When planning a trip to Italy, Milan may not be the first place that comes to mind as a not-to-be-missed destination. Though the city, Italy’s second most populous, serves as the economic heart of the country, when it comes to tourism the colossal weight of Rome, Florence and Sicily often overshadows Milan and its surrounding regions in the North.
Prior to starting my year teaching English in Madrid, I traveled to France and then Italy, making Milan my first stop in the country as it is the home of one of my very best friends, Alessandra, and her family. I admit that the only reason I included Milan as a stop on my very first visit to Italy was because I had friends there. But what I learned from this trip, and the subsequent other visits I paid to the city to visit my Italian family is that Milan is a city that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you skip including this city on your Italy itinerary, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice, for Milan is very much in vogue. Here’s why:
1. Milan is Necessary to Understand the Full Picture of Italy
There’s so much more to Italy than the picture that gets painted for us of pasta, gelato and naked marble statues. If you are truly to understand the full picture of Italy and its culture, your visit to the country will not be complete without visiting Milan.
Italy is a large country – similar in size to the state of California – and with that comes many diverse regions. Milan is located in the North of the country, and they do things differently there. As opposed to the South, in the North the pace of life is faster, the people are more reserved, less religious and arguably better dressed. How will you come to understand this for yourself if you don’t include Milan in your trip?
2. You’ll Be Off the Beaten Path
Milan is far less touristy than its friends like Rome and Florence in the South. Because of this, Milan is a place where you can go local and feel like you’re off the beaten path. No doubt my experience in the city was enhanced by the fact I was touring with locals, but Milan was the place in Italy where I most felt like I was immersed in Italy.
Since Milan is a city of business and industry, its streets bustle with business men and women all day. Whether you watch people going to work as you ride alongside them on the metro in the morning, wander the streets on a brisk afternoon or just sit at a café and enjoy a pastry and cappuccino, in Milan the options are endless to blend in with the locals.
3. Milan is Full of Important Cultural Sights
As the country is considered the birthplace of Western civilization, there is heaps to see all over Italy and Milan is no exception. The center of the city is home to the Duomo, one of the largest cathedrals in the world that features ornate stained glass, regal renaissance-era alters and even the mummified corpses of popes. The Last Supper, one of Leonardo DaVinci’s most famous works, is on display at the Santa Maria delle Grazie, a Dominican convent. By night take a stroll (and enjoy a drink) along Naviglio Grande, a historic canal that dates back to the 1100’s.
Getting around Milan is easy with the city’s extensive public transportation system that includes metros, buses and trams, which have been running continuously in the city since 1876.
4. Fashion, Fashion, Fashion
When it comes to fashion in Europe, Milan is on point. Hosting a yearly fashion week, the city is recognized as one of the world’s fashion capitals, home to some of the most high-end fashion labels including Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino and Prada. Shops for these and other top designers are found on Quadrilatero della moda. Even if you (like me) can’t afford to make a purchase here, it’s still fun to walk around and window shop.
In the same district you can also visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II, a shopping complex as famous for fashions as it is a titled floor featuring a bull. Legend says if you dig your heels into the bull’s groin and spin backwards three times, you’ll ward off evil spirits. If you do this with gelato in your hand you get bonus points.
5. Scenic Day Trips
A gateway city to the Italian Alps, Milan’s well-situated location makes it an ideal base for several scenic day trips. The picturesque shores of Lake Como, medieval walls of Bergamo and University town of Pavia are all less than an hour from Milan and easily accessed via public transport.
If the outdoors are your scene, the ski slopes of Turin are not to be missed. Towns in the Alps and Lake Maggiore are great for hiking. My personal favorite day trip I took from Milan was to Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Yes, you can even visit Juliet’s house and muse on her balcony there.
Where to Stay in Milan
Located in Milan’s revered Cinque Vie neighborhood, Hotel Regina is a great choice for local accommodation in the city. With a central location, the hotel is within easy walking distance from top sights such as the Duomo. Since it’s locally owned, the four-star hotel also has a uniquely Italian feel.
Note: This post was brought to you by Hotel Regina. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.