Before going to Italy when I thought of Milan the main thing that pops up in my head is fashion. Specifically high fashion. I knew that I couldn’t afford that so I wasn’t all too sure of what else the city had to offer.
Day 5: Milan
The Airbnb listing that I had chosen to stay at had a particularly late check in time of 7pm. This wasn’t a problem as I stored my luggage in the left luggage area in Milano Centrale station. Although the left luggage area is a little hard to find (just follow the signs down to the ground floor!) the process of storing my luggage was surprisingly hassle free.
With a lighter load I was ready to explore! First stop: castello Sforzesco. Walking into this medieval fortress made me giddy with excitement. It felt like I was entering the world of the medieval fantasies that I used to love as a kid. The castle now houses multiple museums within its vast wings. Entry into all the museums is free after 2pm on Tuesdays. Being the budget cultural appreciator that I am, I was content to wander around the internal structure of the castle until it hit 2.
The museums are incredibly varied. I was happy to speed through some of the wings, such as the displays of religious art and the section on ancient Egypt, and instead to linger in other sections such as the displays of furniture and musical instruments. Getting to each part of the museum is a bit of an adventure in itself. You walk up rampants, bridges and stairs exploring the structure of the castle itself whilst looking at the displays. I later learnt that most of the castle is actually reconstructed as the majority was heavily damaged in World War II. However, that doesn’t diminish the sense of wonder I had when I walked in for the first time!
Castello Sforezso is not the only attraction around. It is situated in parco Sempione. This very large park is bookended on each side with more things to do! Upon exiting the castle gates I was greeted by greenery and some intriguing looking modern architecture in the distance. This proved to be none other than the La Triennale di Milano, which is a much more contemporary museum. At the time the garden was dotted with some eye catching micky mouse sculptures. Having had enough of museums for one day I elected to just sit in the café, order a coffee and collect myself. It’s well worth taking a bit of a break in the terrace café as you get the look out onto the installation in the garden and also the park itself without needing to pay an entrance fee.
Feet no longer aching I made my way to porta sempione (the arch of peace). Although it is touted as a hip and happening place full of night life it was much more sedate at around 5pm. I sat down and took my time admiring it and watching the clouds drift by. To complete my visit of the park I also briskly walked around one part of arena civica. I thought that it was fascinating how this stadium, full of history was still being used today to entertain the public.
Just as it started getting dark I decided to head to where I was staying and get some rest as I had an early start tomorrow. My airbnb hosts had prepared the most darling map of the neighbourhood. Thanks to their suggestions I went to the nearby Donna Titina and tucked into some delicious carbs, in the form of seafood pasta in preparation for my adventures the next day before drifting off to bed.
Day 6 Milan
The day was jam packed full of activities. One of my friends had so kindly reminded me that Da Vinci’s last supper is located in Milan and from then on, I knew that I had to see it. Tickets for the last supper book out extraordinarily quickly but tour groups always have space. The half day tour I took actually started at the travel agents offices from where I could see castello sforezso again!
The tour started with the Milano duomo. I think this is probably the greatest icon of Milan, fashion aside. This stunning example of gothic architecture is astonishing. I think it’s one of the grandest and most beautiful churches. It would be possible to spend all day just admiring all the intricate details and sculptures that adorn every inch of the duomo. The scale of the dumo was so large that started to come across as almost unreal!
Right next to the duomo is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Like the duomo this shopping arcade is on an entirely different level. Within the gallery the tiling and art represented different parts of Italy and also the world. Luxury brands were well represented in the arcade, and I imagine that they are some of the only stores that are able to afford the rent.
Going on right through the gallery, you pass a piazza with a statue of Da Vinci before reaching Teatro alla Scala. La Scala is a historic opera house that is still in operation today. We were invited to take a tour and peer out onto the stage. Sadly it was a bit dark as they were doing a lighting test so the glory of the ornate theatre could not be seen in whole. However, I really enjoyed the museum section of La scala. The costumes which were both flamboyant and intricate were simply amazing.
