climbed to the roof to catch a better glimpse of the Milan rooftops.
After a short walk around the centre, we had the oh-so-bright idea to go shopping in what we heard was the oldest shopping mall in Italy – Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Let’s just say that we weren’t really prepared for what we found there. Gucci, Prada, Tods, Armani…all the big boys were there, but not that much for us mere mortals with modest salaries (except a McDonalds that looked slightly out of place). As you may have guessed, no shopping was done but we did walk around for a while admiring the pristine shops, elegant cafés and beautiful mosaic floors. A tip from me to you: even if you’re on a budget, this place is still worth a visit.
Around Sforzesco Castle
From Piazza del Duomo, we made our way towards the Sforzesco Castle and Arco de la Pace (yes, there is one in Milan too). At that moment, my boots were so soaked I was making squishy sounds at every step. We hopped on a yellow tram (without a ticket I might add), which dropped us right in front of Universo Vegano, a local vegan fast-food chain where I had a focaccia – fast, cheap and tasty!
We returned to this neighbourhood two days later to check out the Triennale Design Museum. As expected, the entrance was relatively expensive, and unfortunately there wasn’t that much to see. Ironically, the part I enjoyed most was the free exhibition, which featured objects made in the slums of Nairobi. It always shocks me to see the contrast between our world and theirs…all of the sudden our problems and worries seem so petty compared to the difficulties they face on a daily basis.
The ground floor of the gallery also hosted a fascinating collection of photographs and videos that tackled different food related topics such as obesity, poverty, diverse cultural conducts and diets. Regrettably, this part of the exhibition was only in Italian so we found ourselves a little lost in translation. It was interesting nonetheless!
The Last Supper
Museums are not really my thing. I remember my trip to the Prado museum with little fondness. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that after only an hour, I was already set on finding the exit (I know, not very cultured of me).
But this was different. First, because “The Last Supper” is located in a church, and second, leaving Milan without seeing Da Vinci’s masterpiece would be like going to Rome and missing the Coliseum.
The mural is located in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It’s relatively centric and easy to find, but be prepared to pay top money. You’ve also got to make sure you book your tickets in advance or you’ll probably end up waiting around for a good couple of hours (be warned – weekends are always the busiest, it’s better to go during the week if you can).
The Navigli District
This alternative, vibrant district around the canals of Milan was definitely my kind of scene! We stumbled into a part of town that was full of personality and quirkiness, with exciting and somewhat unexpected restaurants, bars and shops. It’s definitely the right place to go if you’re looking to stop for an after dinner cocktail.
I have to say that the canal itself was in a quite sorry state. There was hardly any water, rubbish bags pilling up in every corner, and sometimes you would even get a whiff of something that smelled rather rank. There was even a discarded sofa right in the middle of the canal! Some of the buildings also looked slightly neglected. But at night, when the Navigli District comes to live, it’s really a whole different story!
Where to eat: One of our favourite spots was Mammy Coffeeburgers (yes, it’s a burger joint). I absolutely loved how the place was decorated, very eccentric and colourful. The food was delicious, and the staff was friendly and quick on their toes. Regrettably, they were out of their vegan burgers but the cook was extremely accommodating and prepared us a grilled veggie sandwich instead. One word – delicious!
We spent Valentine’s Day by the lovely lake in Como, and fortunately enough, it was the only time we didn’t get showered by rain. Spending the day outside of Milan was incredibly satisfying. No noise, pollution or overcrowded spaces…just nature and a quaint little town, with coquette houses and charming streets. Apart from 3 churches, there is little else to visit in this area. There are no great number of tourist attractions to hunt down, with the exception of the lake, so if you aren’t easily impressed by nature, this might not be your cup of tea.
One of my favourite places around here was the little padlock bridge right near the docks. True, it’s not as spectacular as the padlock collection in Paris, but it does have a certain charm (I have to admit, the chatty ducks with the funny looking hairstyles swimming nearby may have had something to do with it).
After spending a great part of the day walking around Como, we stopped at the Taverna Messicana for some late lunch. The place was very jolly, with mural paintings of Speedy Gonzales wherever you looked, so naturally I was attracted. There was a bit of a wait, but even so, we did have fun. The oval looking pizzas they served us (apparently the best Mexican pizzas in Europe?) were comical but incredibly tasty. Of course, as it was a “regular” Pizzeria, we did have to ask for a custom made vegan pizza, which they were more than happy to prepare for us – two thumbs up for service and friendliness!
Overall I enjoyed my stay in Milan – a fabulous city with great things to do and see. It is a place I would unquestionably visit again. Baci Milano!