Wow, we can’t believe it’s the end of 2016, and we’ve officially had our first European adventure since moving to London! We’ll definitely have a separate post reflecting on the last few months, but for now we’re eager to share details about our trip.
Though Milan(o) may be known as one of the fashion capitals of the world, no need to sport a pair of Gucci sunglasses and an Armani belt (a la Mike The Situation) to strut the streets. Milan is filled with history (standard in Europe, especially compared to the US) and a central hub connecting many other regions in Northern Italy. Because of that, we wanted to maximize our Christmas trip hopping across Northern Italy, and only stayed in Milan for about 2 days. However! Milan’s highlights can be squeezed into one day as long as you don’t spend too much time consuming various pizzas and gelatos as we did.
Things to know before you start making moves:
- Though Italy will have all the accommodations you would expect of western Europe, some things, like public wifi, can be a bit tougher to come across. Yes, your airbnb or hotel will usually offer it, but don’t expect every tourist attraction to have it as well and if it does, it might not be the most reliable.
- Most people do speak some English, but they’ll treat ya a little kinder if you attempt Italian. The locals would light up when you offered even the most basic “Buon Natale!”
- Leave your paleo diet at home. I promise not to tell your Crossfit instructor.
So…how do you even get to Milan?
Both airports in Milan (Malpensa and Linate) are about 45 minutes – 1 hour outside of the city center via public transportation. For Malpensa you can take the train, Linate has buses running to the town centre. A taxi or uber may save you a few minutes, but will be much more expensive.
- Malpensa – direct trains are available via Trenitalia into Milano Centrale (Milan’s central train station). The train station is located in the Northeast part of the city, and isn’t near much. To get to the true central piazza, take the M3 to the Duomo stop (a quick 10-15 minute ride).
- Lineate – there isn’t a direct train, but buses run frequently to various parts of the city.
- If you’re arriving from or going to any other part of Italy via train, you’re probably going to be arriving at the Milano Centrale train station. The M3 will get you from there to the centre.
Now, let’s start making moves.
8am – Waking up early isn’t really a thing in Italy, but the cafes will be open. Stop at a local cafe for an espresso and cornetto (Italian croissant) en route to your 9am. No recommendations needed amazing cafes exist on every corner, and none of them are titled Starbucks.
9am – Santa Maria delle Grazie (Da Vinci’s Last Supper)
What should I prep beforehand? UX careers haven’t quite hit the tourism website industry in Italy. It was a bit of a bumpy ride to score tickets…2001 vibes. Tickets can be purchased online at this legit website or through the phone. We checked online a few weeks before, and most days were sold out. Little did we know, some tickets are reserved for calling customers (like speaking to a human??) and we were able to score two. Just need to have some way to call Italy (ahem, European study abroad friend?) without being charged private-school-tuition-level rates.
Pro tip: Throw a few bucks in Skype credit into your account for just this sort of thing.
And remember, US business hours are not Italian business hours! Be aware of the time differences between Italy and wherever you are reserving from and even then…opening hours are sometimes more of a suggestion in Italy.
Once you get ahold of someone, it’s easy peasy! You can even add on a guided tour in English for an extra few Euros a person.
Get this activity out of the way early since it’s a bit west of the action. It’s also a quick stop as they only allow you 15 minutes to view it. And I mean 15:00 minutes. Not 15 minutes and 19 seconds. 15 minutes exactly.
What should I prep beforehand? Reservations aren’t required since there really isn’t a cap.
As you know, we’re huge fans of tips-only walking tours. You usually get a knowledgeable local who will share stories that no cookiecutter conglomerate tour will give you. This perfectly summed up our Milano tour guide, Marco. Extremely passionate and in love with the city (and in love with etymology! Fun bonus.) He’ll take you on a 3.5 hour walk through the highlights of Milan including a number of notable churches, artwork and even a renaissance era hospital!
