End of summer 18 in Europe: Milan and day trips
Milan is THE Italian fashion capital known for its beautiful, well dressed people and even more beautiful architecture. We coincidentally visited during September’s Fashion Week which was an amazing experience. Of course the shows and parties were private but there were models and celebs casually strolling around town being papped and it felt almost normal! Plus we ended up in the same club as Chris Brown but that’s a story for another day.
Milan is one of the cheapest Italian cities to fly to from London (with easyJet). From the airport, we took the airport bus express to the central station for €14 return. If you are planning day trips from Milan then it’s best to get train tickets from here in advance. There are 2 train companies and which you use depends on where you’re going so best to ask for advice there.
You can also buy the Milano card here which gives you free transport around the city and discounted museum and gallery entry. We bought ours online so got free entry to the Highlife Galleria rooftop (4th floor) which over looks Milan’s cathedral and the square…pretty epic at sunset. On the other floors, you’ll find a bar which is in prime position with the cathedral in the background (and drinks prices to match) and a restaurant dedicated to legend Pavarotti.
We stayed in Meninger Hostel which was right next to Lambrate station (train and metro). It meant that we weren’t paying extortionate central prices but were still close to the action. As far as hostels go, this one is very decent and a perfect way to ease yourself into hostel life.
Things to see and do in the city:
Duomo – the cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen! It is worth getting there early otherwise you’ll be competing with hundreds for that perfect shot. You have a few of options on how to appreciate it further after you shoot: either a paid tour inside plus or minus the roof or attend church mass for free. We went to Sunday evening mass and although it was entirely in Italian, it was fairly easy to follow. Come at least 20 minutes before mass starts so you can get in (and don’t forget to cover up appropriately!)
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – the shopping complex next to the cathedral. It contains all the designer powerhouses plus a few boutiques. The shopping centre itself is a work of art so it’s worth visiting just to appreciate this! Here we spotted the most photoshoots (and got papped ourselves!). It was one of the many locations which had the mirror cubes with information inside explaining all aspects of fashion and design (a fashion week feature only it seems).
Sforza Castle – only a few metro stops away from Duomo, this castle complex is a treat. The museum entry is €5 or free in late afternoons most days. We strolled around the gardens taking in the sites and then found ourselves watching a courtyard performance of opera singing and medieval dancing!
Parco Sempione is just beyond the castle and perfect for hanging out in sunny weather. If you keep walking away from the castle, you’ll come across the Arco Della Pace (Arch of Peace) which is very similar to the Arc de Triomphe and originates from the Roman walls of Milan.
Royal Palace has many parts to it and is worth checking out an exhibition if you can. We discovered the free Bonalumi art exhibition which featured a lot of bold and striking pieces. Even the picture of the artist was fabulous!
All the museums in Milan are grand so you’re truly spoilt for choice. We visited Museo Poldi Pezzoli which showcased a lavish stately home, taught us about lace and its origins and so much more. It’s €10 for adults/€7 with a Milano card or €4.50 for students and those under 26.
La Scala – Milan’s opera house. You can go on a paid tour outside of rehearsal times (no set time, just luck really) if you don’t want to pay for a whole show. The day we visited, the green fashion awards were on which we saw them prepping for but couldn’t wing our way in to!
Spend time in the Navigli neighbourhood. Did you know that Milan has canals?! Neither did I! This part of town is full of restaurants, bars and club surrounding the canals. The vibe is cool and there’s something for everyone…we saw older Italians dancing salsa at one end and the younger ones enjoying hip hop just yards away.
And finally find a beautiful Vespa to ride…or match with if you would prefer!
Eat and drink
My first time in Italy did not disappoint food wise. Even street food was incredible!
La laconda del gatto rosso is one of the restaurants in the designer shopping centre. Although the prices weren’t bad, the difference is in the food tax they add on top. I had la laconda pizza (puréed spicy salami,red onion, tomato and mozzarella) plus red wine. €19 in total but then an additional €4 for tax! And then you add a tip on top!!
La cappelletta – homely Italian restaurant which was a short walking distance from our hostel (near Lambrate metro station). You can buy a litre of red wine for €7 here!! I enjoyed the best pasta with bolognnaise there.
Arancini – fried rice balls made from risotto and filled with anything e.g. mushroom, cheese etc which you can buy anywhere. SO GOOD.
Gelato! To be honest, it doesn’t matter where you get it from as it’ll all blow your mind.
