Milan, the Latinized form of Medhelanon, which means sanctuary in Celtic, was founded by the Celts in 590 B.C. With its strategic position on the northern border of the Roman Empire, it soon emerged as a trading crossroads. Today, the region of Lombardy, in which Milan is located, is still Italy’s economic powerhouse, generating 21% of gross domestic product. Milan has a reputation for innovation and imagination, and the city has an enviable position as a world leader in technology, communications, fashion and design.
Unearthing Milan’s charms takes a little more effort than in tourist hot spots like Venice, Rome and Florence. But the elegant and cosmopolitan city offers extraordinary things for visitors to do and see.
Getting to and from the airport
Milan is well served by two airports, the biggest of which is Milano Malpensa, about 50 kilometers from the city center. Taxis are available in front of the two terminals, and fares from the airport are fixed at €90 (approximately US$117) to an address in Milan. Alternatively, the Malpensa Express train from Milan Central station takes about 55 minutes (journey times vary) and a one-way ticket costs €10.
Milano Linate airport is only 7 kilometers east of the city center and rivals Malpensa as the business traveler’s preferred gateway to and from European destinations. Taxis are available outside the terminal building, or you can hop on one of the frequent buses to the city (lines 73 and X73). There are departures every 10 minutes, and the fare is €1.50. There is also a new shuttle bus service to Linate from the central railway station; it takes 25 minutes and costs €5 for a one-way ticket.
Getting around Milan
Milan has an efficient integrated public transport system run by ATM. It offers buses, three underground lines and trams and connections to regional rail services. Tickets cost €1.50 for a single trip within the city and are valid for 90 minutes, or €13.80 for a book of 10 tickets. Another option is a 24- or 48-hour unlimited-use ticket, priced at €4.50 and €8.25, respectively. If you’re a frequent visitor, consider buying a rechargeable travel card. Comprehensive information about all ticket options is available in English on the ATM website, where you’ll also find downloadable network maps and free smartphone apps.
If you’d like to get a little exercise while getting around the city, then try the bikeMi bike rental service run by the city. You’ll need to register to use the service, but temporary subscriptions are available for visitors. A week’s subscription costs €6, and the first 30 Grand Canalminutes of bike hire is free, so it’s ideal for short journeys. Pickup and drop-off stations are located at strategic points around the city.
Where to stay
For a luxury stay, try the Hilton Milan Hotel, Via Luigi Galvani 12, Milan 20124, Ph: +39-002-69831 or the Park Hyatt Milano, Via Tommaso Grossi 1, Milan 20121, Ph: +39-002-88211234.
High-end options include the Crowne Plaza Hotel Milan City, Via Melchiorre Gioia 73, Milan 20124, Ph: + 39-02-66717715, the Melia Milano, Via Masaccio 19, Milan 20149, Ph: +39-002-44406 or the Radisson Blu Hotel Milano, Via Villapizzone 24, Milan 20156, Ph: +39-002-363-1888.
For an upscale option, try NH Milano 2, Via Fratelli Cervi 2, Milan 20090, Ph: +39-002-2175 or the Holiday Inn Milan Assago, Tangenziale Ouest Km 19, Milan 20094, Ph: +39-02-488601.
For a mid-scale stay, try the Mercure Milano Centro, Piazza Oberdan 12, Milan 20129, Ph: +39-02-29403907.
An economy option is the IBIS Milano Centro, Via Finocchiaro Aprile 2, Milan 20124, Ph: +39-002-63151.
Things to see and do
Milan has something for everyone, from the world-famous La Scala opera house to Leonardo da Vinci’s classic works to the coolest restaurants and bars.
Da Vinci spent many years in Milan. One of his most famous works, The Last Supper, painted between 1494 and 1498, is on display at the Cenacolo Vinciano museum. To minimize damage to the painting, visitor numbers are strictly controlled and advance booking is required. Use the metro to get to the museum: either Line 1 (Conciliazione stop) or Line 2 (Cadorna).
