Some of you lucky ones out there will be swooping into Milan for fashion week which starts next Tuesday (18th Feb).

I'm sure you all have a lot of very important appointments to go to and whilst I might not know all that much about FW events, I do at least know how to keep a range of guests entertained in the city for the weekend.

If you're looking for something to do, look no further! This is a long post so I've included a little contents guide and a lot of photos so scroll through until you find something you like the look of!

  • See
  • Do
  • Eat and Drink
  • Survive

My fool-proof tour of the historic centre

Milan is one of the less-frequented tourist cities of Italy but this doesn't mean you'll be twiddling your thumbs between events. The city is full of historic sights worth checking out.

When guests arrive, I normally start by giving them a tour of the centre so without further ado, here is my route.

Start the day by appreciating the beauty of Parco Sempione. This is a great place for a walk, cycle or jog with a 3.2km circuit marked out for your convenience (I did three laps of it once and nearly died.)

During the warmer months, a family of terrapins can be seen idly swimming about in the large pond and just a little walk on from there is my favourite spot in the centre of the park. On one side you have the Arco di Pace and on the other, the imposing Castello Sforzesco.

Walking through the castello, you would be forgiven for thinking you'd fallen into a film or video game. I find the structure of it hard to take in; it's so different from English castles in design and really does look like something you'd find in Assassin's Creed. If you're under 25 or a student and you've got some ID on you, pop into the museums for free and have a wander around (the rest have to pay I'm afraid).

Once you're out of there, continue away from the park and pass the fountain. Try and navigate your way across the busy roads and walk up Via Dante for a spot of high-street shopping but don't linger too long, there's plenty more to see! When you come to the next Piazza, follow the pedestrianised Via dei Mercantini to see the beautiful old mercato but more importantly, the imposing Duomo.

To me, Milan's cathedral looks like a giant candle that has been burning for centuries, with streams of wax solidifying into complex structures. It is absolutely beautiful, made with the famous marble from Carrera in Tuscany. It took nearly 600 years to complete - as one of my friends pointed out, how strange that we can walk around it now when those who were building it never got to see it completed!

You can climb to the top by stairs or lift (tickets have to be bought from the ticket office in a building around the back) but once you're up there, spend as long as you like gazing at the skyline and the urban sprawl that spreads into the distance. This is particularly beautiful when the sun begins to go down and the world is gold.

Whilst you're up there, locate your next destination: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. This covered shopping arcade is one of the main attractions in the city as well as being home to Prada, Louis Vuitton and Massimo Dutti stores.

Don your best sunglasses and furs (fake please, I've seen too much dead animal this winter) and give your designer heels a spin on the bull's urm balls. You'll know what I mean - just look for a group of tourists watching someone turn around on the spot.

When you come out the other end, you will be in the Piazza della Scala, home to world-renowned Teatro della Scala. This is where you really want to go to see the Christmas ballet but tickets are eye-watering and seats sell out fast. Best just admire it from afar and walk up past it towards the Brera district.

Here you can dip into some unique little shops (as well as the big guns like Gucci) and rest your legs with a coffee, glass of wine or big old icecream!

Museums, galleries and shopping!

The Natural History Museum can be found in the Giardini Pubblici (also worth exploring if the weather is kind to you. Which it wasn't when I last went. Pack an umbrella.) I thought I could do it in an hour and a half. I couldn't. It's easily worth a few hours of your time and is another one of those handy student discount places woo hoo!

Image source
Milan's Science and Technology museum is also awesome and takes even longer to get around than the Natural History Museum (seriously you need a day, walking boots and a picnic for this one). You can climb up and stare into war pilots cockpits, wander around the real, original workshop of an artisan watchmaker and admire miniature versions of Da Vinci's creations. There's also a submarine - you have to pay extra to go inside but how often do you get to go in a sub?

For more of a, urm, working museum, Cimitero Monumentale is absolutely fascinating if you've never visited a large cemetery. Bear with me here, I know looking at dead people might not be your cup of tea but it is the most peaceful place in the city. The care and love (and money!!) that has gone into creating the tombs, gravestones and mausoleums is breathtaking and as it is still an active burial site, the sense of respectful calm is preserved. Go and ogle at tombs bigger than my house and spot the famous faces in the tremendous gate house.

If art is more your thing, Milan has lots to offer. The Pinacoteca di Brera holds a range of paintings from across the ages including a section devoted to art from the past century. The most famous painting is Hayez's The Kiss and you can also expect to see a lot of religious-inspired artwork.

