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Exploring Milan: 10 interesting things to do or see

When you only have a day or two to see a whole city, it’s hard to know where to begin. There are many good sites related to tourism that helped us. We like to do variety of different things, i.e., not just museums or art galleries. Here’s 10 cool things we squeezed into a very short stay.

1.Piazza del Duomo
Duomo di Milano

According to walksofitaly.com it is the fifth largest Christian church in the world. It’s over 600 years old, which makes it the oldest of the top 5. I found it quite overwhelming to think about what it has borne witness to over the centuries. Its wonderful to take some time here to just sit and watch as the paths of millions of people from all over the world cross each other.

This is obviously a biggie and a must do. It’s hard to describe the impact as you pop out from the underground metro and see the enormous cathedral surrounded by its expansive piazza. I have been lucky to see the Duomo in Florence, St Peter’s in Rome and St Marco’s in Venice, so I kind of naively thought, seen one Duomo, seen them all. Quite wrong. Milan’s Duomo is particularly beautiful and impressive.

Piazza del Duomo
2.Galleria Victor Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele ll with its magnificent glass and cast iron ceilings

Situated next to the Duomo, it’s worth taking a stroll through one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. It dates back to the 1870’s and the vaulted glass ceilings are truly amazing to see. The most upmarket shops and restaurants are located in this area. We were told that there used to be a McDonalds restaurant in the Galleria, but in 2012 were not allowed to renew their lease despite having first right of refusal. The landlord felt that Prada was a more suitable tenant. McDonalds sued the landlord for €24 million, which they withdrew when they found other premises close by!

3. Aperitivo in Navigli

Time to kick back and relax. A great spot to watch the sun go down and rub shoulders with the locals, is the Navigli canal district. The Aperitivo lifestyle has been perfected in Milan. With the aim of stimulating your appetite before dinner, the local bars offer cocktails and a feast of gourmet tit-bits. Most popular are the more bitter drinks such as Campari or Aperol Spritz. The artsy Brera district is also an option for Aperitivo, but we found it a little more ‘touristy’ than Navigli.

Sunset over the canal - Navigli
4. Bosco Verticale
Bosco Verticale - city living but in a high rise forest

We had heard about the award winning vertical garden towers of Milan and decided to take a train to Porta Nuova first thing one morning. They are a short walk from the Garibaldi FS metro station and are even more interesting the closer you get.

The two towers host around 900 trees and over 2000 types of plants. Different plants are used appropriately for the different levels and various positions of the sun and shade and attract a variety of birds. The whole area has been rejuvenated with parks, cycle tracks and playgrounds. Wandering on from there is the iconic Unicredit building (pictured above next to the Bosco building) located in a chic and modern plaza with busy coffee shops (Doesn’t anyone work in Italy?) There is even a Tesla showroom!

5. The Sound of Milan - Unicredit Plaza

We stumbled upon this unusual artwork by Alberto Garutti. There are twenty or so trumpet like pipes arranged in a large circle. The pipes reach underground to the different levels below and allow you to pick up the gurgles and murmurs that mingle from floors beneath you. It appeals to my people watching urges – but instead I can listen in unseen 😁.

6.Castello Sforzeco

If you are in the mood to wander through miles of beautiful gardens with lakes and trees and places to sit and watch the world go by,  then the gardens of this 14th century Castello are perfect. This medieval castle has many interesting museums to visit with a charge, but we were content to stroll through the vast grounds (no charge) and watch the dogs and kids playing. A perfect setting if you are in the mood for a picnic lunch.

7. Statue of Nelson Mandela (OK, this one is mainly for South Africans)
A bronze statue of Nelson Mandela donated by the South African government to the City of Milan in 2015

There is something cool about wandering through a strange city and bumping into a statue of your country’s ultimate hero. I was like, ‘oh there’s a statue of a man, I wonder… oh wow it’s Madiba!’

You’ll find it at Vicolo San Giovanni Suliman Muro. I liked the fact that he was just ‘there’, on a street, just like the authentic person that he was. In contrast to the statue in Sandton where his image is so huge it makes him feel unaccessible.

8. The L.O.V.E sculpture 🖕

How is this for something completely unexpected? Located in Piazza Affari, where the Italian stock exchange is housed, we visited this marble statue which is delivering an interesting message to the world of banking. 😜The statue was completed in 2010, just post the global financial crisis by Italian artist Maurizio Cattalan.

L.O.V.E. Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità.
9. Take a tram ride! 🚋
Beautifully restored trams are a great way to get around the city

Milan has had trams running since the late 1800’s. It’s a great way to see the city if you aren’t in a rush. Since 1994, there has been an active revival of the routes and the old carts themselves have also been restored in many instances.

10. The needle and thread sculpture

Another random but intriguing sculpture is this one! (A short stroll from Castello Sforzesca)

I particularly love that it’s symbolic of the Milan fashion industry (another part not shown here is the knot at the end of the thread, across the intersection inside the fountain!).

The tri-colour threads are meant to represent the three main metro lines, interweaving and going through tunnels. This links back to the complete renovation of the station area.

Piazzale Cadorna, 19m tall sculpture of a needle, thread and knot.

Well I hope this gives you some ideas of what to do when you have only a day or two in Milan. A quirky and vibey city that is full of surprises!

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