The romantic town of Como and its magnificent surroundings make for a perfect getaway from Milan. A one-hour long drive or train ride will be enough to reach one of the most beautiful destinations in Northern Italy. As a local, I have witnessed the growing popularity of Como amongst international visitors. Showing foreign friends around has allowed me to appreciate it even more. I am very proud to give you some advice to get the best from my wonderful hometown!
How to reach Como from Milan
Thousands of commuters and tourists shift to-and-from between Milan and Como. Therefore, several train connections are available at Centrale, Porta Garibaldi, or Cadorna railway stations. From Cadorna, only, can you travel all the way to the lakeside and the city centre. From Centrale or Garibaldi, you can reach Como San Giovanni with Switzerland-bound trains (Trenord, TiLo, or Eurocity trains). A basic Milan-Como train ticket will cost you about 10€ roundtrip (browse your options here). By car, you can reach Como via the A1 motorway or Statale dei Giovi. Once in town, be prepared to pay for expensive parking lots, as even locals have a hard time finding parking spots in the city centre. Driving on the narrow, winding lanes of the lake or mountain villages requires above-average driving skills. Travelling by train, and then by bus or boat, is probably more suitable. Como is small and you will not really need a car to visit its attractions.
What to see, plus some historical background
Despite its limited size, Como offers much to see. The town is located in a basin between green hills and the south-Western tip of the namesake lake. Nature and history literally stand side by side. Start your visit with a stroll in the old town. Its many treasures witness the city’s history, dating back to the Roman era (earlier Celtic settlements were found in the outskirts). A campsite was built there in the 1st century b.C. Little has remained of the Roman vestiges: the town came to shape during the Middle Ages, as proven by its walls and characteristic Romanesque churches. It is worth visiting San Fedele, in the beautiful namesake piazza, and Sant’Abbondio, a 10-minute walk from the centre. The tower on the top of the nearby hill is related to Holy Roman emperor Frederick I ‘il Barbarossa’, an ally of Como against Milan in the 12th century. He is still remembered in the tradition known as Palio del Baradello.
Como is indeed one of the earliest examples of municipality. The former centre of political power, the ‘Broletto’ tower, stands aside of the Cathedral, which is, in turn, one of the region’s most magnificent with Its distinctive green copper dome.
Neoclassical, Romantic and Art Nouveau architectures give Como an aristocratic atmosphere. To enjoy it at its best, you can walk along the waterfront. Going westwards from elegant piazza Volta, you will cross the city’s gardens, where the iconic ‘Tempio Voltiano’ celebrates Como’s most famous citizen, Alessandro Volta, the pioneer of electrical energy. Once there, you can take the promenade leading you to magnificent Villa Olmo. Instead, walking eastwards, you can opt for a funicular ride (round trip: €4.50) to Brunate, an uphill village embellished by fin-de-siècle villas and a glorious view.
It is fair to warn you about Como’s reputation as one of the rainiest towns in Italy, but this does not make the landscape any less charming, adding a melancholic twist to its blue and green nuances. Last, but not least, one defining trait of Como’s architecture is represented by many futurist and rationalist buildings and monuments, the most famous of which is certainly Palazzo Terragni, formerly known as Casa del Fascio for being the local house of the Fascist party in the 1920s-1940s. It owes its name to Giuseppe Terragni, the architect that designed it.
Milan prides itself on being a trendsetter. The 2015 World Exhibition certainly helped to boost the city’s popularity for international tourism, which has kept on growing ever since. Here is a clue as to Milan’s success: you never run out of finding something new to see. Many of the city’s hidden gems belong to private estates: from incredibly beautiful buildings, to gardens and courtyards. Others are open to the public but remain ‘under the radar’. Don’t let this discourage your ‘treasure hunt’. It feels good to find a moment of peace in such a fast-paced city! Allow yourself to go off the beaten track. Take a good city map in hand, head to some of these selected spots, and I promise you will be pleasantly surprised!
1. Orto Botanico di Brera (Botanical Gardens of Brera)
Warm, sunny spring days make Milan even more glorious. What better way to enjoy them than a walk in a park full of blossom, enjoying delicious gelato? Milan hosts many green areas, the most famous of which is Parco Sempione, just behind the Sforza Castle. This also happens to be right next to our lovely Bernardo penthouse. Immediately north of the park is Brera, possibly the city’s most picturesque district. The area is rightly renowned for its Art Academy and museum. Fewer people know about the Botanical Garden nearby, founded almost 250 years ago, and is currently run by the University of Milan. Its tranquil location and historical heritage make it one of the most charming Milanese gardens. Despite its small dimensions, it hosts many botanical species, including two gingkos and a tilia that date back to the 18th century. You can thank Napoleon for opening this green haven to the public! Opening times can be found here. And why not stay in our luxurious residence nearby?
2. House-museums network and the Albergo diurno Venezia
Milan is today typically associated with modern architecture. However, the city has always played an important historical role and its past can be best understood thanks to its impressive relics. Before the skyscrapers in the north were built, imposing palaces and elegant private villas would express the city’s wealth. And now, some of them have been opened to the public.
