When I first went to Milan, I was astonished by the lack of style in the hotels. For a city that was meant to be the fashion capital of the world, there were some truly lovely hotels but they were remarkably old school. That has changed very dramatically in the last few years and the city is now awash with fabulous designer boutique hotels that are, in their way, works of art.
There are a couple of main hotel clusters in the city. The first – and most important from the leisure traveller’s point of view – is around the Duomo (Cathedral) in what is known as the Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Rectangle). This is the historic centre and you will be within walking distance of sights such as the Duomo, La Scala opera house, and the Pinoteca Brera, as well as many of the city’s best restaurants. It is also the fashion centre of the city, stuffed with designer boutiques with outlandishly cool window displays. Relatively nearby, the area around the main station has some excellent hotels (and some diabolical ones), but as with many cities, the area can be a bit rough around the edges. Just south of the city centre, the Navigli canal zone, famed for its nightlife, has a few excellent small hotels and offers a very different, lively vibe.
The other main hotel group is near the business district and Fiero Milano exhibition ground. This is 8-10 km from the historic centre, but there are metro links (allow about 30 mins travelling time; see How to Get Around Milan). Staying out here could make you feel a bit cut off, but there are benefits in that some of the hotels give you more space for your money, free parking if you have a car with you and other such extras.
Things to consider before booking
* Affordable, good quality, hotels are extremely thin on the ground in Milan. This is a high-end city and the hotels are priced accordingly. With a very few exceptions, the very cheap hotels are fleapits. There is a growing number of b&bs, most of them very small and slightly outside the centre. I chose not to include these on the grounds that listing a property with one or two rooms can be immensely frustrating if it sounds wonderful and you can never get in!
* There is a huge gap between five-star hotels and everything else. As soon as fall out of the luxury market, standards drop dramatically and few four-star hotels compare with a four-star in the UK or the USA. Expect the equivalent of a three-star. Everything else is ranked lower too.
* Milan is a business city so normal summer/winter high/low season price breaks simply don’t apply. Instead, the city is home to one of Europe’s busiest exhibition centres and one of the world’s centres of fashion. You need to watch out for fashion weeks and major trade fairs which fill up every available hotel room in town and send prices soaring. Many hotels are prepared to do weekend specials as the business trade disappears. See more about seasonal changes to the city on my When to go to Milan page.
* In Italy, breakfast is traditionally bread or croissant (sweeter than the French version) and coffee. This will be all you will get in the cheap hotels. In mid-range hotels, it will scale up to a buffet with fruit juice, fruit, yoghurt, cold meat and cheese and possibly some cereals. Only once you reach the four- and five-star bracket will you generally find hot dishes on the menu. Double-check whether breakfast is included in the room price. It is most of the time, but there are exceptions and they can prove costly.
* Some cheaper hotels and b&bs are in upstairs apartment blocks with no lifts. If you have difficulties walking or heavy luggage, check the situation before booking.