Looking for a short taste of the city life with trendy museums, cafes, and shopping, but also the “Italian feeling” that you find in books and movies? If so, Milan is the perfect choice. The best thing about Milan is that you can visit without feeling like a tourist, unlike other top destinations such as Rome, Venice, or Florence. The Milanese are proud and self-contained people; you’ll rarely have someone on the street try to pull you into a restaurant or sell you a souvenir. Blend in with the locals here and enjoy the cool atmosphere of the city!
The Milanese Dress Code
Milan may be one of the last places on Earth where a jogging suit and sneakers aren’t considered appropriate attire for each and every occasion. While a local may wear sneakers to walk the dog, it’s an absolute no-go for an evening in the bar or the office. You’ll find the Milanese looking elegant even in jeans to go shopping – never over-the-top or vulgar. Take this into account when packing for your trip, unless you prefer to stand out from the crowd (and not in a good way).
Armani Silos Exhibition Space
Speaking of style and elegance… the Italian fashion guru Giorgio Armani has recently opened a new exhibition space in Milan. Housed in a former cereal warehouse, the space has been transformed into an impressive venue in minimalist style. Throughout the building’s four floors, one can admire Armani’s master creations from the previous 40 years.
The ground floor hosts an exhibition dedicated to the athletic human body, featuring Armani’s creative campaigns involving famous sportsmen. The upper floors display fashion and accessories in several themes such as daywear, exoticism, and more. Take a look here.
Villa Necchi Campiglio
Not far from the famous Duomo is a residential district called the Silent Quadrilateral, where one can take a stroll to admire beautiful villas. The most impressive is the modernist Villa Necchi Campiglio, which you can also explore inside. Built in the 30s, the villa belonged to two sisters from the family of wealthy factory owners. While one of the sisters was married, she never had children; so after death, the villa became state property and has been maintained exactly as it was during the owners’ lives. During the excursion, you will be able to experience life as it was lived by upper middle class Italians – their day-to-day lives, their celebrations, and their tastes in furniture and art. You can even take a look at the women’s wardrobes featuring authentic Chanel suits. After the visit have a cappuccino in the garden cafe near the swimming pool – the first heated outdoor pool in Milan. Take a look here.
For a nice cap on an active day, go for an aperitivo – a unique tradition typical in Milan. From 6pm to 10pm on workdays all bars offer a cocktail – the most popular choices are an Aperol Spritz or a Negroni – and for the same price you can also take snacks from a table including small pizzas, pastas, salads, olives, fruit, and more.
Locals will go for aperitivo after work with colleagues and friends, before heading home or to a restaurant for dinner. But for a non-Italian, the snacks may be too delicious to leave room for dinner! While aperitivo is served in nearly every bar, my favorites are:
Another recently-opened exhibition space, created by the foundation of the famous fashion house Prada. However, the only connection with fashion is in the name as this venue features a variety of contemporary art exhibitions. Housed in an early 20th century distillery, the building complex alone is worth a visit.
The old distillery in the center is painted in gold, while the adjoining storage houses are connected with modern elements from glass, metal, and mirrors. After exploring the exhibition, relax in the quiet yard or have a snack in the stylish cafe. Take a look here.
Castello Sforza and Parks
To take a breather from the bustling streets, visit the majestic 15th century castle Castello Sforza, the beautiful Parco Sempione park nearby, or the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli garden further afield. Find a nice seat under an old tree and enjoy watching people pass by – whether it’s an elegant woman riding a bicycle in a business suit or an elderly Al Capone-style man with a double-breasted coat, a cigar, and a smile. You won’t notice the hours passing, especially if you’ve brought along a drink and some snacks. Take a look here.
Party Like a Local
After sunset, all roads in Milan lead to the Navigli neighborhood. The name comes from the navigable interconnected channels that were built in order to transport goods into the city; it’s said that Leonardo da Vinci participated in planning the channel system. Today, Navigli is the temple of entertainment – the channel sides are loaded with bars, restaurants, and small art galleries, filled with people celebrating until morning no matter which day of the week. On the way to Navigli, stop off at Colonne de San Lorenzo. On Friday and Saturday nights, young crowds gather under the ancient Roman columns. Bring along a bottle of wine or pick up a cocktail at a nearby bar.
And Of Course, Shoes…
It would be a crime to leave Milan without a new pair of shoes. No nation can compete with Italy in terms of shoes. On Corso di Porta Ticianese or Via Torino there are fantastic tiny boutiques where you can find high-quality shoes at very tempting prices. Many of them do not display all of their available shoes: dare to tell the salesperson the type of shoe you’re looking for, and you’ll soon be looking at dozens of options in your size. Don’t be surprised if, once you’ve chosen a pair, you notice the person next to you trying on boots and decide you need some as well…