Things to See and Do
So you’ve arrived, and you want to take in as many of the memorable sights as possible in your 48 hours. Here’s what’s worth checking out in Milan:
A massive Gothic cathedral dating back to the 14th century. It’s made completely out of marble and has hundreds of spires and is absolutely mind blowing inside. Some of the most beautiful stained glass window installations in Europe and the sheer size is incredible. Walk around the outside and admire the attention to detail in all the gargoyles and other statues adorning this amazing building.
Beware of the dodgy blokes hanging out the front (and around all the Duomo metro exits, and in the grounds of Castello Sforzesco) with their “gifts” of cotton bracelets. They will attach them to you so you can’t get them off and then demand cash. When you see them, keep walking and do not acknowledge them (they will try to lay it on your shoulder). Strategically time your photo opps as to not attract too much attention.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
A huge shopping mall directly next to the Duomo. It houses boutique fashion labels from all over the world (Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana, etc) as well as the flagship Prada store. If you’re the shopping type, you will go nuts over this place. Well worth a wander through inside to experience what Milan is very well known for.
Walk in a westerly direction from the Duomo down Via Dante and you’ll hit Piazza Castello. You can’t miss this massive castle with it’s huge front tower and enormous walls that seem to go on for hundreds of metres, only being ended by circular towers on all four corners.
This was where the ruling families of Milan resided, and later where the Austrian governor resided while the Lombardy area (of which Milan is a part of) was part of the Hapsburg empire. There are a ton of museums inside (e.g. archaeological, Egyptian, natural history, the castle museum itself) and you can buy a ticket from the central office which gets you entry to all of them. Just walking around inside the castle’s epic grounds is cool enough, but the museums may also take your fancy.
Leonardo Da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology
Definitely a great attraction if you’re a tech buff like myself. Here you can find exhibitions on steam power, electricity, biotechnology, air, sea and rail transport, telecommunications and heaps more. The museum exhibits well a lot of the advances Italian inventors contributed to technological development especially in the fields of radio communication and transport.
This museum is also a good way to learn more about Italy during World War 2 and their military innovations. There is a decommissioned submarine on display within the museum grounds; tours inside it are available when scheduled throughout the day.
This one isn’t as easy to find, but it’s right near the Sant Ambrogio metro station or if you proceed south out of the Castle and down Via Giosue Carducci and follow it right down to aforementioned metro station, you can’t miss it.
Last Supper (if you can score tickets) at the Saint Mary of the Graces
The famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci is housed in the Saint Mary of the Graces (Santa Maria delle Grazie) on Corso Magenta (it’s just off Via Giosue Carducci on the way to the Science and Technology Museum). If you’re really keen on visiting this, book a few months in advance through theirwebsite or you can take your chances by visiting in the morning from 8:15am onwards to see if they have any tickets made available through cancelled reservations. This occurs fairly rarely however.
Corso Buenos Aires
This is the main shopping strip of Milan, and is a great way to experience Milanese culture. There are plenty of pizzerias and kebab shops and lots of different outlets to check out. Start at the south end on the corner of Viale Regina Giovanna and make your way up all the way to Piazza Loreto.
Being in Italy, the definite draw cards are pizza, pasta, gelato and coffee. One tip for wherever you go when you’re looking for pizza is to make sure they have a wood fire and that you can see them shovelling pizzas in there. Coffee from pretty much anywhere in Milan is pretty good and destroys your Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero in London. Try an espresso here, it’s cool how Italians drink them at the bar like they’re at the pub.
How to get there
EasyJet represents the cheapest way of getting to Milan. They fly direct to Milano Malpensa airport from London Luton and Gatwick, and Milan Linate airports from London Gatwick. The flight takes about 1 hour, 45 minutes. Other options are available from Alitalia, Lufthansa, Swiss, etc from London Heathrow, but these will be more expensive than EasyJet. Be advised that Milan is in Central European Time (GMT +1).
There are shuttle buses from Malpensa and these generally cost €7,50 one way. There will be guys out the front saying “Milano? Milano?” so just walk up to them, pay your fare and jump on the coach. Buses leave every 20 minutes at intervals of on the hour (e.g. 1pm), 20 minutes past (e.g. 1:20pm) and 40 minutes past (1:40pm) and take 30-40 minutes to get to Milano Centrale train station. From Centrale train station it’s not too difficult to find your way from here. There is an information booth up on the platform level of the station where you can get a free map and exchange your cash if you weren’t able to at the airport (it was closed when I was there). Plus Centrale station is jawdropping; spend some time just taking in the awe of this building and how huge it is, it’s a cool first impression of Milan.
Where to Stay
There’s a few hostels in Milan on offer but nothing that leaps out from Hostelworld/Hostelbookers at you as the standout to book into (unlike Lisbon – amazing hostels there).
I stayed at Ciao Bella Hostel in Via Balzaretti 4. It’s off Via Pascoli, and isn’t too far from Centrale Station (down Via Vitruvio which turns into Via Plinio) but it is a way out from the central areas of Milan and you’d need to catch a train from Lima metro station. It’s basically an apartment turned into a hostel. It’s basic, but has a kitchen and a cool cosy common area and everything is clean. The manager is a fellow Aussie and is easy going and will make sure you have fun, meet new people and enjoy the local food around the hostel (there is a pizza place up the road that does unreal hand made, wood fired pizzas, definitely recommended).
Alternatively you could scope out other hostels over at Hostelworld and Hostel Bookers depending on availability and location or what you’re after (you might want something more quiet).
Get around in Milan
The Metropolitana (underground Metro) and the trams are your best bet for getting around Milan. Go into a station and buy a 48 hour card from one of the ticket (biglietto) machines for about €8 (which display their interface in English) and you’ll be right to use the trams and trains for your entire stay.
Milan is an interesting Italian city, and definitely one of the most modern. It is a great short-haul destination from London, giving you a taste of Italian culture in under 2 days.