If you prefer modern art, head to the Novecento museum in Piazza Duomo. They've made good use of the building dating from the Fascist era and you can easily lose a few hours here. By evening you can see the cool crowd having an aperitivo up top, something I'm going to explore come Spring..
It's also worth seeing if the Palazzo Reale, also in Piazza Duomo, has any interesting exhibitions on. Unfortunately the Pollock exhibition ends this weekend but you can still admire the work of Warhol and Kandinsky for the whole of next week if you want to!

And finally, we move onto shopping. I've already mentioned the Brera district but if you want something a little more upmarket, get off the metro at Montenapoleone and have a wander. Via Montenapoleone itself is one of the most elegant and expensive shopping streets in Milan. If you're just going for a window shop like me or you've got some big money to splurge, this is it! Nearby Chic & Go (which I haven't tried, just looked longingly through the windows at the well-stocked champagne fridges) offers equally classy sandwiches and bubbly to go. On my to do list.

Corso Como might be a short street but it packs a lot of class. Here you will find 10 Corso Como, an exquisite shop-cum-cafè-cum-bookshop-cum-gallery. I cycle past it on my way home every night and it pains me that it closes just as I arrive back in the area. Give this one a go, even if it is just to wander through and gaze longingly at Diptyque candles (been there, done that).

Afterwards, be sure to head to Piazza Gae Aulenti at the foot of the impressive Unicredit building. You won't be disappointed with the brand new piazza and its collection of shops and al fresco bar. In the summer this place is absolutely wicked and I am thrilled to live so close!

Meanwhile, La Rinascente is right in the centre (Piazza Duomo again!) This department store has introduced me to brands that I had previously only ever drooled over in magazines. Brits, think of it as a mini Harrods or Selfridges. Americans... I don't know, I've only ever been to Walmart and the canyons. Maaaybe it's like Bloomingdales?

Finally we arrive at Corso Buenos Aires, the high street of Milan. This is where I did my Christmas shopping and you'll find a good mix of shops for all your needs here (as well as a handy sprinkling of restaurants, cafès and gelaterie!)

Eat and Drink
Spoil yourself!
  • Fine dining
  • Health burst
  • Just great grub
  • Aperitivo
  • Pizza
  • Sweet treats
Oops, you can see that this is my speciality! I really don't have anything bad to say about any of the restaurants I've tried so far (Magro is a wonderful guide) but here are my top 23 (eek).

Fine dining

If you really want to push the boat out, I can help.

Joia is a Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant that I blogged about recently when Magro and I went for my birthday. We had the tasting menu and it was stupendous. Don't be put off by the fact that it's vegetarian, the food is so fantastic, you won't miss the meat. You certainly won't in any case if you take the 16 course tasting menu like we did...
Even better, Joia is a casual and relaxed environment so there's no need to dress up - go in jeans and a slouchy knit if you want! You will, however, need to book. Go do it now!

Daniel isn't vegetarian but is just as creative. I visited at the start of the year before the blogging bug really took hold of me and so I don't have any photos sob sob. I can at least assure you that this is an experience you want to have. I started with a risotto made from cacio cheese, pepper and mandarin before moving onto grilled seabass with pink grapefruit and cream of broccoli. Yum. The chocolate orange torte I finished with just sealed the deal and the wine expertise of the sommelier was the cherry on top of a very luxurious cake.

If you want to have a decadent evening but avoid spending upwards of €50 each, travel out of the centre to Trattoria Arlati near Bicocca. I've been there twice and it really does feel like a special treat. They offer typical Milanese and northern Italian food so you can expect to try some good classics such as tortelloni di magro (spinach and ricotta filled pasta in butter and sage YUM) pizzocheri (buckwheat noodles smorthered in cheese with cabbage and potatoes - so much more delicious than it sounds) and saffron risotto. Ossobuco is meant to be a delicacy too but as a veggie I've not been there. The first time I went was with a friend before the theatre - possibly due to our young, female and foreign status, we were given free aperitivo (glass of prosecco and basket of breads and foccaccia although I think this is given to all customers), an extra glass of prosecco and free pudding! I think they may have even knocked our wine off the bill too. When I couldn't choose between puddings they made me a half and half plate - thoughtful! The first time I went, it came to €20 each, the second time €50 but I was a bit more spend happy that time (and I actually had to pay for pudding). The interior is dark and luxurious, black walls full of oddities and artwork. Definitely one to try.

Health burst
In the centre, along Via dell'Orso, you'll find an inconspicuous, glass-fronted place with a black-board menu outside. You have found the Refettorio, which I have blogged about at least twice before! To cut to the chase: healthy food made from quality ingredients at great prices. Unlimited vegetable buffet, wine, water and bread with dessert and coffee included. All in a sleek, minimalist setting. Go now.

