Though Milan might not necessarily crack the top “must see’s” of Italy for many people, it must be known that there are plenty of amazing and unique things to see and do in this city of high fashion and industry! Take it from someone who lived there as a foreigner for 6 months… Milan, like most places, has its own gems worthy of the experience. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Milan is one of the cheapest destinations to fly to from almost anywhere in Europe (Thanks RyanAir)!
When brainstorming for this blog post, I decided I wanted to offer more than just “things to see” or “things to do” in the city. I tried to think of the activities in Milan that were so memorable for me during my brief time as a resident, and what it was that made the experiences so great (besides the amazing people I shared them with). I hope there are some ideas you can take and apply to your time there, no matter how long or how brief. What’s to come is more of a combo of the things to see and do, offering what I hope will be more specific suggestions to make your time in this unique city that much more enjoyable!
1. Relax with a classic Italian spritz on the Aperol Terrace
A more bitter alcoholic beverage, this drink is a wine-based (prosecco to be exact, yum) cocktail typical of Northeast Italy. While indulging in the local drink, why not also take in one of the most breathtaking views of the city? Grab your friend(s) or even just hit it solo and enjoy the chilled-out, yet classy, vibes while overlooking the iconic Duomo Square and Duomo di Milano. Hint, call ahead of time if you can and make a reservation (especially if you want aperitivo), or prepare to arrive early because this place is a popular spot for those who know about it – for good reason!
Note: The menu is much more affordable (ie. Cocktails are the average price for Milan) here in comparison to its next-door neighbour “Duomo 21”, which offers similar views.
2. Enjoy a gelato from 'la Musica'
Though you can’t really go wrong with Italian gelato in general, many of my Italian friends swore that this was the place to get it from. I have to say, I had no complaints and am more than happy to share this local wisdom.
3. Socialize over aperitivo in Navigli
Quite honestly, the most genius idea for food and drink EVER (Legit, WHY ISN’T THIS A THING EVERYWHERE?!), the concept of the Italian aperitivo is essentially a social function to meet up with friends, while enjoying a cocktail and unlimited hors d’oeuvres around the time of 6:30 - 8:30 pm (more or less). Yes, you heard right, buffet style, WHADDUP. But, it’s more than the food and drink, it’s the true experience of the event itself. All places offering aperitivo in Milan (most restaurants will offer some sort of aperitif) allow you to choose 1 alcoholic (or non-alcoholic) beverage from a set menu with a set price – generally around 10 to 15 euros.
Depending on where you go, the buffet will range from basic olives, nuts, cheese, etc. to all-out food spreads of different types of pasta, sautéed vegetables, pizzas, sandwiches, and more. Some even offer fruit and dessert. If you like, you can even head to certain restaurants for alternative cuisines including Indian, Japanese, and American style food. The idea isn’t to use aperitivo as your dinner, but rather as a social snack to work up your appetite for dinner. That being said, you can find some amazing spots that will offer the works, so it was definitely my dinner more than once!
Aperitivo is very common and popular for both Italians and tourists, and should not be missed as an activity when in the city. Navigli (located near the metro stop of Porto Genova) is the ideal spot to hit as countless restaurants and cafes offer the aperitif, lining the canals that weave through the vibrant area. Lively, fun, and fruitful, you’ll see this is the place to be nearly any evening of the week!
Some suggestions for aperitivo on Navigli:
4. Picnic in Parco Sempione
A 95-acre park located in the historic centre of the city, Parco Sempione resides between the Sforza Castle and the Arco della Pace (two of Milan’s notable landmarks). The city park is home to sculptures, gardens, and plenty of open green space! On any given summer’s day, you’ll be sure to encounter locals enjoying the sunshine – playing music, kicking the football around, or enjoying some snacks and bubbly. It’s also not uncommon for there to be performers, street vendors, food wagons, or even concerts! So why not pack a blanket and a little picnic, and go for a stroll around the park and set up camp for an hour or two, taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful area.
5. Wander through Corso Como
Recognized as one of the trendier areas of Milan, Corso Como is a designated pedestrian street. Another nice spot to grab aperitivo, is also host to many fashion boutiques. Leading to Piazza Gae Aulenti, you can find some of the more modern buildings of Milan and the unique Bosco Verticale (aka. “Vertical Forest”) — a pair of residential towers famous for the use of greenery within architecture. Head to “10 Corso Como”, founded by gallerist and publisher Carla Sozzani in 1990, to experience a micro-world of art displayed through the establishment’s restaurant, garden, art gallery, store, bookshop, and rooftop patio & garden.
6. Hit the shops by Colonne di San Lorenzo
A popular area for teens and young adults to gather in the evenings for a bevy or two, the Colonne di San Lorenzo is a group of ancient Roman ruins located in front of the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Walking distance from Navigli, this spot is also the entrance to a rather hipster area of Milan. Wandering the street, you’ll encounter countless little boutique shops and hole-in-the-wall treat parlours, all at a very affordable price!
7. Ogle at art in Brera District
Known as the “artistic heart of the city”, wandering through this ancient district you’ll be sure to encounter countless small artisan workshops and boutique shops selling canvas and paints. It is also home to the Pinacoteca di Brera, a famous gallery for paintings. If you find yourself in the city during Milan Design Week (held in April), this is the place to be!
8. Book a photoshoot with a photographer in the city
Looking for a unique way to experience and learn about the city, and also come home with some killer shots of your memorable time in Milan? Try booking an Airbnb experience with a local photographer! I booked my shoot with Gregory. He was extremely knowledgeable and made me feel very comfortable. We had a ton of fun exploring unique cafes and some of the most iconic places in Milan. He was also full of fun facts about the city and helpful travel tips. Not to mention, it was kind of cool to have my own little paparazzi experience in such a high-profile city 🙊. To book your own experience with Gregory, click here.
9. Friday night drinks on the Darsena
This harbour in Milan is located where the Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande canals meet. With plenty of space to hang out and lounge, you’ll also find a couple of places to eat and drink. However, on a Friday or Saturday night? This place. Is. Bumpin’. With hundreds of young adults flocking to the area, sharing drinks and dancing to music, it’s an awesome place to meet new people and also save some money – as drinks can be quite pricey in the city, heading to the Darsena will allow you to grab a few of your favourite bevies from a local grocery shop, and still enjoy the social atmosphere.
10. Take a day trip to Lake Como
Okay, I know this isn’t actually in Milan. But, it is one of the most popular day trips away from the city for locals and tourists alike. This stunning lake, surrounded by the cutest little picturesque villages, is only an hour and a half train ride away! Head here for a cool-down and genuine taste of a common weekend escape to the lake.
And there you have it; Ten of my favourite activities to enjoy in Milan. I hope there are a few useful tips in here that will help you plan your next adventure to this iconic city of (more than just) fashion.