Milan is often overlooked as a destination in Italy. People think there's not much to see compared to other cities since it is not a typical Italian destination. While it is true that Milan is not traditional like Rome or Florence, most of Milan's uniqueness, quirks and charms are hidden behind the overshadowing fame of the Duomo and the Castello Sforzesco.
Here are some of the best hidden sights in Milan that you should not miss during your next visit.
San Bernardino alle Ossa
I'll start with my favorite place in the city. San Bernardino alle Ossa is an ossuary decorated with numerous human skulls and bones.
The church's origins date back to 1145, when a hospital and a cemetery were built in front of the basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore. In 1210, a chamber was built to house bones from the cemetery, which had already run out of space. Eventually, a church was built next to the ossuary in 1269. But, it wasn't until 1679 that it got its creepy decoration during a restoration work done by Giovanni Andrea Biffi. He modified the facade and used the human skulls and tibiae to decorate the walls of the ossuary, creating cross shapes and other arrangements with a combination of bones.
Worth paying a quick visit to, especially since it is located very close to the famous Duomo and is free.
Location: Via Verziere, 2
Gnoccheria Il Pasto Giusto
This Gnoccheria is not really a famous sight, but it is simply Italian food perfection at a modest price. Il Pasto Giusto is a small local restaurant far from any traditional sight, yet it is still easily accessible by metro. Its cuisine is focused on the traditional Italian dish gnocchi, prepared in a variety of flavors.
There are over fifty delicious choices for the palate, from traditional gnocchi with bacon and saffron, gnocchi with seafood, or vegetarian with asparagus and curry, among other options not consisting of gnocchi like sliced tenderloin with porcini mushrooms or arugula and crispy pizzas.
There's also gnocchi for dessert, presented with fruit, chocolate, coffee or custard. But, I would recommend instead the millefoglie, which consist of pastry slices with dark chocolate, custard cream, and powdered sugar. Simply to die for!
The restaurant only seats 20 people, so it is recommended to make a reservation.
Location: Via Bruno Cesana, 10 - Phone for reservation (must speak Italian): +39 02 282 2744
Monte Stella is an artificial hill built in the 1950's using the debris from the buildings that were bombed during World War II, as well as from the last remnants of the city walls, demolished in the mid 20th century. The hill was designed by architect Piero Bottoni, who dedicated the hill to his wife Stella.
The hill may have been built with debris, but when you see it, unless you knew it, you wouldn't think twice about its origins. But, if you pay close attention when you walk through the trails, you might get a peek of a few crumbled terracotta bricks coming out of the eroded soil.
Even though the hill is only 25 meters high, once you get to the top, you will have a panoramic view of the city; and on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Alps and Apennines.
Location: Next to Metro Station QT8
The Cimitero Monumentale is one of the two largest cemeteries in Milan, but what makes it interesting is the abundance of artistic tombs.
It opened in 1866 and was designed by the architect Carlo Maciachini with the intention of consolidating in a single location a number of small cemeteries that used to be scattered around the city.
Beyond tombs and mausoleums, this cemetery is full of afterlife art. The memorialization of the dead speaks more than just about death. They tell a story of the person who once lived and the people left behind to remember them.
The cemetery was also the temporary resting place of Eva Duarte de Pern (1919-1952), First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death. She was secretly buried here as Mara Maggi between 1955 and 1971, after the military dictatorship took power in Argentina.
Take a stroll through the cemetery; you'll see it is an impressive sight worth admiring.
Location: Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale
Aperitivo by Corso Buenos Aires
Aperitivo is an evening social even for Milanese and Italians in general. In Milan, the popular place to have aperitivo is Naviglio, but if you want to experience this social culinary event in a less crowded area, you should head to Corso Buenos Aires which is already famous for its shopping.
In Corso Buenos Aires I highly recommend going to Cius for the aperitivo. It is a classic place for college students - cheap, yet good in quality. The aperitivo consists of a buffet selection that rivals a cruise ship's buffet. It includes cold and hot dishes including pasta, rice, meat, fish, pizzas, meats, cheeses, hams, pastries and more. Oh, and I forgot to explain how the aperitivo works. You simply buy a drink, which will cost you around 6 to 8 Euros, and the food is free! All you can eat!
Location: Via Gaspare Spontini, 6
Which of these little known spots would you visit first?