Milan, Italy, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the
world, seems to not have the best reputation among travelers. Milan is
often seen as a simple transfer hub for anyone traveling by train or
flying. In my opinion, it is so much more than just that.
I lived in Milan as an expat for over a year, so I can say
that there is so much more to this city than just being your connection between
points A and B.
It is true that Milan is not your typical Italian city full
of majestic ancient Roman ruins and renaissance architecture. For that
you have Rome, Florence, and Bologna, among others. Still, you can find a
few smaller ancient ruins in Milan, but honestly, that’s not Milan’s
highlight. In fact, Milan is a completely different type of city not found
anywhere else in Italy.
Just to put some context of why Milan is so different, I
will give a brief historical background. Milan was founded by the Insubres
(Celtics) and was later conquered by the Romans, becoming the capital of the
Western Roman Empire. During the middle ages, Milan developed as a
commercial and banking center, and in the 1900s it led the industrialization
process of the young Kingdom of Italy. During World War II it was occupied
by the Nazis, which prompted the severe bombing by the allies, devastating the
city almost entirely. Since World War II, the city has reinvented itself
as the economic and business center of Italy, and to some extent, Europe
Milan does have its old city, which was once walled like
most ancient and medieval Italian cities, and you can still see several
architectural masterpieces like the Duomo –the fifth largest cathedral in the
world and the largest in Italian territory– and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
II. These buildings speak of a history that is very Milanese, since it is
intertwined with the local royalty and politics of their time.
The Duomo, which is probably the most important building in
Milan, was built over several hundred years (from 1386 to 1965) in a number of
contrasting architectural styles. But in general, the cathedral is designed
majorly in an elaborate Gothic style. It speaks of the changing times in
the city through its façade and interior design, which you might think almost
doesn’t match. It is very interesting to see all its details, and if you
have the chance, go up to the roof to see the view of Milan and the Alps in the
On the other hand, but right next to Duomo, you have Galleria
Vittorio Emanuele II. It was built by Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and
1877 and named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. And in case
you didn’t know, it is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. Seriously!
But, this is not too surprising since this is part of
Milan’s character that still stands to this day. Milan is a major world
fashion and design capital. Period. Art flows here in a different
way. Modern fabrics mix with renaissance paintings; haute couture blends
with modern architecture, and sculptures bring some stillness to what has
become a fast paced city.
The city is well known for several museums, including the
Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, which has a great collection of Leonardo DaVinci’s
paintings and manuscripts as well as paintings and sculptures from major
Italian artists like Botticelli, Bramantino, Caravaggio, and Raffaello, among
In addition, Milan is home to one of the most important
paintings of all time: Cenacolo Vinciano, commonly known as The Last Supper by
Leonardo DaVinci. Leonardo lived in Milan for 17 years, and during that
time he created this masterpiece. You can see it up close and marvel at
the details and expressions of his painting; an experience you must have when
Finally, I’d like to touch two important aspects of Milanese
city life. Again, Milan is all about fashion. People like to look good and
go out in style. If you want to see this in full scale, head to
Quadrilatero della Moda, which is where all the flagship stores of mayor
fashion brands are located (think Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, Dior, and
more). Everything from haute couture to expensive fashion trends can be
The second aspect is the apperitivo nightlife. People
love to socialize after work over drinks and a buffet (apperitivo). While
you can find apperitivo anywhere in the city, the main place to do this is in
the Naviglio zone, where a conglomerate of cafes and trattoria provide the best
environment to chill out and socialize.
This is just a scratch on the surface of what Milan has to
offer, but by now, you can see how this city is not just a transit hub, but
also a different kind of Italian destination that also deserves to be
What would make you visit Milan?
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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