MILAN

Antiquity

The city of Milan was founded around 400 BCE by the Insubres, a Gaulish population that lived on the north side of the River Po.

The Romans conquered the settlement in 196 BCE and renamed it Mediolanum, meaning 'sanctury' due to its strategic location between important commercial routes, as well as topography which allowed the Romans to defend themselves from the Germanic tribes.

The high point of Milan came when the city became the capital of the Western Roman Empire, in the year 286 AD. This period also coincided with the ascension of Christianity. Some of Milan’s most prestigious and oldest places of worship such as the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore were built during that age.

 At the time, the Roman Empire was divided into East and West, with Maximian being made the ruler of the Western Roman Empire, with Milan his base. An agreement called the Edict of Milan was signed in 313 CE in which the Western Roman Emperor Constantine I made Christianity legal. In 374 CE, St Ambrose was named bishop of Milan by popular approval, and during the fourth century, Ambrose was a very influential figure in Christianity.

Throughout this period the North of Italy was threatened by barbarians from the Danube and the Alps. Following the city's ravaging by the Visigoths in 402, the western capital was moved from Mediolanum to Ravenna, and in 452, the Huns too plundered Milan. As the power of the German tribes over the Western Roman Empire grew, changes were seen in Milan, and in the summer of 569 the Lombards, a Teutonic tribe who today give their name to the region, conquered the city, bringing an end to Roman rule.

Middle Ages

Milan lost its importance in the Roman world in the 6th century CE, around 539, when the barbarians pillaged the city. The Longobards established their kingdom, which lasted between 569 and 774, with the capital at Pavia. During this period Milan underwent a long period of political anonymity. A new age of affirmation came for Milan in the 12th century, when the city gained its independence in the context of the larger Comuni movement. Milan’s force on the cultural and political scene of the region was reinforced under the Visconti family, who ruled the city for about two centuries, between 1277 and 1447.

Renaissance and Modern Era

The Viscontis were the ones who restored Milan to its ancient pride of place in the region. Two of the greatest architectural achievements of that age, which one can admire in full splendor even today, is the Milan Cathedral and to the Sforza Castle. Partially, the Sforzas continued the work of the Viscontis, successfully managing to align Milan to the new cultural trends of Europe. The likes of Donato Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci were constantly called to Milan in order to build churches and palaces.

After several centuries of Spanish, French and Austrian dominion, Milan became part of the Kingdom of Italy in the second half of the 19th century. Keep in mind landmarks like Teatro alla Scala, Palazzo Reale and Palazzo Brera were built during the modern era, and Napoleon himself was crowned king of Italy in the Milan Cathedral, being the one who ordered the works at the Duomo to be completed.

Contemporary Age

Mussolini founded the fascist party in Milan in 1919. His followers created numerous strikes, harassed certain sectors of the population, like the liberals, and assaulted the worker’s newspapers, repressing the worker’s committees in Milan during the early years.

In 1944, anti-fascist groups in the north of Italy organized a northern Liberation Committee and Milan was freed from German troops in 1945 thanks to a general strike, which lasted several days. After World War II, Milan became a prosperous industrial city with a large working class.

Presently, Milan is the second largest city in Italy and the wider Milan metropolitan area has a population of over 8 million people. It is Italy’s main industrial, financial and commercial centre and along with Paris, is Europe’s fashion and design capital.

While Milan (Milano) may not be the first city a tourist thinks of when planning a trip to Italy, it has more than its share of attractions, not to mention history. For all its workaholic reputation as the money and business center of Italy, it is a city with an influential past and a rich cultural heritage. Consider that St. Augustine was baptized in a basilica that stood at what is now Piazza del Duomo; artists Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the composer Verdi, the great tenor Enrico Caruso, and designer Giorgio Armani all lived and worked here. Toscanini conducted regularly at La Scala; Napoleon was crowned inside the Duomo; Mussolini founded the Fascist party here; and the entire fashion world looks to Milan's catwalks twice a year for the season's fashions. All this history, not to mention the considerable wealth generated by its favored commercial position, has left Milan with an abundance of art, cultural, and architectural treasures for you to enjoy.

The large Piazza del Duomo in front of the cathedral is Metro hub, and you will find plenty of things to do near the Duomo. In tiny Piazza dei Mercanti, you will feel as though you have stepped back into the Middle Ages as you stand beneath the stone market arcade in front of the 13th century Palazzo della Ragione. Jump forward several centuries to enter the elegantly domed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, facing the Duomo. Walk through it to emerge in front of the world's most famous opera house. It is all within a five minute walk.

