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.
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in Milan
Italy by the slice: a guide to Italy's regional pizzas
Olympic debates may keep piazzas across Italy buzzing most summer nights, but only until the pizza arrives. Silence falls as diners rip into the hot crust, hastily blow on scorched fingers, then dig right in again.
Shopping in Milan
Best places to eat in Milan
Milan destination guides
Europe's top 10 football stadiums
Football (soccer) is Europe's unofficial religion. And when summer turns to autumn, all over the continent cathedrals to the beautiful game are packed with worshippers. You too can heed the call to prayer. Though some clubs sell out every game, many still have tickets a few days in advance, and often you can book online.
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.
Venice Day Trip from Milan
Experience the beauty and glory of Venice for yourself on a day trip from Milan. If your time in Italy is short, this tour is the perfect way to add the romantic city of Venice to your Italian itinerary. Your full day tour includes a walking tour as well as a boat trip along the Venice lagoon.
Ultimate art lover's pilgrimages
Art doesn't just live in museums.