For many people, Milan is synonymous with style. In reality, even though it is true that the city is a global trend-setter for fashion, art and décor, Milan is essentially like any other 21st century European metropolis.
Yes, it does have its distinctive cultural traditions, and idiosyncrasies, that set it apart, but in the everyday heart of Milan visitors will feel quite at home – after a few key pre-travel preparations.
First of all, it can rain quite often, so pack a light raincoat or umbrella.
Second, the local Milanese tend to eat later than northern Europeans and Americans, and business hours are flexible outside the main tourist areas. Seek guidance at your hotel so you don’t find yourself in an empty shopping street at 2pm or outside a closed restaurant at 7pm.
And third… a significant proportion of Milanese either don’t speak English at all or are limited to key words and expressions. Best to practise your hand-gesturing before you leave home.
Now prepared, where should you be heading to savour an authentic Milan experience, not the often clichéd one portrayed in films?
Here we suggest five excellent starting points…
When in Milan, it is always cool to enjoy your coffee the Milanese way: that is, a small shot of espresso. If you absolutely have to have your usual coffee, best to order a latte macchiato. And, if you are looking for an iconic setting, the Camparino Bar in Galleria has been around since 1915, so they know their coffee better than many. You will be elbow-to-elbow at the bar with locals, and surrounded by stunning architecture, so a great way to start the day.
Navagli Boat Tour
The oldest canal in Milan, the 50-kilometre Naviglio Grande was once used for transport. These days, mostly out of the gaze and way of tourists, it has become an upmarket area with chic cafés, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. In summer, you can enjoy a boat ride to view its attractions at a leisurely pace on the water.
Viale Papiniano Market
Held twice a week, the market is the largest in Milan and a popular meeting point for locals (and visitors) wanting to buy vintage clothing, shoes and a wide array of accessories. You can stop at a food stall for refreshments, before continuing your search for an out-of-the-ordinary item you might not be able to find back home.
If you have a passion for contemporary art, Milan is full of exceptional galleries, including the Galleria Carla Sozzani. Over the past three decades, the gallery has featured the work of both national and international photographers, among them Annie Liebovitz and Helmut Newton. Carla Sozzani also organises a bi-annual architecture exhibition.
Finally, to pamper yourself after the sun goes down… Situated at the foot of Parco Sempione’s Torre Branca viewing tower, Just Cavalli was created by designer Roberto Cavalli and architect Italo Rotais. It attracts the crème de la crème of Milan society, who sip signature cocktails as they dance into the early hours (open until 4am).
Would you like to visit other places near Milan? Check out our Area Guides here.