At first glance, Milan (Milano) can appear like one of the models gracing its catwalks: great bone structure (in the shape of historic and striking new architecture), extravagant taste and no obvious soul. But Milan’s style and, yes, substance, are more than skin deep.
Milan is the engine room of the country’s economy and home of its stock exchange, yet it isn’t driven by tourism. Treasures that survived WWII’s extensive damage include its elaborate cathedral, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, La Scala opera house and Castello Sforzesco. What really sets Milan apart, though, is its creative streak.
Armani, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Pucci, Gucci and many more took off on Milan’s runways. Fashionistas make a pilgrimage here to shop at the designers’ flagship stores in the Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Quad). Boutiques stocking emerging labels, and chic concept shops also line the city’s streets, while discount outlets selling samples, seconds and last season’s cast-offs are a bargain-hunter’s Holy Grail. Milan is also the world capital of furniture and homewares (the beanbag is a Milanese brainchild), and a hub for risk-taking contemporary art. By night there’s an avant-garde theatre scene, a fabulous aperitivi scene (extended ‘happy hour’ with platters of bar food laid on) and hip, hot clubs.
The city is at its hottest – weather-wise – in August, when locals take holidays, and many places close; though it can provide a tranquil alternative to the crowded coast.
Fashion and finance aside, Milan’s other religion is, of course, calcio (football). The city is home to both AC Milan and Inter, two of Italy’s top teams, and passionate crowds pack San Siro stadium on Sunday in season.
The city also harbours some lesser-known attractions such as the Navigli’s canal-side cafés and old-fashioned gelaterie (ice-cream shops) and the funky design district of Isola.
If you take the time to get under Milan’s skin, chances are you’ll find it will get under yours too.
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Best places to stay in Milan
Pocket Milan & the Lakes
Milan is Italy’s city of the future, a fast-paced metropolis where creativity is big business, looking good is compulsory and after-work drinks (aperitivi) are an art form. It’s also a city with ancient roots and extraordinary treasures that...
Glamorous Milan: budget or blow-out?
Unlike Rome and its never-ending history lesson, Milan is the birthplace of the now and the next, from cutting-edge international design and the latest hot-to-trot fusion cuisine, to a sidewalk scene that makes the fashion runways seem almost redundant...
Shopping in Milan
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The Italian Lakes - Milan (Chapter)
Milan has a serious sense of history and place, fashion and design. The grand Gothic Duomo, art collections old and new, unparalleled shopping, the prestige of opera at La Scala and endless opportunities to eat and drink make Milan much more...
Milan destination guides
Don't miss...Milan's Duomo
What are the absolute don't miss sights in Milan and Italy's Northwest? In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's Discover Italy guide, Lonely Planet author Donna Wheeler recommends the Duomo, and all the sights and experiences it includes...
Museums and galleries in Milan
Milan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour with da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'
Guarantee your visit to see one of the most famous works of art in the world, Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'. Reservations to see this legendary painting are limited and sell out quickly, sometimes months in advance. Choose this best-selling tour and be guaranteed advance booking and entrance tickets. Plus you'll take a half-day tour of the impressive city of Milan.
Skip the Line: Small-Group Milan Walking Tour with da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' Tickets
Discover Milan's must-see attractions on this comprehensive small group walking tour. Your half-day walking tour includes skip-the-line viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting 'The Last Supper'. You will also discover why Milan is one of the top fashion cities in the world, explore the impressive Duomo and tour the breathtaking Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Opera in Milan
Opera is serious business in Milan. At the city's legendary Teatro alla Scala (also called La Scala theatre), even the most successful tenors have been known to leave the stage with their scales between their legs after a savage reaction from the loggione - the standing-room only space that holds opera's most feared critics...