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.

The Duomo, Milan

No matter how many times I've seen it, the first glimpse of the Duomo's willowy, luminescent marble spires always inspires a quiet gasp of awe. The cathedral is quintessential Milan: a product of centuries of politicking, pillaging, graft, fashion and mercantile ambition. And despite its florid mix of architectural styles, it somehow works.

1. The Battistero

Access the 4th-century Baptistry via a stairwell next to the Duomo's main entrance. The back-to-basics beauty of the palaeo-Christian baptismal font and the ruins of earlier cathedrals are a haunting sight, and a touching contrast to the opulence above.

2. Football fans cheering the Madonnina

Staring up at the gilded Madonnina (the little Madonna) from the piazza below as thousands of local football nuts chant 'O mia bella Mudunnina' is one of those 'only in Milano' moments. Just don't be fooled by the name: the city's traditional protector might appear tiny as she hovers over the city but she's actually more than 4m tall.

3. The view from the top

Make sure to climb the steps to the roof's marble terraces, not just for the panoramic view (a rare treat in Milan), but also for the fairy-tale sensation of being surrounded by the petrified marble pinnacles. It's also a must for Visconti fans – one of the most heartbreaking scenes from his 1960 film Rocco and His Brothers is set here. There's a lift if you can't tackle the stairs.

4. A cathedral concert

Look out for the Duomo's occasional concerts of early classical and sacred music. The Duomo's music school has been training choirboys since 1402 (expectantly, they know their stuff ), and the Duomo's organ is one of the world's finest. It's also a good way to avoid the tour-group circus. You'll find details at the Cappella Musicale (Musical Chapel) page on the Duomo's website.

5. A modern view

Facing the Duomo's northern side is department store La Rinascente. Head up to Obikà on the 7th floor for a glass of local prosecco, a plate of fresh bufala mozzarella, and an unusual, close-up view of the spires.

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