Are you fond of architecture? Do you want to feel like an old school Milanese aristocrat? The Porta Venezia area (north-east of the centre, not far from the luxurious via Montenapoleone) has many things to offer. Milan’s house-museums network – including Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Museo Bagatti Valsecchi, Villa Necchi Campiglio, and Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano – provide an insight into the Milanese past. Their elegant furniture, sophisticated art nouveau decors and interesting collections of art and history are frozen in time. Another point of interest in the area is Albergo diurno Venezia, a subterranean passage dating back to the 1920s, which was closed for restoration in 2006. Brought back to its full splendour, it was recently re-opened by FAI (Fondo per l’ambiente italiano). It is located right beneath piazza Oberdan and it includes beautiful public baths and some old-style shops, clustered in an elegant hall. The place recreates the timeless atmosphere of a spa resort, right in the centre of a bustling metropolis.
It is worth emailing the FAI and asking for specific information on opening days and times, especially if you are staying in Milan for a little while.
3. Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
Regardless of your religious views, no visit to an Italian city is complete without a look at the local churches. Milan is no exception: the white marble façade of its Duomo is the most iconic local landmark. And how can I not mention the spectacular Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, the early Christian basilicas scattered just north of Porta Ticinese, or Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper?
Other beautiful churches, such as San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, often remain unnoticed, which is a pity. When you have gone through the low-key entrance of this Renaissance church, you can witness magnificent interiors, entirely covered with beautiful, colourful fresco paintings. Located on Corso Magenta, a five-minute walk from piazza Duomo, this quieter piece of religious architecture is certainly worth a visit.
Another exquisite piece of art nouveau architecture in Milan is the aquarium, located within Parco Sempione and embellished by colourful ceramic tiles. Opened in 1906 during the first Milan world exhibition, it is the third-oldest aquarium in Europe and hosts both freshwater and marine species. Today, the facility offers scientific itineraries, group visits and even a library. Just like the city’s Natural History Museum, the civic Aquarium has accurate reproductions of natural habitats, but here the species are alive. On the subject of animals: in 1992, Milan closed its only zoological garden next to the Natural History Museum, in the public garden dedicated to the late journalist Indro Montanelli. The same park, however, also hosts “Ulrico Hoepli” Planetarium, which is still functioning and open to visitors.
Cimitero Monumentale competes with Père-Lachaise in Paris or La Recoleta in Buenos Aires for as the world’s most impressive cemetery. The Monumentale is easily recognisable by its grand entrance, thefamedio, and it has many a famous Italian gravestone, amongst which Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Verdi, Giorgio Gaber, the founding father of teatro canzone, and Davide Campari, the inventor of the famous drink. As it is in Italy, the cemetery mainly hosts Catholic graves, some of which are definitely over-the-top. However, the separate non-Catholic and Israelite sections are just as interesting. Whilst Cimitero Monumentale is peaceful and inspiring, it is also enormous (250,000 square metres!) and labyrinthian. It’s worth picking up a map at the entrance, or considering a guided tour.
Cosplayers, cartoonists and comics enthusiasts, rejoice! Someone in Milan loves you, and has dedicated an entire museum to your favourite hobbies. You just can’t miss its scenographic entrance, a big clue as to what the museum contains. Opened in 2011 by Fondazione Franco Fossati, WOW! offers interesting themed itineraries, events and exhibitions (listed here), featuring works by many famous Italian and international authors. Some more good news: the entrance to the ground floor, the library, the coffee shop and the bookshop is entirely free. You are only charged for exhibitions on the first floor.
Many gardens host playgrounds and museums often dedicate special guided tours for little visitors. MUBA goes beyond this, adopting the most child-friendly motto: Vietato non toccare (‘It is forbidden not to touch’), encouraging incomers to interact with their surroundings. Hosted in the beautiful historical complex known as Rotonda della Besana, the Museum includes a permanent exhibition, a space for temporary exhibitions, and holds several activities for children aged 2-11. Professional educators and entertainers take care of the museum’s little guests, and parents and older relatives and friends, are also welcome. On top of this, some of the museum’s spaces are available for birthday parties.
Tickets can be bought online here (where you can also find entrance fees and opening times), and there is a limited number of participants for each programmed activity. Therefore, it is highly advisable to check the museum’s calendar before planning a visit.
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Relatively few Italian artists chose to perform in other languages which is why most of them remain unknown abroad. In reality, Italy’s music scene is incredibly wide and diverse. This is no big surprise when you consider the complex historical, artistic and linguistic background of the country, a country always open to cross-cultural influences. There’s much more to offer than first appears. The sweet-sounding Italian language even lends itself to more ‘hardcore’ genres such as metal and hip-hop, not to mention the booming indie scene.