Another veggie place and one of the cheapest: L'Alhambra just off Corso Buenos Aires. I love this place. I was sceptical about going at first (even I turn my nose up at vegetarian food and I am one!) but my mind changed the second I tried the complimentary bread with homemade patè. You choose what you want canteen style, they cook it for you in super quick time and charge you by weight. Dinner for less than a tenner (depending on how much you eat!)

If sushi tickles your fancy, try the Temakeria on Corso Garibaldi (there's another one in the Ticinese district next to the Navigli) which I blogged about here. It's a Japanese-Brazilian fusion with outstanding results. I like it way more than normal sushi and I can be a real sushi fiend! Expect the freshest fish with mango, lime and coriander and choose between the normal sushi rolls, larger seaweed cones (temaki) and other delicious plates such as the selection of tartares. House drink is caipirinha but they also have great juices (the pineapple and mint is to die for). Oh my.

Just great grub

This category is for indulgent, awesome food that won't break the bank.

I'm pretty sure that the best burgers in Milan can be found at Baobab on Corso Garibaldi. Yes again I have already blogged this one but it really is so good. The menu is always bursting with Italian flavours and fresh produce and if you've ever wanted to combine a pizza with a burger in a non-Pizza-Hut style, this is the place: real Italian beef smothered in sundried tomatoes and buffalo mozarella and pesto. The veggie burger isn't on the menu but it exists so ask for it! They have an English menu and the hand-cut chips are to die for (I won't judge if you order a plate for your antipasto, even if they do come with the main event!)

In the past year, Via Solferino Alta (the end nearer Porta Garibaldi) has seen an explosion of restaurants so this is a great place to look around at dinnertime. My favourites are Carlsberg (shown above), a huge but beautiful space with brick walls and ceilings, checked table-clothes and candlelight that serves three course meal options as well as pizzas, Pisacco which offers creative seasonal cuisine in a chic location, Salentini which serves typical food from Apulia and Rangoli, one of the best Indians I've tried. 


Near Via Solferino, you'll find the Moscova area which is a popular spot for an aperitivo and absolutely buzzing most nights of the week, whatever the weather. I particularly like going to the Princi bakery for an aperitivo which costs just €8. Wrap up warm because there isn't much space inside but that doesn't even stop the Italians from going; the tables outside will always be full of people! You will mainly be eating focaccia and pizza but they have some pastas and vegetables too (watch out for meat if you're veg!) but who's going to complain about unlimited Princi pizza? Not me! This stuff is absolutely delicious and great for snackers on the go too. Their cakes and desserts are also delectable.

A little further away near Parco Sempione, you'll find Cafè Etniko. If you're going in a big group you'll need to book although tracking down their phone number isn't always easy. Make sure you arrive early - 7pm at the latest. It costs €10 (€12 if you go for a big cocktail or one that comes in a melon or pineapple) but the choice of food is brilliant. There are grilled vegetables, salads, fresh pasta, gnocchi, pizza, focaccia, chips, meat and my darling tiramisù which absolutely seals the deal for me. Arrive early and stay for a couple of hours and stuff yourself silly!

A more refined aperitivo experience can be found at Bar Elita near the Naviglio Grande on Via Corsica. The barmen will whip you up any cocktail you like or one of their own creative designs (the mojitos are crazy good!) You order small tapas plates rather than choose from a buffet but these are all exquisite and perfect for those who like to try a lot of things and keep an eye on what passes their lips (but I mean really darling you're in Italy!) The staff are super friendly and there's normally a cool international crowd hanging around. An absolute blast.

Finally, Nottingham Forest has been ranked as one of the top bars in the world! It's easy to see why; you'll have to arrive before opening time (6pm) to get seated straight away but people queue for hours to get in because it is just so good. Inside is small and intimate and you will be brought small plates of food with your cocktails (warning: do not go on an empty stomach). The cocktails are all innovative and brought in strange glasses and containers which all enhance the experience. Leave the table and pay before 9pm to benefit from cheaper drinks.


Pizza is going to be good wherever you go although I would avoid eating in places like the Piazza Duomo or Galleria where they charge about €8 for a margherita. Here, that is an expensive rip off and you can get better elsewhere so don't do it. My favourites are less central but still damn good.

Il Doge di Amalfi is my all time favourite and deserves its own post very soon especially as I only have photos of musicians in the pizzeria and the owner in a rare moment of tranquility. The pizza is fantastic even if it is impossible to finish one of their rich, fresh creations with its fluffy Napolitan crust and oozing cheese. I don't just go for the pizza though, oh no. The lemon sorbet is unlike anything you will have tried at home and if its not too busy, you get your own bottle of limoncello absolutely free to play with at the end! Yes, free alcohol! You can have a crazy night for €15 or less at this place and even better, the owner is a star. If he realises you're foreign he will start enquiring in Italianglish before shouting something random, bursting into laughter and bustling off. On busy nights he will crank the traditional Napolitan music up a bit louder and when the crowd is particularly rowdy, you'll get a sing song. A true Italian eccentric.

