The best things to do in Milan in recent years have been heavily influenced by a strategic investment by the government in all things transportation and culture. Tourism is booming, the already efficient subway system is expanding at lightning speed, starchitects are clamoring to design the next beautiful building to grace the city’s growing skyline and there is a growing sense of Milan being a “place to be” and a destination renowned for more than out-of-this-world pizza and shopping than ever before.
The word “renaissance” has been thrown around lately to describe the shifting tides, a moniker that becomes that much more fitting considering that 2019 marks 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci, whose legacy runs deeper than The Last Supper (housed in the city’s Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie). The Italian artist is responsible for the city’s criss-crossing network of canals (legend has it he helped with their renovation) and aesthetic contributions to the historical Castello Sforzesco. This year, Milan is highlighting da Vinci’s impact on the city with an extensive series of events collectively known as Leonardo 500. There has truly never been a better time to visit the Northern Italy metropolis.
One of the best things to do in Milan is visit Duomo. Milan’s Duomo is not just another church. It is the city’s most important landmark located smack-dab in the centre of it all. Building on this magnificent Gothic cathedral began in the late 14th century and lasted hundreds of years (even today, it isn’t unusual to see scaffolding on the façade or the back of the church as restoration is often underway). While there is plenty to see inside the cathedral, a visit to the top – via stairs or an elevator – is an absolute must in order to see Milan’s changing skyline, with the old and the new coming together.
2. Fonderie Milanesi
The aperitivo is considered an institution in Milan, and no visit to the city would be complete without partaking in this pre-dinner ritual. Near Porta Ticinese, Fonderie Milanesi is the ideal venue to enjoy the Italian trend: sit outdoors and revel in light bites alongside your specialty cocktail. The tradition got its start in the late 19thcentury, when Gaspare Campari, intent on serving a drink that stimulated rather than spoiled the appetite, began serving his eponymous bitter aperitif. As more drinks were developed, more nibbles were added to the offerings; it’s common now to find bars with elaborate buffet spreads.
Commonly enjoyed between 7pm and 9pm, it’s not uncommon for the best spots to be completely packed – but that community spirit is exactly the aperitivo ethos.
Constructed over hundreds of years, with input from da Vinci himself, Milan’s system of navigable and interconnected canals granted the landlocked city more access to the outside world. Today, the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese are some of the only canals still visible, and around them have sprung up a torrent of bars, restaurants and cafés that thrum with activity on weekend nights. Pull up a stool at Rita & Cocktails for a Gin Zen or Rebelot for a sublime glass of wine. For astonishing views at a leisurely pace, join a boat tour and relax as you’re swept around the city sights.
If you are looking for something truly unique, check out Backdoor 43 at Ripa di Porta Ticinese 43. Located right on the canals, the owners of this miniscule bar claim it is the smallest in the world. There’s a tiny takeout window where masked bartenders provide drinks to go or you can reserve a time slot to enjoy your cocktails in the four-square-metre indoor space that’s home to few stools and a bathroom.
4. The Last Supper
Perhaps one of the most famous paintings in the world, da Vinci’s The Last Supper has been reproduced to death, but no tote bag or mouse pad or even large-scale reproduction can adequately capture the artist’s emotionally charged mural. Unlike frescoes, which are painted on wet plaster and thus must be completed rather quickly, da Vinci used tempera paints on a dry wall after sealing the stone with dried plaster and adding an undercoat of white lead to achieve greater luminosity. It’s astonishing and overwhelming – even despite the fact that Jesus’s feet were lost in 1652 given some ill-thought-out renovations.
Since its founding by Archduchess Maria Theresa in the late 18th century, the Teatro alla Scala has remained one of the finest opera theatres in Europe. We’d highly recommend a night out at this grand auditorium, it’s truly an experience like no other. But if you don’t have time to sit through an entire night of opera, visit the museum instead, where you can at least lay eyes on the glorious red and gold interior.
6. Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Although the exterior of this church is not one of the most renowned, it still has a certain charm and grace – Created in 1497, the church features a Gothic style using red bricks and a large rear basilica.
This church can be found on the Corso Magenta and sits at the opposite side of Milan to the Duomo.
Inside the building lies one of the greatest artistic masterpieces in the world – The Last Supper by Leonardo di Vinci.
Hailed as a sublime piece of artwork, this mural depicts the scene of the Last Supper as described in the Bible.
Throughout the years this piece of artwork has been scrutinised and analysed for its hidden meanings and content.
Come and see this fantastic work of art and marvel at the detail and significance of this iconic depiction.
7. Castello Sforzesco
This 15th century castle has a central location in Milan and is set in extensive grounds and gardens.
Created in 1370, the original design has been modified and added too greatly but still retains its elegance and status of power.
At the front of the castle stands an immense brick wall lined with battlements and frame by a central guard tower.
As you walk through into the central courtyard, you will notice the large guard towers and the sheer size of the castle will amaze you.
Aside from the castle itself, there is also a host of small museums and collections that contain a myriad of interesting artefacts and historical information about the castle and Milan.