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Sophistication reaches new levels in Milan. The financial and commercial centre of Italy, Milan attracts fashion icons and opera lovers, as well as the young, the beautiful and the bold. Shopping, eating and clubbing are serious business here, so it's no surprise that the city boasts one of the world's most beautiful shopping malls, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Equally vying for admiration are the Milanese icons of the La Scala Theatre and the Gothic Duomo, one of the world's largest churches.
Milan's frenetic pace surges ahead in its drive towards progress, forsaking the lengthy siestas enjoyed in other parts of the country. The city's urban tentacles stretch for miles, although the significant historical attractions are contained between the two landmark sites - the Duomo and the Sforzesco Castle. These reside within the inner loop of the city's concentric design, which is split into four squares: Piazza Duomo, Piazza Cairoli, Piazza Cordusio and Piazza San Babila.
The modern civic centre lies to the northwest around Mussolini's colossal train station built in 1931. The cityscape around here is dominated by skyscrapers from which the sleek Pirelli Tower emerges. Lastly, the Fiera district stretching around Porta Genova station is the hub for trade and fashion fairs.
One of the world's largest Gothic cathedrals, the Duomo presides over the Milanese Piazza bearing its name. Construction began in 1386 and continued sporadically until Napoleon ordered its completion in 1809. Its lengthy creation bestowed on it 3,400 statues, 135 spires and 96 gargoyles, as well as a colourful mosaic of stained glass windows. The 16th-century marble tomb of Giacomo de Medici lies in the southern transept, and lying buried at its heart is St Charles Borromeo, the cathedral's most important benefactor. Every year in May and September, a nail from the cross of Christ is displayed to worshippers, retrieved from its resting-place by the bishop who is hoisted to the nivola to reach it. Across the piazza is the Museo del Duomo, displaying the treasures from the cathedral, and the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, showcasing Italian Futurist art.
This world-famous opera house rests on the site of the Church of Santa Maria alla Scala. For opera fanatics. seeing a performance at La Scala is the experience of a lifetime. The La Scala Museum is also worth a visit, providing a wealth of mementos from the opera house dedicated to the nation's beloved composers and performers, such as Rossini, Puccini and Toscanini. Two halls are devoted to Verdi alone, containing memorabilia such as the spinet on which he learned to play, hand-written scores and the baton given to him after the momentous reception of his best-loved work, Aida. There are also exhibitions featuring some of the elaborate costumes worn in the theatre over the years, and mementoes from the plays and performances.
The church and convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular attractions in Milan. Located in the refectory next to the church is Leonardo's famous painting The Last Supper and although the church is an attraction in its own right, it's this iconic masterpiece that draws so many admirers. Controversy has erupted over the removal of layers of corrective over-painting completed in the 18th and 19th-centuries. The painting has endured more than hot debate, managing to escape the bombing during WWII that destroyed the roof of the refectory.
The gargantuan 15th-century Sforzesco Castle is one of Milan's foremost monuments, conveniently located in the centre of the city. It contains three museums, the most notable of which is the Museum of Historic Art. Within its collection is the famous Pieta Rondanini, Michelangelo's final sculpture, as well as paintings by Mantegna, Bellini, da Vinci and Fra Filippo Lippi. The two other museums within the Castle's ramparts are the Museum of Applied Arts and the Archaeological Museum, offering unusual exhibitions showcasing musical instruments, Egyptian art and other unexpected things. The castle grounds are big and lovely to stroll, with no entry fee meaning it's a great place to come for some fresh air.
This remarkable museum is a popular tourist attraction and a fitting tribute to one of history's greatest minds. Within the Leonardo Gallery of the museum is a collection of da Vinci's ingenious designs, detailing everything from plans for war machines to architectural visions. Applied physics is the focus of another room, in keeping with the museum's tribute to the history of science, and there are also departments for energy, communication and transport. There are loads of interactive exhibits and scientific experiments to actively participate in.
Housing one of Italy's finest collections of medieval and Renaissance art, the 17th-century Pinacoteca di Brera is by far the best collection of northern Italian paintings. Many of the masterpieces here were secured by Napoleon, who used the Palazzo as a storeroom for all the art he confiscated from public and private holdings. Three of Italy's great masterpieces are found here, namely Andrea Mantegna's Dead Christ, Raphael's Betrothal of the Virgin and Piero della Francesca's Madonna with Saints. The collection also includes notable works by Caravaggio. One of Milan's most popular tourist attractions, the Pinacoteca di Brera houses mostly religious art and will impress even the uninitiated with its vast collection and the stunning building.
