Italy Guide Series: Milan Interrail

Milan Interrail

To visit Milan you don’t need a map. Just take the subway

Are you tired of the usual lists and advice about visiting the city of Milan? Do you have little time to enjoy the fashion capital of Italy? Do you know that Milan has the oldest and longest subway network in Italy? This is the Milan City Guide for you: you don’t need a map, but just to pick a subway line, follow us, and you’ll experience the real Milan. With three itineraries for you to choose from, you’ll explore modern and historic aspects of the city, passing through the downtown and suburbs you may not have thought to visit!

A schematic of the map of the three suggested itineraries in this article.

THE RED ITINERARY: This itinerary will take you through centuries of history up to modern day. Visit the original ancient Roman Empire forum, an 11th century basilica, a 14th century castle that was temporarily converted into a prison, 18th century villas for wealthy families. See the square where Mussolini had his first gathering of Fascists in 1919 or visit the square where he was hung dead upside-down signifying the end of World War II. See masterpieces by Leonando da Vinci, including The Last Supper, or Michelangelo’s final sculpture, or countless others in art and historical museums along the way. Returning to today, visit the Milan Stock Exchange, see the FC Internazionale soccer team’s clubhouse, or see Milan’s premier exhibition site which held the infamous EXPO2015.

THE  GREEN ITINERARY: This itinerary starts off where gorgonzola cheese was born, and following a beautiful canal and parks, brings us into the city rich with buildings of various types of architecture: Art Nouveau, romanesque, and baroque. Visit Milan’s original soccer stadium or an indoor sports arena. For those less interested in sports, visit the Science and Technology museum dedicated to da Vinci which houses the largest collection of car models created from his drawings! Finally, finish your day with aperitivo at any of the bustling restaurants along a scenic canal.

THE YELLOW & PURPLE ITINERARY: The itinerary has a unique mix of old and new. For a day of luxury, you can visit the Milan cathedral and Royal Palace of Milan which has many art treasures from the cathedral, followed by some shopping in the nearby gallery, which was thought to be the progenitor for the modern shopping mall, and finish with a visit the famous La Scala opera house. Or you can see monuments from the First World War or Second World War, an old cemetery with many famous Italian families resting there. For those interested in sports, go see the headquarters of the AC Milan soccer team, and the largest Italian soccer stadium!

No matter your interests, these itineraries will be fascinating and interesting and a great way to explore Milan!

THE RED ITINERARY: M1

Opened in 1964, the red line was the very first metro line in Italy, connecting downtown Milan with the nearby city of Sesto San Giovanni to the east and the nearby site of Rho Fiera to the west. Rho Fiera hosts the most important Italian exhibitions each year, including the memorable EXPO2015. Let’s start your journey from the north terminus of the red line, in Sesto San Giovanni.

Sesto 1º Maggio

Known as the “Italian Stalingrad” for its long worker tradition as well as the strong prescence of leftist political parties and trade unions, Sesto San Giovanni is also popular for its historical resistance movement against Fascism during the end of the Second World War. It was the headquarter for some representative Italian industries, such as Breda (steel), Campari (beverage), Falck (previous steel mill, currently renewable energy), and Magneti Marelli (automotive). Walking in Sesto San Giovanni surrounded by public housing, a visitor could have the impression that they are in one of the communist suburbs in Eastern Europe. Sesto San Giovanni is home to some important industrial museums, and you shouldn’t miss them if you want to breathe its past: the Village Falck is an authentic worker village built in the 1920s, ensuring lifeline services to the many workers of Falck industry, in the style of the old English industrial cities. Then you can stop at Campari Gallery, an original blast from the past, surrounded by memories of “belle époque” inside the historical old house of this Italian beverage brand. Eventually you’ll come across the archaeological industrial park ex Breda, where you can see a majestic bridge crane and an old steam locomotive.

An old steam locomotive is on display on old traintracks.
Ex Breda park

Gorla

Now let’s get off in one of the oldest districts of northeast Milan. Gorla is crossed by the Naviglio Martesana canal, which is lined with beautiful, 18th century patrician villas that serve as country residences for wealthy Milanese families. This neighborhood is known as a little oasis, in the dispersed city, and includes the beautiful Villa Finzi park, with its expanse of trees and two small neoclassical temples, one above and one undeground. After a little walking you will find the historic Zelig Cabaret, the theater hotspot for the best comedy shows in the city and where the best italian comedy actors took their first steps on stage. Gorla is also an important place because of a tragedy that occured there during the Second World War. The Bomb Group of the US Air Force was targeting the factories in this area and the Allies dropped their bombs over this neighborhood by accident, striking a school in which 184 children were having lessons. The children, 15 teachers and 5 custodians died tragically. In the school’s location is an emotional and slightly disturbing monument in their memory, bearing the imprint “That’s the war” in Italian.

