I have never lived in Milan. I have always lived in Legnano, which is half an hour away. I fell in love with Milan at the first sight. Fascinating, fast, highbrow. But also very closed, busy, selfish. It is deeply characterized by contrasts, which show only if you pay attention to the small details. I have studied, worked, volunteered and holidayed there. Whenever I return to Italy, there is no doubt where my one stop will be.
A very long history
It is the chief town of Lombardy (a region of Italy) and it has a very long history. Founded by Celts at the beginning of the VI century B.C., the name has its origins from the latin Mediolanum. Once the capital city of the Western Roman Empire, it has been guided by Visconti family and then Sforza family, then conquered by Spanish and then Austrian and then Napoleon. Finally, in 1859, Italy became a nation and then Milan gained its independency once more. The beginning of 1900 was a very active period. In this time there were many intellectuals, writers, artists and architects. During this period there were built many marvelous edifices and parks. However, it also was where the Fascist party was founded. This party were in power when Italy entered in the II World War beside Hitler. After the WWII, Italy had an economical boom and Milan was at the centre of it. New industries called for people from all around the nation to work in Milan. In this period, as most of Europe was also doing, the problem of a shortage of housing was faced by great architects, as Gae Aulenti, Giovanni Muzio, Gio Ponti, BBPR, Figini-Pollini, Luigi Lorenzo Secchi, Mario Asnago, Claudio Vender. If you would like to deepen this rich history and changes you can find it here.
Architecture and design
Triennale di Milano
Nowadays, Milan it is the capital city of design. If you plan to visit it for this, I would recommend you to go in April, during the design week. After long time, hiatus there will be also the XXI International Exhibition of Triennale di Milano: exhibitions and events of design, art, architecture, fashion, film, communications and society.
If you speak Italian and are passionate about architecture, I recommend you to choose one of the architectural itineraries made by Ordine degli Architetti di Milano, where you can find interesting tips, which are not included in common guided tours.
Aperitivo, spritz and craft beer
I am yet to stay any accommodation in Milan, so I cannot recommend any of them. When I travel I prefer hostels to save some money and I am sure you probably already know about couchsurfing and airbnb.
Do you know what is aperitivo? Is the typical appointment after work, for exhibition openings, for birthday celebration, for graduating celebration, for a romantic date, for the presentation of a book… there is always a reason to do aperitivo. Milan is plenty of bars and pubs in which you can eat whatever you prefer from a buffet paying only 5 or 8 € (7,68 / 12,28 AUD), first drink included.
In the northern side of the city, in the district called Isola, my favorite place to do aperitivo is FRIDA. It costs 5 € (7,68 AUD) and the place is amazing. You enter in the courtyard and you find tables and sits under a glass roof. Then, on your right you enter the bar and on the left, going up to the stairs, there is a design shop, Particelle Complementari, with clothes made by young and independent designers. Sometimes, you can also find Libera Terra, the wine made in the lands confiscated to mafia (marvelous Italy! Do you know about this project? Read more about it http://liberaterra.it/en/world-libera-terra/libera-terra-mediterraneo.php).
In the centre of the city, you must visit OSTELLO BELLO. It is an hostel that also has aperitivi, which consists mostly of vegeterian food. English-friendly, you pay 5 € (7,68 AUD) a cocktail, 4 € (6,15 AUD) a medium beer and small wine from 2,50 € (3,83 AUD). You can find board games or concerts and also reach the Duomo, the cathedral, in 10 minutes by walking.
The eastern part is mostly frequented by students and the most famous place of meeting is BIRRIFICIO DI LAMBRATE, to drink delicious the crafts beers, that are produced in their factory. They are not pasteurized or filtered, so no hangovers! One of the first bars to do aperitivo was BAR BASSO and here you have to ask for Negroni Sbagliato, which is the best in the city. Last, but not least, you have to try NOTTINGHAM FOREST, here the prices are a little higher, from 8 €, but I can assure you it is worthy. The drinks have strange names and experimental glasses, so drinking a cocktail here is a surprise every time!
The southern part is a little bit more touristic, but you can walk on the Navigli designed by Leonardo da Vinci and find nice restaurants, bars and beer pubs.
After all these drinking places, you may be ready to visit the exhibitions and cultural events. Tongue in cheek, you don’t need to get drunk to appreciate the arts and photography in Milan.
Photography galleries and cultural centers
From my point of view, the best independent cultural center is SPAZIO OBERDAN, near Porta Venezia. On the ground floor you can find free exhibitions, which are always interesting and particular. It also has a small cinema, where they show cultural movies. On the second floor there are free exhibition, but very rarely there is an entrance fee. I assure you that you will be positively surprised.
After years of closure, FORMA FOTO has finally opened again last year. It has the best photographers, who may not always be the most famous. When I visited Italy for Christmas there was an exhibition about Vivian Maier, street independent photographer, previously Berengo Gardin in Venice and Walter Bonatti, who is my favourite italian explorer and journalist.
In the center of the city, in front of the cathedral, I really like PALAZZO DELLA RAGIONE, both because of the building, which was restored by Marco Dezzi Bardeschi, but also because for the exhibitions. Maybe a little bit too mainstream, but who doesn’t like Contrasto pictures?
Are you beginning to dream of Milan too? If you are thinking about going there, here follow some useful informations.
Which airport to choose?
If you take off at Milano Malpensa Airport, you should stop in one of the Somma Lombardo restaurants and see the castle or in Legnano aswell, if you want more informations, contact me by email!
Milano Linate Airport is the nearest, but doesn’t host flights out of Europe. You can reach it from Paris or Brussels. From this airport you can take the subway number 2, the green one, you can plan your journey with public transport here.
Milano Bergamo Orio Al Serio Airport is usually the cheapest for flights. It’s better to buy the ticket of the bus for Milan city centre inside the airport, the shuttle costs 5 € (7,68 AUD), or book it online here.
Sustainable trip – Public transport
If you stay one week, the 7 days pass is good, but allow you only two trips per day.
Instead of that, you could use the bike sharing service, it costs 9 € (13,5 AUD) for one week and you can take a bike from every station around the city, but each time you cannot take it for more than 2 hours.
If you have any curiosity, want to know more about Milan, contact me and I will be happy to answer to any of your questions!