Milan (Milano) is financially the most important city in Italy and home to the Borsa Italiana stock exchange. It is the second-most populous city proper in the country but sits at the center of Italy’s largest urban and metropolitan area.
While not considered as beautiful as some Italian cities, having been greatly destroyed by Second World War bomb raids, the city has rebuilt itself into a thriving cosmopolitan business capital.
In essence, for a tourist, what makes Milan interesting compared to other places is that the city is truly more about the lifestyle of enjoying worldly pleasures: a paradise for shopping, football, opera, and nightlife.
Milan remains the marketplace for Italian fashion – fashion aficionados, supermodels, and international paparazzi descend upon the city twice a year for its spring and autumn fairs.
Milan is famous for its wealth of historical and modern sights – the Duomo, one of the biggest and grandest Gothic cathedrals in the world, La Scala, one of the best-established opera houses in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a glamorous 19th-century arcaded shopping gallery, the Brera art gallery, with some of the finest artistic works in Europe, the Pirelli tower, a splendid example of 1960s modernist Italian architecture, the San Siro, a vast and famed stadium, or the Castello Sforzesco, a grand medieval castle.
So, you have your fair share of old and new monuments.
Plus, it contains one of the world’s most famous paintings – Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
Milan is often described as representing “modern” Italy.
Several proverbs describe the differences between Rome and Milan, such as an Italian saying about the differences of the two cities which roughly translates, “Rome is a voluptuous woman whose gifts are very apparent, while Milan is the shy, demure girl whose treasures are plentiful, but discovered in time.”
Milan is the most modern of all Italian cities, yet it still keeps its history intact.
Milan might seem like a bustling and relatively stylish metropolis (with its shiny display windows and elegant shops) with many fine palaces and fine churches in the center, but it might seem like a slightly prosaic, soulless, and business-oriented place.
It can be pretty rainy, grey, and foggy, and some of the buildings, ancient or modern, have a pretty rugged appearance.
While there are many parks, Milan looks as if it has minimal greenery, and apart from the very well-kept historical part, many areas are indeed quite worn and dirty.
However, unlike most usually historical European cities that throw the sights in your face, Milan requires quite a lot of exploring – take it as it is. You might enjoy its fashionable glitter and business-like modernity but might find it not very “captivating”.
Spend time, though, strolling through more minor well-known areas such as the pretty Navigli, the chic Brera district, the lively University quarter, or some smaller churches and buildings. You’ll find forward thinking, a diverse city filled in every corner with history and with a plethora of hidden gems.
Plus, with such an established history in theatre, music, literature, sport, art, and fashion, there’s not much you can miss.
Milan, as many have noticed, doesn’t entirely feel like a part of Italy.
Despite the similarities with iconic Italian cities such as Verona or Venice, the city does have a different atmosphere.
Milan feels more like a bustling, busy, fashionable business capital – were in several cafes, lots of people only stop to have a quick espresso at the bar counter, and where tourists at times seem even more laid back than the locals.
Unlike the traditionally red-terracotta roofed Italian cities, Milan is quite grey, as many buildings are constructed using limestone or dark stones.
Older buildings mainly have a sort of Austrian/Germanic neoclassical look with some slight French influences.
Although there are old-fashioned bicycles, restaurant chairs, and tables outside in Milan during the summertime, and people are strolling down the pedestrian avenues, licking ice cream, or carrying shopping bags, Milan does have some “Italian flair“.
When to visit Milan
Depending on how you want to tour the city, it is a great place to visit pretty much all year round.
Keep in mind most places, including tourist destinations and museums, are closed on Mondays.
In autumn, the weather is warm or cool, and in later months can be pretty rainy and foggy.
All the major venues and shops are opened since it is the working part of the year.
In winter, the city can become cold (often below or around freezing point), and the weather is usually foggy and rainy, if not snowy.
The city becomes a delight to visit in the few weeks before Christmas — the main sights are all illuminated, a giant tree is planted in front of the Duomo, and many shops and windows are decorated. The streets become bustling with locals and tourists alike.
However, the only downside is that it can become extremely crowded, noisy, and busy.
In spring, the temperatures are generally similar to those of autumn.
The atmosphere becomes more severe from that of the festivities.
Parks become nice to visit as trees blossom. The city is also quite lovely to see at Carnival, where people dress up and celebrate, and during Easter, there are special services held in churches and some special events.
Milan can become extremely hot and humid in summer, with the odd powerful rainstorm here and there.
While in July, apart from the weather, most shops remain open, in August, as many locals go off to take their summer holidays, many businesses and venues shut down (with the notice Chiuso per ferie, or shut down for vacation).
The city may become quite empty with some tourists strolling around and several main sights shut down.
Although it is not the best time for shopping and the weather is not at all times very pleasant, it is good if you want to enjoy the city to yourself when it’s hot and quiet, and maybe want to stroll around, sipping at some open bars or ice cream, or walking in a mostly quiet park.