Twenty reasons to visit Milan

Former harbour district ... Navigli.
Former harbour district ... Navigli. Photo: Getty Images

From shopping and opera to football and The Last Supper, this is the best of Milan.

1 Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

In sensible shoes, most of Milan's main attractions are accessible on foot. But the shopping, which is the reason many people put Milan on their map, is a hop, step and jump in stiletto-heeled platforms from almost anywhere in the city centre. Start at the gorgeous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is the glamorous forerunner of today's shopping malls and where the likes of Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton nestle. Known as the living room of Milan, the galleria opened in 1867 as one of the earliest and remains one of the largest examples of glass-and-iron architecture.

Further afield ... Lake Como near Milan.
Further afield ... Lake Como near Milan. Photo: Getty Images

2 Quadrilatero d'Oro (Rectangle of Gold)

Good looks aside, flat shoes are recommended to navigate the chunky cobblestone streets that make up the world's most famous fashion district. The elegant, neo-classical buildings are bordered by Via della Spiga, Via Montenapoleone and Via Manzoni. Via Dante, which links Castello Sforzesco and the Duomo, has good shopping, too. Many of the best-known fashion houses have more than one shop in Milan's centre. Lesser-known brands offer quality at slightly cheaper prices, especially during the sales in January. (Winter is not a bad time to be there as the weather is not too cold and summers can be hot.)

3 Brera museum

Parco Sempione ... once was a private English garden.
Parco Sempione ... once was a private English garden. Photo: AFP

The Pinacoteca di Brera houses one of the best collections of Italian art, including works by Mantegna, Raphael, Caravaggio and Piero della Francesca. The surrounding Brera district is known as the Montmartre of Milan and is the place to hang out in cool cafes with students studying at the nearby museum. www.brera.beniculturali.it.

4 The Milan Duomo

This massive white-marble structure is topped by a golden Madonna that overlooks the city from 108 metres above. Despite taking almost six centuries from 1386 to build, the cathedral is consistently Gothic. But the second-largest cathedral in Italy, after St Peters in Rome, has had many critics. "From every style in the world: and every style spoiled," English art critic of the Victorian era John Ruskin wrote. Oscar Wilde thought it "vile". Whatever way you view it, Milan continues to grow in a circle, keeping the Duomo at its heart.

La Scala ... an opera house since 1778.
La Scala ... an opera house since 1778. Photo: Getty Images

5 Piazza del Duomo

The Duomo looms over a large square with its statue commemorating the first Italian king after the unification of Italy in 1861, of Vittorio Emanuele II. On holidays, this 17,000-square-metre forecourt is packed with a good representation of Milan's population of 1.3 million partaking in the favourite Italian pastime of passeggio or promenading.

6 Outlet shopping

Castello Sforzesco ... once a symbol of the power of Milan's great dukes.
Castello Sforzesco ... once a symbol of the power of Milan's great dukes. Photo: AFP

If the original price tags at Versace, Chanel, Armani and Missoni make you blanch, there are good outlet shops nearby. Il Salvagente - translated as "the lifesaver" - at 16 Via Fratelli Bronzetti is one of the best-known for fashion for the whole family. Women's fashions from Miu Miu, Gucci, Dior, John Galliano, Lanvin, et al are about 50 per cent cheaper at Dmagazine Outlet at 20 Via Manzoni. salvagentemilano.it/html/milano-outlet.asp, dmagazine.it.

7 La Scala

Since its beginnings as an opera house in 1778, additions to Teatro alla Scala have made it the largest theatre structure in the world. There is something on almost every night of the year and tours are available of the building, its stage and collections. Opposite La Scala is Milan's Town Hall, which often has free exhibitions on loan from the Louvre in Paris. teatroallascala.org.

White marble ... the Milan Duomo.
White marble ... the Milan Duomo. Photo: Getty Images

8 Caffe Miani (Zucca)

Just off the Duomo square and on a corner of the cross-shaped Galleria arcade you will find a modern incarnation of the original Campari bar where the famous aperitif was concocted. Admire the beautiful wall mosaics and ornate bar before sitting down with a glass of the red drink or a good cup of coffee to watch the passing parade. caffemiani.com.

