Buon Giorno Milano

The city’s modernity is represented in the top-end fashion, cutting-edge furniture design and cool contemporary art scenes.

The city’s modernity is represented in the top-end fashion, cutting-edge furniture design and cool contemporary art scenes. Just wandering the streets is a lesson in inimitable Italian style. Bartenders moonlight as Versace models, heads swivel at beautiful pedestrians and this year’s window decorator might be the next big thing — following in the footsteps of Giorgio Armani. All Milan is a stage; enjoy the spectacle.

Art Attack

Milan offers a wealth of priceless art for any classics aficionado. Museo Poldi Pezzolishows off founder Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli’s marvellous personal collection that includes Bellinis, Tiepolos and Botticellis, while Pinacoteca di Brera displays the best Italian art anywhere, particularly from the Quattrocento (15th century) to the Rococo period (18th century).

For something utterly different, trek out to the former Pirelli factory in north-east Milan to inspect Hangar Bicocca. Here, contemporary artists take advantage of huge open spaces and soaring ceilings to create the most oversized artworks you’ll ever see. A permanent 15-metre-high installation by German artist Anselm Kiefer, The Seven Heavenly Palaces, is made of concrete and lead. Cleverly curated temporary shows highlight the best of contemporary art, design and innovation from both well-known and emerging artists, often in interactive ways that include performance and music.

Canal-side Cruising

Just south of the city centre lies the navigli (Milan’s system of navigable and interconnected canals) that once formed part of the city’s port; the Naviglio Grande is the oldest navigable canal in the world. The advent of railways killed off the district, but the warehouses that line the navigli now have been redeveloped into artists studios and interesting design boutiques.

The neighbourhood has a lively atmosphere reminiscent of Southern Italy, thanks to street markets and restaurants such as Dongiò  which serves spicy Calabrian specialities, and popular pizzerias. On weekend evenings, crowds come for the pubs, wine bars and nightclubs that feature good live music, such as Scimmie, known for its rock, reggae and, especially, jazz performances.

Eat Treats

Milan has no lack of illustrious restaurants, but sometimes the simple things are best.

Gelateria: Bianco Latte just might have the best gelato in town, including unusual flavours such as chestnut, pink grapefruit and chilli chocolate. For the desperate, it also serves that Italian rarity: decent tea.

Café: Sissi has served delicious desserts since the 1950s. Regulars linger over breakfast croissants in the rear garden, served by friendly staff wearing pink and white uniforms that haven’t changed much since the restaurant first opened. 

Stylish Stays

From classic opulence to the latest trends in architecture and interiors, our pick of Milan’s best hotels reflects the city’s penchant for quality.

Arty: Design-savvy Spadari al Duomo features rotating displays of local art. The atmosphere is homely, and helpful staff members have good neighbourhood knowledge.

Historic: Boscolo Hotel Exedra is a former bank given a modernist makeover in bright colours, twisted plastics and superb lighting.

Classy: Hotel Principe di Savoia is a traditional arrangement in gilt and mirrors. Weekend brunch at the Acanto restaurant — headed by Chef Fabrizio Cadei — is scrumptious.

Hip: Classic palazzo architecture meets minimalist decor in metal, stone and recycled objects at Straf Hotel. Architect and artist Vincenzo de Cotiis has created a visually striking alternative to the standard hotel look. Wear your designer threads — this is style central.

Branded: Housed in an 1840 neoclassical railway station, Maison Moschino ) blends avant-garde with haute couture in fairytale-inspired style — the Bed of Roses room has lush red petal-inspired linen and chandelier.

Don't Leave Without

Art lovers and conspiracy theorists flock to 15th-century Santa Maria delle Grazie (Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie), where Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper covers the wall of a monks’ refectory.

For sightseeing with a difference, visit the Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale. It’s the resting place of Milan’s high society, and home to Greek temples, obelisks, baroque angels and fine Art Nouveau sculpture. And if in Milan, how could you resist shopping?

For affordable fashion and designer knock-offs, head to the shops and market-style stalls along Corso Buenos Aires. Then plunder renowned factory outlet Il Salvagente for last season’s designer must-haves at bargain prices. This is Milan, after all. 

Italian Jewels

Jewellery designer Nathalie Jean has lived in Milan for 25 years. Her designs are in the permanent collections of major galleries in Paris, Chicago and Montreal.

What do you love about Milan?

The city’s 1930s to 1960s architecture. The works of architects like Ponti, Terragni and Portaluppi are hidden treasures.

What makes the city a design hotbed?

The world’s best furniture designers have factories right outside the city. And the fashion is very commercial so it creates energy.

How does it inspire you?

There’s no other European city that offers such a variety of affordable craftsmanship, all of superb quality.

Your favourite store?

10 Corso Como is devoted to art, music, fashion, literature, cuisine and design, with a stunning courtyard.

A great hang-out?

The garden of Bulgari Hotel, with its gold-leaf pool... pretty nice.

Words by Brian Johnston - Published in Voyeur September 2012
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 1,310,320
Time Zone UTC +1
Languages Italian (official)
Currency Euro €
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