Rosa & Co for a modern insta worthy feel. This pretty in pink cafe serves plenty of good Italian coffee and sweet treats for decent prices.
We had dinner in a Peruvian restaurant El Hornero one night and it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area as Peruvian food is SO good (as you know from my Peru blog).
If you have time, this is such a great way to escape the city. We went on 2 day trips:
Lake Como. A huge and incredibly beautiful Lake whose beauty can be appreciated on a tour of its towns. We bought specific round trip tickets from the train station via Trenitalia to visit Varenna, Bellagio and Como (for just over €40). Our day started with a morning train to Varenna (either 08.20 or 10.20) which takes an hour. From here, we followed the signs to the castle which was a very steep 40 minute hike but once you get to the top, you have the most insane view of the Lake. Entry to the castle is only a few euros and you are provided with a written guide to help you appreciate it. The walk back down is much kinder!
We had lunch at the beautiful and bougie Lake facing Hotel Royal Victoria. The spaghetti was delicious and cost €20 plus €5 cover (remember this isn’t a tip) but check out this view!
Next was the ferry to Bellagio (included in the train ticket). However this part of our day flopped massively. We arrived at 3pm and knew we wanted to get to Como by 5pm latest to explore, get food and see the sunset. Our options for the onward ferries were either a “speedy” 45 mins or the slow 2 plus hours. It cost us an extra €12.60 (instead of €5 as we had been told in Milan) for the speedy one and everyone wanted to get on that ferry so we used all our exploring time to queue instead. Meaning I have no idea what Bellagio looks like beyond its port…let me know if you visit!
Our final stop was the town of Como which was bigger than the other 2. The main sights we checked out were the Cathedral (another impressive Italian design) and San Fedele Church before indulging in more gelato. Checking out the sunset over the lake will really make this day trip extra special! To get back to Milan, there are many trains from Como’s station which are included in the tour price.
The romantic city where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is set. It’s only 2 hours away from Milan by train and easily doable in a day. Our original aim was to visit Juliet’s Balcony and eat good food but then we achieved so much more.
We started with a 4 Church tour (3 churches and a cathedral) which cost €6. Each church offered guided audio tours in every language and is easy to fit into a couple of hours.
Basilica de San Zeno – named after the Bishop of Verona. Originally from Mauritania, he was likely a black man! The church features an interesting bronze door whose art illustrates stories from the bible. It is thought that the crypt is where Romeo and Juliet wed.
San Fermo Maggiore – Gothic style church which is separated into the upper and lower church. The upper church has many chapels and altars. The most striking piece in this church was the wooden ceiling, shaped like a ship and displays the pictures of over 400 saints.
The lower church is divided into 4 naves and has many religious drawings over the walls and pillars.
Basilica de Santa Anastasia – named after the 4th century virgin martyr. It was designed by Dominican friars and took at least 200 years to build from about the 14th century. Inside there are many chapels which belong to royal or important families and all are dedicated to various saints, making it the richest church in Verona. The interior is impressively filled with art pieces such as Pisanello’s fresco (St George with the princess, waiting to slay the dragon).
Cathedral complex (duomo) – made up of San Maria Matricolare (the cathedral), San Giovanni en Fonte and San Elena. Initially it was the 1st Basilica in Verona, built by San Zeno but it became too small for the population and was later replaced. All the churches were impressive but the cathedral was on a whole other level!
You’ll cross the river at some point during the churches tour and this is the perfect time to pass through Castelvecchio. Literally translates as old castle and is free to wander over its bridge and courtyard. The castle has the smallest love lock bridge I’ve ever seen on my travels so far!
Juliet’s balcony was a massive tourist trap and quite disappointing. You pass through an alleyway to the courtyard and to get onto her balcony, you have to pay and then queue for your 20seconds on there. The statue of her was being groped as apparently that brought good luck? Anything for a better love life it seems! Oh and Romeo has a balcony too but that looked permanently closed.
Verona also has a colosseum which you can check out on a general tour or for outdoor shows! Imagine watching a rendition of Romeo and Juliet in this amphitheatre in Verona…culture goals!
Eating and drinking around here is cheaper than Milan so get treat yourself and maybe get an apertivo in too (essentially happy hour where the drinks include snacks). Here I had the most delicious tiramisu of my life!
So that’s my 5 days in and around Milan in a nutshell. It’s a destination that can be fully appreciated in a short space of time which is perfect for weekend/ day breaks! But I would love my next visit to Italy to be much longer, possibly a trip for Summer ‘19? Stay tuned to find out!