Da Vinci fans also should allow time for a visit to the National Museum of Science and Technology, which has a fascinating collection of 130 historic models based on interpretations of Da Vinci’s drawings. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday and is accessible by public transport. The museum has also teamed up with IBM to create an app for iPhone and iPad called LeonardoAround, which takes you on a tour of museums and galleries where Da Vinci’s works are on display.
If you only have time for one monument in Milan, visit the Duomo, Milan’s cathedral. Construction started in 1386, and the structure is built entirely of stunning Candoglia marble. Entry is free, and the cathedral is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but times are subject to change to accommodate religious services.
For a celebration of more modern design, visit the Triennale Design Museum, which showcases the best of Italian industrial design. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, with evening hours on Thursday. Check the museum website for the latest touring exhibitions and events.
Milan is not famous for canals, but the city has an extensive network of navigli, ancient inland canals, dating back to the 15th century. If you’re in Milan over the weekend, book a tour of the canal district. It lasts an hour and costs €12 per person.
And if your canal tour gives you a taste for more water-based activities, head to the amazing QC Termemilano thermal spring spa for an afternoon, evening or even all-day relaxing retreat. Fees range from €32 to €80, with additional charges for optional treatments.
Combine shopping with splendid 19th century architecture at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This spectacular glass-topped arcade is a great venue to eat, drink, people-watch and shop. Get to the Galleria by public transport using the metro: lines 1 and 3, the Duomo stop.
La Scala opera house dates back to the 18th century and is a popular attraction for both visitors and residents, who enjoy both its performances and its museum. Many performances La Scalathis season are dedicated to celebrations of the bicentenary of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. Check the calendar and book your tickets online.
Where to eat
It’s possible to have lunch at a Milanese café and still get change from €5. Visit Luini, in the Duomo district, where the family owners have been serving up panzerotti (filled pasties) since 1949. You’ll probably have to stand in line, and your lunch will be served in a paper bag. But a visit to Luini is must if you are in the area. It’s at 6 Via Santa Radegonda, 20121 Milan, Ph: +39 02 86461917.
If you prefer to have lunch served on a plate then try Obiká. The speciality: mozzarella cheeses. Order a variety plate and try them all, or make up your own dish with a range of accompaniments. Whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the view, as the restaurant is located on the sixth floor just opposite the spires of the Duomo. You’ll find Obika at 1 Via Santa Radegonda, angolo Piazza Duomo, 20121 Milan, Ph: +39 02 8852453
When the working day is done, head out for happy hour, which is a ritual in most Milan bars. Go for drinks at the Diana Garden, located in the Sheraton Diana Majestic Hotel (Viale Piave, 42, Milan 20129, Ph: +39 02 20581) or the Bamboo Bar in the super-stylish Armani Hotel on Via Manzoni 31, 20147 Milan, Ph: +39 02 8883 8888.
When it’s dinnertime, you’ll want to try traditional Milanese dishes like cotoletta a orecchio di elefant, literally translated as elephant’s ear. You’ll be relieved that the name has nothing to do with the substance of the dish, which is a thin slice of breaded veal cutlet. Try it at Al Garghet, a 10-kilometer drive (or taxi ride) south of the city center. You’ll be rewarded with a lovely farmhouse setting and rustic ambiance. Reservations are recommended, Via Selvanesco, 36, 20142 Milan, Ph: +39 02 534698.
GalleriaTo sample Milanese favorites in a sophisticated city setting, go to Trattoria Arlati. Dating back to 1936, the restaurant has a loyal customer base, and reservations are highly recommended. It’s at Via Alberto Nota 47, Milan, Ph: +39 026433327.
For a non-traditional menu, check out Finger’s Japanese-Brazilian food fusion. It’s a trendy and slick restaurant on Via San Gerolamo Emiliani 2, 20135 Milan, Ph: +39 02 5412267.
If you’re looking for after-dinner spots, try Just Cavalli Café at Via Luigi Cameons, 201210, Milan, Ph: +39 02 311817 or Gattopardo, at Via Piero delle Francesca 47, 20154 Milan, Ph: +39 02 34537699, both popular with the late-night crowd.