As I have mentioned previously, Milan has grown into the hub of contemporary Italian culture. Thousands of people move here every year to study and work, the city is being blessed with a continuous rise in international tourism, and the local musical production largely reflects the city’s ‘rebirth’. Talent shows and contests, music festivals and live concerts are all important features of the Milanese scene.
Let’s venture into the studios, clubs and pubs, and onto the stages scattered all over Milan to take a closer look at Milan music.
Teatro-canzone: Milan onstage
In the early seventies, a typically Milanese form of art was created out of the fusion of music, poetry and the city’s bustling theatrical environment. I am talking about teatro-canzone. Major figures include Giorgio Gaber and Enzo Jannacci, often mentioned alongside eminent comedians, actors and playwriters, including the late Nobel Literature Prize Dario Fo.
Teatro-canzone can have many styles: performers are known for their fun anecdotes as well as sophisticated monologues discussing politics, religion, or philosophy. However, the Milanese spirit – witty, wry and somewhat melancholic – remains the main feature of this genre. Though its pioneers have passed away, Milanese theatres make sure to keep the tradition alive. On May 3at 8.30 PM, Piccolo Teatro Grassi (via Rovello 2, right by via Dante) will host Milano per Gaber – Canzone e Teatro Canzone. During this event, Paolo Dal Bon, chairman of the Fondazione Gaber, will discuss the art of teatro canzone with the famous Italian songwriter Ivano Fossati. Tickets are very cheap, starting from 5 €, and can be purchased directly from the theatre’s website. Whilst very interesting, it is advisable for attendees to be familiar with the Italian language. Recommended if you are staying in our Bandello Luxe residence nearby.
Modern Milan in Music
Over the last century, Milan has undergone many transformations. Wealthier and more cosmopolitan than Rome, the city has welcomed thousands of newcomers, initially from the southern and the north-eastern regions and then from abroad. Back in the day, ‘adopted’ Milanese and their children would often live in the outskirts and feel alienated from the rapid modernisation of the city. A good example of this is the famous ballad ‘Il ragazzo della via Gluck’ by Adriano Celentano (himself the child of a Southern family) about a narrator lamenting how his rural childhood residence has been taken over by the big city.
Decades later, Italian music has grown more familiar with foreign influences. Society has also changed, even though the contrast between the centre and the suburbs remains sharp. The Milanese hinterland is home to several artists of different genres. Hip-hop plays quite an important role, often breaking into the mainstream scene. Punk-rock and metal have also grown popular since the 1990s, thanks to a number of groups among which we can mention Afterhours and Lacuna Coil.
Of course, this does not mean that a more ‘vernacular’ musical tradition has disappeared. Theatre and cabaret have played a key role in shaping the Milanese music scene. An example of this is Elio e le Storie Tese, a one-of-a-kind group combining hilarious, sometimes nonsensical lyrics with interesting instrumental arrangements and themed videos. They rose to fame on the stage of the Zelig cabaret theatre and they are nothing short of legends to many Milanese and Italian people.
Much like the rest of Milan, alternative culture moves at a fast pace. And music does not lag behind. Several important cultural centres have been opened or restored over the past few years, hosting interesting artistic exhibitions, workshops and performances while spreading the word of emerging Italian artists. A major alternative music event in the Milanese Spring is the Mi Ami festival, taking place on 25th-27th May in the eastern area of the city, at Parco dell’Idroscalo (a reservoir area) and at Magnolia, one of the major ARCI clubs in the city’s area. Jazz and world music is also flourishing in Milan: Blue Note (via P. Borsieri, 37) is an interesting location for jazz amateurs in the city.
Last, but not least, the club and bar scene in Milan is unrivalled in Italy, making the city the country’s main hub for international artists. Whether you are more into mainstream or alternative, electronic or acoustic music, or whether you prefer luxurious, hip or informal locations, the list of venues you might like to attend is virtually endless. The centre of town and the Porta Garibaldi – Corso Sempione area, near our Anta Moscova residence, hosts many high-end clubs and bars, whereas a more alternative ‘movida’ resonates around the Navigli area.
Milan prides itself on its diverse music scene, touching on old and modern genres alike. Whilst several Italian artists and popular songs are well-known abroad, it may seem that most international music is not quite as appreciated in the country. This is a misleading belief as Milan has seen a ‘cultural rebirth’ over the last few years, holding a leading position amongst European destinations. Milan is connected to the rest of the world and is constantly welcoming creative sparks. If you’re a live music fan planning to visit, Milan is the place to be.
And there is no better place to start than the opera. Translated as ‘product of work’, opera finds its home in Italy. I want to focus this Music March segment on this unique and complex musical and theatrical genre. Though I cannot provide an intensive course of lyrical Italian (which can be challenging even to native Italian opera fans), I do have some vital information to give you before you head to your night out!
Verdi, Bellini, Puccini, Donizetti… the list of Italian opera composers is long. No wonder, when you consider that melodrama was born in this country even before the state of Italy itself. While opera rose to popularity in Rome and Venice, the Milanese Teatro alla Scala (founded in 1778) is often regarded as the most important opera theatre in Italy. The opening of the lyrical season, taking place on 7th December (the day dedicated to Saint Ambrose, the local patron saint) is one of the country’s most important and prestigious events and is regularly attended by many celebrities.
