Since moving to Basel, Milan has been top on my list of nearby cities to visit. Julian and I have several friends who live there and they all rave about this city. While Milan is far from the prettiest city in Italy, it’s where the action is happening. It’s the financial capital of Italy and competes with Paris as the fashion capital of the world. For young people, it’s the hot place to be and so we had to check it out for ourselves.
From Basel, Milan is only four hours by train or one hour by plane. We decided to take the train because Julian and I find it much easier and less stressful than flying. But besides that, the journey from Basel to Milan is an incredibly scenic trip. On our way there, we passed quaint towns and villages nestled at the foot of the snowcapped Alps. And on the way back, we passed through the famously stunning Lake Como and Lugano. Another advantage to taking the train–Milan’s train station is very centrally located whereas the airport is a ways out of the city. Upon arrival we just hopped off the train and took a 5 minute cab ride to our hotel.
Friday night we got in late to Milan and headed straight to our hotel. We decided to stay at Hotel VIU after finding it for a great deal on the Hotels Tonight app. VIU just opened two months ago in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Chinatown. The building is sleek and modern with a vertical garden wall on both sides. The rooms were very spacious (especially for Europe) and the bed was incredibly comfortable (a very important factor for me!). The staff also went above and beyond to make our stay as enjoyable as possible. But the best part of the VIU is definitely its rooftop terrace, featuring a pool and 360° views of the city skyline. This past weekend, the weather in Milan was ideal. It was warm and sunny but not too hot and we thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the terrace whenever we had a free moment.
Brera District for Brunch
Saturday morning, we woke up to clear blue skies and decided to start our day with a cappuccino on the terrace. The view of the Alps was so breathtaking from the rooftop that we almost didn’t want to leave! But we hadn’t come to Milan to sit by the pool so we headed off to see the sights.
Our first destination was the the Brera district, the artistic heart of the city. We strolled the streets of this ancient district taking photos at every turn before meeting some friends for brunch at God Save the Food. The restaurant’s outdoor seating is positioned right in front of a majestic 15th century church and it was the perfect place to enjoy the weather. The other great thing about this restaurant is that it has something for everyone. God Save the Food offers everything from pancakes to club sandwiches, pizza, and woks. You can’t go wrong because it’s all delicious.
Historic City Center
After brunch, we walked around the historic city center. Our first stop was the Duomo, Milan’s magnificent cathedral. The Duomo took over six centuries to complete (from 1386 to 1965) and after seeing it in person, I can understand why. Its facade is incredibly intricate and its gleaming white marble is stunning. Unfortunately, we did not see the Duomo’s interior because the line was enormous and we didn’t feel like waiting for hours. Tip: If you’d like to see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie church, book your tickets way in advance or else you’ll miss out on it!
From the Duomo, we walked across the piazza (or city square) to Milan’s famous Galleria. Named after the first king of Italy, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. It is also certainly one of the most beautiful. I was mesmerized by its glass vaulted arches, gorgeous facade, and the sheer scale of it. It’s only fitting that the Galleria houses the most luxe shops, including the original Prada. Exiting the Galleria, we found ourselves in front of another famous Milanese landmark–La Scala. While it’s not particularly impressive from the exterior, the interior of this opera house is exquisite. It’s definitely on my bucket list to attend an opera at this Milanese institution.
Shopping in Milan’s Fashion District
Next, we walked to Via Monte Napoleone, the most important street of Milan’s fashion district. Here is where you will find all the big designer names like Dior, Armani, and Gucci. If you’re like me and the shops on this street are out of your budget, it’s still worth visiting for top-notch window shopping and street style inspo.
In pursuit of stores more in our price range, we headed to the smaller boutiques on nearby Via Santa Marta. Our Italian friend Ale took us to some of her favorite spots and I loved the eclectic and trendy shops on this street. Don’t miss Wait and See with its funky clothes and gifts, Osanna Visconti for unique pieces for the home, and Aqua del Carmen, where the saleswomen are a delight and the pieces are oh so chic. For both men and women, check out Biffi. Biffi carries a wide variety of brands, from high-end designers to small Italian brands. Julian loved the high quality but very reasonably priced clothes at the men’s shop and left with several new additions to his wardrobe.
Aperitifs at Pasticceria Cucchi
After our shopping spree, we took a break at Pasticceria Cucchi. Ale had recommended it to us and it was the perfect place to grab a drink and rest our feet. As I looked around the pasticceria, I saw many people with a bright orange colored cocktail. Julian told me it was an Aperol Spritz, the most popular aperitif in Italy, and insisted I try it. It was love at first sip. Similar to Campari but sweeter in taste, an Aperol Spritz is a magical infusion of sweet and bitter oranges with prosecco and is best served over a lot of ice. It’s my new go-to drink this summer! While we didn’t try any sweets (we were still full from brunch), the pastries and cakes looked divine. We also loved the fact that mini savory pastries and fresh raw vegetables came free of charge.
Before heading back to the hotel, we wanted to check out the Navigli District. Named after the canal that runs through it, Navigli is an artsy, up-and-coming neighborhood where you can find small shops, galleries, and excellent restaurants. We encountered a lively scene, full of young people enjoying the weather in cafes alongside the canal. We wished we could’ve hung out here longer but we had to return to our hotel to get ready for dinner.
Local Hot Spots
For dinner, we joined another Italian friend and his group of friends at local hot spot Drogheria Milanese. This restaurant was bustling with activity on a Saturday night. I ordered the calamari to start and, on the recommendation of our friend, the Milanese version of a pork chop. Drogheria Milanese is loud and hot with an overwhelming menu, but if you’re looking for an authentic Milanese experience, this is the place to go.
After dinner, we set off for another authentic experience–a Milanese nightclub. We went to Il Patuscino, a tiny, packed karaoke club full of Italians belting out Italian songs at the top of their lungs. I’m pretty sure Julian and I were the only non-Italians in the room 😂. But the energy was contagious and soon we found ourselves singing along and having a great time, Milanese style. The only downside to going out in Milan is that Uber doesn’t exist there and when we wanted to leave, there were no cabs to be found! We ended up having to walk all the way back to our hotel.
Exploring Porta Monforte
Sunday morning, we woke up to another perfect day and spent the morning enjoying our hotel’s rooftop terrace. For lunch, we were invited to the home of Julian’s family friends in the elegant Porta Monforte district. After a traditional Italian meal of pasta, a rolled omelette, and veal, they insisted on showing us around the neighborhood. They told us “The true beauty of Milan lies behind closed doors” and proceeded to convince us this was true.
Over the course of a few hours, they took us to see stunning old courtyards, a private residence with flamingos roaming the verdant garden, and a lovely 1930s villa. As we strolled, the sounds of piano music accompanied us. We were very fortunate to be visiting Milan during Piano City, the one weekend a year when the whole city turns into a concert hall. During our walk, our hosts also shared some local lore and pointed out the three story penthouse of Dolce and Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli’s apartment, and the spot where Maurizio Gucci was murdered. Monforte was by far the most beautiful district we saw in Milan and we were so glad we didn’t miss it.
Unfortunately, we had a train to catch and were not able to see all of the sights on our list. But since we had such a good time in Milan we’re already discussing when we can come back. If you’re planning on visiting Italy, don’t skip Milan, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this chic and bustling metropolis.
Only have one day in Milan? Check out this great guide to make the most out of your day there.