Milan has been considered one of the ugliest Italian cities for a very long time.
Everybody said it was grey and depressing, a place where people would only think about working and making money because there was no real beauty around.
It was very common to compare it with Rome – but how can you compare any place with Rome? – and, of course, Rome was considered the beautiful one, while Milan was the hard-working one.
Nobody would ever consider Milan a destination for a holiday, it was just a place where you would go for work or for a day of shopping. But thank God, things have changed.
Piazza Duomo, the Museo del Novecento and the Torre Velasca in the background
I have to say that I have always recognized the beauty of the city – I went there for the first time when I was fifteen and fell in love with it, so much so that it was the only option I would consider for my university studies – but now many people are loving it as well.
The big change for Milan has arrived with Expo 2015, a huge event that has given a real boost to the city. It is as if the city started blooming and people began seeing it for the first time, a bit like Cinderella going to the ball. That single event has brought a series of renovations and deeply changed the city, making it the only Italian city with an international vibe.
But, as I told you, Milan was beautiful way before Expo 2015. Now it is a more modern city, it has lots of interesting new neighborhoods and attractions but many places of interest have always been there because Milan has a long history.
As you may imagine, I always recommend visiting Milan to people who like culture and art and to people who want to see something different than the perfect, eternal beauty of Rome, Florence or Venice. There are plenty of reasons to visit Milan and I’ve decided to list a few here.
To be more precise, I have listed ten reasons why you should absolutely visit Milan. Here they are.
1. It is the home of the largest church in Italy. In fact, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome doesn’t count because the Vatican City is a foreign state and this gives Milan Cathedral the status of largest church in the country. Moreover, it is the third-largest in Europe and the fifth-largest in the world. No matter its size, it is a very beautiful church and has many incredible gothic-style statues. Plus, if you climb the stairs – or take the elevator – to go to the roof, you’ll get a magnificent view of the city with the Alps on the background and get also to see the symbol of the city, the beloved Madonnina – Madunina, in Milanese dialect – the gold-colored statue of Mary that stands on the cathedral’s highest spire.
A view of the skyscrapers at Porta Nuova
2. Leonardo da Vinci has lived and worked in Milan for a long time and the signs of his work can be seen all around the city. Leonardo worked in Milan from 1482 until 1499, working for Duke Ludovico Sforza, and there he has created Cenacolo (The Last Supper), his masterpiece for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and many other paintings and architectural projects. If you visit Milan, you can obviously see the Last Supper but also the Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle), with a room entirely painted by Leonardo, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, where you can see one of his paintings and parts of the Codex Atlanticus, a collection of his drawings, the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnica (Museum of Science and Technology), with the historical gallery of Leonardo’s models and Casa degli Atellani, with the vineyard belonging to Leonardo.
3. If you love shopping, you’d feel as if you are in heaven. As you may already know, Milan is famous for being the Italian capital of fashion, the place where you can find the headquarters of all the most important Italian brands – and foreign ones, too. In what is commonly known as “il quadrilatero della moda“, four streets in the city center the most famous of which is Via Montenapoleone, you’ll find all the most luxurious fashion brands. But there are a lot of independent shops all around the city and there are lots of options for vintage shopping too.
Me at Fondazione Prada
4. Old neighborhoods have been revamped and new neighborhoods have been built from scratch. Lately, lots of skyscrapers have been built, transforming Milan’s skyline into that a modern and international city. In particular, two areas are worth noticing: Porta Nuova, one of Italy’s most high-tech and international districts, containing many skyscrapers designed by famous architects, including the country’s tallest skyscraper, the Unicredit Tower by Cesar Pelli, and one of the most unique ones, the Bosco Verticale by Stefano Boeri, and City Life, a shopping district with beautiful skyscrapers by renowned architects.
5. The city may be modern but it has a very old heart. If you visit those new areas, you may feel you are in an international location but if you stroll down some of the narrow streets of the city center, it seems as if you are in a little provincial town. Some of the oldest – and most beautiful – areas in the city are Brera, with cobbled streets, little squares and small shops, the Navigli, a neighborhood named after a series of waterways and canals designed by Leonardo da Vinci that give the area a unique atmosphere (but not on a Saturday night as it is a very popular hangout for tourists and young people).
An amazing view of the Navigli
6. The city has some very unique museums. Right next to the Duomo, you’ll find the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to Italian 20th-century art, with sections dedicated to the major art movements of the time, while in Brera, you’ll find the Pinacoteca di Brera, with a collection of paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the Romantic period and a stunning botanical garden. A bit further away, you can visit the abovementioned Museo della Scienza e della Tecnica, dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci, including some of Leonardo’s drawings and reproductions of his machines. A couple of other unique museums are the Mudec, dedicated to arts and cultures from all over the world, and the Fondazione Prada, dedicated to contemporary art, arranged in the spaces of a former gin distillery and in three other separate buildings.
7. As I said, the city has a very long history and it is full of interesting historical monuments and sights. The Duomo, right in the center of the city, is a must-see but only a short stroll away you can visit the Castello Sforzesco, built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. From there, you can walk to the Church of Sant’Ambrogio, built by St. Ambrose in 379–386, which makes it one of the most ancient churches in Milan. This church is very near to another famous church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the Cenacolo is hosted. But the city is full of many other churches and even the Monumental Cemetery, famous for its large number of beautifully decorated tombs, is definitely worth a visit.
the beloved Duomo di Milano in the early morning
8. If you are tired and hungry after all this culture and art, you can relax in one of the many restaurants you can find in the city. Unlike many other Italian towns, here you can find traditional Italian cuisine but lots of international options as well. You can try all sorts of foods and cuisines and you can find the perfect restaurant for your needs. Moreover, the aperitivo here is taken very seriously: you can taste the iconic Camparino at the Camparino in Galleria, a historic place with a new twist in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, or spend some time at the Bar Basso, the place where the Negroni Sbagliato cocktail was invented.
9. All the city breathes design. If you think of design, you immediately think about the most important event in the city, the Salone del Mobile, a yearly fair that brings to Milan people from all over the world, and the Fuorisalone, a series of events all around the city. But Milan means design all year round: there is the Triennale Design Museum, an international institution that holds exhibitions and events about design, architecture, visual art, the Fondazione Castiglioni, Achille Castiglioni’s studio museum, and the Archivio-Museo Vico Magistretti, all clearly showing how Milan has played a key role in the history of the design.
the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
10. If you like weird places, you won’t be disappointed. If you visit Milan, you’ll be able to see some very unique things. For example, there is an old villa with some pink flamingoes: to be more precise, the garden of Villa Invernizzi is home to a dozen pink flamingoes, some of which are 25 years old. Their ancestors have been brought to Italy before 1980, when a law to protect endangered species was introduced. Not that far away from them, you can see a bizarre ear on the wall of a building. It’s a bronze sculpture dating from 1930 which used to be an intercom, possibly the first intercom in the city. Finally, there is a church, namely San Bernardino alle Ossa, with a small chapel completely decorated with numerous human skulls and bones.
What do you think? Have I convinced you that you should come and visit Milan?
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!