Just near 900 international students here on exchange means near 900 different lives to share and 900 different ways we have all come to call Milan our “own”. Though students live in the same city and see the same sights, studying abroad is no cookie-cutter experience as each person creates their own story, processes and interprets each situation differently, and makes their own memories. From my eyes, ears (and mouth) to yours, I thought I’d share what I have come to know and love as my home and what I would suggest as a now (part-time) local.
North of the Duomo is Brera, an area known for its artsy and bohemian vibe. Home to the Accademia di Brera and the Pinacoteca di Brera, this small yet charming area is composed of narrow streets and alleys lined with galleries, small shops and boutiques, and quaint restaurants perfect for wandering and getting lost in.
Further north of Brera is Milan’s largest park known for it’s wide open spaces close vicinity to two of Milan’s main landmarks, the Castello Sforzesco and the Arco della Pace. Whether it’s spending late summer evenings or crisp fall afternoons strolling through, it’s a calming and relaxing getaway from the city while still being in the city. Another popular sight southwest of the park is Santa Maria delle Grazie church, which houses Leonardo’s Last Supper.
Right at the start of the Navigli and next to the somewhat recently renovated Darsena is Ticinese, whose social mix of young intellectuals, artists, students, and professionals makes it an undoubtedly hip(ster) scene. Artisan shops, Milan’s creative scene, and even a little bit of history fill this area’s streets and is a cool, trendy place to be no matter the time of the day. Luckily for me, I lived a 2-minute walk away from Porta Ticinese and Navigli where I spent most of my time.
South of the city center is the Navigli district, best known for its two canals, Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, that are lined with cafes, restaurants, and bars perfect for people-watching in the day and abuzz with life and excitement at night. Whether it’s grabbing an aperitivo at Maya or sipping on a gin and tonic at Gino12, Navigli is the hotspot for young adults and those looking to enjoy a fun night out with friends any night of the week.
Of course, there are many other areas to visit like the famous Centro Storico, the cultural Chinatown, the luxurious Quadrilatero Della Moda, or the modern Porta Nuova Isola, but these are the areas that I came to be most familiar with and would definitely recommend to anyone coming to Milan to visit.
Go to a football game at San Siro Stadium
Europeans take their football seriously. And by football, I mean real football (soccer to us Americans). No matter the team you are rooting for (in Milan there are two teams: A.C. Milan and Inter…and you better be rooting for the right one), going out to watch any game is a fun, casual event to do with friends.
See a show at La Scala
Teatro alla Scala is the most renowned opera house in the world and for good reason. This magnificent structure was built in 1778 and is home to the greatest such as Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi. I was unable to attend a show as the student tickets (a huge discount in comparison to the regular tickets) sold out within seconds, but if you’re lucky enough to get a seat, enjoy every magnificent moment.
Meet up for ‘aperitivo’
Meaning more than just an ‘appetizer’, the Italian concept of aperitivo happens early or late evening where anywhere from €6-12 gets you a drink, unlimited food, and a long, leisurely evening gathered with friends. Its a pleasant way to enjoy cocktails and socialize with friends all while fitting into the laid-back Italian lifestyle.
Enjoy Milan’s nightlife/clubs
Another part of Milan, or should I say European, culture is going out clubbing. I guess this comes as more of a new thing to me as I never have gone before in the states per the law of previously being a minor. Yet apart from the fashion and business of Milan, Milan has a great night scene that provides the optimal outlet for drinking, socializing, and dancing the night away.
Climb to the top of the Duomo
If you’re going to see Milan, at least see it the right way. When at the Duomo, don’t miss out on the opportunity to go to the very top, that though quite often has a long line leading up, is well worth the wait for the best view of the city.
Pizza- I Capatosta, Alzaia Naviglio Grande 56
Already knowing I would gain some weight here, I thought I would at least get something out of it by setting the ultimate goal: Find the best pizza in Milan. As my pants got tighter and my knowledge of the perfect pizza became wider, the ironic twist is that in the past four months here, the best pizza I had was in Rome. Yes, that’s correct, in Rome, not Milan. More specifically, at Emma, where the perfectly charred, flaky thin crust was cooked to perfection under one of the best Margherita pizza’s I’ve had. And I would return back to Rome just for that pizza, and all the other mouth-wateringly good pizzas there. But back to Milan, where I’ve learned that pizzas aren’t exactly their forte. Nonetheless, if I had to give an award, I’d say my favorite has been I Capatosta. Set on Navigli Grande is an unassuming pizzeria that once inside, has a cozy feel with a wide selection of traditionally cooked pizzas, each with the option to have a ricotta-filled crust; not exactly “optional” in my mind. Whether sitting outside on a sunny day or enjoying the local atmosphere inside, the portions, price and quality all prove their worth on the top of my list. Other notable mentions are Be Bop that has an overwhelming and unique list of pizza’s catering to gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and any other allergies one might have and Ciripizza, a bit far from the center but their fresh, healthy ingredients, large and flavorsome pizzas are worth the trip.
Gelato La Gelateria Della Musica– Piazzetta Pattari 2
Pro; I discovered this place with two weeks left before I leave. Con; I discovered this place with two weeks left before I leave. Frequently rated as the best on the internet, I was a bit skeptical of its high ratings in relation to its proximity to the center (a.k.a tourist trap), but all doubt was washed away as I indulged in one of the best, if not the best, gelato I have had in my five times to Italy. Considering that one of my favorite flavors of gelato is pistachio and they had not one, but three kinds of pistachio, they already had a step up before I even tried it. Incredibly tasty with both sweet and savory flavors, I will be sure to make the most of my last days with it. They have multiple locations around the city, though the main one is hidden on a side street behind the Duomo. Another great shop is Rivareno, though a chain has inventive, quality flavors and one store was conveniently located right next to my apartment for all my late-night gelato needs.
In my short, but sweet, time, I’ve enjoyed this city and I’m sure there’s much more to see, so I guess I’ll keep it at these few things until my return!