1. Il Duomo (Milan Cathedral)

Milan's Duomo, or cathedral, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Construction began in 1386, but it took nearly 500 years to complete. More than 130 spires and over 3,000 statues adorn the Duomo's roof; take an elevator, or climb the stairs, to the rooftop for a close-up view. You will also catch some magnificent views of the city below. Below, Milan's Piazza del Duomo, the square where the cathedral sits, is the hub of the city's historic center. The square is also home to a statue of Vittorio Emanuele and the Palazzo Reale housing the Duomo Museum and Contemporary Art Museum.

Il Duomo (Milan Cathedral)

2. Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper

The 15th century Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie houses Leonardo Da Vinci's famous fresco, The Last Supper. Although the building was bombed in 1943, the fresco survived. To see the iconic mural, you must book in advance, sometimes more than two months ahead of time.

Official site: http://www.milan-museum.com/booking.php

Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper

3. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

With luxury shops and elegant cafés, built in 1867, this huge glass roofed shopping arcade is lined with shops, bars and restaurants. Inside are mosaics with the symbols of the cities forming the newly united Italy. It was then the largest shopping arcade in Europe, with a dome soaring 48 meters (157 feet) above its mosaic floor. Marking the beginning of modern architecture in Italy, today it stands as a splendid example of 19th century industrial iron and glass construction. The galleria is built in a cross shape and links the squares of the Duomo and La Scala.

The timeless curiosity that is the tradition of stepping on the bull’s balls. Inside the Galleria, located on the ground within an octagonal floor pattern, is a tiled mosaic depicting a bull which is reared up onto his hind legs. Some people consider it good luck to stand on the testicles of the bull of Turin. Tradition actually says that if a person spins around three times with a heel on the testicles of the bull from the Turin coat of arms, it will bring good luck. This practice has unfortunately caused damage to the mosaic and a hole has developed on the place of the bull's genitals. Nothing remains of the said testicles but a blackened little crater on the floor between the rampaging bull’s legs, but some people still perform this time old tradition.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

4. Castello Sforzesco

Milan's castle, Castello Sforzesco, is near the city center and, unlike many castles, you do not have to climb a hill to get to it. The castle is home to several different museums, displaying paintings, furniture, and other cultural and historic artifacts, including works by da Vinci and Michelangelo, including the latter's final sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà. But even if you do not want to visit a museum, the castle is an excellent place to wander around, its courtyard serves as a local park. You can see castle artifacts and architecture details. There is also a collection of musical instruments, armory of weapons and medieval armor

Castello Sforzesco

5. Pinacoteca di Brera

The Renaissance Palazzo di Brera, built between 1651 and 1773, was originally a Jesuit college, but since 1776 has been the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts). Along with a library and observatory, it contains the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of Italy's finest art museums. Much of the art was acquired as churches closed or were demolished, and the museum is especially strong in paintings by northern Italian masters. As you enter through the courtyard, you will see an 1809 monument to Napoleon I by the sculptor Canova.

The most famous picture in the gallery is Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin (Lo Sposalizio), the finest work of his first period. But it is not all old master pieces on display, there are also works by Picasso, Braque, and Modigliani, too.

Most visitors miss the Brera's little secret: the Orto Botanico di Brera, a charming garden in one of its inner courtyards, a hidden oasis of exotic trees, pools, and flower beds with a 19th century greenhouse.

Pinacoteca di Brera

6. Opera at Teatro alla Scala

Considered the most prestigious opera house in the world, La Scala has rung with the music of all the great operatic composers and singers. The theater seats 2,800 people, and its audiences are known (and feared) as the most demanding in Italy. The season begins in early December and runs through May, but tickets are often difficult to come by. The best way of getting tickets is through your hotel concierge, but it is worth checking at the box office. In the same building is the Museo Teatrale alla Scala, where you will find a collection of costumes from landmark performances and historical and personal mementos of the greats who performed and whose works were performed at La Scala, including Verdi, Rossini, and the great conductor Arturo Toscanini. If there is not a rehearsal in progress, the museum offers access to see the inside of the opera house itself, one of the world's grandest. 

