Milan is like a well-tailored suit: understated at first but striking at a second glance. True, the city doesn’t come right out and reveal itself the minute you meet, but, put in a little time, and it's clear that Milan one of the most interesting cities in Italy right now.
Milan often gets written off as more continental than Mediterranean. Or, to put it another way, more European than Italian. But spend a few well-planned days there and we're sure you'll agree with us that Milan a pretty perfect mix of both. The city is more organized and has fewer antiquities than other parts of the country, but it’s Italian to the core with devoted soccer fans, major love for a coffee break, and a love for the country. And, as home to national treasures — from La Scala theater and the Sforza Castle to Da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Duomo — it has some must-see gems as well.
Why The Historic City Center?
Milan entered the global spotlight when nearly 20 million visitors stopped by thanks to the 2015 Expo (a sort of modern day "world fair"). The city went into high gear on modernization with all sorts of urban renewal projects (from revialization of the Darsena to the Isola area), new businesses, and a creative energy that you can feel in the air.
Most people give Milan a mere 24 hours but, if you ask us, that is not enough time to really see the city. Plan at least two full days in Milan so you can not only shop and sightsee in the city center, but also explore the less touristy but equally interesting neighborhoods. Stay in the historic city center (especially if it's your first trip) but also make time to less-central hoods from the chic Brera shopping district to the quirky Chinatown and the just-renovated Isola area to the always-on Navigli neighborhood.
Before You Go
Where To Stay
Milan is not nearly as touristy as the other major Italian cities — Florence, Rome, and Venice — so you can stay in the center of town without feeling overwhelmed, even in the height of tourist season. Here are a few choice hotels:
Total Splurge: Bulgari Hotel
Situated between the famous La Scala theater and the high-end shopping district known as the Quadrliatero della Moda, this 5-star luxury hotel is in one of our favorite neighborhoods in Milan. The only problem? It's so gorgeous (especially the garden terrace) that you'll have to force yourself to go outside!
In The Mix: Room Mate Giulia
This Spanish boutique hotel chain is one we turn to time and again when we’re traveling through Europe but their 4-star Milan property is one of our favorites. With fabulous service, a delicious breakfast, mod-meets-neon décor, and a can’t-be-beat location steps from the Duomo, it’s worth every euro.
Chic Design: Hotel Viu
In the past few years the Porta Volta neighborhood — just steps from fashionable Brera quarter, a stone’s throw from the noteworthy Cimitero Monumentale, and nearby modern Isola neighborhood — has been modernized and green-ified thanks largely to the Feltrinelli Porta Volta project and is one of the best places outside the history city center to stay. Just a 15-minute walk from the Duomo, the 4-star Hotel Viu is a modern boutique hotel with all sorts of perks from a pool to a spa to great food and even a rooftop with a 360° view of the city.
Close But Quiet: Senato Hotel
Previously the private home of the Ranza family, the family converted the space into 43-room 4-star boutique hotel that they opened in mid 2015. With a chic and super minimal design and top-notch hospitality, you could easily spend your day enjoying the curated cocktails at the bar or in the private patio. Its prime location near the famous shopping district of the Quadrliatero della Moda, around the corner from the Modern Art Gallery, and less than a 10-minute walk from the Duomo means you can make the most of your free time. Also, it's where we stay for our Salt & Wind Milan group trips so be sure to mention us if you go!
Navigli Life: Maison Borella
This oh-so-adorable 4-star boutique hotel has 25 rooms centered around a courtyard so it feels more like an apartment buidling than a hotel. The hotel's location on the Naviglio Grande (grand canal) means its outside the city center but very much in the mix, especially in the summer months when the area becomes filled with people bar hopping along the canals. Despite the tons of foot traffic, the hotel is pleasantly calm. Oh, and we love the breakfast!
Great Value: Hotel Milano Castello
For something a bit smaller — as in just 30 rooms — and smackdab in the city center, check out the just-opened Hotel Milano Castello. This affordable 3-star boutique hotel is minimal in its offerings but has tasteful décor, great service, and a cannot-be-beat location between the stylish Brera neighborhood and the Parco Sempioine.
