A guide for a on-the-budget one-day trip to Milano. The city is not only for fashionistas and serial shopper. Neither is it an exhausting urban environment if you know where to go for find peace and quiet. You might end up buying something for yourself at the end of the day, though.
I started my day in Milano at the main train station, Milano Centrale. The building itself deserves a few minutes of your attention. Located in the north of the city centre, it was inaugurated in 1931 and has since become the largest train station in Europe. Its history is not the brightest as it was used to deport Jews to death camps during World War II. Nowadays it is always busy and displays a puzzling blend of styles, including art nouveau, liberty and fascist architectures.
After staying four days in Genoa on the coast, I was curious to explore Milan for the few hours that I managed to save by taking a very early train.
I headed out onto the Piazza Duca d’Aosta and straight south on Via Vittor Pisani. The closest you get to the heart of the city, the more monuments, museums and cultural attractions there are. I passed the Palazzo Anguissola and La Scala, the opera theatre and headed inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Milan is known as a world capital city of fashion, design and shopping. Wandering through the streets, it did feel like it was simply one gigantic, open-air, shopping centre. The gallery Vittorio Emanuele II at the very heart of the city is Italy’s oldest shopping mall. And even you are not a fan of spending money on clothes and items, it is a historical landmark worth seeing. I liked the bookshops there, the high glass ceilings and the sweets in the windows.
I am not a big shopper myself. I hate the crowds and having to navigate in it in the street. I don’t like malls. The worse places I have been in Milan were the Quadrilatero della Moda and the nearby Piazza San Babila. If you need to take the bus to Linate airport, take it near the Duomo and not at the mall. However, if you’re looking for places to shop, those two need to be on your list. The Quadrilatero della Moda is where you will find all the upscale and luxury brands like Hermes, Tiffany, Balenciaga… Another hotspot is Corso Como 10, the temple of art and design.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II comes out on the Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral square. People are queuing every day to get in the largest gothic cathedral in the world and climb up on its roof. Unfortunately, I only had a few hours to see the city so I decided not to try to get a spot. The building is very impressive. It took almost 600 years to complete its construction!
There are many statues, monuments and historical remains scattered all around the city. I like to walk randomly and take notes if I see something interesting and want to know more about it.
I kept going south, then west at the Basilica di Sant’Eufemia. There are many cute places to sit and have coffee in this area. I took a break on a bench in the park Giovanni Paolo II, behind the Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore. The purpose of the building is actually not clear. It was built in Roman times but the exact date of construction, who commissioned it and why is uncertain. It is a remaining symbol of the legacy of the Roman empire in Milan.
The weather was like during my visit to Cinque Terre: cloudy with small episodes of rain and moments of bright sunlight. It did not prevent me from enjoying my time as it at least cleared the crowd a bit!
Finding peace and quiet and some more shopping
Once out of the basilica, I passed through the Porta Ticinese Antica and had a look at the small antique market at the Parrocchia Sant’Eustorgio. The atmosphere around starts to change from there. Buildings are smaller, the streets are quieter and people seem more relaxed. I reached the canals and the Navigli neighbourhood, and it felt like I had left Milan behind and was now in a small village.
I wandered along one of the canals noting the completely different architecture than the area of the train station where I had started my journey just a couple of hours earlier. It also feels much greener thanks to the proximity of the water and of some parks. It is also a pedestrian area. The Ticinese Municipal Market is a must-visit! I was lucky to be in Milan on a Saturday, flea market day in Navigli. Even if you are not into shopping, it is hard to resist rummaging through old vinyl records, silver rings, newspapers from the last century and second-hand clothes.
To keep up with the old-fashioned atmosphere, I took one of the old trams to go back to the city centre. Line 1 is very popular for this. Once back at the Duomo, I headed towards another popular area, the Castello Sforzesco. The fortress was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan and later enlarged to become one of the biggest citadels in Europe.
I arrived there by the via Dante, a busy pedestrian street where artists come to show off their talents. The entrance to the park is free and it is a very popular place to meet and hang out. You can sit on benches or even on the grass, people play music, games, talk and kiss under the trees. I felt very isolated for the noise and anxiety of the city. At the end of the park, people sit on concrete around the Arco della Pace (“Arch of Peace”).
By then, the sun had started to slowly decline and it was time to think about walking back and catching my bus to the airport. I went for one last Italian cup of tea in my personal heaven, the Moleskine café located nearby in the pleasant Corso Garibaldi. Another place for, you know, shopping.