Milan, a place where stuff happens
Prada Foundation, Brera Gallery, the Museum of Cultures and more
by Chiara Assi
When you first set foot in Milan, you feel it immediately: there is an impalpable yet very strong energy buzzing through the air, a feeling of anticipation, a sense of excitement. Everywhere you turn, you can see it: this is a place where stuff happens. There is little time to contemplate: the city itself pushes you to act, to be part of the frenetic activity, to explore. Even more so if you are into modern art, fashion, and the latest trends in gastronomy, this is the place where you want to be.
And although one weekend isn’t enough to fully explore and grasp this complex city, it surely is a good start: and I guarantee that you will want to go back for more. During the three days I spent in the city I used the Drive Now Car sharing service – and I highly recommend it to those who want to explore the city: you basically have access to Mini Coopers and BMWs Series1 parked all over Milan, and you can drive them where you need to be, including the congestion area. And as much as staying downtown right next to the Duomo might sound exciting, I opted for a different solution: Hotel Lombardia, close to the shopping district of Corso Buenos Aires and the University of Milan, offers great accommodation in an area that is far from being congested and extremely well connected with public transportation (the subway red line stops at Lorento, the green at Piola).
Finding the right words to describe Fondazione Prada is difficult, if not impossible. Much more than a museum of modern and contemporary art, this space is so avant-garde, so different from what you expect, it really transcends the concept of a regular exhibition, and I can only describe it as an incredible experience. The stark, modern beauty of the building, located in an ex industrial area in the South of Milan, is almost intimidating and definitely mind-blowing: but that is only the beginning and, as you walk from room to room, the sense of awe grows exponentially.
As I viewed the controversial works by American artist William Copley, I realized how little I actually know about many incredible contemporary artists: his paintings may look bright and rather innocent at first glance, but when you look at them closely, you discover a tormented world made of often obscene dreams and fantasies. Betye Saar’s “Uneasy Dancer” was also very interesting, and again I felt the unsettling feeling of looking at something that was cheery only at first glance, and had a much darker, hidden meaning. And last, but not least, Edward Kienholz’s installations literally gave me goosebumps: dark and sometimes downright morbid, his works are not for the fainted hearted, as they gravitate around themes such as racial assault and abuse, violent deaths and rape.
Fondazione Prada is also home to Bar Luce, a lovely retro café with a jukebox, vintage pinball machines and a great espresso: perfect to meditate and ponder after viewing the exhibits.
Pinacoteca di Brera
On a completely different note, the Pinacoteca di Brera is a classic, almost iconic I would say, gallery in Milan, one everyone should visit while meandering the artsy, bohemian neighborhood of Brera. The 38 halls of the gallery are filled with masterpieces by artists like Raffaello, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, among the others: each room has so much to see, and most of all so much to take in, it takes hours to properly visit the whole gallery. Yet, it’s definitely worth to take your time, sit on a chair, and stare at the paintings you instinctively feel connect to until your vision blurs and you get lost in the colors and atmospheres on the canvases.
Outside the Pinacoteca, the neighborhood of Brera is a work of art itself: in the beginning of the 1900s it was a red light district, dotted with brothels and seedy taverns, but today, with its narrow cobblestone alleys and pretty courtyards, it has become an attraction and the perfect place to grab a bite or a drink. Steer clear of the tourist traps offering pizzas and menus in 8 different languages: for a solid Tuscan meal, opt for La Torre di Pisa, a trattoria that has been open since the 1950s, or for something quirky and different try Temakinho, the Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant that has been the talk of the town for a while. And for a cocktail, nothing beats Bar Jamaica: their Martinis are so perfect, they would be James Bond approved. The bar has been open since 1911 and a never ending list of writers, artists, politicians, actors and other VIPs have frequented the place ever since then, making it an important part of the history of the city.
Not the most famous of palaces in Milan, Palazzo Morando should be visited for two reasons: the first is the museum of fashion and costumes hosted on the first floor of the palace, the second is that the palace itself is beautiful and home to a series of incredible paintings of Milan as it used to be in the past centuries – a real treat for history buffs like me. Palazzo Morando is located in the Quadrilatero della Moda, the fashion district, so while there, you can window shop and check out flagship stores such as Armani, Valentino and the likes. One can dream, right?
Moving to a very different part of town, Via Tortona and its surroundings are famous for being the place to be during the famous Salone del Mobile, Milan’s out-of-this-world design week. And while during that particular week the neighborhood is packed and somewhat challenging to enjoy, on a regular weekend it still oozes chicness and modernity, but it’s much easier to navigate. It makes perfect sense that MUDEC, the museum of world cultures, would find its permanent home here, as the neighborhood perfectly symbolizes the international soul of Milan. The building, impressive and futuristic, houses more than 7000 pieces dating from the 1500s to the 1900s and hailing from, literally, all over the world: I strongly recommend a guided visit, which not only gives you a much better insight into the art and culture of populations we know very little about, but also gives you access to the museum’s deposit, where you can see much more than what is showcased in the halls.
