Milan is a true metropolis: strong and fearless but welcoming, too. Little by little, I came to realize that I could become someone here. – Giorgio Armani
It was a Friday night, just about a year ago– one of those perfect Spring evenings in April. I was searching for travel inspiration for a weekend adventure. A day at the lake in Como? A quick trip to Switzerland? Some nearby hiking? Living in Solaro gives me access to a great variety of options for easy getaways. But, at that moment, I was eager for something different… I was craving something a little closer to home. Something bold and invigorating… Milano. I simply adore Milano and there is something particularly perfect about taking the opportunity to be a tourist in your own city.
Excited about my plans for the day, I woke early, packed my bag, and enlisted one of my sisters to drop me off at the train station. I made sure to include:
✓ A good camera to photograph my favorites of the day
✓ A sharp needle and a crisp square of fabric for some travel stitching
✓ A wide-brimmed hat to prevent my natural color from fading
The trip into the center of Milano gave me plenty of time to close my eyes and fantasize about my day’s plans. Would I start at the Duomo? Parco Sempione? One of the city’s museums? After what seemed like only a moment, I was awakened by the train’s whistle; we were in Milano Cadorna, the station closest to the city center. I decided to begin my adventure at my favorite spot and let the day unfold from there.
Crossing the street from the station, I set my path toward Duomo Cathedral. My journey took me down Via Dante, a pedestrian street named after the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri.
I passed a series of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes before coming across something unexpected: The Starbucks Reserve Roastery. I’d heard about it, but hadn’t realized it had already opened. It’s important to note that while this might seem common in other countries, opening a Starbucks is a very big deal here. It felt a little like something that could have changed the city forever and therefore held a bit of controversy among residents. The young seemed to be more eager to embrace this big company into our beloved and ancient metropolis, while the elder population seemed angry that it might infringe on our traditions. Coffee is no joke for us… it’s not about a generic caffeinated beverage that you drink for energy, it’s about community, the experience of it all. Our cafes and coffee bars are full of passion, love, and craftsmanship. They are the setting for our most important stories — meeting a partner for the first time, finding new journalistic inspiration, mending a long broken friendship… Truly, accepting its existence almost felt like a betrayal.
With that said, I’m open minded and generally try to embrace change, so I was thrilled and endlessly curious. I’d seen plenty of Starbucks around the world, but none quite like this one… the facade oozed Italian history, housed in Milano’s historical post office. I had to peek inside and see for myself what all the magazines were saying. I queued for about 10 minutes, and upon entering was awed by the Palladiana flooring, marble that resembled the Duomo, and lights that reminded me of the Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle) — it was breathtaking! The aroma of a rich dark brew filled the air. I had an espresso macchiato like a proper local and I was on the go again.
Within a few minutes, I found myself in front of my first destination and one of the true icons of Milan: The Duomo Cathedral. It’s truly magical in the early morning. I stepped inside and was immediately struck by the cool air and the smell of old wooden pews and aromatic incense. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. Here, the only evidence of the morning sunlight came filtered through the stained glass, casting subtle rainbows on the tiled floor. It was quiet and calm, a stark contrast to the morning bustle out on the Piazza. I lifted my eyes toward the ceiling and took in the magnificence of the Italian architecture. It’s truly humbling to stand in the center of a building that took thousands of workers, a new canal system, and over six centuries to complete.
After a few quiet moments, I stepped back out into the morning light, donned my wide-brimmed hat to prevent any spring color fading, and resolved to climb all 919 steps to the roof of the Duomo. I’d never before been up on the steeples and I’d heard from friends that the view of the Milanese landscape is incomparable. Round and round, a dizzying ascent… but absolutely worthwhile! I was once again swathed in silence, gifted with views of intricately carved pink marble statues and gargoyles and, off in the distance, views of the city skyline set against the snow capped peaks of the alps. This would most certainly be the inspiration for my next embroidery project!
I took my time on the descent, delaying my return to the morning bustle. The hum of the excited conversations of tourists was interrupted only by the cooing of the pigeons that congregated in the square. I couldn’t leave the Piazza before enjoying a Panzerotto from Luini’s. There’s nothing more Milanese than sinking your teeth into those pillowy fried dough parcels stuffed with tomato and mozzarella. Absolutely divine! And didn’t I deserve it after those 919 steps?
