Milan doesn’t usually feature too highly on people’s ‘must visit’ lists. It’s an okay city, a financial powerhouse, but let’s face it, it’s no Florence or Rome. But, that doesn’t mean it’s completely without charm. Circumstances have lead to us taking shelter here for a few months now and I’ve been desperately hunting for things I like about the city the whole time. Finally, I think I may have found just about enough… So, here are my top five things to see and do in Milan.
The Duomo – I admit that this is no insiders tip, everyone knows about the Duomo. But, it is a genuinely breathtaking building. And what’s more, you can go up it. You squeeze into the world’s tiniest payment booth, hand over seven euros and then climb a staircase that’s so narrow it makes the payment booth look like the inside of, well, the Duomo. You’ll certainly have the opportunity to get ‘friendly’ with anyone coming the other way, it’s a pervert’s paradise (apparently. A friend told me. Erm…). But once you make it to the top, all that effort becomes worthwhile. You can wander freely around the roof, among the spires, looking down at the streets below. It is quite incredible. And if you’re lucky with the weather, you can see across the whole of Milan, to the mountains beyond.
Brera – Just to the north of the Duomo is an area called Brera. It’s all cobbled streets, antique shops, art galleries and welcoming restaurants. Wandering aimlessly around the narrow streets you can almost forget you’re in one of Europe’s busiest cities. Stop off for a Cotoletta alla Milanese or a nice plate of risotto washed down with a glass of wine (from the Langhe of course) and the experience is complete.
Navigli – To the south-west of the centre is Navigli. This is where the achingly cool people spend their free time (or all their time, cool people don’t have jobs…). A canal runs through the middle and both sides are crammed with great little restaurants and bars. On the last Sunday of every month a huge antiques market lines the banks and the cool people sit outside the many bars soaking up the sun, drinking their craft beers and looking, well, cool.
Trams – I don’t know why, but I love Milan’s vintage trams. If I’m driving, I hate them. They terrify me. But walking around seeing a bright yellow 1950s tram trundle by is one of my favourite things about the city. Line 1 is the best for seeing the old ones. Or maybe you could just go to San Francisco, they’ve bought a few and you occasionally see them heading up and down the hills, still replete with Italian signs and adverts.
Go skiing – There can’t be too many cities so well placed for trips to the mountains. In two hours you can be ripping it up in the resorts of Monte Rosa – Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna – or you can head north to places like Madesimo, or further into Switzerland. Even the Dolomites aren’t that far… Closer to the city, a tiny mountain called Mottarone offers enough skiing to keep most people happy for a day. Sandwiched between Lago di Maggiore and Lago d’Orta, directly above the town of Stresa, it’s only 1,500 metres high and has just 21 runs, but the 360 degree views are breathtaking, the restaurants are cheap and cosy and the slopes are empty. And the best thing? It’s just 45 minutes from the city.
You can get a cable car up from Stresa; the views on the way up are ridiculous, but so is the place the cable car dumps you… miles way from any other working lifts or places you can buy a lift ticket. So you’re best off driving up from either Stresa or Orta, but bear in mind that the Stresa side is a toll road.