Traditionally, the theatre’s programme alternates between melodramas, ballets, and classical music concerts. This year’s lyrical season – running from early March to late June – features Verdi’s La Traviata, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Master-Singers of Nuremberg), Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie), Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Il Serraglio) and Puccini’s La Bohème.
While most of these operas were composed in Italian, Teatro alla Scala’s programme also features works in other languages, usually German or French. In operatic works, it was customary for the music and the lyrics to be written by different people, the composer often getting the most recognition. Each work’s language is typically related to the nationality of the ‘librettist’, the writer. This explains why several of the Austrian Mozart’s operas were written in Italian. In fact, Italy has given birth to many prominent libretto writers, such as Pietro Metastasio, Lorenzo Da Ponte and Arrigo Boito. The authors were often requested to work abroad, in places like Paris or Vienna, other major ‘opera capitals’. Sometimes, a libretto could be written prior to even being given the music!
Needless to say, opera has still got its own superstars, and the fact that most works are sung in Italian, German and French does not prevent international singers from becoming experts in their field. Since most opera works were written some centuries ago, even a fluent speaker may have a hard time understanding all of the lyrics, partly because the voices do not follow a natural intonation.
Therefore, whether you know Italian well or not, every opera attendee is highly recommended to read a synopsis of the show beforehand. Unlike prose, it is best to have a good idea what the opera is about from the start, to avoid getting lost in the music, the arias, and the plot. There is no need to read the complete libretto beforehand as most opera theatres now provide LCD screens displaying the lyrics as they are sung onstage. Purists may frown upon this innovation but it has definitely made things simpler!
Language aside, opera is an intrinsically diverse genre, reflecting a range of traditions in both music and drama. Similarly to ballet, it tends to stick to tradition and strict formal rules with the director’s style often impacting the final performance. Furthermore, it is not unheard of for opera to be reinterpreted in more ‘experimental’ ways. After all, opera has recently lost part of its stereotypical aloofness, becoming more accessible and attracting a wider audience, even offering opera courses to amateurs. Nonetheless, we are still talking about the most elegant theatre in the capital of Italian fashion. As such, it is best to dress up for the occasion: few forms of art are as appearance-conscious as opera, and this is true both on-and off-stage.
One last thing – don’t forget to book your tickets! From locals to occasional visitors, every performance at Teatro alla Scala draws a wide audience, easily filling up all its 2030 seats. I recommend an advance booking at least one month prior to your arrival. You can make your reservation via the theatre’s official website, choosing the performance you want to attend and proceeding to the payment. Those who are planning a longer stay and/or are frequent attendees can opt for a season ticket, the price of which will vary according to the seat and the time of the year. Otherwise, you can buy your tickets in a selection of offices all across Italy. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to enjoy the Italian Opera!
In spite of the incredible variety of Italian cuisine, breakfast tends to be quite minimalist in most parts of the country. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hectic city of Milan.
A pastry delicacy combined with an energy-boosting hot drink, usually coffee or cappuccino, and that’s usually it. No feasts of sliced ham and cheese, no omelettes, meat, or smoked herring. Italians will keep it simple: first and foremost, they will have their breakfasts sweet. Though relatively easy to satisfy different tastes due to the cosmopolitan soul of the city, most locals regard savoury breakfasts as an odd, exotic habit.
Brioches or ‘cornetti’ – a local variation of French croissants – are the preferred breakfast treat in Northern Italian bars. They can be plain or filled with ‘crema pasticcera’ (a dense custard), ‘marmellata’ (jam – usually apricot), or even chocolate. Sold at bars and bakeries, they are cheap, filling and easy to carry around when you’re in a rush (or busy taking in the sights!). You cannot really ask for better.
For a richer breakfast, you might opt for a Sicilian treat: the southernmost region of Italy is well-known for its opulent, visually stunning delicacies, such as ‘cannoli’, ‘cassata’ or fruit-shaped marzipan. If you are interested in the latter, the Delizia(via Solari 41, M2 Porta Genova) is currently the top-rated spot to enjoy Sicilian pastries in Milan.
Along with brioche, Italians will most likely ask for coffee. In fact, coffee is taken quite seriously, and there is a whole system of rules surrounding it. Infringing on this will either amuse or irritate the locals; they will then make it their goal to enthusiastically teach foreign visitors everything they need to know about the country’s most beloved fuel.
The somewhat haughty atmosphere of Milan is well reflected in its many long-standing cafés, hinting at the city’s historic French and Austrian heritage. Enter any of them in the city centre and you will feel like time stopped still a hundred years ago.