I walked the length of Corso Vittorio Emanuele until I reached Piazza San Babila and made a stop in Via Lincoln, ‘The Rainbow District’. Very few people know this place, yet it’s a spot you simply must see… possibly one of the best-kept secrets in Milano. It was built in the late 1800s for working class families who couldn’t afford to live in the city center. It’s said that at that time, residents chose to vary the colours of homes to bring a bit of cheer into their otherwise grey days. The result was a street dotted with colorful terraced houses, an unusual architectural gem in the midst of a bustling urban landscape. They likely had no idea the impact that their contributions made on the history of the city. It almost feels like a painting where all the pastel colors from Aurifil’s colour chart have been carefully selected and placed. Strolling along, I felt goosebumps, absorbing the history, taking in the calm, the scent of the fresh blooming flowers… true living art.
I crossed the Brera District, something that should really be witnessed during Design Week, bursting with art installations, street food, niche and collectionist shops… rich with a bohemian atmosphere. It’s there that you can visit the Pinacoteca, home to Francesco Hayez’s most famous painting ‘The Kiss’.
I took a quick pause for a Spritz (a Milanese cocktail par excellence composed mostly of Prosecco and Aperol) at ‘N’Ombra de Vin’. The orange colour of the cocktail kept my walk through the marvelous Rainbow District in my mind. There is nothing more refreshing to sip on a warm day after a long walk. It’s something to savor, enjoying each and every effervescent drop. N’Ombra de Vin is one of the oldest and most prestigious cantines in Milano. The cellars have been cited by none other than Alessandro Manzoni in his literary masterpiece ‘I promessi Sposi’ and were once (and often) visited by the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
I was on my way back toward the Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle), mainly to reach the Parco Sempione, home to hundreds of animals, plants, and flowers. It’s a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. It felt restoring to simply lay down, unwind, and rest my tired spool. I closed my eyes for a moment, took in the scent of freshly cut grass, and listened to the cheerful laughter of children playing nearby partnered with the soft chanting of a midday yoga session. I felt energized and ready to continue on my adventure.
For the afternoon I was eager to take in a bit more culture and set my sights on Fondazione Prada, a space dedicated to contemporary art. Walking from room to room was fascinating and amongst the remarkable things I witnessed was Cartsen Höller’s ‘Upside Down Mushroom Room’, an installation that was completely flipped on its end, almost like a scene out of the new cult classic, Stranger Things. This visit came as a stark contrast to the classic architecture that I’d witnessed throughout day and it struck me how remarkable it is to live in a city where so many periods and styles of art converge.
Though I typically prefer to walk through the city, I felt inspired and decided to take a ride on the old tram trolly to reach the Navigli District.
Once aboard, I hopped over the varnished hardwood benches and balanced myself near the window in order to take in the view. I was lulled by the soft rumbling noises and vibrations of the tram traveling along the tracks and felt a warm breeze on my threads through the open window.
Porta Genova was my destination, characterized by the Navigli canals that divide the city streets and the Darsena (The Dock)– an artificial lagoon. They are all that remain of the intricate system of canals and rivers that served as the hub for commercial river traffic in the city. A stroll through Navigli allows travelers to discover and get lost in the old courtyards which whisper stories of days past. ‘Vicolo dei Lavandai’ is a quaint historic canal back alley where residents used to wash laundry and whose walls are now covered with redolent wisteria.
It’s truly the perfect setting for a series of thrift stores and flea markets such as the Fiera di Senigallia, with the opportunity to find rare vinyl records, extravagant accessories, or vintage clothing. Walking from shop to shop renewed my curiosity and it was hard not to load my backpack up with treasures. I allowed myself only a small vintage thimble… perfect for my favorite needlework! I made my way to La Gelateria Della Musica, the best ice cream parlour in town where each variety is named for a song or a singer. I ordered my usual… the Hazelnut & Salty Bronte Pistachio. The flavours are divine and each bite must be savoured.
My gaze drifted over the canal and I noticed the sun starting to dip toward the horizon… I was tired, but I still had one final destination — Isola. I had limited time and so opted for the tube, where I was at least able to pull out needle, thread, and a bit of scrap fabric to begin stitching a memento of the day — The Milan Skyline.
***** CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE PATTERN *****
Isola is home to a swath of thrift shops and flea markets, but more specifically, my beloved Miscusi. An order of Parmigiana and Pacchero Tricolore (Tomato, burrata, pistachios cream and pistachios on the top) was just what I needed to fuel my final travels.
I set off in the direction of the train station and smiled at the thought of the day… because there really is something particularly perfect about getting to be a tourist in your own city. It was a good day.
For a closer look at my day, check out the map HERE.
There are only so many things that I could see in one day, but I have so many destinations to recommend. If you are ever able to journey to Milan, you might consider adding these other spots to your list:
- Museo del 900
- Galleria Vittorio Emanule II
- La Rinascente Terrace
- La Scala
- Via Torino
- Piazza Gae Aulenti
- Parco Biblioteca degli Alberi
- Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest)
- Corso Como
For more detail, make sure to take a peek at the map!