A walkway along the Naviglio Martesana canal.
The Naviglio Martesana

Loreto

If you really want to understand the tragedy of the young martyrs of Gorla, you have to stop here. At the end of the Second World War, Milan was home to violent retaliations between the Axis troops and the Italian partisans. Specifically, on August 10th, 1944 there was an attack supposedly made by the partisans against a Nazi van in which no German soldiers died but six Milan civilians did. The Nazi authorities in the Italian Social Republic forced Fascist soldiers to take fifteen random partisans from prison and shoot them next to Loreto Square. Their corpses were exposed for more than twelve hours. The same occured on April 28th, 1945 to the head of Fascism and the Italian Social Republic: Benito Mussolini. Killed by the partisans near Como Lake, Mussolini was brought to Milan and exposed upside-down in the square, together with the corpses of his partner Claretta Petacci and eighteen Fascist high-ranking officials. Therefore, for Italians, Loreto Square signifies the end of Fascism and the Second World War. Nowadays, a long and multiethnic road starts from the square, called Via Padova. This street, heading northeast from the square, has the largest concentration of foreigners and their shops in the city. Heading southwest from the square is the popular and well-loved shopping street Corso Buenos Aires. If you pass through Loreto Square at night, you will see the unique lights of the Fire Palace, a large office building constructed from anodized aluminum such that the whole wall can display images as if it’s a continuous screen.

The active street Corso Buenos Aires is lit up at night with car traffic and many stores.
Corso Buenos Aires

Porta Venezia

It’s the beginning (or the end) of Corso Buenos Aires, one of Milan’s main shopping streets, where you can find all the most famous brands. The monumental Porta Venezia is one of the six old gates of the city, and it was even part of the original Roman walls of Mediolanum (the ancient name for Milan), surviving through the Middle Ages to become a part of the Spanish walls during the 16th century. The gate was renovated under the Hapsburg domination of Milan in the 19th century and renamed Venezia because it faced east toward the city of Venice. Around the gate and in the adjacent streets of Corso Buenos Aires, you can find bars and restaurants of all kinds, among the elaborately decorated Art Nouveau style buildings. Don’t forget to visit what remains of Milan Lazzaretto, a quarantine built at the end of the 1400s for those who were infected by the plague. In more modern history, a chapter of the well-known, historical Italian novel “The Betrothed” by Alessandro Manzoni took place at Lazzaretto. The protagonist Renzo found his beloved Lucia in Milan. After this short immersion in history, let’s return to the old Lazzaretto where there now is the calm and relaxing Indro Montanelli Public Gardens, with its beatiful little lake, the notable Natural History Museum and the Planetarium “Ulrico Hoepli”, the most important in Italy. Don’t miss them!

A building facade in the Art Nouveau style with elaborate designs.
Casa Galimberti

San Babila

Leaving the San Babila metro station you will find yourself in one of the most representative squares of Milan. In front of you there is the Basilica of San Babila, an 11th century Roman Catholic church dedicated to Saint Babylas of Antioch. You should know that the glorious “Five days of Milan”, the citizen’s rebellion against Austrian domination in 1848, originated here. This square was home to the first skyscraper of Milan, the “Snia Viscosa Tower“, which was built during the Fascist regime in 1937. Furthermore, the neighborhood of San Babila has been the meeting place for the youth of Milan’s upper bourgeoisie and for the youth subculture. From San Babila Square, the fancy pedestrian street Corso Vittorio Emanuele II leads directly to Duomo Square, the touristic heart of Milan. But before reaching it, a beatiful church will appear on your right: it’s the San Carlo al Corso Church in neoclassical style and fully inspired by the Roman Pantheon. Its bell tower, at 84 meters high, is the highest in Milan. One more news for soccer lovers: under the portico of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II you will stumble across the clubhouse of FC Internazionale.

The exterior of the San Babila Basilica with a large monument in front
San Babila Basilica

Cordusio

Cordusio Square, with the statue of the Italian poet Giuseppe Parini in the middle, has historically been the most important commercial and business center of Milan. Its neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings host banks, post offices and financial corporations. The Milan Stock Exchange used to be in the beautiful and vast Palazzo delle Poste (now house of the first Starbucks opened in Italy) before its relocation during the Fascist period to the more modern and beautiful Palazzo Mezzanotte. Palazzo Mezzanotte was designed by the architect Paolo Mezzanotte, and is better-known as Palazzo della Borsa. It is an iconic symbol of Milan, the seat of the Italian Stock Exchange, and located in Piazza Affari (Business Square), which is the name that the Italian Stock Exchange is known by and referred to worldwide. In 2010, right in front of the monumental building is the irreverent work of art “L.O.V.E.” by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The work, created with Carrara marble, is a hand with all the fingers cut off except the middle finger, thereby symbolizing a kind of protest about the Great Recession that occured in that period and was also probably intended to be against the financial world in general. From here, walking along Via del Bollo, the historical Piazza San Sepolcro will appear wide in front of us. During the Roman Empire this was the Forum of Milan, the main square of the city. The namesake church of San Sepolcro, established in 1030 and built in the Romanesque style on two levels, maintains underground ruins of the ancient Roman pavement.