The Orto Botanico di Brera is a botanical garden located behind the Pinacoteca di Brera in the centre of Milan. The garden has greenhouses from the 19th century that are now used by the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as flower beds and elliptical ponds from the 18th century. Orto Botanico di Brera is home to one of the oldest ginkgo biloba trees in Europe, and various other mature botanical specimens can be found within the grounds. The Orto Botanico di Brera is small by botanical garden standards but is well worth visiting for its historical charm and the originality of the mixture of art and nature that often results from the influence of the Academy of Fine Arts.
The Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio is one of the oldest churches in Milan, built by Bishop Ambrose between 379 and 386 AD. Located in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions were buried, it was originally called Basilica Martyrum. In 1099, the church was rebuilt in the Romanesque architectural style but the basilica plan of the original edifice was maintained, including a portico with elegant arches in the front entrance. Of the two bell towers, the left and higher tower dates back to 1144 AD. Inside there is an apse mosaic from the early 13th century portraying the Christ Pantokrator, an inspirational religious and artistic artefact. As well as the tomb of Emperor Louis II, there are also mummified bishops in its chapels.
The chic and historic city of Milan provides plenty of mystifying and magical sights for children of all ages to explore while on holiday. From museums to parks, there's something for everyone in Milan.
Take the kids on the big red hop-on hop-off city tour bus, exploring the streets of Milan over the space of 90 minutes. The bus departs from various locations on a schedule along two routes, such as Piazza Duomo or Via Montenapoleone. The Milan Aquarium on Via Gardio, featuring over 100 species of fish and other marine animals, will mesmerise the children, while the Planetario Ulrico Hoepli (planetarium) on Corso Venezia educates and captivates young minds.
A popular theme park located in the Lake Garda area, Gardaland features about 40 different attractions and activities for kids of all ages, including rollercoasters, dinosaur island, a rapids ride and a fantasy kingdom with singing animal characters. Aquatica on Via Rivoltana is a popular waterpark too, where children enjoy pools, slides and rafting.
During the winter months, when outdoor activities with children are not an option, take them to the Teatro delle Marionette (Puppet Theatre), where classic fairy tales and folk stories are performed. Toddlers will love the Play Planet on Via Veglia, where ball pits, climbing walls, tunnels, tubes and obstacle courses will tire them out and allow parents to enjoy a night to themselves.
The climate of Milan is Mediterranean, but like any large urban metropolis, buildings and human activity affect the local micro-climate. In the case of Milan this makes the weather rather more extreme. Summers can be hot and humid, with temperatures rising above 86°F (30°C) during August. The mountains behind the city protect Milan somewhat from the severity of winter, but the weather is very chilly with temperatures occasionally dropping below freezing. Winter also brings rain showers and heavy fog. Spring (March to May) and early summer (June) are the best time to visit Milan weather-wise, although autumn (September to November) is also pleasant. In late summer, particularly August, it gets uncomfortably hot and many locals depart for their summer break, leaving some restaurants and hotels closed. Winter is a bit cold for most tourists but Milan's attractions are world-class during any season. Milan has a busy event calendar and unless you are travelling particularly to attend a big festival it is best to avoid international events like Milan Fashion Week, because the city gets crowded and more expensive. Essentially Milan is a year-round tourist destination.
Milan is almost as famous for its cuisine as for its fashion scene, and foodies will be in paradise in this city. Milan's restaurants serve everything from traditional local fare to exotic international cuisine. But the city is known to be less keen on pasta than the rest of Italy, instead focusing more on rice-based dishes. Classic Italian dishes include the usual pastas and pizzas, as well as salumi friulani (cured meats), risottos and excellent seafood.
Many traditional Milanese restaurants and trattorias (casual Italian eateries) can be found in the Brera, Navigli and city-centre. For good pizza when eating out in Milan, try one of the restaurants on Via Palermo. Porta Venezia, Via Victor Hugo and Via Manzoni have more international options, serving Mediterranean, Asian and fusion cuisine.
While there will always be a number of Milan restaurants open to diners, it's best to call ahead for reservations if you are visiting one of the more popular restaurants. Some establishments add a service charge to the bill and if not, a 10 percent gratuity is an acceptable tip. Dining out in Milan can be expensive, but it's extremely rewarding to the palette.
With small tables dotted along the banks of a canal, this trattoria serves simple, hearty and unfussy fare. Guests can sample some Triestino cuisine by starting off with a mixed platter of cured meats called salumi friulani, from the region famous for the most delicate prosciutto in Italy. Other favourites are Triestino sarde in saor (vinegar-kissed fried sardines) and for the carnivores, the manzo in salsa verde (beef in a herb sauce). Closed Sundays for dinner. Reservations recommended.