MUDEC is a stone’s throw away from the Navigli, one of the neighborhoods that are most famous for being the heart of the movida in Milan. Stop after 6 p.m. at any of the bars in the area and order an aperitivo: with your drink of choice you will gain access to some of the most incredible buffets of free food you will ever see – after you are done, you won’t be needing dinner!
Another great classic in Milan, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, nestled in the oldest part of the city close to the Duomo, is another must-do for art buffs: from Botticelli to Tiziano, you will be in awe at some of the masterpieces displayed in its halls. The Biblioteca Ambrosiana, part of the museum, is even more incredible, as there you can see the Codice Atlantico by Leonardo Da Vinci, which is, itself, worth the trip and the cost of the museum ticket. Once you leave the Pinacoteca, the narrow streets around Via Torino are perfect for wandering, discovering and getting wonderfully lost. Just walk around and let the city surprise you: you will forever fall in love it.
Visit Milan: helpful hints
Italian name: Milano
Milan has got three airports:
- Malpensa Airport is the largest international & intecontinental Airport in Northern Italy. 30 miles Northwest from the city centre. Connections:
→ Train Malpensa Express: trains leaves every 30 minutes in each direction, connecting the Airport to Milan Grand Central Station or Cadorna Railway Station. Terminals 1 and 2. It takes 45 min, price: 14 €
→ Shuttle Bus: Malpensa Shuttle and Malpensa Bus Express connect the airport to Milan Grand Central Railway Station and Milan’s Underground Network. Terminals 1 and 2. It takes 60/70 min, price: 8 €
- City Airport Linate is an international airport connecting Milan with main European cities, located just 4 miles from the city centre. Connections by shuttle: Atm Bus n. 73 from Milano Duomo M1 – M3 (Piazza Diaz, direction: San Babila), first ride at 5.35 am, last one at 00.35. Frequency: every 10 min, price 1,5 €
- Milan Bergamo Airport Orio al Serio is mainly low cost flights Airport, located 30 miles Northwest from Milan. Connections only by Shuttle: There are 4 different bus companies, pricing changes from 5 up to 8 €
ATM is Milan public transport service both for bus, tram and subway. Single ticket costs 1.50€ for 90-min ride. Consider daily/weekly subscriptions. You can buy tickets also texting to 48444. Milan Subway is the longest in Italy, covering 95 km: Donwload and check the map.
Moving in town can be nice also by bike: Milan has got a powerfull bike sharing service providing both regular and e-bikes. Here is the experience of our Ambassador Kim Harding with BikeMi service and a useful video of our Ambassador Roxana explaining how does it work. Car Sharing is also good with many different companies to choose.
Try also the local urban railway train, called Passante Ferroviario, check the experience of our Ambassador Roxana Iacoban travelling by local train in town.
What to do in Milan
Milan is the Italian financial center and one of the European capitals of Fashion. Known for its nightlife as well.
Some tips on Italia Slow Tour: watch our web serie about Leonardo da Vinci’s places, climb on top of the Duomo, visit Prada Foundation, Museums and Art Galleries, taste some fine gelato and try the local Aperitivo and – not joking – enjoy a sailing trip (!!) or some time deep in the nature close to some actual farms and fields.
Where to sleep
Accomodations are quite expensive in Milan, fares rise up and hotels get full according to the rich event calendar of the city (see: Fashion Week, Salone del mobile, Big concerts, Theatre and Sport events, etc.). If you are not specifically interested in any of those, try to travel during other periods to save some money.
Italia Slow Tour recommends:
- Hotel Cervo in Garibaldi District if you want to stay close to city centre and enjoy the nightlife
- Hotel Concorde located on the Green Way Milan-Lecco to Lake Como, if you want to move around adn travel by bike
Shopping in Milan
The famous Fashion District involves the following streets/areas: Via Montenapoleone, via Manzoni, via della Spiga and Corso Venezia. The so called “Quadrilateral of Fashion”. Here you can find all kind of brands and shops. Easy to reach by Subway (stop at Montenapoleone station).
Don’t miss the Street Markets! Almost every day you can find one: best are the ones in Viale Papiniano (on Tuesday) and Via Fauchè (on Saturday). More on the official website of weekly street markets. If you are into sustainable local products, Milan has got 8 actual farms in town and a green Earth Market.
If you are interested in Outlet Shopping, in the outskirt of Milan you can find 4 different Fashion Outlets, in a radius of 62 miles. Here you can find everyday a lot of famous high quality Italian brands on sale, with prices cut off up to 50%. All the outlets are connected to the center of Milan by Shuttle Bus:
- Serravalle Designer Outlet – Shuttle departure from Milan Central Station or Cairoli square
- Fidenza Village Outlet Shopping – Shuttle departure from Piazza della Repubblica 5, at the corner with Turati st.
- Vicolungo The Style Outlets – Shuttle departure from Cairoli square
- Rodengo-Saiano Franciacorta Outlet Village – Shuttle departure from Cairoli square