Tick these off your list next time you’re in Italy’s style capital.
Visit the Duomo di Milano
Milan’s spiritual and geographic heart, this gothic cathedral is the largest church in Italy (St Peter’s is technically in Vatican City) and is crowned with 135 “guglia” (spires), each adorned with a unique saintly statue. The glorious main spire looms some 108-metres above the piazza and is capped with a gilded Madonnina statue. Buy a ticket to access the Duomo’s rooftop, where you can get a much closer view of the spires and their saints or just take the opportunity to absorb the panoramic views of the city.
Marvel at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
This was one of the world’s first shopping arcades when conceived and constructed in middle of the 19th century. It is worth visiting for the architecture alone, with its gorgeous four-story facade and glass-vaulted ceiling. All the big fashion houses are represented here, from Prada to Tod’s and Louis Vuitton to Versace. (There was a minor ruckus in 2012 when the city prevented the fast-food chain McDonalds from renewing its lease.)
Have lunch at Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone
Ask for a table in the ivy-covered courtyard and dine among well-heeled locals. Okay, this is a spot to see and be seen but the food is a notch above and offers the most delicious Burrata con pomodorini cherry (burrata with cherry tomatoes) and that Milanese staple, Risotto alla Milanese.
See a show at Teatro alla Scala
The La Scala opera house hosted its first performance in 1776 and although it has undergone several facelifts since then, the theatre remains an architectural masterpiece resplendent in lush golds and reds. The four levels of boxes, topped by two more gallery levels, tower over both the stalls and stage below so that the theatre resembles an inverted Colosseum. Tickets for popular performances sell out quickly and if you don’t book online soon after tickets are released, remaining seats will be rather expensive (usually in excess of €200 each). However, if you’re prepared to wait, 140 more reasonably priced gallery seats are sold two-and-a-half hours before each performance. It’s an experience not to miss.
Make a beeline to la Rinascente
This is department-store shopping, Milan style. The company’s flagship store on the Piazza del Duomo offers eight storeys of shopping exuberance. You’ll find all the luxury brands here with their store-within-a-store displays around the exteriors of the floor space. There are big sales events in January and July so it can be a great place to pick up a bargain. Be sure to visit the food market on the seventh floor for some mouth-watering window-shopping. There are several restaurants on the rooftop; Maio is probably the best. It’s a little touristy but the food is solid and if you can snag a seat on the terrace, the view of the Duomo is staggering.
See the Last Supper
The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie has been transformed into a climate-controlled shrine for one of the world’s most famous paintings, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (Cenacolo Vinciano). The iconic painting has seen better days but after a 22-year-long restoration was completed in 1999, it looks better than it has for centuries. Although modern reinterpretations of the image have become ubiquitous to the point of being clichéd, standing in front of the original is still a humbling experience. Pre-booking a visit online or by telephone is an absolute must. Tickets sell out within hours of release during the busy tourist season. Release dates are listed on the museum’s ticketing site.
Pack a picnic from Shop Peck
Peck is the self-proclaimed Italian temple of gastronomical delights – and with good reason. Created in 1883 by the eponymous Mr Peck as a place to sell his selection of German-styled sausages and smoked meats, it has evolved into a foodie’s nirvana. Browse through the sumptuous selections of meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, sauces, cheeses, pastas, olive oils and just about anything else edible and indulgent. A stop at the gelato bar near the front door is also a must, regardless of the weather. And Peck Italian Bar, just around the corner, is a great spot for lunch.
Pinacoteca di Brera
Milan’s preeminent art gallery was created during Napoleon’s reign as King of Italy as his vision for an Italian Louvre and inaugurated on his birthday in 1809. The gallery occupies part of the colossal Palazzo Brera, which was a Jesuit college until the order was suppressed by the Pope in 1772. Three years later Austrian Empress Maria Theresa had it converted into in a Fine Arts Academy. Many of the gallery’s early acquisitions of 15th to 18th century Lombard and Venetian artists were looted from local churches as the Napoleonic armies plundered their way across the region.
Stroll down Via Montenapoleone
Think of the iconic shopping streets of the world: Fifth Avenue, the Champs Elysées, Bond Street. Well, Via Montenapoleone rivals them all when it comes to indulgence. Milan is the birthplace of fashion icons Dolce & Gabbana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Prada and Versace, and Via Montenapoleone is where they – and the rest of the world’s glitziest brands – come to show off. Though the street itself is narrow and not so spectacular, inside these stores you will find plenty to make your heart (and wallet) melt.
See the world’s best art at Palazzo Reale
The former royal palace of Milan now plays host to royalty of a different kind when it becomes home to touring exhibitions of works from the world’s most celebrated artists. Past exhibitions read like a who’s who of art history: da Vinci, van Gogh, Picasso, Klimt, Warhol. The palace can feature up to seven unique exhibitions so there are usually less crowded options if you want to escape the madness for a few hours. Going to a blockbuster show? Be sure to plan your visit for mid-week because the giants of the art world attract gigantic queues on weekends, even during the quiet season.