Visit Milano

This is an excerpt from the book “Milan” by Enrico Massetti.

Milano - il Duomo
Milano – il Duomo – Photo © Silvia Massetti

Milano – Milan

To most Italians, Milan is the unofficial capital of Italy and arguably the most interesting city in the country, where old and new meet in an ever-changing relationship. An engaging mix.

Milano cannot claim the opulent and breathtaking beauty of Rome nor the Renaissance glories of Florence, but Milano has its charms – and certainly enough to keep you entertained for a weekend. In fact, Milano is, arguably, the most interesting city in Italy, where old and new meet in an ever-changing relationship. Milano is both elegant and vulgar, technology-driven and full of old world charm, money-obsessed and genteel, brassy and inviting. Milano is a curious, engaging mix. To most Italians, Milano is the unofficial capital of the country.

Milano is Italy’s powerhouse, where money is made. Money brings people; people create vibe and energy: Milano is the place where “things happen.” Milano is internationally famous for its fashion and design, of course. But there is much more to see and enjoy in this industrious, hard-working city. Here are a few personal suggestions – places I like, not necessarily the most celebrated.

Tram in Milano
Tram in Milano – Photo by Silvia Massetti

On an old rattling tram… One of the most rewarding – as well as cheapest – ways to appreciate the charm of Milano is to jump on one of its beautiful, old, rattling, orange trams. The number one, all wooden seats and retro lighting, has the best route in town. Jump on it at Piazza Sempione, where the spectacular early 19th-century marble gate Arco della Pace stands – it will take you through the most elegant streets up to Piazza della Scala, the heart of the city (for information on public transport


Get off here. Visit the Teatro alla Scala – sometimes there are guided tours, ( The world’s most famed opera house is a sober, neo-classical building from the outside but is fittingly dramatic inside: stuccos, gold gilding and red velvet everywhere.

“Old rattling tram interior” Photo © Silvia Massetti
“Old rattling tram interior.”
Photo © Silvia Massetti

In the same area, there is a little, fascinating museum, the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi (, a late 19th-century palazzetto that used to be the family home of a rich Milanese family. The Bagatti Valsecchi wanted to recreate the feel of an Italian Renaissance palazzo and collected furniture, paintings, and everyday life objects. When they could not find what they were looking for, they had it made new so that the house is now a curious mix of genuine originals and fakes. In nearby via Manzoni, there is also one of the oldest and best design shops in Milano, Da Driade – room after room of beautiful objects, bookcases and sofas (

Milano Piazza Duomo Photo © Silvia Massetti
Milano Piazza Duomo Photo © Silvia Massetti

Milano is classy without being ostentatious. In the same street, there is the relatively recent Armani/Via Manzoni 31, a huge and beautiful 1930s building hosting Giorgio Armani’s lines. The elegant façade is something to look at. Getting tired? In less than five minutes’ walk from here, there is the grand dame of Milanese hotels, the Grand Hotel et De Milan. Hit the bar and enjoy the flawless service, the thick carpets, the velvet curtains, the massive skylight, the wonderful armchairs.

Wildly extravagant and pricey, it is the perfect spot for a relaxing, indulgent aperitif ( From here you are just a stone’s throw away from Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Duomo. In the Galleria, there is the original Prada shop – even if you’re not into fashion, this shop is a must. This is the Milanese style at its best, elegant but understated. Off Duomo Square, there is Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Via Torino 17/19). This tiny jewel of a church is by the great Renaissance artist Donato Bramante and contains one of the most daring painted perspectives you are likely to see.

Beautiful art and a good coffee. The first time you see it is always shocking. Leonardo’s “Last Supper” might well be one of the most reproduced images of our times, yet nothing prepares you for the real thing. The fresco takes a whole wall; its colors are luminous and vibrant. It speaks of disbelief, anxiety, shock, yet there is also a weird stillness about it, rendered by its harmonious proportions and spacing.

It encapsulates the whole Renaissance (you must book in advance at, or to have guaranteed Access to Tickets for Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and Milan Museums and Attractions. Next door, there is one of the most spectacular churches in Milano, Santa Maria delle Grazie, a perfect Renaissance church whose decorated vaults and cloisters are one of the highlights of any trip to Milano.

Pastries – Photo © Silvia Massetti
Pastries – Photo © Silvia Massetti

Don’t miss its “frog cloister,” a lovely fountain with four bronze frogs spurting water. Whenever I am in that neighborhood, I never fail to visit one of my all-time favorites, Marchesi café and patisserie (via Santa Maria alla Porta 11a), the oldest shop in Milano (1824). It is a small, wood-paneled gem of a café with delicate pistachio-colored painted walls and an elegant bar that is quintessentially Milanese. The smartly dressed barmen make some of the best espressos and cappuccinos in town. The pastries are to die for. In this same area, there are two outstanding churches San Maurizio, a tiny Renaissance church covered in beautiful frescos and mosaics and, above all, Sant’Ambrogio church, one of the jewels of Milano. It is its severe Romanic façade that makes it unique.

A quiet corner and some window shopping The partly cobbled Brera neighborhood has long lost its bohemian character, but it still manages to keep its old-world charm. The Pinacoteca di Brera ( hosts Milano’s best paintings. Its diminutive size makes it the perfect museum to visit in a couple of hours. It contains masterpieces such as the “Cristo Morto” of Andrea Mantegna and Caravaggio’s the “Cena di Emmaus.” In the same area can be found one of Milano’s “secret” gardens, the Orto Botanico di Brera, the botanical gardens.

Milano has many beautiful gardens, but most are private. The Orto Botanico, which dates back to 1774 and is pleasantly unkempt these days, is an exception. The quietness makes for a welcome break from the usual din of the city. Quitness and simplicity also belong to the recently restored chiostri di San Simpliciano, the cloisters attached to the church of San Simpliciano. They now house a school of religious study so check the opening times.

Milano is shopping heaven – if you can afford it, that is. Any guide will tell you about the Montenapoleone area, where all the big fashion houses have their shops. It is one of the most expensive spots in the world. After 20 minutes, though, you may, like me, find it all rather tedious and prefer to wander off back to reality. One address I would suggest, however, is Cavalli e Nastri (via Brera 2), a chic vintage shop. It’s one for the girls, but even the boys will love the fantastic glamour of their outfits.

End of the excerpt, you can buy the full content of the book “Milan” without advertising.

Author: Stefano Arturi