One of Milan's most popular pizzerias is bustling from early dinnertime until the night owls pop by for a late-night snack. The restaurant exudes a wonderfully rustic ambience with exposed copper pipes tracing across the ceilings of rooms overflowing with laughter and long, raucous tables. The wood oven pizzas are excellent while the menu of pastas and meat dishes is equally appetising. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Giorgio Armani and other trendy fashionistas frequent Da Giacomo restaurant, and its elegant dining area was put together by world-famous interior designer Renzo Mongiardino. The menu features a selection of traditional Tuscan cuisine such as grilled turbot, or linguini with scampi and zucchini flowers. Open for lunch and dinner daily, reservations essential.
Established in 1933 and located down a narrow lane in one of the oldest sections of the city, the Trattoria Milanese has a three-beamed ceiling sheltering its long, communal tables. Serving traditional local cuisine such as risotto alla Milanese, with saffron and beef marrow, and an excellent minestrone soup, this is a favourite with locals. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, and Monday for dinner only, reservations essential.
Linked to the Peck Store, adorned with beautifully modern décor and with masterchef Carlo Cracco at the helm, this is a fantastic choice for a night of fine dining. Serving first class starters and mouth-watering mains, this restaurant was voted one of the world's top 50 by Open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday. Saturday the restaurant is open for dinner only. Closed on Sundays.
This eatery is the place to be seen! As part of a worldwide chain of exceptional restaurants, this is where food fanatics can sample such famous dishes as black cod in misu sauce, as well as sushi and sashimi, while sipping on sake with gold leaf. Closed for Sunday lunch. Reservations essential.
Famous for its Neapolitan pizzas topped with the freshest selection of seafood, such as clams, mackerel, mussels and sardines, Anema e Cozze is a firm favourite in this neighbourhood. It may not be Milan's most stylish restaurant, but it serves tasty affordable food and the fish infused pastas and other antipasti are also delicious. Bookings advisable.
Milan has a well-deserved reputation for being the haute couture fashion centre of Europe, and a stroll around the downtown 'fashion block' bounded by Via Monte Napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia will have fashion fundis drooling over the collections of Italian and international designers concentrated here. The top designers' Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer collections are showcased on the catwalk during Milan's famed Fashion Weeks, which are hosted twice a year usually in January or February and September. During Fashion Week the big names of fashion come to town, and celebrity spotting is a favourite occupation during the week, but the fashion shows themselves are unfortunately reserved for invitation only. There are many peripheral events in which visitors can be involved as the entire city celebrates fashion in high style. Just putting on a high fashion outfit and strutting around the area is fun, as the always fashionable population of Milan becomes even more stylish during this period - the streets are catwalks!
Monza was one of the first F1 tracks ever built, but for more than sentimental reasons it remains one of the highlights on the Formula One calendar as it is also the fastest track in the world. The race circuit is located 10 miles (16km) northeast of Milan, in the small town that gave the track its name.
Although one of the most popular F1 tracks in the world, it can be a little confusing to get to if you aren't a local. If you're travelling by car you should take the A1 and A4 motorway out of Milan, taking the turn onto the S36 road that leads to Monza - there are signs posted along the road prior to races to show the way. The drive takes about half an hour. There is lots of parking available at the track but it is expensive and you will need to arrange a parking permit in advance. Travelling by train is a great option as the trip from Milan Central Railway Station to Monza Station only takes 15 minutes and there are free shuttle buses to ferry people from the station to the Vedano Gate at the track. It is also possible to take trains to Monza from Verona, Turin and Florence as well as a number of other cities. Just be sure to check the train schedule because they change often.
Milan has perhaps the most talked-about nightlife in Italy, partly because it's got a young and trendy crowd but also because of its high-profile events calendar. The fashionable nightlife in Milan radiates primarily from the Brera Gallery and Navigli areas. Centri Sociali is home to an alternative, less expensive entertainment scene. The city offers visitors a vast selection of vibrant bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as live music performances.
The nightlife kicks off early in Milan, by Italian standards, with Happy Hour starting at about 6pm. The evening drinking session, called the apertivito, is an important social opportunity in Milan, a chance to meet and greet and fashionably mingle. Dance venues usually only get going at about 11pm, with nightclubs closing at about 4am.
Although there are a handful of perennial favourites, clubs are likely to change names and owners fairly frequently in Milan. But it's never difficult to find nighttime fun in this glamorous city. Those who want more cultured entertainment will be spoiled by the opera and theatre scene of Milan.
Shopping in Milan is an unparalleled experience. Milan is not just the epitome of fashion paradise, it is considered the fashion capital of the world. This city boasts the most prestigious boutiques and showrooms on earth. In the heart of Milan's shopping area are the streets of the Fashion Quadrilatero - Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga and Via Sant'Andrea - where elegance and luxury can be bought, though at a price.
On Via Montenapoleone shoppers will find Gucci, Versace, Valentino and Cartier, to name just a few brands. Chanel, Armani and Moschino are available on Via Sant'Andrea, while Via della Spiga is home to D&G, Prada and Bulgari. After shopping for all these name brands, visitors might like to stop on Via Manzoni at Robert de Niro's restaurant, Nobu, for a breather...
