Milan was the very first Italian city I visited 28 years ago. I had visited the country for the Christmas and New Year holidays. I remember how cold it was and often even gray, but I also remember being incredibly impressed by the stylish people, many of whom reminded me of those I saw along 5th Avenue in NYC. I was also really captivated by the architectural beauty of the city, the cobblestone streets reflecting an older time and how it all fit so beautifully with the cosmopolitan flair of the city life. Spending the winter holidays in Northern Italy was a highlight in my life as a young traveler.
On my most recent visit, this time with husband and kids, I only had one full day to share as much as I could with my family, since it was their first time in the city, and reconnect with the city that had so impressed me years ago.
Start your morning with a walking tour
I say this often in my posts; taking a city tour is one of the fastest ways to get your bearings in a new town. Because of the short time we were spending in the city, we didn’t want to spend most of getting lost or trying to figure out where we wanted to go first. Because we had such a wonderful experience with Walks of Italy in Venice, we decided to do another tour with them in Milan.
The Duomo Rooftop and Bone Chapel tour was a wonderful way for us to explore some of Milan’s most prominent architectural sites in the span of a morning while also skipping longs lines and getting local tips of where to eat and what to do from our guide. Our guide was really wonderful in engaging the boys and answering all of their questions.
Views from the Duomo rooftop
View of the Bone Chapel
Afternoon lunch while people watching
We ended up having lunch right near the Duomo, along with locals who were on a break from work. One of the things we indulged in throughout our trip in Italy was the food. We also have a tendency to search out places to eat based on the amount of locals eating in them. The Duomo area is highly touristy but it is also in one of Milan’s business centers. We must have skipped 8 or 9 eateries full of tourists before we settled on one bustling with Italian business professionals. This strategy has worked pretty well for me in the past, though more often than not the eateries are located off the beaten path and speak more of the local language than not. In Milan, finding waiters who speak English and dual-language menus is not a problem.
Great food and people watching
My return to Milan with my family made this trip 100 times sweeter than my first.
An afternoon spent having lunch is easy in Italy. The service is not on the speedy side and courses are 4-5 dishes long, so committing, whether you want to or not, 2-3 hours on lunch is not an inconceivable notion. At first it made me antsy. I am not one to linger at a table, especially when there are so many places to explore. But over a 10-day trip I eventually got the hang of it, learned to relax and enjoy the company and conversation of my family while the waiting for the next course to arrive. Plus, it was a wonderful way to watch life around us. The people, the sounds, everything was so exciting.
After lunch we hit up some of my favorite shops, starting with Kiehl’s on Via Torino 34, the largest Kiehl’s store in Europe, as well as the shops in the historic and gorgeous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Built from 1865 to 1877 it is the oldest standing shopping mall in the world. Even if you don’t want to shop it’s worth the visit just to admire the beautiful architecture. There are plenty of cafes there too to relax and people watch.
We arrived to Milan, Italy on one of the busiest weeks of the year, Design Week. This year was Salone de Mobile‘s 55th year and featured over 2,400 exhibitors with over 1,000 events across the city. From fashion and arts to furniture and architecture, designers displayed their craft on all sorts of mediums and we were able to not only admire them, but often purchase much of it at very good prices.
If you happen to visit during the Salone de Mobile, I suggest you bring some comfortable walking shoes and plenty of cash in your wallet. The incredible finds are too hard to resist, and the hours and hours of event hopping across the city, while mingling with locals, is some of the best fun not to be missed.
Awesome shop and even more awesome meetings with Italian designers at Salone de Mobile
Milan was the last leg of our road trip through Italy and the events of the week were something we were totally unaware of, but extremely lucky to have be able to experience first hand. All the people watching, shopping, gallery touring, and artists encounters added a special element to our trip, a reminder that we were in the design capital of the world.
Evening among the cool kids
We rented an AirBnB for almost all the stops in our trip except for a couple. Milan was no exception. We rented a really cute apartment in one of Milan’s most trnediest neighborhoods, Navigli. Navigli reminded me a lot of the East Village in NYC, with it hip, artists community, trendy shops and eatery, diversity and culture-loving scene. (AirBnB link to our apartment rental in Milan). Navigli is a pedestrian-only and cyclist-friendly area. There is parking near the apartment (the host can guide you) and once we parked our car we didn’t use it again till we were ready to head to the airport.
We loved our evening sitting at one of the outdoor eateries with pizza and wine watching the sunset over the canal and the crowds, many of whom were either returning or heading to a Salone festivity or another. This canal is one of the few remaining in the city. It used to be part of a larger system made up of 5 navigable and connected canals around Milan.
Navigli at night
The area is lively, which means it can be noisy at night. Most apartments in Italy (as in Europe in general) don’t have air conditioning, which means on a warm night you may be tempted to want to keep the windows open, except then you are faced with the challenge of sleeping through all the noise from the lower level bars and pedestrian life. Still, we loved it. I felt like I was truly a part of Milanese life and my kids were fascinated with all there was to see around them.
Had our visit only consisted of Milan I wouldn’t have rented a car. Navigating the city is pretty easy and finding a tram or bus to get around was fast and effective. Most of the time we walked as it is such a fun city to explore by foot. There is a metro system that takes you straight to the Malpensa airport as well. Overall, I found driving in Italy to be less intimidating than it is often believed, but then again, I drive in NYC so that might have influenced my experience a bit.
We relied solely on public transportation and walking while in Milan. Best way to explore the city.
Like any major city, Milan is fast and always moving and so it isn’t as “warm” as most places we visited outside of the big city, but yet, everyone we met was super friendly and personable and helpful. I also spoke Italian often, and I always recommend that you try to pick up a few words here and there out of courtesy and to help build that bridge of communication where ever you may travel to.
The food, the sights, the people, the fashion – there was so much to love about Milan, too much to absorb in just a day, but we definitely tried and loved every second.
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