Do you remember our stop in Piazzale Loreto and the death of the Fascism? Well, it’s worth knowing that Fascism was also born in Milan, precisely in Piazza San Sepolcro, when in 1919 its leader Benito Mussolini created and gathered the organization “Italian Fascists of Combat.” In the back of the church is a 400-year old institution full of treasures and works of art that are worth your time, the Ambrosiana Palace with its annexed “Pinacoteca” and library. There are twenty-four rooms with some of the greatest masterpieces of all times, such as The Musician by Leonardo da Vinci, The Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio, The cartoon for the School of Athens by Raphael, the Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo, the Madonna del Padiglione by Sandro Botticelli and the magnificent Vases of Flowers by Jan Brueghel. Furthermore, the Ambrosiana library has the Codex Atlanticus, the largest collection of writing and drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. Last but not least, there is another unique place you shouldn’t miss: a few steps from Piazzale Cordusio there is a little corner of Venice right here in Piazza Mercanti, the core of city life in the Middle Ages. Over an impost block of the “Palazzo della Ragione“, located in this square, you can even see a bas relief representing the half-woolen boar (scrofa semilanuta in Italian), the legendary old emblem of the city of Mediolanum.

The front facade of the Italian Stock Exchange, with the famous middle-fingered sculpture "L.O.V.E."
Palazzo Mezzanotte, seat of the Italian Stock Exchange

Cairoli

If you had to choose one place to represent the history of Milan, it would be Sforza Castle, a landmark of the city. Passing through its main gate, Torre del Filarete, you will enter one of largest castles in Europe, whose history dates back to the end of the 1300s. From Visconti to Sforza, it was the main residence of the Lords of Milan until the foreign domination of the French, Swiss, Spaniards and Austrians. This castle has been a witness to the events of the city throughout history. Serving as ducal residence for the mercenary Captain Francesco Sforza, who became Duke of Milan in 1450, he decided to reconstruct and enlarge the castle and since then its name has been tied to the Sforza family. In 1494 Ludovico Sforza, fourth son of Francesco and well-known as Ludovico il Moro, inherited the Duchy of Milan, transforming the castle and the court of Milan into one of the most refined castles of its time, with decorations and frescoes by well-respected artists such as Donato Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci. Among the masterpieces that stand as a testament to this reign are the wall-and-ceiling painting “intertwining plants with fruits and monochromes of roots and rocks” by Leonardo in the Sala delle Asse and the decoration of the Treasure Room by Bartolomeo Suardi, also known as Bramantino. Since the Duchy of Milan fell under foreign rule the castle stopped being a ducal residence and was used for military purposes, thus with an enlargement of its fortifications.

During the Spanish domination, the castle become an authentic citadel, and in the following centuries it was theater of costly battles. When Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in Milan in 1796, the citizens asked for the demolition of the castle, considered a symbol of ancient tyranny. Indeed, Napoleon partly did just that, knocking down the ramparts and approving a project by the Swiss architect Luigi Canonica which alterated the castle in a Neoclassical style. Still today, the enormous semicircular area in front of the castle is called Foro Bonaparte in honor of Napoleon. The final terrible event that this castle witnessed was after the fall of Napoleon, when the Austrians came back to rule Milan. During the uprising of the Five Days of Milan in March 1848, the castle turned into a prison for Milanese citizens who were arrested by the Hapsburg troops and it housed the canons that the Austrain Marshal Radetzky had used to bomb the city. With the final defeat of the Austrians and the birth of the Kingdom of Italy, the castle’s destiny was uncertain but finally its history prevailed and after a full restoration by the architect Luca Beltrami in 1905, the castle returned to its orginal shape from the Sforza’s era.

Framed by the beautiful Sempione Park, the largest in downtown Milan, the castle currently hosts important museums such as Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco (with masterpieces by Mantegna, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Foppa and Tintoretto), the Museum of Ancient Art, the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Egyptian Museum, the Prehistoric collections of the Archaeological Museum of Milan, the Applied Arts Collection, the Antique Furniture and Wooden Sculpture Museum, The Trivulziana Library with Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Codex Trivulzianus‘ manuscript and above all the Museum of Rondanini Pietà, which includes Michelangelo’s last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà, completed only a few days before his death in 1564. After this long visit you can relax in the wonderful Sempione Park, the green lung of Milan, established in 1888 and adjacent to the gardens of the castle, created in the English romantic style. When you arrive on the other side of the park you can admire another landmark of Milan, the Arch of Peace, a triumphal Neoclassical arch designed by the Italian architect Luigi Cagnola and inaugurated in 1838. Dedicated to the peace negotiated by European nations in 1815, the arch is symbolically linked with the Sforza Castle, given that it’s on the same visual line despite the park splitting them up.

