Snapshot: Milan

March 19, 2024

Although often overlooked by tourists Milan offers a unique cultural experience, particularly for lovers of the arts

Rising out of the foggy Alpine foothills in Italy’s north is the country’s financial powerhouse, fashion capital and centre of design. Milan’s importance was secured in the early Renaissance period under the rule of the Visconti and Sforza families. Their legacy includes the construction of the Duomo, the Sforzesco Castle, and other commissions brought to life by famed artists such as Donato Bramante and Leonardi di Vinci.

The Duomo, an iconic attraction in Milan
The Duomo, an iconic attraction in Milan


The city is compact and linked by a charming tram network drawing together the city’s pulse points; the elegant Brera neighbourhood in the north, the Navigli canals in the south-east and of course at its heart, the iconic Duomo.

The Duomo is a Gothic vision; stark white against the grey backdrop of the city, with pointed spires and delicate arches reaching towards the heavens. Commencing in the 14th century, construction lasted hundreds of years. Notable features include the latticework ceiling, inlaid marble floor and contrasting stained glass windows.

Tourists near the historic Duomo
Tourists near the historic Duomo


Take in the imposing sight from Piazza Duomo, noting the statues of saints sat atop gossamer spires. A rooftop terrace pass will allow you to appreciate the intricate work at eye level as you wander through the pinnacles. You will also have a chance to see the bronze Virgin Mary, the symbol of Milan, and her domain spreading out below your feet into the distant mountains.

Duomo's terraces
Duomo's terraces


With your imagination piqued it’s time to head to the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a glorious shopping mall housing Italy’s famed designer brands. Built during Italy’s tumultuous 19th century, its grandeur is a celebration of the country’s eventual unification. Once you’ve finished window shopping be sure to spin on the Torino mosaic for good luck.

A short walk from the Duomo will bring you to the Sforzesco Castle where you can find all sorts of artistic treasures. Some of the Sforzo Castle’s most important works include Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà and Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Trivulzianus manuscript. You can also explore caches of ancient art, Egyptian artifacts and Bertarelli prints in the complex’s museums. Don’t miss the Castle’s lush hunting grounds which now serve as a tranquil public space.

Sforza Castle, or Castello Sforzesco
Sforza Castle, or Castello Sforzesco


Lovers of the arts are spoiled in Milan. The 18th century La Scala Theatre offers the biggest opera performances in the country. Milan is also home to Leonarda da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Those wishing to visit the masterpiece at the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent should book tickets well in advance. Other important da Vinci works can be found at The Pinacoteca di Brera, one of the most significant art galleries globally.

In the afternoon, make your way towards the Ticenese district and stop for an aperitivo at the Colonne di San Lorenzo. This well-preserved temple dates back to Milan’s third century Roman colony and is a welcome historical pocket in the otherwise chaotic metropolitan city. Today the columns are decorated by chic Milanese youth who gather to chat and drink amidst the ancient backdrop.

The Colonne or Columns di San Lorenzo are ancient Roman ruins located in front of the San Lorenzo Basilica
The Colonne or Columns di San Lorenzo are ancient Roman ruins located in front of the San Lorenzo Basilica


Round out your day with dinner alongside Milan’s charming Naviglio Grande. The canal system is mostly covered now, but once ferried building materials to the Duomo and was said to have been designed by Da Vinci himself. Today the remaining canal is lined by relaxed bars, restaurants and art boutiques.

The Naviglio Grande district at night
The Naviglio Grande district at night

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