The settings include elegant furniture, mirrors, and shelves filled with old bottles, as well all sorts of sweets, pastries and cakes. Just before Christmas, I referred to ‘panettone’ as the most famous treat in Milan, as it does not have many other sweets to call its own (even though ‘colomba’, a typical Easter cake, has a very similar texture and taste). However, this is not entirely true. The geographical proximity to famous places of confectionery like the Piedmont region, Vienna and France, provides Milan with a wealth of tasty delicacies. A small selection of ‘pasticcini’ is always a wise choice, as you will be able to try out different tastes. To compliment your tea or coffee, there are ‘tartellette’ with fresh fruit, cream-filled ‘cannoncini’, chocolate beignets, rum-drenched ‘babà’ (a typical Neapolitan treat) and ‘baci di dama’ (doughy, thick biscuits with a hazelnut cream filling). ‘Marron glacés’, candied chestnuts, are another wonderful feature of Italian confectioneries.
You can find confectioneries scattered around Milan. Some of them pride themselves on very long traditions, like Marchesi, established in 1824 and soon opening its third shop in the galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Another famous ‘pasticceria’ right in the centre of Milan is Cova which, due to renovation, will be re-opened in April 2017. Cova excels in fine chocolates and nougat. A bit further out, but just as well-rated, are Castelnuovo, offering an incredible range of delicious cakes, and Martesana, whose namesake cake ‘Torta Martesana’ has been defined as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ treat. A further address to take note of is Pavè. Compared to other offerings, this confectionery has a more modern, hip look and offers specific menus at breakfast, lunch, dinner and aperitivo. It is even possible to buy a variety of products and merchandise there. However, its main feature is its exposed laboratory, allowing customers to look in on the preparation of all of Pavè’s products.
On the subject of historical local traditions, the Carnival will soon take place in Milan. This year, Saturday 4th March will be the peak day for Carnival in Milan.
Compared to the Roman-Catholic ritual, the Ambrosian Carnival (specifically related to Milan and a few surrounding cities) is strangely celebrated after Lent has begun. As a result, ‘Fat Saturday’ replaces the traditional ‘Mardi Gras’. This is due to the bishop Ambrosius, now Milan’s patron saint, demanding that the celebration of Carnival be postponed to his return from a pilgrimage.
For the Carnival celebrations, a parade worms its way through the streets of Milan. Each year, it follows a specific theme recalling the heritage of the city. You can often spot the character of Meneghino, a servant originally from the Commedia Dell Arte. ‘Meneghino’ is also a loose term to describe a Milanese person.
Just like in the rest of Italy, it is customary in Milan to eat fried sweets for Carnival. The most famous are undoubtedly ‘tortelli’ (fried bits of soft sweet dough) and ‘chiacchiere’, crunchy strips covered in sugar, which are named in no less than thirty different ways all across Italy.
It’s simply not worth considering being on a diet whilst in Italy. After all, il Bel Paese, the beautiful Italian country, is world-renowned for its countless delicacies. Milan makes no exception: the city’s culinary tradition somehow “summarises” many different influences. Let me provide you with a selection of 10 of the best Milanese restaurants, from the most traditional eateries to Michelin-starred gourmet, not to forget vegetarian cuisine, exotic suggestions, and daring-yet-interesting experimental offerings. Whatever your taste, or your budget, you will find what you are looking for here!
No stay in Italy can be considered complete until you get the chance to experience the local food. In spite of its cosmopolitan allure, the city is well-aware and proud of its historical heritage, and many ‘trattoria’ and ‘osteria’ are still alive and well. Since 1928, Trattoria del nuovo macello offers the most typical dishes of the Milan cuisine – risotto with or without ossobuco, cotoletta (breaded veal), mondeghili (local-style meatballs), amongst others – at medium-range prices. You can get a four-course taster menu for € 33.
To get an idea of what an authentic ‘trattoria’ feels like, imagine a cosy, rather informal atmosphere, embellished with traditional furniture and serving hearty regional food and tasty wines. If there’s one golden rule about eating out in Italy, it’s following the locals’ example. Do this and you won’t be disappointed, ever!
Best pizzeria – Marghe(via Plinio 6, M1 Lima or via Cadore 26, tram 62 or 84 via Cadore/via Spartaco)
Naples is a long drive away, but even in northern Italy’s main city you can get the chance to try the original version of the most famous national dish. While Neapolitan’s historical brand Sorbillo has recently opened a pizzeria by the Duomo, Lievito Madre, we suggest the just-as-delicious Marghe, offering the true, thick-crusted pizza margherita – tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves – as well as some other interesting variations.
Friendly reminder: we know how tempting it is to try out all sorts of creative toppings, but if you want to try the most authentic Italian pizza, just keep it simple, as Neapolitan purists would. If you want to feel like a true Milanese, you can head to one of the Spontini restaurants and get a thick, soft, and incredibly cheesy pizza slice!