The water fountains on full display in front of Sforza Castle.
The Sforza Castle

Conciliazione

A few steps from this station there is a painting that alone is worth the visit to Milan and brings tourists from all over the world: the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Painted between 1495 and 1498 on the wall inside the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie Basilica, this masterpiece is closely related to the story of the city and the Sforza Lords. Indeed, thanks to Ludovico il Moro, Milan had its golden age during the Renaissance and the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie with its annexed Dominican convent was one of the best examples from this era. The Duke decided to make this church the celebration site for his family in addition to their burial site, and he commissioned Bramante for the artwork. After the death of the Duke Ludovico il Moro during his imprisonment in France, the mausoleum disappeared. The Duke had the great idea to commission Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the best artists in his court, to decorate the side walls in the convent’s refectory. The figures of Jesus and his Apostles painted by Leonardo inspired the popular mystery novel “The Da Vinci Code.” On the opposite wall of the Last Supper there is another traditional subject: the Crucifixion painted by Donato Montorfano. Some advice if you want to come see these works of art: the tickets for The Last Supper are required to be booked in advance, through a phone number or the official website. The visit is short, you are only alotted a maximum 15 minutes, and only 25 people at a time can stand in the refectory. Therefore it is possible that tickets are not available for the current month, due to the incredible number of visitors. So if you are planning your trip to Milan, remember to purchase the tickets some weeks before! On the other side of Santa Maria delle Grazie Basilica there is another place worthy of your time: the Vineyard of Leonardo da Vinci. It was the vineyard that the Duke Ludovico il Moro gave to Leonardo as a gift in 1498, while he was completing The Last Supper just a few meters from there.

An image of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" on the wall
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Buonarroti

We are in the west part of Milan, and this district offers less touristic sites and fewer crowds but at the same time more local life and places well-loved by the Milanese. We are at Buonarroti Square, with a wonderful neo-gothic style building and an eye-catching statue. The statue is the great Italian musician and composer Giuseppe Verdi and the building in front of it was probably among his last works of art. At the end of the 19th century and during the last years of his life he decided to commission the construction of a retirement home for singers and musicians that had fallen into poverty. He hoped to relieve their sufferings and loneliness in old age. Now the retirement home is still in operation, and in addition to musicians, it is home to music students with little money, helping them to finish their studies. Furthermore, in the chapel of this house Giuseppe Verdi and his wife are buried. The visit is free and, with a small donation, as well as helping the Giuseppe Verdi foundation,  you can enter a unique place in the world, meeting old musicians and young talents, who have dedicated their lives to music. If you walk south, you’ll arrive at Wagner Square, where the streets are exceptionally lively in the evening, due to many good bars, restaurants and ice-cream parlors. You will meet people of all ages eating, drinking, talking or simply enjoying some of the best ice-cream in the city. There is also a municipal market here with high-quality Italian products, so you can experience a typical local shopping experience. If you continue southward, you’ll be at Piemonte Square, where there is the National Theater, one of the most important in the city. Corso Vercelli, a popular shopping street, extends to the east of Piemonte Square, where you can also find bookstores and a movie theater.

Casa Verdi

Rho-Fiera

We’ll take the metro one last time to reach the hinterland of Milan, close to the town of Rho, where the main city exhibition site has been since 2005, which was designed by the popular architect Fuksas. Fiera Milano is the leading exhibition group in Italy and one of the top in the world, offering a 345,000 square meter complex with covered exhibition space, plus 60,000 square meters outdoors, a vast congress center, several cafés, restaurants, facilitates and easy parking. It is one of the most modern in Europe. In 2015, this was the location of the infamous EXPO2015, the international exposition hosted by Milan, whose theme was Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” and that welcomed more than 22 million visitors. Nowadays it is still possible to see the exterior of some pavillions built specifically for EXPO2015 and particularly its greatest symbol, the “Tree of Life,” whose light show still performs in the evenings. Rho-Fiera hosts some of the most important exibitions in Europe, and while visiting Milan you may get a chance to enjoy one of them. We recommend the Milan Furniture Fair (the largest in the world), the Cartoomics, the HOMI (Lifestyle trade fair), the Expocomfort, the Biomass Innovation Expo, the Milano Unica (Italian Textiles and Accessories Trade Show), the Milan Motorcycle Shows and the Craftsman Expo.