Teatro alla Scala

Teatro alla Scala

7. Basilica Sant'Ambrogio

Basilica Sant' Ambrogio, one of Milan's oldest churches, is an 11th century church built on the site of a fourth century church. Sant' Ambrogio is Milan's patron saint, and you can see him in a crypt along with second century martyrs. The church is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture and inside are many interesting relics, carvings, and mosaics. Be sure to see the gold altar.

Basilica Sant'Ambrogio

8. Cimitero Monumentale

This is not your typical cemetery. Even if you are the type who does not care for visiting a graveyard, you owe it to yourself to check out Milan's "Monumental Cemetery." This substantial open-air museum houses hundreds of tombs, including many belonging to some of the country's most important citizens. The designs vary: You will see everything from four poster beds to marble pyramids, as families have competed over the years for the most elaborate mausoleum.

Cimitero Monumentale

9. Santa Maria Presso San Satiro

From the outside, this church on a shopping street not far from Piazza del Duomo seems relatively small and unimpressive. Step inside to see that it is quite grand, its majestic, deep, vaulted sanctuary stretching into a large semicircular recess that is nearly the length of the main part of the church.

Or is it? Keep your eyes on it as you walk forward, and watch as it melts into an almost completely flat wall behind the altar. It is all an optical illusion, a very clever trick played by the architect Bramante to give grandeur to a church with only a limited space.

Santa Maria Presso San Satiro

Santa Maria Presso San Satiro

10. National Museum of Science and Technology

Housed in a former Olivetan monastery, the museum illustrates the history of science and technology from the work of early scientists into modern times. Of particular interest is the Leonardo da Vinci Gallery with working models of many of his inventions and machinery, created from da Vinci's drawings. In the physics exhibits are apparatus used by Galileo, Newton, and Volta, and there are sections relating to optics, acoustics, telegraphy, transport, shipping, railroads, flying, metallurgy, motor vehicles, timekeeping, and timber. In all, more than 15,000 technical and scientific objects represent the history of Italian science, technology, and industry.

National Museum of Science and Technology

National Museum of Science and Technology

11. Naviglio

For the young people who frequent the canal side cafés and music clubs, Naviglio is one of the top things to do in Milan at night. Although it is the most active in the evening, go in the daytime for the boutiques and artists' workshops, and for the restaurants and frequent festivals held here. In April, the neighborhood along the canal is filled with flowers for the Festa Di Fiori, and the Festa del Naviglio brings concerts, processions, crafts, and an antique market. Barges along the canals are decorated in mid June for the Sagra di San Cristoforo (Festival of Saint Christopher), and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi performs about 50 concerts on Thursday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Auditorium di Milano.

Naviglio

12. Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna (Modern Art Gallery)

Napoleon's residence when he occupied Milan, this palace facing the Giardini Pubblici was new when Napoleon commandeered it. Today, it retains its original stucco work and decorative details inside, which adds to its interest as a showcase for Milan's extensive collection of modern art. The emphasis is on Italian art, from 19th century Romanticism to post-impressionists, but the collections are far broader, with works by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Rouault, Modigliani, Dufy, and Vuillard. There is an extensive group of Neoclassical sculpture by Canova and his contemporaries. On the grounds are an English style garden and a botanic garden, and adjoining it are the lawns, flower gardens, and playgrounds of the public gardens.

Also adjoining the Giardini Pubblici is the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Museum of Natural History), where the biodiversity of the earth is shown in nearly 100 detailed dioramas. Especially strong is the paleontology section, highlighted by a spectacular pliosaurus hanging from the ceiling.

Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna

13. Take a Walk in the Parco Sempione

When you get tired of museums, crowds, and shopping head to one of Milan's parks. One of the best is Parco Sempione, between the castle and Porta Sempione, which spans 116 acres and is home to an aquarium, a sports stadium, and a medieval castle. Many of the city's best attractions, like the Palazzo dell’Arte, are located in Parco Sempione.

Parco Sempione

14. Watch a Soccer Game at San Siro Stadium

Like much of Europe, football (aka soccer to Americans) is tremendously popular in Milan. The city is home to San Siro Stadium, one of the largest in Europe. It is where A.C. and Inter, Milan's two teams, both play and well worth a visit. The stadium can host more than 80,000 people.

San Siro Stadium

15. Have an Espresso at Wes Anderson's Café (Bar Luce)

Fans of the eclectic American filmmaker, Wes Anderson, who directed movies such as; The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, should not miss Bar Luce, a café designed by the director. While the café channels the 1950s and 1960s, popular Italian aesthetics inspire the retro furniture and color palette, and you will see some resemblance's to Anderson's film sets. Do not forget to take an Instagram next to the vintage pinball machine!