Piccola Ischia is a little quieter but the pizza really takes centre stage. There are a few sprinkled throughout the city so find one closest to you. Last time I went I couldn't decide and so shared a couple with a friend: the marinara and another smothered in ricotta. It was absolute pizza perfection.

Spontini might be a strange experience for non-Italians. You queue in a rather haphazard way, you are ushered impatiently to a table as soon as possible and there isn't a menu. Normale or abbondante? they will ask. You will say abbondante because it's only 50 cents more for a whole extra 50%. You will also have beer. Five minutes later they will slap the largest, thickest slice of pizza you have ever seen in front of you. It will be divine and you will cry when your stomach gives up and refuses to house anymore. When you've finished they will pointedly take your plates and bid you ciao ready for the next hungry pilgrims. There are a few throughout the city and Pizza a Pezzi is a similar set up but with a menu and a bit more tranquility.

For an even quicker pizza hit, you want Luini panzerotti. The queue at lunchtime might look horrifically long but it moves fast. As soon as you get your head in the door, check out the menu and choose (pomodoro e mozzarella al forno is always a good choice). Buy a couple, you will be able to manage two at least. The street will be packed and their might not be any kerb space so walk back towards Piazza della Scala and sit underneath the statue of Alessandro Manzoni on one of the many benches and enjoy your prize. This place is famous for a reason!

Sweet treats

You could say I know a thing or two about dolci in Milan. But I have barely scratched the surface. I'm ashamed to say that this list doesn't include any of the traditional pasticcerie which I have walked past, longing and desire etched upon my face. But Magro is a healthy soul and will only try something if it's something special. Well, here's the list.

Biancolatte on Via Turati is a modern-day latteria. The front part is a cafè and gelateria but it also has a shop and restaurant which I'm dying to try. I've tried both of their signature coffees (there's a hot one and an iced one and they are both divine) and grazed on a chocolate and pear croissant of a morning. Alternatively, they sell little chocolate cups full of fresh cream and delicious toppings which are perfect for elevenses or an afternoon treat. Well worth a visit!

California Bakery on the other hand is a modern day American cafè which serves tea and cake until midnight. Heaven! Go with an empty stomach and spend a while ooh-ing and aah-ing over the cake counter (it's difficult!) My favourites include the choco-coffee cheesecake and another rich chocolate cake shot through with raspberry jam and topped with strawberries. They also do yummy breakfast, brunch and lunch options.

If it's the flavours of the South you're hankering for, look no further than Ciuri Ciuri, a Sicilian pasticceria and gelateria that imports its ingredients from the island itself. The cannoli are absolutely ottimi. Choose between cinnamon or cocoa biscuit, ricotta, ricotta with chocolate drops or pistacchio cream and then a variety of toppings and they'll make it for you fresh! The only way to eat these little cones of genius.

On the icecream front, you can't go wrong with Grom. There are a few around the city and with good reason too. They are consistent and reliable and always have interesting seasonal flavours on as well as cups of melted chocolate during the winter and granita during the summer. In the autumn, they had the Torta Caprese flavour which honestly broke my heart when it left with all its chocolatey, cookie chunk goodness.

Talking of chocolate, Cioccolati Italiani is awesome and the one gelateria I reliably take friends to. When ordering, make sure to specify the flavour of melted chocolate you'd like in the bottom of your cone first - milk, white or dark. There's normally a bit of a wait to be had but it's needed so you can stare at the daily flavours and wonder why you were only given one stomach. Another heartbreaker when they stopped sugared chestnut. Stupid seasonal produce country...

Finally, a small place we spent at least an hour tracking down on our bikes (but if you research the route properly it shouldn't take that long at all.) Gelateria della Musica was well worth it; even on a cold evening, a queue snaked from the door and the inside was packed. The pistacchio icecream was to die for. I've had some good pistacchio icecream here in Milan but if possible, this one tasted even more like the real deal than the others. Such a treat and it feels a little more authentic than some others.

A few consigli
  1. Bring an umbrella or prepare to buy one.
  2. When people try and sell you things on the streets, don't be all British and polite and go along with it. Just say "no!" in your sternest Italian mamma voice and stalk off.
  3. Milan is a pretty safe city but make sure you don't travel alone at night especially in the more deserted peripheral zones.
  4. If the green man tells you you can walk, you will still have cars hurtling at you. It's ok, it's just a different traffic light system than ours and they will actually stop!
  5. On that note, don't try and cross when the man is red. It won't end well.

And most of all... have fun!!