Ten Things to Do during a Weekend in Milan
Elegant, chaotic and beguiling by turn, Milan is stuffed full of ancient monuments, sophisticated shops and world-class museums and galleries. Here are the ten best things to do during a weekend in Milan. The perfect size for a short city break, Milan has an excellent, integrated public transport system – the best time to travel is in the middle of the day after rush hour – and most of her major sights are within easy walking distance of each other. First stop on Saturday should be the centro storico where most of the popular sights are found, including the Duomo, the majestic Gothic cathedral adorned with 135 spires and 2,245 statues; this magnificent structure was begun in 1386 but not finished until 1965. Inside, the floors are of complex patterned marble and its five aisles are dotted with Renaissance and Baroque tombs and side chapels. If the weather is good, take the elevator (left-hand exterior wall of the cathedral) up to the roof for unrivalled views over Milan to the Alps. Then head to the Museo del Duomo in the Palazzo Reale, just right of the Duomo, where treasures from the cathedral are displayed in chronological order. Darkened rooms full of carved stone angels compete for attention with Renaissance sculptures of the Madonna, bejeweled crucifixes and tapestries; there’s a cluster of ugly gargoyles and lovely 15th-century stained-glass as well as wooden models of the cathedral. From there, walk across the Piazza Duomo to the glorious Art Nouveau Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to discover the upmarket stores, including Prada, Gucci, Tod’s and Swarovski, and bag a table for traditional Milanese pasta and risotto dishes at glamorous Zucca – all glittering frescoes, wood panels and marble counters – for a late lunch. In the afternoon visit Milan’s best art collection, the Pincoteca di Brera, for a romp through Italian art from medieval to Surrealism, via elaborate Renaissance altarpieces, Baroque works, Mannerism and the Italian Impressionists. Masterpieces include Cristo Morto by Andrea Mantegna (1480); Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin (1504); and Caravaggio’s somber Supper at Emmaus (1601). Recent work includes pieces by sculptor Marino Marini and Amedeo Modigliani. Next, nip down the road to explore hallowed network of shopping streets in the Quad d’Oro, Italy’s premier designer shopping area. If it’s YSL, Chanel, or Versace you’re after, this is the place to be. Don’t miss the lovely antique glassware at Vetrerie di Empoli and do stop off for an espresso at Gran Caffè Cova (both on Via Montenapoleone). By night opera fans should dress up for the plush seats and incredible acoustics of La Scala – but remember to book tickets online way in advance. On Sunday dive into some of Milan’s historic churches: try Sant’Eustorgio for its multicolored 15th-century Cappella Portinari; San Lorenzo Maggiore for the Corinthian columns standing proudly outside and the fragments of gold mosaic inside; or (book in advance) pay a visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s controversial Cenacolo Vinciano (The Last Supper) in Santa Maria della Grazie. Buy lunch in the delicious gourmet deli Peck in Via Spadari and walk up to the tree-lined avenues of Parco Sempione to enjoy a family-friendly picnic before diving in to the museums in Castello Sforzesco; the best is undoubtedly the Museo d’Arte Antica, where highlights include Michelangelo’s unfinished but moving Rondanini Pietà. In the evening, stroll the buzzing cobbled streets of Brera for Milan’s nightly passeggiata and find a table in one of the many trattorie of Via Fiori Chiari. **Written by Sasha Heseltine
Adorned with 135 marble spires and 2,245 marble statues, this magnficently intricate Gothic structure was begun in 1386 by Galeazzo Visconti III (1351-1402), the first duke of Milan. It was not expanded until 1809, when Napoleon decided it was just the place for his coronation as King of Italy. Restoration is an ongoing concern in a structure such as this and, indeed, the most wide-ranging sprucing-up operation ever has been going on for several years now.
Inside the duomo the floors are of complex patterned marble and light streams in through the jewel-like stained-glass windows. Don’t miss Mark Wallinger’s evocative Via Dolorosa in the Treasury, a flickering metaphor for Christ’s last journey to the cross. On a clear day, take the elevator (the entrance is craftily hidden on the outside left-hand wall of the cathedral) up among the statuary for unrivalled views over the city to the mountains in the north.
