Milan is busy. In this section, I've thrown in a few suggestions to help you make the best of your time in the city. It's a mixed bag of hopefully helpful hints that should help smooth the path. If you have any others to add after your visit, please let me know. We all have different experiences and the more advice the better.
- The main Milan Tourist Office has moved from Piazza Duomo to Piazza Castello 1, cnr via Beltrami, just opposite the main entrance to the Castello Sforzesco. It's open Mon–Fri 9am–6pm; Sat 9am–1.30pm and 2pm–6pm; Sun and holidays 9am–1.30pm and 2pm–5pm (02 7740 4343; www.visitamilano.it/turismo_en).
- The Milano Card (89 24 24; www.milanocard.it) offers free transport and discounted entry to many of the city’s sights and around 40 restaurants. It costs 9.50 euros for 24 hrs and only 10 euros for 72 hourrs. It is obtainable online ahead of your visit, from the airport and at the tourist office.
- While the view from the roof of the Duomo is superb, the best view of the Duomo itself is probably from the rooftop cafés in La Rinascenta department store. You are so close you could almost reach over and touch La Madonnina, all while sipping a cocktail – see more on my Milan Cafés and Restaurants page. The very best bird’s eye view of the city is from the top of the Torre Branca.
- Don’t forget to look beyond the city. Milan is perfectly placed to explore Italy’s magnificent lakes region and there are wonderful places on the doorstep within easy daytrip distance, from Monza (home of the Italian Grand Prix, in the suburbs) to Bergamo and Varese and even Lake Como, where George Clooney has a home.
Eating and drinking
- Milan is a business city, so a lot of the cheaper trattorie are in residential districts outside the centre and many restaurants close on Sundays. Check times carefully.
- However helpful you may find the English menu, it may not always be an exact translation. What can happen is that the English translation is done once, but the Italian menu changes as the chef creates new dishes. You may find that the Italian options are more interesting. It’s also worth asking the waiter for his recommendations – many locals simply dispense with the menu altogether.
- The Milanese generally eat lunch between 12.30pm and 2.30pm, and dinner from 8pm to 10.30pm. If you want to eat early, look for the buffets that accompany the evening aperitivo, the cocktails that generally run from around 6pm to 9pm. If you have children and need to eat early, the best bet will be a pizzeria.
- Service is generally not included, but the tipping rate is lower than in the UK or US – 5–10% is generally fine.
- A bar is generally a café/bar and the place you go for a quick coffee as well as a beer. It is cheaper if you stand at the counter than if you sit at a table. A café is a posher version (coffee and cakes and lace curtains – the Gran Caffè). A wine bar is an enoteca. Then there are there are cheap and cheerful trattorie and hostorie, more upmarket ristoranti, and, of course, pizzerie.
- Ordering a coffee in Italy isn’t simple. They take it very seriously and there are many variations. Ask for un caffè and you get an espresso. If you want a dash of milk in it, it’s a macchiato. Then there are the cappuccino and the latte – only drunk for breakfast, before 11am. The caffè lungo is a diluted espresso (twice the normal size), the doppio is a double espresso, and the caffè americano is the closest you can get to an English-style filter coffee – a larger cup of relatively weak black coffee, to which you can then add milk to make a very diluted espresso, equivalent to an English mug of coffee.
- There is a left luggage facility on the ground floor of Central Station (on the piazza Luigi di Savoia side; www.grandistazioni.it). It’s open daily 6am–midnight. The cost is four euros for the first five hours then 0.60 euros from 6-12 hrs and 0.20 euros per hour after that.
Milan for Kids
- In summer, Idroscalo Lake (www.idroscalo.info), used by Mussolini as a landing strip, is a wonderful outdoor playground, with open-air pools, a children’s pool, pedalos on the lake, hiking and cycle paths, skateboard ramps, jungle gyms, teepees, swings and climbing frames.
- Next to it is Europark Idroscalo Milano (via Rivoltana 69; 02 7020 1039; www.lunaeuropark.it) - a theme park with rides and regular entertainments. It's a great alternative to city concrete, a few miles out of the city near Linate Airport. Open Mar–Oct only.