The ultimate guide to Milan

Synonymous with glamor, fashion, and stylistic extravagance, Milan is on more than a few discerning traveler’s bucket-lists.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Image credit: Marcus Lindstrom/iStock
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Image credit: Marcus Lindstrom/iStock

Milan is a city of excess, with a rich history, even richer cuisine, and a well-deserved reputation as one of the most stylish and fashion-obsessed cities in the world. 

Whether you’re fascinated by Milan’s impressive gothic architecture, looking to get better acquainted with Milanese cuisine, or simply wish to shop your way through the city’s world-famous malls and fashion districts, read on for a few hot tips on how to best enjoy your time in this intoxicating city.

Where to go

For fashion lovers

Milan is Europe’s fashion capital, and for good reason. From Versace and Armani to Prada and Pucci, Italy is the birthplace of many of the world’s most celebrated designers, and devoted fashion followers are spoiled for choice when it comes to shopping in Milan.

The Fashion Quadrangle – Enclosed by four intersecting streets, Via Della Spiga, Via Montenapoleone, Via Manzoni, and Corsi Venezia, this area of Milan is the city’s premier luxury shopping area, and the best place to head to if you’re looking to splurge on designer digs. 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele –  Built in 1867, this opulent four-story art nouveau arcade is the world’s oldest shopping mall, and one of Milan’s most famous landmarks. Marvel at the arcade’s grand marble flooring and impressive glass and steel domed roof as you pop in and out of designer fashion stores, boutiques, and restaurants.

The Brera district – Packed full of quirky boutiques, open-air flea markets, and artisanal stores, the Brera District has a hip Bohemian vibe, and is the best area of Milan to find one-of-a-kind Italian-made clothing and accessories, and vintage designer statement pieces.

For the artistically inclined

When we think of Italian art destinations, chances are, the cities of Florence and Venice come to mind. However, Milan is also an excellent option for art lovers, as both a historical center for the gothic art movement and a major player in the international contemporary art scene today. 

Housed in a grand old palazzo in the bohemian Brera neighborhood, Pinacoteca di Brera boasts one of Italy’s foremost collections of Italian paintings. More than 400 works are exhibited, including 14th-century gothic masterpieces as well as works by some of the 20th-century’s most preeminent painters, including Raphael and Carvaggio.

The brainchild of the granddaughter of preeminent Italian fashion designer Miuccia Prada, Fondazione Prada is one of the trendiest places in Milan to view contemporary art. Newly opened in 2015, the gallery is located within a former gin distillery, housing an impressive permanent collection which includes pieces by Jeff Koons and Carsten Höller.

The gallery also has a number of temporary exhibition spaces, so make sure you check the foundation schedule to find out what’s on during your trip.

For history buffs

To simply wander the storied streets of Milan is to take a journey through Italy’s past. Spend a few hours exploring the city on foot, taking in the city’s grand architecture, and be sure to book ahead to secure entrance to a few of Milan’s historical highlights. 

A visit to Italy’s largest gothic cathedral, Milan Duomo, is mandatory for anyone stepping foot in the city. Built in 1386, the cathedral has witnessed more than 600 years of Italian history and is an impressive sight, towering over Milan’s central square, the aptly named Piazza del Duomo. This is Milan’s most popular attraction, so book your ticket in advance or risk missing the chance to see the cathedral’s impressive interior.

Milan Duomo at dawn. Image credit: RudyBalasko/iStock
Milan Duomo at dawn. Image credit: RudyBalasko/iStock

Equally unmissable is the Dominican Convent and church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, where you can view one of the world’s most celebrated historical works of art – Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”. Tickets to view the artwork are extremely limited, as no more than 20 people are permitted in the refectory where is displayed at a time. Those visiting during peak tourist season need to book their tickets at least three to four months in advance.

Where to dine

Sandwiched between butter-obsessed northern Italy and southern Italy, where olive oil reigns supreme, Milanese cuisine embraces both with gusto. Book into these restaurants to taste a few of the region’s specialty dishes, which are rich, flavorful, and meat heavy by nature.

Ratanà – for risotto alla Milanese

Located within a former cinema in the Isola neighborhood, Ratanà is the place to sample a classic Milanese-style risotto. Infused with saffron and butter, Ratana serves their famed version of this hearty dish alongside another Milanese specialty – osso bucco. Two birds with one stone!

Your Milan experience wouldn't be complete without a plate of risotto. Image credit: IriGri8/iStock
Your Milan experience wouldn’t be complete without a plate of risotto. Image credit: IriGri8/iStock

Trattoria Del Nuovo – for cotoletta alla Milanese

Cotoletta alla Milanese, or breaded and fried veal cutlet, is a regional staple, which can be found throughout the city of Milan. Quality can vary greatly, so for the best of the best head to Trattoria Del Nuovo in Calvairate, where you’re guaranteed a masterfully cooked, perfectly crispy cotoletta every time.

Pasticceria Cucchi – for traditional panettone

Packed full of raisins and candied fruit and flavored with hints of lemon and vanilla, panettone is most commonly served at Christmas, but can be sampled year-round at Pasticceria Cucchi on Corso Genova in San Vittore. This Italian version of fruitcake may be popular throughout all of Italy, but it’s origins are in Milan, making it a must-try for the dedicated culinary tourist.

Where to stay

In a city where a sense of style and impeccable taste in fashion are key, it’s only fitting that you check into a luxury Milan hotel that lives up to the city’s highbrow reputation. 

Hotel Viu – contemporary cool in the CBD

Nestled in Chinatown close to Milan’s main financial district, Hotel Viu is a stellar luxury option for those visiting the city on business. This is a hotel with its finger on the pulse, boasting a cool, calm, and collected aesthetic and plenty of modern amenities such as smart TV’s and high-speed fiber internet in every room. The rooftop pool and terrace bar both have 360 views of the city, making it the perfect spot for a cheeky sundowner.

Interior of The VIU Suite. Image credit: The VIU
Interior of The VIU Suite. Image credit: The VIU

Bulgari Milan – the most fashionable hotel in town

Owned and operated by the Italian jewelry brand of the same name, Bulgari Milan must be the most fashionable luxury hotel in Milan. If you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion, or treat yourself to five-star getaway, then this is the place to book. Rooms are luxurious, tastefully laced with marble granite, and wood, and the hotel’s many amenities include a large, beautifully landscaped garden, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a decadent full-service spa.

Palazzo Parigi – pure palatial opulence

Located a stone’s throw from the opera house Teatra Alla Scala, on the edge of the fashionable Brera neighborhood, Palazzo Parigi is more of a palace than hotel, with its sweeping staircases, grand marble pillars, high ceilings, and glittering chandeliers. The hotel’s spa deserves special mention, which boasts a gorgeous indoor pool area, and a royal hammam suite that is available for private bookings.


Grace Catherine

Grace is a freelance writer and digital project manager from New Zealand currently based in Mexico City. She is an avid traveler who loves destinations with an eclectic history, a bike-sharing scheme, and plenty of cool animals.