The "Tree of Life" is fully lit up against the night sky with the exhibition center in the background
The Tree of Life

THE GREEN ITINERARY: M2

Gorgonzola

The green itinerary starts along the northeast province of Milan, the land where, in the 1700s, the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria promoted the cultivation of meadows into dairy cattle farms for cheese production. The city of Gorgonzola, along the Naviglio Martesana canal, is the birthplace of the famous and delicious Italian blue cheese known by the same name. The festival of this acclaimed Italian product takes place here annually in September, while in May there is the Taste of Italy fair to delight all Italian food lovers. In Gorgonzola you can visit the sanctuary of our Lady of Help, where the Bishop of Bobbio brought a reproduced painting of the venerated Mary to the large sanctuary from Bobbio, a town in Emilia-Romagna close to Piacenza, with the aim of protecting the citizens from the plague that struck Milan in 1630. Also in this era, in the 16th chapter of “The Betrothed” by Alessandro Manzoni the protagonist Renzo, escaping from Milan under the risk of imprisonment and headed to Bergamo, stopped for lunch at a local inn in Gorgonzola.

A plate with three variations of gorgonzola cheese
The delicious Gorgonzola cheese

Cernusco sul Naviglio

Taking the metro towards Milan, passing along the Naviglio Martesana canal, you don’t want to miss the quaint town of Cernusco sul Naviglio, entirely surrounded by public parks and cycling paths. This town was built by order of the Sforza House during their Duchy of Milan in the 15th century with contributions by Leonardo Da Vinci. There are three wonderful parks if you want to experience real nature, forgetting for just a moment that you are within city limits. In Germani Park, there is a large diorama of several of Milan’s waterways, Larks Park has had a recent resurgence, and lastly the new Herons Park, an authentic oasis inhabitated by wild animals like pheasants, ducks, herons and foxes with a little pond in it.

Milan
View of Herons park

Garibaldi

It’s now time to immerse yourself in the heart of the city: this stop embraces the new concept, idea, skyline and soul of Milan. Skyscrapers, including the pair of towers well-known as “Vertical Forest,” which was designed by Boeri Architects and named the “Best Tall Building Worldwide” by Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat for 2014-2015. Also in Garibaldi there is a business park full of financial companies, along with the Unicredit Bank Tower, which is the tallest building in Italy at 758 feet, there are clothing stores framing the modern Gae Aulenti square, with its water fountains that accompany the people until Corso Como and Corso Garibaldi, the beating heart of the Milan nightlife where you are spoiled with the selection of clubs, Italian and other cuisine restaurants, ice-cream parlors and modern bars to enjoy the typical Milanese happy hour with food and hors d’oeuvres. Although this district, known as Porta Nuova, is now popular as one of Italy’s most high-tech and international districts, it still preserves traces of its ancient history, particularly with the neoclassical namesake gate Porta Nuova. This is one of the six main gates of the city, existing since the Spaniard domination of the city in the 16th century and rebuilt under the Napoleonic era in 1810. Within walking distance there is another of the six historical gates from which the Garibaldi railway station took the name. The gate was previously well-known as Porta Comasina but after 1860 it was named in honor of the Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, because one year earlier he had entered through this gate from Como after two decisive battle victories against the Austrian army to free Northern Italy. A little suggestion: just a few meters from here, there is a bakery called “Princi” that will make the neighborhood of Garibaldi unforgettable! At Christmas time it is possible to taste and buy the original Christmas bread of Milan, now widespread in all of Italy: the delicious Panettone!

An eye-level view of the Vertical Gardens buildings with every balcony overflowing with greenery
The Vertical Forest

Lanza-Brera-Piccolo Teatro

Milan is not only business districts and skyscrapers; just like all the greatest European cities, there are streets and corners where you can live and breathe a bohemian atmosphere. In this regard, Brera is the most characteristic district of Milan. Walking through Via dei Fiori Chiari and Via dei Fiori Oscuri (Light Flower Street and Dark Flower Street in English) you will feel immersed in another time, surrounded by artistic ateliers and antique dealers, romantic restaurants, Art Nouveau buildings, an ancient converted church and the stunning Santa Maria del Carmine, with its romanesque facade and the baroque interior. Brera lives for the arts and the arts live in Brera. The Empress Maria Theresa of Austria founded in 1776 inside the Brera Palace the “Academy of fine arts of Brera“, which is still regarded as one of the best in Europe, hosting almost 4000 students. The prestigious academy shares the Palazzo Brera with the main public gallery for paintings in Milan. The “Brera Art Gallery” houses some masterpieces of Italian painting history, offering a large collection that is not possible to find elsewhere in the country. Among the most memorable paintings we’ll mention is the Madonna of the Cherubim by Andrea Mantegna, the Crucifixion by Bramantino, The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, the Holy Conversation by Piero della Francesca, the Christ at the Column by Donato Bramante, the Finding of the body of St Mark by Tintoretto, the Supper at the Emmaus by Caravaggio and the Kiss by Francesco Hayez, regarded as the main symbol of Italian Romanticism. The site of Palazza Brera also includes a botanical garden just behind its walls, an astronomical observatory and one of the largest libraries in Italy, the Braidense National Library. Just outside the metro station is the “Little Theatre of Milan“, considered of major national and European importance, completes the cultural offerings of this unforgettable and spirited district.