For those who dare – TrattoNero (Istituto dei ciechi di Milano, Milan Institute of the Blind, via Vivaio 7, M1 – Palestro)
So varied are the unusual restaurants in Milan that it was hard to pick just one. With this in mind, TrattoNero seemed quite a symbolic and meaningful choice. Like other restaurants elsewhere in Italy, it is related to the Italian Union of Blind and Partially Sighted People (ONLUS) : the location is permanently coated in absolute darkness, and customers are guided to their tables by blind waiters. Dialogo nel Buio (‘Dialogue in the Darkness’) is a project meant to establish a sympathetic connection between those who can see and those who can’t. A little planning is necessary here, as booking is compulsory and the payment (€ 50/person) is made in advance via bank transfer. You will also need to get to the restaurant half an hour before your meal starts and, as the menu is never revealed to the guests, you will need to warn the staff about your allergies and food intolerances. As such, you can try an enriching experience that could add something to your life as well as your perception of reality. This experience will not leave you indifferent.
Best sushi & Japanese restaurant – Sumire(via Varese 1, M2 Moscova)
Compared to other Italian cities, Milan seems more keen on accepting foreign influences. In particular, sushi is taken quite seriously by Japanese food connoisseurs.
Whenever you feel like stepping away from Italian dishes and trying some ‘local non-local’ delicacies, you can head to Sumire, a small restaurant that has managed to create the perfect atmosphere to taste sashimi, sushi and many other traditional dishes that even Japanese customers genuinely appreciate. Due to the restaurant’s small size, you are advised to book a table in advance.
Best kosher and best halal restaurants – Carmel (viale San Gimignano 10, M1 Bande Nere, dairy) / Re Salomone (via Sardegna 45, M1 Wagner or M1 De Angeli, meat) and Mido (via Pietro Custodi 4 – tram no. 3 or bus no. N15 piazza XXIV Maggio)
For those of you who wish to respect the kasherut eating code or just want to try Jewish cuisine (which is not that widespread in Italy), the best place in Milan is Carmel. It hosts a Middle Eastern menu, featuring falafel, hummus and many other delicacies as well as a fair supply of pizzas and Italian recipes. Due to the kosher rule of not mixing milk with meat, you won’t find the latter ingredient anywhere. In turn, Re Salomone is the best Milanese restaurant offering meat-based kosher dishes, though it is also possible to find meat-free recipes.
If you wish to abide to the halal tradition, we suggest Mido, an Arabic restaurant where all ingredients are home-made and where you can get several tasters at once by ordering a complete menu.
Both kosher and halal rules are tightly connected to the Jewish and Muslim culture and religion: to avoid disappointing surprises, make sure these restaurants aren’t closed for religious holidays (in general, Jewish restaurants respect the Shabbat between Friday night and Saturday night, Muslim restaurants will likely be closed on Fridays). Remember that most devout Muslims do not drink alcohol, and that pork is an absolute taboo for both religions!
Best vegetarian / vegan restaurant:Joia * (via Panfilo Castaldi, 18 – M1 Porta Venezia)
Dear vegetarian and vegan friends, we have good and bad news for you. The bad news is, it’s more difficult to find meat-, dairy-, and eggs-free restaurants in Milan than it could be elsewhere in Italy, due to the central role of these ingredients in the Lombard cuisine.
Now the good news: there are several organic food shops and vegetarian-friendly eateries all over the city, and Joia is probably the best-ranked of them all! Chef Pietro Leemann’s holistic perspective on nutrition is transformed into surrealistic, colourful dishes. Vegan and gluten-free options are specifically marked on the menu. This airy, minimalistic restaurant is quite expensive, but it shines thanks to its visual, as well as culinary, creativity.
Top-ranked gourmet restaurants
Cracco** (via Victor Hugo 4, M1 Cordusio or M1/M3 Duomo)
Carlo Cracco is more than a chef in Italy – he’s a star. When he’s not working on the latest of his creations, you’ll likely see him onscreen, as a judge of culinary competitions or as a recurrent ad testimonial. Cracco’s recipes bravely mix ingredients from different sources, be it Italian or more exotic combinations. Egg-based dishes and risotto seem to prevail in the menu, and it could certainly be an interesting experience to try out the Milanese first course par excellence, in its original shape or in a unique variation.
Fish and seafood certainly play a central role in Chef Claudio Sadler’s restaurant, located on the quay of Naviglio Pavese. Sadler’s culinary research is influenced by the Japanese tradition, which he fearlessly combines with local and non-marine ingredients. All in all, freshwater salmon, sturgeon, and caviar are central features to this restaurant’s offering. On top of this, you can also find interesting meat-based or vegetarian creations. To get the chance to enjoy several samples of Sadler’s creations, you can opt for a menu, ranging from € 80 for the ‘Young’ menu to the € 180-worth ‘Creativo’ menu, mainly intended for group meals.
Aimo and Nadia are no less than an institution. The Tuscan couple and their staff, now led by their daughter Stefania, have always taken the conception of food as an art very seriously. This has resulted in original interpretations of Italian cuisine, created from certified Italian products. Inspiration comes from all across the peninsula, especially from the centre and the North. Prices are, alas, quite high: on the other hand, this will likely be the ultimate Italian food experience, and it may be worth it to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If you liked our top 10 restaurants in Milan try to check our selected Milan homes for your vacation!
