Visit Milano – most interesting unofficial Italy capital

Visit Milano. This post is an excerpt from the book Milan, available in printed and digital formats. – The independent, unbiased, and accurate guide to the city.

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

To most Italians, Milan is the unofficial capital of Italy. Arguably it’s also the most exciting 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. Instead, it has its charms – and certainly enough to keep you entertained for a weekend. It is, arguably, the most exciting 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; a curious, engaging mix. To most Italians, Milano is the unofficial capital of the country.

Milano is Italy’s powerhouse, where the money is made. Money brings people; people create vibe and energy. Milano is the place where “things happen.” 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
Visit Milano – ways to do it.

On an old rattling tram. Jump on one of it’s beautiful, old, rattling, orange trams. The experience is one of the most rewarding ways to appreciate the charm of Milano. It’s also the cheapest. 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. Here you will be in the heart of the city (for information on public transport

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

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. It is fittingly dramatic inside: stuccos, gold gilding and red velvet everywhere.

Museo Bagatti-Valsecchi
Museo Bagatti-Valsecchi Photo © Paolobon140
Visit Milano – what to see

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 wealthy Milanese family. Facebook

The Bagatti Valsecchi wanted to recreate the feel of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. They wanted to collect furniture, paintings, and everyday life objects. But could not find what they were searching for. They had it made new. That’s why the house is now a curious mix of genuine originals and fakes.

One of the oldest and best design shops in Milano, Da Driade, is in nearby via Manzoni. Here, you have 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 vast and beautiful 1930s building hosting Giorgio Armani’s lines. The elegant façade is something to admire.

Are you getting tired? The grand dame of Milanese hotels, the Grand Hotel et De Milan, is less than five minutes’ walk from here. Hit the bar and enjoy the flawless service, the thick carpets, the velvet curtains, the massive skylight, the beautiful armchairs. Wildly extravagant and pricey, it is the perfect spot for a relaxing, indulgent aperitif (

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Photo © Silvia Massetti
Getting to the Gran Salon of Milan: the Galleria

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, you should see it. This shop is a must, 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; it contains one of the most daring painted perspectives you are likely to see.

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
Visit Milano – the major attraction: Leonardo’s Last Supper.

Leonardo’s “Last Supper” is one of the most reproduced images. 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 You will find a lot of information on the Last Supper on the website

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.

Marchesi 1824 café, and patisserie
Marchesi 1824 café, and patisserie
Something for your sweet tooth

I never fail to visit one of my all-time favorites, Marchesi 1824 café, and patisserie. It’s the oldest shop in Milano (1824), in via Santa Maria Alla Porta 11a. It’s a small, wood-paneled gem of a café. It has delicate pistachio-colored painted walls. This elegant bar is quintessentially Milanese. The smartly dressed barmen make some of the best espressos and cappuccinos in town. The pastries are to die for.

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

Two outstanding churches are in this same area. San Maurizio, the first, is a tiny Renaissance church covered in beautiful frescos and mosaics. Above all, Sant’Ambrogio is one of the jewels of Milano. Sant’Ambrogio’s severe Romanic façade makes it unique.

It’s a quiet corner and has some window shopping. The partly cobbled Brera neighborhood has long lost its unique character. Still, it keeps its old-world charm. The Pinacoteca di Brera ( hosts Milano’s best paintings. Its tiny size makes it the perfect museum to visit in a couple of hours. It contains masterpieces. Andrea Mantegna’s “Cristo Morto” and Caravaggio’s “Cena di Emmaus” are there. In the same area, you can find one of Milano’s “secret” gardens, the Orto Botanico di Brera, the botanical gardens.

Visit Milano – something different

Milano has many beautiful gardens, 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.

The recently restored chiostri di San Simpliciano give you quietness and simplicity. It’s the cloisters attached to the church of San Simpliciano. Check the opening times, they now house a school of religious study.

Milano is shopping heaven if you can afford it. 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 places in the world. I would suggest Cavalli e Nastri (via Brera 2), a chic vintage shop for the girls. The boys too will love the fantastic glamour of their outfits. After 20 minutes, you may find it all tedious and prefer to wander off back to reality.

End of the excerpt, you can buy the book “Milan.”