The courtyard of The Brera Academy of Fine Arts showing off its porticos and many statues.
The Brera Academy of Fine Arts

Cadorna FNM triennale

This is the most iconic station on the green itinerary. This big square right outside of the station is dedicated to the Italian General during the Great War, Luigi Cadorna. We are on the southwest side of Sempione Park, where we can see a giant sculpture split in two called “Needle, Thread and Knot” by the American sculptor Claes Oldenburg and his wife, representing the strong industriousness and talent for fashion of Milan. Walking along Via Paleocapa you can easily reach the Art Palace, which has housed the”Milan Triennial,” a three yearly international exhibition of art, design, architecture, fashion, cinema, communication and society since 1933. Since 2007 it has also hosted the first permanent innovative museum of Italian Design and since 2011 the Theatre of Art, a new benchmark for cultural projects and performing arts in Milan. In general, the Milan Triennial, throughout its exhibitions, conferences, events and hosting the best international architects, designers and stylists has played an important role for the change in tastes and customs in Italian society. In the Palace there is also a terrace with an exclusive coffee bar and restaurant, where you can admire the wonderful Sempione Park in the foreground of Milan’s skyline. Coming out of the Palace you shouldn’t miss a relaxing and romantic walking through the Park, discovering among the beautiful English gardens other important attractions like the Branca Tower (108 meters high, inaugurated in 1933 during the 5th Milan Triennial edition), the Civic Aquarium (the third oldest aquarium in Europe and the only surviving building of the 1905 World Expo hosted by Milan, which was the city’s examplar of neoclassical architecture), and the Civic Arena (built in 1805 by the Swiss architect Luigi Canonica and now named after the greatest Italian sports journalist Gianni Brera). Few people know that in this beautiful stadium in 1910, inspired by the ancient Roman Circus of Maxentius, the national Italian soccer team had its first debut match against France, winning 6-2. During the first half of the 1900s the FC Internazionale and AC Milan also played here, before building their own famous stadium in the San Siro district.

Milan
The Civic Arena

Sant’Ambrogio

Every 7th of December the city of Milan celebrates its patron saint, called in the local dialect “Sant Ambroeus.” St Ambrose, the acclaimed bishop of Milan at the end of 4th Century, decided to build a church on an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions were buried. This eponymously-named church is now one of the most ancient in Milan and the second greatest, holding the spoils of the worshipped Saint. The current beautiful Romanesque style dates back to the 12th century, when the church was rebuilt. One of the greatest Early Christian works of art is preserved inside the church: the Oratory of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro, with its mosaics on the walls and the ceiling of high artistic value.

Furthermore, on the left side of the square outside the Basilics, there is a Roman column known as “The Devil’s Column.” An old legend says that if you put your ear next to it you can hear the sounds of hell. In the back of the Basilica there is the monument “Temple of the Victory,” a complex dedicated to the fallen Milanese soldiers from the First World War. The Temple was built in 1928 with white marble by the architect Giovanni Muzio, exactly 10 years after the end of the Great War and the Italian victory against the Austrians. The touching ossuary, on three levels, contains tens of thousands of names of fallen soldiers carved into bronze. Last but not least, within a few steps from the Basilica, you’ll find one of the largest Science and Technology Museums in Italy and Europe, dedicated to the Italian scientist Leonardo da Vinci. Housed in the ancient monastery of San Vittore al Corpo, the Museum has the world’s largest collection of car models created from Leonardo’s drawings and offers seven different departments: materials, transport, energy, communication, Leonardo art & science, new frontiers and science for the youth.

Sant’Ambrogio Basilica

Porta Genova

Exiting this station at any time of day, you only need to follow the crowd to find the most quaint and cheerful district of Milan, well-known as Navigli. It’s the point where the navigable canals around Milan flow into the heart of the city, offering an unforgettable view. In past centuries, the dock was the harbour of Milan, until the development of roads and railways reduced river transportation, therefore transforming this reservoir into a touristic site. Now the dock and the adjacent riversides of Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese are hot spots and favorite areas to walk for the Milanese,  workers and students alike, and tourists shouldn’t miss this area either! We strongly suggest a visit during happy hour, starting from 6/7 pm, to enjoy the famous “Aperitivo” of Milan in one of hundreds of bars along the canalside, consisting of fancy cocktails and unlimited hors d`oeuvres. Altough the style of these bars seem quite contemporary, just walking a little further you can admire and breathe a little bit of old Milan, with its characteristic popular housing known as “Vecchia Milano,” where on each floor the apartments share the same open gallery. Near the dock there is one of the six main city gates of Milan, namely Porta Ticinese, built in the 16th century during the Spanish dominion. In the early 19th century, the structure was redrawn in neoclassical style by the architect Luigi Cagnola, along with the other Spanish city gates. Heading down Corso di Porta Ticinese you can reach the namesake medieval gate and Basilicas Park, which connects the Basilics of San Lorenzo, with its beautiful columns in reminiscent of the Roman Empire, and the Basilics of Sant’Eustorgio, in which the same Saint laid the relics of the Three Magi.