What To Cook
For a full list of the local dishes to eat when you're in Milan, check out of our full list of must-eat local Milanese food. But, to get into the Milanese spirit before you even arrive, make a few of these Milanese recipes before you leave!
- Risotto alla Milanese: Made with saffron, butter, rice, and lots of stirring, this dish is simple yet so indulgent.
- Basic Polenta: This is a classic cold weather dish in this corner of Italy.
- Negroni Sbagliato: Happy hour is practically a sport in Milan and our drink of choice is this twist on the Negroni where Prosecoo replaces gin.
Once You're There
Where To Eat: High-End Meals
Tucked into the top of the Mercato del Duomo, it can feel a bit like you might be heading into a food court when you take the escalators up from the Galleria to Spazio. But when you arrive, it’s anything but. The restaurant is associated with the prestigious Romito culinary school and is staffed by young chefs from the program whose cooking feels anything but. Not to mention the view out onto the Piazza del Duomo is only rivaled by the Aperol Terrace (below).
Yes, this restaurant is in located on the top floor of an old theater. And, yes, that theater is now Eataly Milan but that’s all the more reason to go. The restaurant was originally opened in 2007 by chef Viviana Varese and sommelier Sandra Ciciriello but relocated to Eataly in 2014. The one-star Michelin restaurant focuses on farm-to-table produce but never takes itself too seriously.
Where To Eat: Casual Meals
One of the things that Milan does best? Riding that line between old school Italian traditions and modern mentality. Taglio is a restaurant that does just that with dishes that are familiar — from Risotto Milanese to stuffed zucchini blossoms — updated with farm-fresh produce and contemporary twists. Open all day from breakfast through dinner, the spot seamlessly changes from a coffee bar (with great eggs benedict!) to a light lunch spot and to an aperitivo and/or dinner spot later on.
Going strong since it opened in 1982, this panino shop is a classic in Milan. With over 200 recipes, you'd be hard-pressed to find a panino you don't like. Stop by here for a quick bite on your way to see the Last Supper or before shopping the chic 5 Vie neighborhood.
Where To Aperitivo
Aperitivo isn’t merely the Italian answer to Happy Hour but really a total ritual and Milan leans into the tradition. Come Happy Hour, you can head to many bars for a drink (often served with a few choice appetizers) but here are our picks:
Look, if you’re visiting Milan and it’s warm out, you’re probably going to want two things: an Aperol Spritz and an alfresco view of the Duomo. The folks at Aperol made both those things a possibility with the chic, albeit often packed and a bit pricey, Aperol Terrace but it’s hard to pass up the view.
Yes, this place is a total scene but it's worth experiencing at least once. You might literally bump into a celebrity or famous model while ordering your Spritz. Located in the fashionable Brera neighborhood on the pedestrian street known as Corso Garibaldi, you can start (or end) your night here before hopping to a nearby restaurant.
With two (and soon three) locations across the city, you can choose which Botanical Club you want to visit. Not only are the locations gorgeous in terms of design but the original location is also Italy's smallest gin distillery. Go for a chic and tasty aperitivo but stay for the cocktails.
Where To Cocktail
To be honest, you could get a great aperitivo (ie snacks and sips) at the below bars too. However, if you're looking for a peek into Milan's mixology scene, these are a few of our
Opened right after World War II, Bar Basso is a classic Milanese Bar. It’s also credited with making my favorite twist on the Negroni, the Negroni Sbagliato or the “incorrect Negroni,” which is a Negroni made with prosecco instead of gin. So, obviously the play is to head to Bar Basso and try the drink where it was created.
The Navigli neighborhood is pretty much always busy come night time with everyone from university students to professionals hopping between bars and restaurants. For aperitivo in the area, it’s hard to do better than than Mag Café where the Parisian chic atmosphere is only topped by the quality of the cocktails.