Museo del Duomo
The newest and shiniest of Milan’s museums opened in November 2013 on the ground floor of the Palazzo Reale, just to the right of the Duomo (cathedral) on the city’s central piazza. This cleverly curated and fascinating exhibition showcases innumerable treasures sourced from the Duomo between its foundation in 1307 and present day, displayed in chronological order. Darkened rooms full of carved stone angels compete for attention with Renaissance sculptures of the Madonna, bejeweled crucifixes and tapestries; there’s a startling cluster of ugly gargoyles and some lovely 15th-century stained-glass as well as wooden models of the cathedral.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Take a seat at one of the cafes in the glorious Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, sip a drink, eat an ice, or sample a snack, and watch the world go by. Be warned that sitting outdoors will cost at least $10 per person! The choice goes from Biffi, a long-established café that in the early part of the twentieth century, was even featured in paintings by the Italian Futurists, to the Gucci café, a bijou space outside the eponymous store. Zucca is perhaps the most famous cafe. Before you leave, take a peek at some of the stores that grace the Galleria. The original Prada store – dating from 1913 – is lovely, while relative newcomers such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Tod’s, offer lots of opportunities to acquire lovely gifts for friends back home.
Dance on the private parts of the bull mosaic for an intoxicating round of good luck!
Claim your bella figura to brave the hallowed network of shopping streets in the Quad d’Oro, Italy’s premier designer shopping area. If it’s Gucci, Prada, YSL, or Versace you‘re after, here’s your natural habitat. Shop for logo-ed belts, bags and shoes in a series of extravagantly expensive boutiques just north of the Duomo. Watch the Milanese smart set stalk past, take home beautifully gilded and colored glass from Vetrerie di Empoli and stop off for a pitstop espresso at Gran Caffè Cova (both on Via Montenapoleone) when your credit cards are all worn out.
Milan’s castle is a tranquil place where you can walk and relax, see a museum or six if you have the time, or just sit and watch the world go by for a while. A veritable feast of crenellations, machicolations and watchtowers, the castle has filled several roles over the last seven centuries. In the 14th and 15th, it was home to the Dukes of Milan, an army barracks from the 16th to the 19th, and is a museum of museums today. No fewer than seven of them.
Pick and choose: bypass the uninspiring collection of Egyptian mummies to enjoy the matchless artwork in the Museo d’Arte Antica, including Michelangelo’s unfinished and highly emotive Rondanini Pietà, beautifully presented against a background of dark slate. On the first floor of the palace you’ll find a collection of regal furniture and a picture gallery overflowing with religious paintings; look out for Jusepe de Ribera’s spectral Holy Hermit and two vast Venetian scenes by Canaletto.
Basilica and Museo di Sant'Eustorgio
On trendy Corso di Porta Ticinese, this splendid basilica has a museum bulging with church artifacts and an almost-surreal chapel in the chapterhouse. Originally built in the 11th century, Sant’Eustorgio has been much reworked over the years; the present Neo-Romanesque façade dates from 1865. The museum entrance is to the left of the basilica’s main door, close to the Paleo-Christian cemetery discovered under the church in the 1960s. The chapterhouse of the Dominican monastery and sacristy contain gold and silver reliquaries, tapestries, and crucifixes. Wander through frescoed St Paul’s and St Francis’s chapels to the extraordinary 15th-century Cappella Portinari, built by Florentine banker Pigello Portinari as memorial to St Peter. The domed roof looks like acid-colored snakeskin and the walls were frescoed by Vincent Foppa (c.1430–c.1515) with scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and St Peter. The elaborate marble Arca di San Pietro Martiri dominating this chapel houses St Peter’s remains; it is the masterpiece of Pisan sculptor Giovanni Balduccio (c.1290–1339) and consists of an ark supported by five red marble columns and statues of the Virtues. The foundations of the original 4th-century church are behind the altar in the present basilica, which contains the purported relics of the three wise men in the Sarcophagus of the Magi.