If you have visited Rome, Florence and Venice but not Milan, this city should be high on your list. It is a city that defines romance, where fashion, art, music and architecture create an indelible impression. Travelers to Milan find that this modern, industrious metropolis packs historic highlights as powerful as other Italian cities.
While it does not have the depth of sites and experiences that some of Italy’s other highly acclaimed cities offer, Milan is a cosmopolitan city, rich in history and culture and home to world-class museums, spectacular frescoed churches, contemporary art galleries, high-end restaurants, famous cafés, hidden gardens and great shopping destinations. Milan is also the economic power of Italy.
When it comes to cathedrals, it doesn’t get much grander than the Duomo di Milan, the third largest cathedral in the world. To build it, the Milanese used the most expensive stone they could find — pink marble. This 650-year-old Gothic masterpiece of Milan is the hub of activity with its 135 spires and more than 2,200 statues gracing the exterior. While viewing the cathedral from the ground level is inspiring, its rooftop terrace offers the most magnificent views available. The photo opportunities are endless, and the exquisite detail of the building with its numerous statues is clearly evident as you make your way to the terrace.
If you are an opera fanatic, the world-renowned opera theatre, La Scala, is considered the most prestigious opera house in the world. Built in 1778, La Scala has hosted some of the world’s most famous composers, including Verde, Puccini and Rossini. Many of the greatest operas first performed here, including Madame Butterfly, Nabucco and Turandot. Almost all of the great opera singers, from Caruso to Callas and Pavarotti, have sung here. Even if you are not an opera fan, a visit to this historic building should not be missed.
Connecting two of Milan’s most famous landmarks — Duomo di Milan and La Scala — the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele forms the historic center of Milan. This mall is four stories tall and topped by an impressive glass-vaulted ceiling. Inside, you will find plenty of high-priced shops and restaurants.
As the fashion center of Italy, Milan offers plenty of shopping. Even if you are a casual shopper visiting the city for its historical sites, you will find yourself drawn to window shopping and lingering among luxury stores such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada.
Considered one of the most recognizable paintings in the world, “The Last Supper,” is away from the city center. Leonardo Da Vinci’s fragile fresco survives — just barely — inside the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, centuries after it was painted onto the wall of what had been the church’s dining hall. Unfortunately, deterioration began within six years of its completion, and the church was bombed in World War II, but the wall holding “The Last Supper” remained standing.
Da Vinci spent three years painting “The Last Supper.” It is said that he went entire days without painting a stroke, just staring at the work. Then he’d grab a brush, rush up, flick on a dab of paint — and go back to staring.
Today this extraordinary work is housed in a humidity-regulated room that limits the number of visitors. Most of the original paint is gone. Still, visitors come from around the world to see what’s left of this remarkable art. Reservations are mandatory and it is recommended to book at least three months in advance. It is a highlight not to be missed!
While there is much to see and do in Milan, a day visit to beautiful Lake Como, nestled in the shadow of the snowcapped Alps, is a short distance away. Boat cruises are available around the lake, allowing visitors to explore the centuries-old buildings, stone lanes and cobbled stairways lined with shops. In the city of Como, you can take the funicular up the mountain to Brunate, where the views are spectacular while watching the sun set over the mountains.
While much of Italy’s appeal is rooted in its relaxed pace and Old World feel, Milan, the nation’s second city and financial capital, offers just the opposite. Travelers who take time for Milan find that this modern, industrious metropolis packs historic highlights as powerful as other Italian cities.
Milan may be overshadowed by Rome, Venice and Florence as a tourist destination, but this stirred-up melting pot of people, industry and history is one of the top treasures of the wonder that is modern-day Italy.
No trip to Italy is complete without visiting Milan and Lake Como. It truly is Italy’s best kept secret.