The final stop of the tour was the much anticipated Santa Maria delle Grazie. This church, or more specifically the dining hall of the church houses Leonardo da Vinci’s last supper. Entrance to this work of art is strictly controlled to help maintain it and you are only allowed to visit in small groups for 15 minutes at a time. Consequently the atmosphere inside was one of hushed reverence. In particularly I appreciated the idea behind this piece, as those in the dining hall would have probably felt like they themselves were at the last supper every time they saw it while they were eating.
Although the tour was over, the day was still young and I still had a lot to do! I paused very briefly for lunch before starting on my own itinerary. During the tour, the guide had pointed out Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, citing it as a must visit for the beautiful frescos. The frescos covered almost every inch of the church and were just as beautiful as described. I took my time, sitting down and looking up where to go next.
A brief perusal of google maps pointed me to the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio. I’m not sure where I heard it from but apparently Saint Ambrogio is the patron saint of Milan. I got a bit side tracked on the walk over and ended up in a monument honouring fallen Italian soldiers. Although he spoke minimal English a kind older gentleman introduced me to the crypts and pointed out how to get to the Basilica.
As far as churches go the basilica was on the more Spartan side. It lacked the intensely ornamental facet of the earlier churches I had been to, but as always the pews were welcoming for resting my feet. All worn out from a day of continual walking I decided to head back towards the Duomo for some people watching and tea.
In the evening I thought that I would quickly pop off at Garibaldi station to have a look at the modern part of Milan. Piazza Gae Aulenti really encapsulates the new, trendy Milan. As it was getting rather late a lot of the shops were closed or closing, but I still enjoyed wandering around and looking at the illuminations and groups of youths practising dance routines. The skyscrapers and modern skyline really made me feel like I was in a totally different city. I just kept wandering around the shops and bars before finding myself in a slightly more blue collar business area that was rather deserted. Being the cautious traveller that I am, I decided to high tail it out of there as it was well and truly getting dark and returning to my cute little air bnb room.
Amongst my friends and peers Milan is a fairly divisive place. For some, Milan was where they encountered the seedier side of Italy in the form of thieves and pickpockets. On the other hand, others loved the metropolitan bustling feel of the city. Perhaps it’s because I was fortunate enough to never have anything particularly bad happen to me on my whole Italy trip, or perhaps it’s because I was still in an euphoric rush from everything being so new to me, but I really enjoyed my time in Milan. Although it may not have the same abundance of sites as some other cities, I thought that this made it much more manageable in spite of its sheer size. It was refreshing to see the mix of old and new in the city, and it really feels like there’s a little bit of everything for everyone.
The tour I booked was a half day walking tour with vitiator. (https://www.viator.com/tours/Milan/Milan-Half-Day-Sightseeing-Tour-with-da-Vincis-The-Last-Supper/d512-2872ZV19) it is touted as walking tour, but you are bussed to the areas that a bit further away. Although some parts of the tour were a little bit rushed, which is understandable considering the very limited amount of time you have to get through everything I felt that it gave a really nice basic overview of some of the greatest hits of the historic centre of Milan. The guide also pointed out some additional attractions that we could visit after the morning tour was over which proved to be very helpful.It’s definitely possible to do the same things yourself for much cheaper, just be aware that last supper tickets usually sell out very quickly on the official website.
To get around in Milan I mostly took the subway. It was easy to understand if not the most scenic and at times crowded. I bought a 48 hr public transport pass at Milano centrale station. I don’t remember exactly how much this was but it was fairly inexpensive and took the hassle away from needing to buy tickets. This is NOT the Milano pass which is more expensive but offers some discounts to stores and attractions. I felt that a normal transport pass was the more economic and attractive option as it didn’t require pre-booking and I wasn’t all that interested in the discounts the pass offered.
P.S If you have time definitely try the panzerotti at luini near the duomo. It’s a super convenient place to try this Milanese specialty.