The canal of Navigli is shown at dusk, lined with active shops and restaurants and a bridge.
The Navigli Canals

Assago Milanofiori Forum

If you are visiting Milan for a concert or you are simply a basketball fan, you should finish your itinerary in this station, located in front of the Mediolanum Forum, an indoor sport arena. It is among the most prestigious in Europe and the winner of the European Prize for Architecture for sports venues awarded by CONI and the Council of Europe. The Mediolanum Forum is equipped with a multisport area for everyone, but above all it is popular for being the home ground of the basketball team Olimpia Milano, currently sponsored by Emporio Armani and the most medaled club of Italy, also a winner of three Euroleagues.

A singer is lit with bright lights as he performs a music concert at the Mediolanum Forum sports arena.
A performance at the Mediolanum Forum

THE YELLOW AND PURPLE ITINERARY: M3 & M5

Porta Romana

All the roads lead to Rome: this proverb is so real that Porta Romana was the first and the main imperial gate of Milan, being the starting point from the city to Ancient Rome. The presence of the gate dates back to the Roman rule, but its present form was made under the Spaniard domination of Milan in the 16th century, specifically on the occasion that Queen Margaret of Spain, betrothed to King Philip III of Spain, visiting Milan in 1596. From a bird’s eye view, the Spanish walls around Milan create a heart-like shape. Porta Romana is the tip of the heart and the legend says that the shape was given by Philip III as a wedding present to his Queen. The district around the gate is very charming with sumptuous 19th century and early 20th century residences for the Milanese élite. Just next to the Triumphal gate you can find a historical tram depot, with a vehicle known as 1928 on display, manufactured by Breda, Officine Meccaniche Reggio Emilia, Ansaldo and TIBB during the Fascist era and has remained in use even today. The tram depot changed its intended use a few years ago and it’s now the original Spa and Wellness center. If the Spa is usually well-loved in the colder seasons, near Porta Romana you can enjoy the elegant swimming pool known as Bagni Misteriosi in the summertime. It has an annexed bar and theater. Lastly, you shouldn’t miss the monument dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the First World War on Via Tiraboschi, nicknamed by the locals “The Three Drunkards,” due to the particular position of its bronze sculpture.

The Tram “1928”, in the background La Scala Opera House

Duomo

It’s time to enter the living room of Milan, the magnificient Duomo Square with its Cathedral Church and the Gold Virgin Mary at its top, a landmark of the city. The Milan Cathedral is the largest church in Italy, and this includes St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, and it is the fourth largest in the world. Dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, the Cathedral was initially constructed in the gothic style and later had additions in the neoclassical style, needing almost six centuries to be completed, from 1386 to 1932. You can visit on its roof, walking among 135 carved spires and 3400 marble statues, as well as enjoy a view that will take your breath away! You can see the pattern of orange rooves of the Milanese buildings, the painting-worthy hills that surround the city, and even the Alps in the distance. You can touch and breathe the greatness of this masterpiece, incomparable all over the world. Leaving the Cathedral on its south side there are many important assets to not miss: the Royal Palace of Milan, which housed City Hall for many periods ever since the French rule moved here from Sforza Castle in the 16th century, although it was badly bombed by the Allies in World War II. The Royal Palace gives the visitors the breathtaking Hall of Caryatid and is now the seat of the “Great Museum of the Duomo,” which collects the Treasure of the near Cathedral and its works of art, including paintings, stained-glasses and tapestries. Close to the Royal Palace there is a second complex known as the Palace of Arengario which houses the modern “Museum of the Twentieth Century“, showing about 400 works of art from the previous century, mostly by Italian artists. Along with Giorgio De Chirico, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo and the Futurist artists, you can admire some masterpieces by Kandinsky, Klee and Picasso.

