Milan: northern Italy’s much-overlooked style capital

by McCorkadale

Whether it's fine wine, fine food, fine art or fine clothes, the northern Italian style capital that is Milan is a must see destination - preferably through massive sunglasses

Milan, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, tends to get overlooked by travellers seeking the seemingly more interesting history of Rome or the romance of Venice; but for a short city break Milan has much to offer.

Location, location, location

When it comes to selecting a place to stay, location really is everything. The Hotel Brunelleschi (Via Flavio Barracchini 12) is ideally placed around the corner from Duomo di Milano and its surrounding shops and precincts. The hotel's rooms have been updated and make use of high quality fabrics and elegant decor. The bedrooms are stylish and well equipped with all the modern conveniences you could want or need, from electric curtains and automatic climate control to a well-stocked (and surprisingly good value) mini-bar - which, curiously, is cheaper than the hotel's main bar. The bathrooms are equipped with no less than three shower heads, including a very large rain-shower, the power of which could do a gent an injury; dark marble tiles and huge heated (no steam) mirrors provide a luxurious feel.

The restaurant's decor is somewhat dated and very ‘salmon’ in appearance, but to be put off would be sinful as the food really is fantastic – well, this is Italy, what did you expect? The carpaccios of cod and beef are both sublime and if you’re a meat lover order the sirloin steak to follow, practically filling the entire plate with perfectly cooked melt-in-the-mouth beef. After which you can retire to the hotel’s bar which is quiet, relaxed and, ultimately, well-stocked. (Main courses start from €15.)

A two-minute stroll from the Hotel Brunelleschi gets you to the heart of Milan, the Plaza Duomo, with its majestic 14th-century cathedral towering over you. The Duomo Di Milano (Piazza del Duomo 18, 20122 Milano; 02 8646 3456) is free to enter and wander around but be aware that church services take place daily and, as it is a place of worship, use of cameras and mobile phones is prohibited, although this doesn’t stop the majority of people from merrily snapping away.

Shop 'til your credit rating drops

Step out of the Duomo and you’re greeted by the huge public square and its surrounding piazzas. These architectural gems, such as the glass-topped Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, are filled with credit card melting designer shops. Prada have had their flagship store there since 1913 and, over the years, it has been joined by the likes of Gucci, Louis Vitton, Versace and Dolce & Gabana. If you have to ask the price…

For those Devil Wears Prada style fashionistas, the surrounding Corso Vittorio Emanuele II houses many fashion house outlets. Shops who’ll think nothing of letting a long queue form outside to increase the tension before unleashing the hoards to hunt out fabulous bargains. In January and July the state-sanctioned end of season sales take place and for these few weeks only, the stores slash their prices creating a bargain-hunter’s paradise.

Italy = food

If you know where to look dining out in Milan can be surprisingly good value, just a short stroll from the bustle of the Duomo you can find a good choice of restaurants, café-bars and pizzerias. Di Gennaro Ristorante Pizzeria (Via S. Radegonda 14; 02 805 3554; is a fine example of home-cooked Italian cuisine with a reasonable price. The pizzas are big enough to share and, coupled with a starter such as the vegetable soup (practically an entire allotment in a bowl), you’ll be set-up for the rest of the day. (Main courses start from €10.)

For a more contemporary meal head towards the Cordona station and try Noon Restaurant and Cocktail Bar (Via Giovanni Boccaccio, 4, 20123 Milano Mailand; 02 4802 4607) a stylish Milanese favourite for evening drinks and good food alike.

If your earlier trip to the Duomo gave you a taste for some culture then a trip to the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church and Dominican convent is in order (Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie. Open 7am-noon, 3-7pm Mon-Sat; 7.30am- 12.15pm, 3.30-9pm Sun.) The site is a UNESCO listed world heritage site and home to 'The Last Supper' by Leonardo Da Vinci. Day trippers and long-stayers alike should put this on their must-do list, but get there early or queue late!

Not enough?

Milan is ideal for a short break but if you’re after a longer trip it is highly recommended that you take advantage of the nearby Lakes, Como and Garda, their surrounding Dolomite mountains or further afield the wonderful city of Venice.

Getting there

Thanks to good air links via the two main international airports, Malpensa and Linate, plus mainline rail connections from most major European cities, Milan is easily accessible.

Flying time is two hours from London with the majority of flights taking you into Malpensa Airport, where you can hop on the Malpensa Express train service taking you to the heart of Milan. The train takes 40 minutes and costs €11.