One of the first decisions you’ll need to make when planning your trip to Milan is where to stay. This is a city of contrasts, with areas that are creative, romantic, and ideal for sightseeing along with places that can be a bit dull or industrial. Where to stay really depends on your plans. For example, as one of the world’s fashion capitals, the city offers some of the best shopping in Europe and to take advantage of it, you’ll want to stay close to some of the top venues. First-time visitors and sightseers will want to be near historic landmarks and museums, while foodies might choose an area with some of the city’s best eats, and art enthusiasts should consider accommodation in one of the more artsy neighborhoods. There’s a spot for every type of traveler and this guide will help you select the best for your visit according to your interests.
Milan spreads out in concentric circles with Piazza Duomo at its heart. This area includes the fashion district of via Montenapoleone along with multiple art galleries, museums, and various touristic activities. The square is named after and dominated by the Milan Cathedral (the Duomo) and it also marks the center of the city when it comes to its importance from a cultural, artistic, and social point of view. The massive baroque Galleria with flagship stores for Bulgaria and Prada along with countless shops and eateries is here too. Plus, many other attractions beyond the immediate neighborhood can easily be explored on foot. A stroll through the Galleria followed by a short walk to the north passing many 18th-century facades and the world-renowned opera house, Teatro all Scalla, will bring you to the city’s lone pedestrian-only avenue for some unforgettable window shopping. You’ll find a wide range of hotels from international chains to luxury boutique hotels.
Some of the best shopping can be found around Piazza Duomo too. As the historic center is contained in a relatively small area, it’s easy to explore on foot. The iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is here, hosting many big-name designer brands like Versace, Louis Vuitton, and Prada along with boutiques and many other shops, and several fine dining restaurants too. Trendy avenues starting from Piazza Duomo and Corso Vittorio Emanuel II which leads to the nearby VIA Torino and Piazza San Babila are considered fashion meccas for those searching for the latest trends. Just east of Piazza della Scallais Quadrilatero della Moda, one of the most prestigious and expensive shopping streets. That includes Corso Venezi, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, and Via Montenapoleone. Most of the big fashion designers offer their incredible creations here. Haute couture is the focus with whatever you need available here. Or, just browse the eye-catching window displays.
Elegant Brera lies just northwest of the city center. A trendy neighborhood between Sforzesco Castle and Quadrilatero d’Oro, it’s filled with picturesque, cobbled streets and 18th-century buildings as one of Milan’s most charming neighborhoods. It’s also known as the art district, home to the Pinacoteca di Brera which includes an important collection of Italian paintings. It includes works by the likes of Rafael, Carvaggio, Tintoretto, Piero della Francesa, and Andrea Mantegna along with other world-famous international artists such as Rubens and Rembrandt. The exquisite Kaufmann-Repetto Gallery can be found here, featuring contemporary pieces, including works by younger artists, photography, video, and performance installations. The small garden in the front is frequently used for specific projects. Be sure to visit Biblioteca Braidense where you can pick up a cappuccino on the first floor to sip while surrounded by impressive art. There are many trendy boutique hotels, independent shops, restaurants, bistros, and bars here as well.
There are plenty of delicious eats to be found throughout the city, but foodies who take dining seriously might want to stay in Porta Nuovo. Located in the northern part of the city just east of the Cimitere Monumentale, this somewhat secluded neighborhood was once an industrial area but today, it’s known for its fine dining spots and trendy bars as one of the best places to stay in Milan. The four-story Eataly complex, devoted entirely to Italian fare is here, with everything from pastas to cheeses, meats, and wine along with plenty of tasty to-go options. There are eateries serving farm-to-table cuisine and delicious seafood-focused creations too. In San Lorenzo along Corso di Porta Ticinese in particular, are some of Milan’s best restaurants serving high-quality Milanese dishes. For those who love good food, want to be close to Milan’s historic center, and can afford the premium price, San Lorenzo is ideal.
Located at the south edge of the city near two canals and a dock, bustling Navigli is typically quiet by day but after the sun goes down, it gets busy. It’s the best neighborhood in Milan for those who are here for the lively nightlife, with the most vibrant party scene and dozens of restaurants and bars. It’s the place to be during aperitivo, Italy’s version of happy hour, with locals piling in every night to take advantage of it. As they compete with each other for the biggest crowds, many bars offer buffets filled with free food – just buy a drink and enjoy. Don’t miss the avenues and side alleys off the canals as there are many hidden venues for dining and drinking. If you’re looking for clubs and live music, head to Corso Como in the Porto Nuovo neighborhood which offers many options, including lots of electronic music and a renowned jazz club.
If you’re visiting Milan with kids, there’s no better neighborhood than picturesque Sempione, a tranquil neighborhood away from the busy city center, it’s named for the huge, leafy park that dominates it. Part of the larger Centro Storico, the park itself was once a forest, transformed by Napoleon into the vast garden of Sforzesco Castle. Kids will find plenty to do kids here, with a playground, a train, bumper cars, and lots of space to run around while adults appreciate monuments like the neoclassical Arch of Peace. At the south end of the park is the contemporary art hub of La Triennale di Milano, which not only displays contemporary works but offers creative workshops for kids. The Civic Aquarium, the third oldest in Europe at over 100 years old, sits at the park’s edge hosting more than 100 different types of underwater life. There are many great family-friendly accommodations here too, including B&B-style hotels with several options for pools.
Navigli is not only a good pick for nightlife, but it’s a great place to experience the local life with more of an authentic, laidback vibe. There are cozy cafes, some fabulous bookstores, vintage shops selling cool clothing for cheap, artsy boutiques, and numerous restaurants and bars. Every Saturday, the Fiera di Senigallia flea market takes place where you can mingle with the locals while checking out the stalls where you might just find a treasure, with some great antiques often found here. Hotel rates tend to be cheaper here too. Just east of Centro Storico and the Duomo, south of Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, is San Babila, a peaceful enclave home to wealthy Milanese and often overlooked by tourists, despite its proximity to Piazza Duomo. It’s a great place to stroll, perhaps picking up some gelato at one of the multiple shops close to the San Babila metro stop.
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