Needless to say, Christmas (‘Natale’ in Italian) is a unique experience in Milan. The city enters into the holiday spirit early in December, due to the double celebration of the local patron saint, Ambrogio, on 7th December and the Immaculate Conception on 8th December. The cold, foggy air of the Po valley often provides a wintry atmosphere, in a pleasant contrast with the golden, glittering lights of shops and street lights. Two Christmas-themed events in particular mark the Milanese December: the first is Mercatino di Sant’Ambrogio, the patron saint’s market, better known as Oh Bej! Oh Bej! (How nice! How nice!). The tradition dates back to the 16th century. This is an exquisite local event taking place from 7th to 10th December all around the Sforza Castle (M1 Cairoli or Cadorna, or M2 Lanza), displaying and selling craftwork, plants, food and beverages. In regards to this, we recommend caldarroste (roasted chestnuts, wrapped in a paper cone and served hot as they come from the ember) and vin brulé (mulled wine), sweetened with sugar and scented with cloves, cinnamon, spices and fruits, which will keep your hands and stomach warm.
The second major attraction is L’Artigiano in Fiera (3rd – 11th December this year). To get there, you’ll have to catch the M1 (red) line all the way to its last stop at Rho-Milanofiera (tickets available at all newsagents’ and ticket machines). One more option is to reach the fair with Turin- or Salerno-bound Italo trains; as for cars, the fair is equipped with a large parking lot, costing between €2.50 per hour and € 16.50 as the maximum fare. You might also want to park your car at M1 Lampugnano or Molino Dorino stations. This fair might get quite crowded, especially on weekends, but it’s worth a visit to venture into the Christmas traditions from all over the world. The fair’s structure hosts a stand from nearly every country in the world and combines traditional arts and crafts with an embarrassingly wide variety of ethnic food stands, so rich and tasty you’d wish you could try everything. This is why we advice you get here at 10.00, wander around and think of a possible menu for lunchtime. What’s most important is to make sure you get a map at the entrance, it’s extremely easy to get distracted and lose track of each other! More markets are set up in Piazza Duomo, where a tall Christmas tree is decorated, as well as in Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli (M1 Porta Venezia), where an ice-skate rink is opened to the public, occasionally hosting figure-skating performances. If you have children, bring them along: there are lots of interactive activities, and they could get the chance to visit the Natural History Museum and the Planetarium, located within the park. In the same area, the main shopping street in Milan, Corso Buenos Aires (M1 Porta Venezia – Lima) opens up a Christmas Village, a temporary Christmas-themed shop. A similar project is hosted in the Ecliss store (Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 53), just a few steps away from the Navigli area. For those interested in sustainable trade, instead, the Isola district (M3/M5 Zara, M5 Isola) is the place to be. Fonderia Napoleonica Eugenia hosts Green Market, displaying eco-friendly merchandise. Not far from there is the Alter Bej fair: a traditional Christmas market accompanied by performances of buskers.
Except for markets, what else does Milan offer at Christmas time?
This year, Comune di Milano is offering a real treat to visitors by bringing Piero della Francesca’s famous Madonna della Misericordia (1445-1472) to the city, namely to Palazzo Marino (piazza della Scala, 2), from 6th December to 8th January, 2017. It will be possible to visit it between 9:30 AM to 8 PM every day (open till 12 PM on 7th Dec., till 6 PM on 24th and 31st Dec., and it will be closed on Catholic holidays – 8th and 25th Dec., 1st and 6th Jan.). Attending a mass in Milan during the Christmas period is a very interesting experience, made all the more unique by the specific Catholic tradition of the city, introduced by Sant’Ambrogio and hence named rito cattolico ambrosiano. On Thursday, 22nd December, Teatro alla Scala will be hosting its traditional Christmas concert, directed this year by Christoph von Dohnányi, and Bruno Casoni directing the choir. In addition, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony will be performed. Tickets, ranging from €30 to €180, are still available at the theatre’s website. What do Milanese people eat on Christmas day?
Some prefer to celebrate at night, before, or most likely after, the Christmas mass, while others prefer to wait for lunchtime on the 25th. Either way, while Northern Italians “keep it simpler” than they do in the South, they do enjoy a hearty Christmas meal, featuring several tasty antipasti. Theseappetizers include mostarda, spicy candied fruit in a mustard pickle, prosciutto and other cured meats, small savoury pastries, paté, vitello tonnato, which is cold veal in tuna sauce, meat-stuffed ravioli and bollito misto, composed of boiled beef and poultry and served with parsley sauce (salsa verde)).
On Christmas Day, Italians indulge in spirits more than they usually do, as they are poured throughout their meals with nuts, almonds and dried dates served alongside, to be consumed between courses. Make sure you don’t miss out on panettone, one of the most beloved Italian Christmas treats alongside its eternal “rival” pandoro (each has its own “squad” of aficionados, much like Inter and Milan football teams). Compared to its Verona-based nemesis, panettone is somewhat less fluffy and buttery, has a round shape, and is garnished with dried raisins and candied citrus zest. Apart from that, these two cakes are essentially similar, and are typically served together, sometimes with a mascarpone or zabaione cream to be dipped into. Buon Natale!