Other fantastic shopping stops include Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Vercelli, while Torino and Ticinese house some avant-garde goods and Paolo Sarpi has an eclectic chinatown feel. For more affordable purchases, visit Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Corso Buenos Aires, Via Torino and Corso di Porta Ticinese. On these streets there are shops such as H&M, Zara, Timberland and Diesel. Local markets include Fiera di Senigallia (held on Saturday mornings at Viale d'Annunzio), and Mercatone del Naviglio Grande, at the Alzaia Naviglio Grande, taking place on the last Sunday of each month.
ATM (Azienda Trasporti Milanesi) operates Milan's metro, bus, tram and trolley services, which have the advantage of being integrated. Tickets, available from shops displaying the ATM logo, are validated on-board and then have a time limit of 75 minutes travel on any of the transport options, or one ride on the metro. The city's metro is particularly inexpensive and user-friendly. Linea 1 covers the most important tourist areas near the Duomo. Taxis are freely available but have to be hired at marked stands. Expect extra charges for luggage, night fares or Sunday travel. Renting a car and driving yourself is not a fun experience in Milan and is best avoided. The historic area around the cathedral is good for pedestrians and a number of attractions can be reached on foot.
Milan's attractions extend far beyond its fame as a fashion capital. There are many museums, cathedrals and galleries to visit, as well as the Milan Aquarium and the Orto Botanico di Brera gardens.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade is a popular place to relax over coffee, while La Scala is a world-famous opera house worth visiting, with a great museum for those who can't get their hands on tickets. The 15th-century Sforzesco Castle's Museum of Historic Art is also a major Milan attraction, as are the Gallery of Modern Art and the Pinacoteca di Brera, exhibiting collections of medieval and Renaissance art, including the work of Napoleon.
The Santa Maria delle Grazie is home to Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting, The Last Supper, and the Leonardo da Vinci National Science & Technology Museum has a collection of his designs for war machines and architecture. Duomo, which is the world's largest Gothic cathedral, and the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, built in the 1st century, are landmark Milan attractions.
The Naviglio Grande is the oldest canal in Milan, built in the 12th century. It stretches between the Darsena of Porta Ticinese and the bridge of Via Valenza, itself particularly drenched in old world charm. Along the canal's banks in this section, about 400 vendors gather on the last Sunday of every month to set up stalls selling a fascinating selection of furniture, clocks and porcelain, coupled with silver, jewellery and numerous collector's items, from comics to walking sticks. On market day, the adjacent shops, bars and art studios all remain open, adding to the pleasure of browsing.
The best time for sightseeing in Milan is spring, early summer, or autumn, when the weather is warm and sunny.
Nestled in a sheltered inlet within the stretch of the Italian Mediterranean is the coastal resort village of Portofino, famous for its picturesque harbour. It has long been the playground for the rich and famous, attracting the likes of Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. The scenic surrounds can be explored from the outlying nature reserve, graced with cypress and olive slopes. Set off from here on a 90-minute trek to San Fruttuoso, or a two-and-a-half hour hike to Santa Margherita. Other sights around Portofino include its castle and the lighthouse, with its breathtaking view of the coastline. The most famous beach in the area is the beautiful Paraggi Beach, with others nearby including Camogli, Chiavari, Lavagna, and Sestri Levante.
Strung along just over 11 miles (18km) of rugged cliffs between Levanto and La Spezia, the five fishing villages of the UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre nestle precariously on the cliffs. Overlooking the azure ocean of the Italian Riviera, it's a picture-perfect dream of sparkling clear waters and dramatic vistas, contained within the tranquil embrace of the villages that are connected to one another by a scenic pathway that curves through the hillside among olive groves and vineyards. Monterosso is the largest and recognisable through the huge statues carved into the shore's rocks. The village of Riomaggiore is identified through the myriad fishing boats festooning its shores, linked by the 'lovers lane' to the charming town of Manarola. Corniglia perches precariously on the mountainside and is accessed through a steep climb, while Vernazza's promenade and piazza have beautiful sea vistas.
A popular excursion from Milan is exploring the beautiful Dolomite Mountains and Renon Plateau, with quaint mountain villages like Bolzano and Collalbo completing the package. The Dolomite mountains are famously picturesque and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while interesting and unusual rock formations dot the Renon Plateau. Hiking is naturally a popular activity in the region and photographers will be in their element. Stunning panoramic views of the Dolomite landscape await those taking the Renon Cable Car up the mountain to Bolzano or hopping aboard the train to Collalbo. Bolzano is an interesting town with a distinctly German atmosphere and Collalbo is a charming village perched high on the plateau and surrounded by pristine countryside.
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