CITY GUIDE: THE BEST OF MILAN
The charm of Milan always seems a little underestimated. It’s got some big ticket items like the Duomo and Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and it’s hailed as one of the fashion capitals of the world, but it always seems to be more associated with business than the idyllic Italian culture we expect of the other cities. On our last visit, we took the time to get to know the heart and soul of Milan and were pleased to discover a softer, quainter side.
Here's how to experience the best of Milan:
First up, get the Milan public transport app, ATM Milano. This will give you access to Milan’s entire public transport system which is reliable and easy to use. You can buy your tickets through the app and scan the QR or barcode as you go through the turnstiles.
If you’re super organised, you will be able to visit Da Vinci’s last supper at Santa Maria Delle Grazie. They release the tickets on the official site about 3 months in advance, so you need to be on the ball, otherwise intermediary tour companies gobble up the tickets and re-sell them at exorbitant prices as part of dubious tour packages. As a guide, tickets to the last supper from the official website are about 12 euros. If you don’t manage to get a ticket from the official site, don’t panic, I recommend checking out 'Tiqets'. Usually buying tickets through these third party providers comes at a higher cost, and requires you to combine your Last Supper Ticket with another tour. If this is the case for you, I recommend choosing a tour that combines the Last Supper with the church of San Maurizio or Santa Maria Delle Grazie. Both these churches are free to enter independently, so you're only paying for a guide, but if the guide is good, you'll get more out of the visit. I’d avoid paying anything more than 40 euros for a Last Supper combined tour.
Check out the Duomo, of course. Started in 1386 and consecrated (unfinished) in 1418, this is the heart of the city. Inside, look out for Marco d’Agrate's 15thC sculpture of St Bartholomew, otherwise known as ‘The Flayed Man’ (yes, that's his skin he's carrying over his shoulder) and enjoy reading the ‘stories’ of the stained glass windows behind the main altar. You’d be wise to book your tickets in advance online to save waiting in line. Visiting the cathedral alone only costs 3 euros, or you can buy a range of combined tickets. We recommend the one that lets you access the rooftop where you can marvel at the 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures!
If you’re not churched out, go to San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore - also known as ‘the Sistine Chapel of Milan’. It took 30 years to restore and it’s stunning. Our favourite part is being able to go through the tiny door to the chapel behind the altar where the nuns would sit in the choir stalls for mass, hidden from view by an iron grille, 500 years ago. You can still see the tiny door that would open to permit them to receive the eucharist.
Visit Sforza Castle and the surrounding park. Going inside Sforza Castle isn’t a must-do (unless you're interested in Michelangelo - his unfinished sculptures offer an incredible insight to the way he worked), but the exterior of the castle is free and impressive and a nice place to enjoy a gelato (or two).
If you enjoy art, you’ll love the Pinacoteca di Brera. Again, booking in advance is recommended. Also check out what’s on at the Palazzo Reale. We went to an incredible exhibition on Antonella da Messina. Like everything else in Milan, advanced bookings are the way to go.
Explore the Navigli district. Do it. The vibe here is best in the afternoon and after dark. It’s teeming with locals and great food and drink. Watching the sun set over the canal and turn the buildings from pale pink to peach is a real treat. You’ll find the best place to have a drink or two (or three) along Alzaia Naviglio Grande and Ripa di Porta Ticinese. You can either sit at one of the quirky tables lining the canal, or get a beer to go and stroll as you sip. They’re generous with their nibbles (and some offer a ‘nibbles buffet’ which includes a drink an a smorgasboard of paninis, nuts, cheese, and chippies for about 10 euros) but if you’re after a meal there a billion great places to eat as well. Our favourite was Al Coccio, where the food is rustic and delicious, and they serve their extensive craft beer range in clay mugs.
Have a delicious coffee and cake at Cafezal or Giovanni Cova & C. Or if beer’s more your thing, check out Hops Beer Shop, where you can drink there or take a few bottles home.
Join the lunch-time line at Pescaria - a kick ass fish and chip shop whose octopus burger is to die for. The line is long but service is quick.
Try osso bucco or milanese risotto or some other traditional morsel of deliciousness at any of the following restaurants:
Osteria di Brera
Salsamentaria Di Parma
Sette Cucina Urbana
* If you feel like travelling further afield and getting a taste of local Milan, head to Trattoria Bertame. It will literally blow your mind. And if you’re feeling brave, join the crowds spilling out onto the streets at nearby Birrificio Lambrate for pre-dinner drinks.