Italy is a place made up of so many enchanting cities and regions that Milan is not typically on short lists for visitors. But there are a number of reasons to head for the northern Italian city. It’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. A trend setter often leading the way for style, design and fashion. “Milan has the best fashion week parties,” remarked a recent fashionista I met.
Image Milan Fashion Week. Luciano Consolini via Flickr.
Milan’s location and the enviable train infrastructure makes Milano Centrale one of the main train stations in Europe. A great place from where to easily travel for day trips or to other countries. I spent a few days in Lake Como and did afternoon day trips to Bergamo and Parma via Milan.
Image (top to bottom) Lake Como, Bergamo and Parma.
But you could just as easily get on high speed trains to Bologna, Rome, Naples or Turin. Or how about Venice or Genoa or even Berlin London, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna or Barcelona for the more adventurous or those scared of flying.
Looking up at the destination boards at Milan Central Station is a very appealing sight for those with wanderlust eyes.
Image Milano Centrale. Thomas Hess via Flickr.
On my first visit to Milan I was transfixed by the grandeur of the station itself, the arrival hall which looked more attune to being part of a museum or art gallery. It’s a mash up of lots of different styles including Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
It owes much of its splendour to Mussolini who when in power decided, like a lot of amazing buildings in Italy that he had a hand in, that it had to be awe inspiring. A Nazi sympathiser, fascist dictator Mussolini was eventually strung up upside down for public viewing.
Things to do in Milan
Milan’s cathedral is worth checking out. It’s a fantastic old huge gothic structure and the vast piazza it sits in all make for impressive viewing. It’s the fifth biggest church in the world behind St Peters Basilica, Vatican City Rome, Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Aparecida Brazil, Seville Cathedral, Seville Spain and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine New York.
Perfectly located after you have seen the cathedral is the Museo del Novecento (Museum of Twentieth Century). The venue itself has a lot of typical Milanese eye for the visual and design. I ended up admiring the interior design structures as much as the art at times.
Image (top to bottom) Museo del Novecento, Umberto Boccioni’s ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ sculpture. Futurism movement art.
I did not really know what to expect art-wise, as I just wandered in after checking out the cathedral, but was very quickly wowed. There were famous Picasso and Matisse paintings which I quickly recognised. I really liked many of the artists who were part of the Futurism movement, an artistic and social movement that had its roots in Italy.
Image Picasso in Museo del Novecento.
You can get to see Umberto Boccioni’s ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ sculpture. So a very decent permanent exhibition to view. Also at one of the higher levels there is a great view of the cathedral and the piazza down below.
Food wise it’s probably a good idea to seek out some nice aperitivo places. ‘Aperitivo’ culture started off in Milan and the trend has continued to many other places now. It usually revolves around buying a drink, which is kind of like your cover charge, and this entitles you to food as well.
Image Milan is known for “aperitivo”. Ralph Bodenner via Flickr.
Food can range from a buffet (pasta, antipasto,veggies) to sometimes a range of dishes and even freshly made pizza. It’s a good inexpensive and social way to start an evening. I did not get a chance to seek out any aperitivos in Milan but went to some enjoyable ones in Rome.
A place I did find was the Marc Jabobs cafe on Piazza del Carmine. If the sun is shining the outside dining area is a great spot with an old church and a cool modern art sculpture for company in the little piazza.
Image Marc Jacobs Cafe on Piazza del Carmine, Milan.
There is an inside dining area and also a Marc Jacobs shop as part of the set up – Jacobs being a pretty well known American fashion designer. I opted for the prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato salad which was very fresh tasting. Lovely Italian juicy tomatoes, creamy, melt in your mouth buffalo mozzarella, good quality ham with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh basil. All of this served with warm out of the oven, crusty rolls. A perfect brunch or light lunch option. I was there early-ish around midday but it started to fill up quite quickly.
Image sculpture and church in background on eating out Piazza del Carmine, Milan.
If you are looking for a lazy picnic afternoon with some culture and sightseeing thrown in head for the Parco Sempione. A large city park handily located in Zone 1 and the centre of the city. Lots of nice spots to perch on the grass or benches with trees, ponds, meadows and walkways. It’s also next to Sforza Castle and the Arch of Peace. A popular spot with locals and families.
Image Parco Sempione in Milan.
My August trip to Milan coincided with there being a Couchsurfers international get together event. Couchsurfing is an organisation that has grown to having a reputed 10 million members in 20,000 cities. It’s run primarily through its website www.couchsurfing.com which facilitates people being able to host travellers from everywhere in their own cities.
It’s a pretty neat example of cross cultural interaction where people from all around the world connect in different places.
Image Couchsurfers Milan day trip to Bergamo. Via Facebook Page.
Couchsurfers also connects and brings people together for meets and events with lots of cities having their own groups and communities. Providing an alternative to package breaks where you don’t really know the good places to go and a chance to meet new people.