Bar Luce



Milan is central to many fascinating smaller cities and towns as well as to the lakes of Northern Italy and makes an excellent base for visiting them by train or vehicle. The breath taking Lake Como is just 30 miles north of the city. The tiny town of Bellagio is well worth a visit: Here you can walk along the lake's shorelines, visit ancient churches, and dine at mom and pop restaurants.

 

Transport

 

From Malpensa to Como by train:

If you want to travel from Milan Malpensa Airport to Lake Como by public transport then the best option is to catch the Malpensa Express train to Saronno, then change to another train to connect to Como Nord Lago Station. From there you can catch the ferry to other towns on the lake, or catch the bus.

Malpensa Express is an efficient service offered by Trenord, and it is the best way to get to Lake Como from Malpensa airport. The train starts from both terminals and gets to Saronno train station in about 20 minutes, then you have to change and take the train which heads to Como Nord Lago.

Ticket price for both routes is €10.90 (€8 for Malpensa Express and €2.90 for the Saronno–Como route, operated by Trenord).

The average journey time between Milan and Como is 48 minutes. The first train leaves from Milan at 05:46, while the last one departs at 23:16.

 

From Malpensa to Como by car:

 If you rent a car at the airport, simply follow the directions toward Como/Chiasso. Take the new A36 motorway (Pedemontana Lombarda) and continue for approximately 15 kilometers (9.3 miles). Turn right and take the A9 motorway toward Como/Chiasso. When you are driving on the A9, continue north until you reach the Como Centro exit.

hydrofoil

The Romanesque church of San Fedele

Como Cathedral

The little harbor of Argegno

Bellagio

Volta Museum

Como, 8:30 am - 10:30 am

Start your tour from Como. Here you can spend a couple of hours. After drinking a coffee in a bar in the town center, see two of the most beautiful churches in the city: the Basilica of San Fedele and the Como Cathedral.

If you are fast enough, a walk along the lake is just what you need.

Take some pictures of the neoclassical Volta museum and Life Electric, two of the best things to see during your day trip to Lake Como.

A tiny street in the town center of Bellagio

Lake promenade of Menaggio

Villa Carlotta

DescriptionLife Electric is a contemporary sculpture, dedicated to the physicist Alessandro Volta

Argegno, 10:30 am -12:30 pm

Buy a daily ticket at the boat landing in Piazza Cavour, and take a hydrofoil that will lead you to the lakeside promenade of Argegno (approx. 1 hour trip). It is almost noon… time for a little break!

Relax in a bar on the lakefront and take a glass of white wine, while admiring the opposite shore and its scattered houses. The historic center of Argegno is quite small but quaint, definitely worth a visit.

Bellagio, 12:30 pm -3:00 pm

Around 12:30, take a fast boat that will take you to Bellagio in 25 minutes. During your trip, just relax and take some pictures of Villa Balbianello and the beautiful towns along the coast.

It is hard to choose what to see in a Lake Como day trip, but do not miss a visit to Bellagio. Once you get there, turn right and head for Villa Melzi (the villa is open from March to November, keep this in mind!). There, you have to spend at least 45 minutes, in order to admire the manicured gardens of the complex and the grandeur of the villa.

If you take the northern exit, you will find yourself on the lakeside promenade of Bellagio. Take one of the alleys on the right that lead to the town center, which is full of leather shops, perfume stores, small restaurants and much more… Be careful not to spend all your money there! 

Menaggio and Tremezzo, 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Getting from Bellagio to Menaggio will only take you 15 minutes by ferry. When you get to Menaggio, walk on its elegant lake promenade and have a coffee in Piazza Garibaldi.

After taking some pictures of the hills in front of you, head to the main road and wait for the C10 bus that will take you to Tremezzo in a few minutes.

Do not miss a visit to the beautiful Villa Carlotta, whose gardens are definitely one of the best things to see during a day trip to Lake Como.

Como, 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Ok, I guess that it is time to go back from where you started! You can now return to Como by boat from Tremezzo.

Look for a nice place to eat in the historic center of the town or on the right side of the lakefront… you will be really spoiled for choice!

Now it is up to you: end your Lake Como day trip with a sweet dinner in a cool restaurant and enjoy the local delicacies!