12:30pm – Lunch time @ Spontini + Luini
You’ll get a break during the tour, and after walking so much, you deserve to I-N-D-U-L-G-E! You will need to eat lunch at 2 places. There is no way around this.
- Spontini – pizza is great everywhere in Milan, but I’m (Reg) a fan of a high bread ratio to cheese + sauce, and that is Spontini’s specialty. The crust is about the thickness of a mattress.
- Luini– Italy is of course known for it’s pizza, but have you had a panzerotti? It’s like a calzone, but smaller and FRIED. The line may look intimidating, but it moves surprisingly fast. Luini has a vast selection of savoury (typically meat + cheese) and sweet options (as well as baked options if you’re really concerned about your waistline. But remember, you’re in Italy so don’t be concerned.) The prosciutto + mozzarella was our favorite. The permanent oil stain on my jeans will help these memories last forever.
1:45pm – Espresso Shot Pitstop
This should take 5 minutes as the locals typically just stand at the bar and down it. YOUR TIME IS PRECIOUS!
2pm – Milan Cathedral (inside and up top)
What should I prep beforehand? We didn’t purchase tickets ahead of time and if you’re not going in the super peak season, you may not need to. In case you want to buy online…*googles around for ticket link and questions her age because how is it this confusing to buy tickets for a famous tourist attraction*….Anyway, there is a ticket office near the entrance (which can get crowded after 11am) BUT there’s also one behind the Cathedral (thank you for the tip, Marco) that had NO LINE whatsoever. Entering the cathedral is only 2 euros, but the instagram-worthy pics come when you go up to the top in the terraces. Opt for the steps over the lift to work off those carbs. The Museo Duomo is also part of your ticket (all in all, 11 Euros) if you want to learn more about the architecture as well as a tour of religious iconography through the ages.
4pm – Pinacoteca di Brera OR (and?) Museo Novecento Art Museum
We know everyone isn’t as big of an art history nerd as us, but still worth seeing the highlights in that region. Check out the hours as there are discounts or extended hours on certain days. For example Museo Novecento is only €6 Tuesdays after 2pm, and Pinacoteca is €2 Thursday nights (and open late!) If you’re feeling more religious go to Pinacoteca—lots of biblical symbolism and Jesus (Raphael is the highlight!) If you’re feeling a bit more abstract, Museo Novecento has a nice contemporary/modern collection of Italian artists (Boccioni is the highlight!)
5:30pm – Gelato Time
Italy forces you to eat dessert BEFORE dinner—most gelato places close by 8pm/9pm, and dinner doesn’t get going till 9pm! Ciacco Gelateria has a great selection, but there are plenty of other options steps away from the main square. Wherever you go, do as the locals do and get either a ricotta-based gelato, or stracciatella (aka with chocolate shavings.)
6:30pm – Galleria ‘Mall’
Modeled after Rome’s Arc De Triomphe, this shopping plaza likely has one of the most expensive average cost per product. Window shop at luxurious locales like Prada’s first store (or actually shop if you have the money), and for most reasonably price shopping, mosey over to shop down Via Torino.
8:30pm – Dinner Time @ Cantina Della Venta
This place was a 3 minute was from our Airbnb at the end of Via Torino, which is why we originally chose it. Little did we know it was one of the top rated restaurants on Yelp, and popular with the locals. Ideally, make reservations ahead of time for anything after 9pm, but you may be able to get away with a table for 2 before then. Great traditional Italian food—any of their pastas are worth trying!
10:30pm – Drinks @ Tasca
Still not ready to go home? Tasca is one of the few bars open past midnight, but we’re sure you’ll have something similar near wherever you’re staying. These places are typically small inside, therefore most people just flood onto the streets. Lay down a plate of olives on the seat of a parked Vespa (the most Italian thing we witnessed all trip) and continue drinking amazingly cheap but high-quality Italian wine among the locals. Just be prepared to smell of cigarette smoke when you get back to wherever you’re staying!
Hopefully, all those carbs and red wine will lull you into a deep sleep soon after!
Cheers to 2017 🙂