Milan at first glance While the city’s metropolitan area stretches far and wide, Milan’s centre is quite compact and can be crossed quickly. The public transportation network is efficient, whereas the traffic is usually intense, but well-regulated. Walking all the way across the centre could take less than an hour, but it is worth taking more time to have a look around. Piazza Duomo, the wide square where the city’s cathedral stands, is unquestionably the most famous Milanese spot worldwide. The golden statue of the Virgin Mary, locally known as Madunina, has become the city’s de facto symbol, “overlooking Milan”, as a popular song goes. Incidentally, the stunning view from the Duomo top is not to be missed. Just like any Italian city, Milan is dotted with beautiful churches, some of which are very ancient. Sant’Ambrogio, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, or Santa Maria delle Grazie, hosting Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting The Last Supper, are just the most famous examples. However, secular architecture is by no means less interesting. Piazza Duomo is also the main access point to the impressive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a 19th century architectural masterpiece recalling the Parisian passages, connecting the square to Teatro La Scala. A 10 minute walk from Piazza Duomo will take you to Castello Sforzesco, another major Milanese landmark. Formerly the residence of the Sforza family, this vast citadel now hosts several museums and borders Parco Sempione, the largest park in central Milan and the perfect nature spot to relax.
The northern side of the city hosts modern skyscrapers (the 231-metre-tall Unicredit Tower is the tallest skyscraper in Italy), whereas the southern part of the centre offers a glimpse of popular architecture along the banks of the city’s canals, known as Navigli, to date one of the city’s most vibrant areas. Bottom line: what makes Milan so fascinating is the frequently elusive character of its beauty. It takes, indeed, a good deal of curiosity and attention to the smallest details to fully appreciate the city. Many delightful gardens, buildings, churches or museums often go unnoticed, unless you find out about them. No time to get bored Milan and its residents are often depicted as hectic, restless, always on the move. For sure, the city offers as much entertainment as you could hope for, both during the day and at nighttime. One of the world fashion capitals alongside Paris and New York, Milan hosts many of the most important ateliers in Italy. Twice per year, the Fashion Week event anticipates the upcoming season’s trends and calls many celebrities to the city. Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga are home to the most luxurious boutiques, whereas cheaper brands can be found in corso Buenos Aires, Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Torino. Those who prefer museums to binge shopping will be spoilt for choice, as well. Piazza Duomo and its immediate surroundings, just like Castello Sforzesco, host an incredible variety of artistic and historical collections, some of which are private, and/or need to be booked in advance. Make sure you do not miss out on the Pinacoteca di Brera in the arty namesake district. Science lovers, on the other hand, can head to the Natural History or Technology museums. Last but not least, the Milanese nightlife has nothing to envy from other big cities worldwide. No matter if you are more of a clubber or an opera connoisseur, or if you would rather opt for live music, you will find the perfect event to fit your expectations. However, Milan is just unbeatable in Italy when it comes to the theatre scene, be it opera, ballet, or prose.
Compared to Rome, Milan (or, as the Italians call it, Milano) has quite a different charm, which has been brought back to splendour over the past few years. Sure, the second-largest Italian city has always been renowned for its leading role in the fashion industry and as the Bel Paese’s financial hub. Even before the 2015 edition of the World Exhibition took place here, few people had never seen a picture of the Duomo, one of the most impressive cathedrals in Europe, or heard of La Scala Theatre, possibly the Mecca of Italian opera. Still, compared to Rome’s magnificence, or to other iconic Italian cities such as Florence or Venice, Milan has mistakenly been overlooked until recent times. As a matter of fact, there is plenty to see and do all over the city at all times. Whether you come here for leisure or business, you can be sure you will never run out of inspiration!
A gateway between the North and South
Even foreigners soon come to realise how strikingly diverse Italy can get from place to place, in spite of being one of Europe’s smaller countries. Those who have travelled around Europe may find Milan more similar to Paris or Vienna rather than to Rome or Naples. What’s more, the city was dominated by Spain, Austria and France and this combined heritage is still perceivable in the local traditions, dialect, architecture and atmosphere. Other Italians regard the Milanese as down-to-earth and business-oriented, but it would be more truthful to say that the city looks and feels more ‘metropolitan’ than any other place in Italy – Rome included. This does not mean, of course, that Milan “does not feel like Italy”. Fashion, opera, and many of the most famous Italian artists and scholars have been brought to fame here. Thousands of people from all over the country and the world move to the city every year to work and study. Many delicacies such as panettone, risotto or gorgonzola cheese originate from Milan, and you can enjoy the unique aperitivo experience (a pre-dinner drink, accompanied by finger food) at its finest. Make sure not to miss the local espresso!