Oh, and if you want something super unexpected to wow your S.O., book a spot at the bitty sister bar known as Backdoor43. Located just next door to Mag this spot allows anyone to walk up and order a cocktail to go, but it also has the "world's smallest bar," as in a thimble-sized space that seats two where you can get VIP treatment from the mixologist! P.S. Need help with a rez? Hit us up at email@example.com for help!
Also in the Navigli neighborhood, this bar is tucked back on the Vicolo Privato Lavandai (a little alley historially used for washing laundry hence the bitty stone trough on the side of the alley). The bar not only has great drinks but also a cute little greenery-covered patio that's perfect during warm weather.
Where To Shop
It’s pretty much sacrilege to head to a fashion capital like Milan and not shop. You could and should hit up the high end stores on in the renowned "Quadrilatero della moda" (aka the area wround Via Montenapoleone) or the more midrange chain stores near the Duomo and the Galleria, but love Milan for its independent boutiques. We do a full shopping tour on our Milan group trip but here are a few spots to go if you're on your own:
Credited as the O.G. concept store, 10 Corso Como has been around more than 25 years and yet is every bit as interesting as ever. Handing out among the art gallery, restaurant, store, and the mini hotel, you could spend hours here and love every minute.
If you’re going to shop in Milan, you pretty much have to shop at the vintage mecca that is Cavalli e Nastri. And make sure you give yourself plenty of time to wander the surrounding neighborhood of Brera because is one of our favorite places for boutique shopping in the city.
If you only shop in one spot in Milan, have it been the high end department store, Excelsior. To be honest, to call this place a department store is accurate but also deceiving as it way more design forward than any department store we’ve seen. We love it as much for the impossibly chic vibes as we do the tastefully curated gourmet food store.
This Milanese jewelry boutique may be small but the few jewelry pieces it has are all high on our want list. But what Atelier VM is really known for is their L'Essenziale collection of delicate bracelets which are welded directly onto your wrist in store for an impossibly chic look.
The BallereTTe shoes are inspired by classic dance but are bold in their colors and designs. They're the kind of shoes you might not notice until, you know, you notice them after which point you see them on every other woman. There are BallereTTe stores in Rome, Milan, and Florence so if you don't visit in Milan, you'll likely have a few more chances on your trip to Italy.
Where To Lookout
If you're all about that Instagram, we hear you! Here are the places to go for a spectacular view of Milan:
On the edge of the up-and-coming Chinatown neighrboorhood at the top of the DSquared offices, is the oh-so-chic bar and restaurant known as Ceresio 7. Snag a poolside table to take in the view that spans from the city center to the newer Isola neighborhood. It’s as perfect a place for a light summer lunch (perfect after visiting nearby Cimitero Monumentale) as for a full aperitivo.
Set on the roof of the ME Il Duca Melia hotel in Piazza della Repubblica, Radio Rooftop is continuously one of the most sought-after aperitivo spots in town. Yes, the scene can get to be a bit much and the drinks a bit too pricey but the views make it all worth while.
At the edge of the Parco Sempione is the modern art space known as Triennale and the rooftop has a great view over the majority of the park. Go for a coffee break during the day or reserve a spot at the Terrazza Triennale for dinner.
Make Sure To...
- Book ahead if you want to see an opera at Teatro La Scala (the season runs from St Ambrose Day on December 7 through the Spring)
- Book even farther ahead if you want to see Da Vinci's Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie
- Wake up early one morning to climb to the Duomo rooftop for an amazing view
- Ride one of the classic street cars at least once
- Make time to shop the neighborhoods of Brera, 5 Vie, and the high end area known as Quadrilatero
- Do a classic day trip to Lake Como
- Head to Piedmont to hunt for truffles or just to eat!
- Head to Franciacorta for sparkling wine tasting
Need help planning your Milan itinerary? We specialize in just that! Read a little about our concierge and itinerary planning services here. When you're ready, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this quick survey and we'll get right back to you!
More Milan On Salt & Wind
- Ten Italian Cocktails To Toast Happy Hour
- One Perfect Day: 24 Hours in Milan
- Local Food: What To Eat In Milan
Did you know we lead boutique group trips for food lovers to Italy? Come join our next Salt & Wind trip!
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Updated July 2018