Milan is the Italian city with the fastest rising number of tourists, and one of the most visited in Europe. Whether you're taking the train in for the day, visiting for business or stopping off as part of a holiday, here’s how to spend the perfect 24 hours in Milan.
Start the day early with cappuccino and culture
Start with cappuccino and brioche under the chandeliers of the historic Pasticceria Cova in Milan’s fashion quadrilateral. Do as the Milanese do and stand at the bar. Remember you need to pay before you order.
Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
The quadrilateral is the fashion showcase where Milanese greats Prada, Armani, Versace, Missoni and others rub shoulders with Dior, Balenciaga and the rest. Don’t miss the DMAG outlet on Via Manzoni for discounted designer goods.
Alternatively, head to the arty Brera neighbourhood for cobbled streets, elegant palazzos and wrought-iron balconies.
The Pinacoteca di Brera boasts a stunning collection spanning centuries of Italian art. Caffè Fernanda is the gallery's stylish new café, named after museum director Fernanda Wittgens who safeguarded the museum’s treasures during World War Two.
Call at Cavalli e Nastri on Via Brera for exquisite vintage clothing and accessories. Le Solferine sells local designer Silvia Bertolaja’s handmade shoes, as well as other all-Italian accessories and clothing.
Walk towards Piazza della Scala and the famous La Scala opera house and its museum to learn about its history, and take a look at the stage where divas such as Maria Callas once sang.
Lunch and photography in Italy's oldest shopping centre
With its beautiful glass dome, 19th-century Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II is Italy’s oldest shopping mall. Luxury fashion houses nestle next to historic shops such as hat-makers Borsalino and Libreria Bocca, one of Italy’s oldest booksellers.
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
For lunch, call at Pasticceria Marchesi for incredible views of the Galleria from above. Or take the short walk to Slow Sud for southern Italian – mainly Sicilian – favourites in a relaxed atmosphere.
High up in the eaves of the Galleria, the Prada Foundation's Milan Osservatorio has permanent and temporary exhibitions of photography and visual arts. Take the lift up as you enter the building near Pasticceria Marchesi.
An afternoon seeing the sights and browsing the shops
Visit Piazza del Duomo with its Gothic cathedral that took nearly 600 years to complete. On a clear day, go up to the terraces: the view stretches over the contemporary skyline of the Porta Nuova business district and to the Alps beyond. (And yes, there's a lift.)
The Museo del Novecento has an impressive collection of 20th-century art. Head up to the top floor, dedicated to Italian artist Lucio Fontana, to admire his Neon sculpture with the Duomo and Galleria in the background – the beauty of Milan in one perfect view.
Then visit the 5 Vie design district. Funky Table offers bohemian homeware, while Wait and See (both on Via Santa Marta) is a wonderland of clothing, accessories, bijoux and other lovely curiosities.
Cultural highlight The Last Supper is a 20-minute stroll away in the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie, although you’ll need to book in advance.
Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, gave Leonardo da Vinci a vineyard in the gardens of the Renaissance Casa degli Atellani. La Vigna di Leonardo – Leonardo’s vineyard – was replanted by its current owners and the resuIt is an oasis of calm. It’s a stone's throw from the church on Corso Magenta, a heartland of 19th-century bourgeois villas.
Dig into Milan's contemporary dining scene
Go to Porta Venezia and Champagne Socialist for organically farmed natural wines and Mediterranean appetisers. Sample Milan's international food scene at Björk Swedish Brasserie, the city’s first Nordic restaurant.
Alternatively, head to Via Solferino in the Brera district. Dry does pizza and cocktails, while Pisacco offers contemporary bistrot cooking and Italian favourites.
If you have more time...
Once the industrial homeland of Lambretta scooters, nowadays this north-eastern area is a hub for design and hipster markets. Check on Facebook to find neighbourhood associations organizing regular art markets and events.
Head to 20134 Lambrate for vintage clothing and accessories, or Red Room for locally handmade clothing and more.
This sleek contemporary art complex holds an impressive permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. Kids (and not only) will love Carsten Höller’s Upside Down Mushroom Room in the tower. Don’t miss the deliciously retro Bar Luce designed by film director Wes Anderson.
San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
Known as the Sistine Chapel of Milan, this treasure of a church has a beautiful 16th-century cycle of frescoes showing the life of San Maurizio by Bernardo Luini.
Lia Rumma Gallery
Prestigious contemporary gallery that hosts big-name exhibitions such as Marina Abramović and Vanessa Beecroft.
Porta Nuova and the Isola District
Business district Porta Nuova is Milan’s face of the future, with the cutting-edge architecture of its Unicredit skyscraper – Italy's tallest – and Piazza Gae Aulenti.
Isola is where the creatives moved in on a traditionally working-class area. World-class jeweller Monica Castiglioni makes modern Italian jewellery in her workshop here, while Frida is the go-to for eclectic vintage clothing and, in its in-house bar, aperitivo and drinks.
The permanent collection and massive digital archive at this fashion museum is an Armani-lover’s dream, while recent
temporary exhibitions have included photographers Larry Fink and Sarah Moon.
READ ALSO: Six delightful day trips within easy reach of Milan
Rachael Martin is a British-born writer based near Milan. Find more of her work on her website.