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7 things to do in Milan

The things you must not miss in Milan!

By Anna Purpurpurpur

Milan, the northern capital of Italy, might not have beaches of the Adriatic Sea, lemons of Amalfi, the Roman heritage of Rome or the vast valleys of Tuscany. However, it shaped Italy culturally throughout its history (and I’m not meaning only after the unification of Italy but pretty well ahead of that).

I’ve prepared a list of my top necessities to do in Milan: the list is far from complete, but it might give you a taste of what to expect! I also loved EXPO Milano 2015 a lot: it took place from May 1 to October 31, 2015, with more than 140 participating countries.

1. Explore the roof of Duomo

The main cathedral, or the Duomo, is the number one attraction on everyone’s list for a reason. Although the work on it started in 1386, the Duomo was completed only in 1965 (with the first basilica in this place – in Roman Mediolanum – dating to the 4th century). Make sure you not only admire it from the outside, racing pretty Instagram-worthy shots but also visit it from the inside as well. The depiction of the zodiac signs on the floor tiles is one of the sights to see, and in addition, a life-size statue of the Madonna from the spire of the cathedral stands inside, too. 

My advice would be to climb to the observational desk as a must. It might surprise you, but it’s not an indisputable architectural gem. Oscar Wilde, John Ruskin and many more did not like the cathedral. However, it is worth looking at all the Gothic turrets and “ribs” up close. You can buy tickets online and either take the elevator or the stairs. 

2. Get the best view from Terrazza Aperol

Piazza del Duomo dates to the 14th century was redeveloped a few times, and only gained its current appearance in the mid-20th century. Many tend to view it from the ground level; however, it’s not the best way to enjoy it: too crowded! Instead make sure you will get the magical view of the cathedral that opens from Terrazza Aperol, Il Mercato del Duomo.

You can spend others there admiring how pink marble changes colour under different lighting conditions – and don’t forget about delicious cocktails (Aperol Spritz, maybe?) and snacks to accompany your experience. I’d recommend booking in advance.

3. Admire Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II 

One of the main things you’ve seen from Milan shots is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II connecting Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Scala. It was built around 1865-1877 and named after the first king of unified Italy, the entity that existed from 1861 to 1946 when it was reborn as the Republic after all the atrocities of the Fascist regime.

To be honest, if you travel to any Italian city at random, you’ll find something named Vittorio Emanuele II for sure. It not only has impressive floors, roof frame and shop windows, but also a great restaurant selection (from McDonald’s to ancient Café Biffi founded in 1867), high-end shops, ice cream stalls and cafes, and even a hotel!

You can also get some cultural boost there and visit a museum called Leonardo3, where you can see an interactive exhibition about Da Vinci and his machines (and just look at this night view from the window on the photo above!)  

4. Indulge in cultural activities

Milan is all about cultural opportunities not to miss, and I’ve chosen three you must participate in for sure. First of all, Teatro alla Scala founded in 1776 after the fire that had destoyed the Royal Ducal Theatre on this site and opened in 1778. The name comes from the church Santa Maria alla Scala that once occupied this site, and the name of the church refers to the della Scala family (also known as Scaglieri, an aristocratic family from Verona) who commissioned it (the photo below is from the Teatro alla Scala website)

Don’t buy stories about the sick being healed on the church staircase (scala is a staircase in Italian). It’s one of the most influential opera venues in the world, and all opera singers can be sure that they will succeed in their professional lives if they perform on its stage (sourse of the photo below).

Many widely acclaimed opera pieces were premiered here, such as Il Turco in Italia by Gioachino Rossini, Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, Madama Butterfly and Turandot by Giacomo Puccini. And, of course, it’s tightly connected with Verdi’s masterpieces as Nabucco, Othello and Falstaff all premiered here, too! 

Then, I’d suggest you visit the Brera Pinacoteca. It is not very big, but it has an excellent collection of art pieces from the 13th century onwards. In addition, you can see how the art restoration is carried out!

Finally, I’d eagerly recommend you to visit Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie; however, we didn’t make it ourselves. You need to book your tickets well in advance, which are usually sold out many days ahead, even if you book like checking ahead of your trip (I’m using photos from CinacoloVinciano below).⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 

5. Eat at Navigli

Navigli canal district is an amazing part of Milan with boats floating in the canal and with the old city gates. There are two canals remaining to our days: Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese (it’s hard to believe now that Milan and the adjacent area used to have a vast system of canals dating back to the Middle Ages, right?), and Darsena connects those two.

Come here for a stroll, local shops. Aperitifs and some food, and explore Porta Ticinese, Colonne di San Lorenzo, and a few churches in this area!

6. Shop at the Milan’s best shops

For those interested in fashion, head to the Montenapoleone and della Spiga streets. Those are the real spots to indulge yourself in fashionable stuff! 10 Corso Como and La Rinascente are other spots for authentic Milanese vibes.

7. Learn the history of Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle is a mediaeval castle dating back to the 15th century on the site of the 14th fortification commissioned by Galeazzo II Visconti, known as Castello di Porta Giova, which on its place occupied the site of Castrum Portae Jovis, an ancient Roman fortifications. 

The last male member of the Visconti family dies, leaving his daughter behind. She gets married to Francesco Sforza, a future ruler of Milan, with whom a whole new significant chapter in the castle life has started. After that, the castle saw many renovations as Milan was controlled by different political parties (French, Spanish, etc.), and the restorations began in the late 19th century.

The castle is famous not only for its excellent collection of paintings, ceramics and sculptures but also for its defensive elements added on various stages of its development: the Filarete, Bona, Carmine, Santo Spirito, Castellana and Falconiera towers, the ravelins, outer wall called Garland, moats… A few courtyards and magnificent Ducal rooms are now housing the Museum of Ancient Art. 

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Hope your liked my new blog,
Anna xxx

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