9 Grand Hotel et de Milan

Glamorous shopping mall ... Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II.
Glamorous shopping mall ... Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II. Photo: Getty Images

As one of Milan's oldest hotels, the gracious Grand is best known as the place where Giuseppe Verdi died in 1901. The hotel has five stars but is reasonably priced among some very expensive accommodation in this city. It is within an easy walk of the action and attractions. The recently renovated inn is part of the romantic history of Milan but has all the mod cons, such as wi-fi. grandhoteletdemilan.it.

10 BikeMi public bicycle rental

As in many modern cities, Milan has a good network of cycleways and a public bicycle rental system, BikeMi, which allows locals and visitors to take bikes from conveniently located stations and return them up to two hours later. A daily subscription costs €2.50 ($3) and a weekly costs €6. www.bikemi.com.

11 Cimitero Monumentale

Milan's most prominent families, including industrialists and artists, are buried here in tombs stunning in their dimension, conception and detail. The vast cemetery dates back to the industrial revolution and today doubles as an open-air art gallery displaying the works of Italy's most important artists and architects. monumentale.net.

12 Parco Sempione

This was once a private English garden containing a romantic and rich collection of plants. Today, it is also a lovely place to have a walk and a breath of fresh air, and to admire the foliage. ciaomilano.it/e/sights/sempione.asp.

13 Milanese architecture

While parts of the ancient city still exist, Milan was heavily bombed during World War II and the city now has a mix of architectural styles. Near the city centre, Via dei Giardini is aptly named for the rooftop gardens typical of Milan's apartment buildings. The Pirelli building has just been surpassed as the city's - and Italy's - highest by the Porta Nuova Garibaldi Tower. The new Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in CityLife, a residential apartment development featuring three towers designed by some of the world's most noted architects. tourism.milan.it, en.expo2015.org/.

14 Stadio San Siro

Known as the temple of football, Stadio San Siro is one of the largest and most attractive football stadiums in Europe. It can hold 80,000 spectators for matches featuring its home teams FC Internazionale Milano and AC Milan. San Siro is open daily for tours of the stadium and its museum. sansirotour.com.

15 Castello Sforzesco

Once a symbol of the power of Milan's great dukes, the castle is now a place of culture. The building was completed in two stages. The first in 1336 in peacetime has windows. The second part was finished during troubled times in 1450 and the windows omitted. Sforzesco forms part of the ancient city wall and is a perfect 200-metre by 200-metre square. Today, it houses a large art museum, archaeological exhibitions and Michelangelo's final sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta. Look out for the symbol of Milan, a red cross with blue snake, which features strongly and is best known as the badge of Alfa Romeo. www.milanocastello.it/ing/home.html.

16 Italian fare

Ristorante Solferino is a traditional and stylish place to eat Milanese favourites, such as risotto with saffron and osso buco. ilsolferino.com.

17 Navigli

This is the former harbour district of the city where the canals built by Cistercian monks in the 13th century were once as navigable as the canals of Venice. Today it is a popular residential district, which has an antique market on the third Sunday of each month. Also a great place to eat and kick on afterwards. A tour will help get the most out of Navigli. naviglilombardi.it.

18 The Last Supper

Book at least one month in advance to make sure you see Leonardo da Vinci's fresco in the former dining room of the Dominican monks of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Take time to appreciate the master's use of light and perspective in one of the world's most copied artworks. tickitaly.com/galleries/davinci-last-supper.php.

19 Ago, Filo e Nodo (the Needle, Thread and Knot sculpture)

This artwork in Piazza Cadorna is Milan's most modern monument and symbolises the importance of fashion to the city. It was created in 2000 by Swedish artist Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, who is Dutch. tourism.milan.it.

20 Further afield

Milan is close to the lakes of Como and Maggiore and just less than an hour's drive to the Italian Alps, which can be seen from the city. It is also near the hill town of Bergamo. There are also day tours from Milan to outlet stores in Switzerland. city-discovery.com/milan.

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