Milan has been declared the fashion capital of the world since the 16th century. However, this Northern Italian city has a lot more to offer then just the latest clothes on this season’s runway!
Milan is the capital of the Northern Italian region of Lombardy, and is the second most populous city in Italy (after Rome). It is a thriving city, is Italy’s centre of commerce, the fourth wealthiest city within the EU and the wealthiest non-capital within the EU.
Milan has been a settlement since roughly 600 BCE, and was the capital of the Western Roman Empire in 286 BCE. Due to this, when you are walking around the city, you’ll come across some Roman ruins that have been excavated and put on show for the general public. Columns of St Lawrence are 16 marble Roman columns are one of the major Roman ruins you’ll find within the city.
Milan has an easily accessible metro service, and a great place to start your adventure is right in the centre of town at Cairoli Castello station (Red line). A metro ticket will cost you €1.50 (2019) for a 90-minute journey on all the lines in the metropolitan area.
From here you’ll be directly in front of Sforza Castle. This castle has been around since the 14th century, and in the 15th century it was built into the structure it is today. It has remained one of the largest citadels in Europe and was in use until 1862 by the Dukes of the region.
These days it houses museums and famous art collections from prominent Italian artists. Entrance into the castle grounds are free and if you’d like to see all the Museums within the castle, as well as the Leonardo mai visto exhibitions, a ticket will cost you €10.00.
Whether you are a lover of art or not, to see the works of Leonardo – one of history’s greatest minds – truly is worth the small entrance fee.
At the back, attached to the castle, is Sempione Park. This is a great spot for a walk among nature, and there are plenty of spots for you to take a seat, have some lunch and people watch.
Within these gardens you’ll find bars, cafes, a library, aquarium, a running track and a lake where you can walk over the “Bridge of the Little Mermaids”. At the far end of the park you’ll come across Arco della Pace, which is a triumphal arch and a gate into the next district, and is dated back to the 19th century. However, a gate has been here since the Roman period.
La Scala (Teatro alla Scala) is located just east of Sforza Castle. This opera theatre was opened in 1778 and is considered one of the leading opera theatres in the world, with some of the greatest artists (not just in Opera) performing there.
Just north of this you will find Pinacoteca di Brera. This is a public art gallery that contains works of art from the Renaissance and medieval periods, such as The Dead Christ and Three Mourners by Andrea Mantegna. Tickets will cost you €12.00, but is free if you are there on the first Sunday of every month.
Next, some might rush to see one of the more iconic sights within the city. Duomo di Milano, also known as Milan cathedral, is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. It ranks third behind Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil and Seville Cathedral in Spain.
This Cathedral is dedicated to the nativity of St Mary and was only completed in 1965, taking over six centuries to finish from its inception in 1386. There are sections within the Cathedral itself (underneath) like the Battistero Paleocristiano that date back to the year 335.
There are several tickets you can buy to see parts of the Cathedral. These range between €8 and €25, with the add-on being the rooftop climb (either by stairs or lift). A general pass will get you access to the Cathedral, Crypt of St Charles, Archaeological Area, Duomo Museum and Church of San Gottardo.
The inside is incredibly beautiful with pieces of art and amazing architecture everywhere. The only downside I found to the place was the sheer volume of tourists there, but what can you expect!
Take your time through all the areas and don’t let the hustle and bustle of others make you speed up your experience. I decided to take the stairs to the rooftop, and it is an easy climb for people of all ages, unless you have an injury or a physical condition.
The rooftop gives you great views of the city and you can see the sheer size of the queues trying to get into the cathedral below in the square.
Right by Milan Cathedral is the Royal Palace of Milan. This was the home to the Duke of the region up until the 16th century, when it became the home of the region’s government. Built in a Neo-Classical style the Palace has detailed architecture and stonework all over the outside.
Today it serves as a culture centre and hosts many international art exhibitions for you to enjoy.
The next iconic place to visit is Santa Maria della Grazie (Holy Mary of Grace). This church is a Dominican convent and has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1980. Built in 1497 it contains the famous work of art by Leonardo da Vinci known as The Last Supper, which was painted in the 1490s.
Now it is important to know that seeing this amazing work of art is not as easy as just buying a ticket. These tickets are sometimes sold out months in advance. So much so that if you live outside the EU you may have to book your trip around the time slot you get to see the mural.
Even though this is quite frustrating and catches many tourists out, it is worth seeing.
A quirky stop for you to visit in the city is Cimitero Monumentale. Also known as Monumental Cemetery, it is one of the two largest cemeteries in the city and is known for the large number of artistic tombs and monuments scattered throughout its grounds. Photography of the tombs is allowed but be sure to be respectful.
One final stop was San Siro Stadium. I had managed to score some tickets to see Inter Milan play. For a lot of football fans, getting the opportunity to watch a match in Italy within the Series A is an amazing spectacle. The sheer volume of noise from the crowd is deafening and can be heard for miles around the stadium. I recommend all fans of football – or even sport in general – to make sure you try and get tickets to see either AC or Inter Milan during your visit (Good luck if you want to get tickets for the derby match between the two clubs!)
Milan really does have more to offer then just fashion. This city is scattered with hundreds of other monuments, ruins and sites for you to see on your visit. It is a city that can be completed as a weekend trip or even over a week for those that like to take things slow, but either way you won’t regret a visit to this beautiful city in the north of Italy.