On the opposite side of the Palace there is another meaningful landmark: a wonderful and elegant Gallery regarded as the progenitor of the modern shopping mall and named after the first King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II opened in 1867 and was designed by the architect Giuseppe Mengoni in the Renaissance revival style, with magnificent cast-iron architecture, and it connects Duomo Square with the square which is home to the sumptuous La Scala, the main Opera house of Milan and one of the leading opera and ballet theaters in the world, which opened in 1778. In front of the theater you’ll find the city hall, well-known as Palazzo Marino. Don’t forget that in the middle of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, as well as enjoy the luxury shops, bars and restaurants, you can honor an old Milanese tradition on the mosaic of Turin’s city crest: with your heel over the bull’s nether regions, spin around three times. People say it gives you good luck, but in any case you will be a part of an ancient rivalry of Northern Italy. Speaking of Turin, Duomo Square is also the starting point of Via Torino, one of the most popular shopping streets in the city. Take a walk here, and within a few feet you’ll stumble across the incredible church of Saint Mary near Saint Satyrus, where an optical illusion by the great artist Bramante will blow your mind.

The front of the Milan Cathedral is brightly lit against the night sky, showing its gothic architecture.
The Milan Cathedral

Montenapoleone

Milan is undoubtedly the fashion capital city, the perfect runway for fashion shows, boutiques and events. Many stylists, models, designers and high-fashion brands were established in Milan, making fashion an important part of Italian culture and one of the distinguishing aspects of Italy to the world. Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Valentino, Prada, Moschino, Trussardi, Missoni, and Ermenegildo Zegna are some exemplars of the well-loved “Made in Italy” based in Milan. Their prestigious boutiques located in the fashion district of the city always attract clients from all over the planet. This high-class fashion showcase is largely concentrated within the so-called “Quadrilatero della Moda,” four luxury streets that create a rectangle: Via Montenapoleone, Corso Venezia, Via della Spiga and Via Alessandro Manzoni. The charm of the streets and the creativity of every showcase alone is worth a walk in this district. And if you are interested in exclusive shopping or unique gifts, this is the place for you. Milan holds its semi-annual Fashion Week of global importance, where the new clothing collections are shown in advance, transforming the city into a merry hotspot for all the insiders. The autumn/winter collection is shown yearly in February/March whereas the spring/summer collection is held in September/October.

A cobblestone pedestrian-only street lined with clothing stores.
Via della Spiga

Centrale

Be ready to enter the largest railway station in Europe and one of the best examples of the monumental Fascist architecture. Inspired by Washington DC’s Union Station, the grandiose Milan station was called the “Cathedral of Motion” and designed by the Italian architect Ulisse Stacchini, the same one that designed San Siro stadium. Although the project was assigned to him in 1912, due to the events of the First World War the project resumed in 1925 and ended in 1931. The surrounding area also had housed AC Milan’s first soccer field. The building’s architecture is a unique mix of Art Nouveau, Art Déco and Italian rationalism, with a strong influence of the Roman Empire monumentality. Externally surrounded by mythological statues and inwardly decorated with mosaics, glazed ceramic flags and sculptures, the station still has the magnificient “Royal Pavillion” at platform 21, an adorned lounge reserved at that time for the ruling House of Savoy. This platform, located at a lower level than others, is also well-known for being the departing platform for trainloads of Italian Jews between 1943 and 1944, headed for the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This shameful fact from the Fascist regime, still alive in the memory of Milan, is recognized by the touching “Memorial of Shoah” created in the same place from which the Jewish prisoners left and also showing cattle wagons that were used for their journey of death. The entrance of the Shoah Memorial is located at street level on Via Ferranti Aporti. In front of Milan Central station your eyes will be drawn to the Pirelli tower, referred to as “Pirellone” in the local language, which was the highest skyscraper in the European Union until 1966. It is a symbol of Italy’s economic recovery after the devastations of the Second World War. Walking towards Via Melchiorre Gioia you will reach another important building of the city, “Palazzo Lombardia,” a modern steel and glass skyscraper,  the seat of the Lombardy region government. Every Sunday, it is possible to take the elevator up to the top floor, where a beautiful “Belvedere” gives a breathtaking view of the city. Now it’s time to take the yellow train again, let’s go to Zara station and transfer to the purple line where our itinerary will continue westward.

A fish-eye view of the interior of the Milan Central station
View of Milan Central Station

Isola

The “Island” of Milan is a historical district so-named due to its past isolated position behind the city, separated by the railroad. This district has recently been the subject of a radical change of its soul and its inhabitants, from a traditional working class area to new liberal professionals and exchange students neighborhood. This fusion has led the district of Isola to become very spirited and well-loved in the city, increasing its offerings of traditional restaurants, bars, local markets and cultural areas. Even the shutters of the shops take shape and color in the district. The old inhabitants of Isola, proudly workers, took a key part in the Italian resistance movement against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the end of World War II and their memory is honored with a war memorial in Piazzale Segrino. Walking along Via Genova Thaon di Revel you can easily reach the Sanctuary of Saint Mary at the Fountain. This beautiful church was commissioned by Charles II d’Amboise, the French governor of the city in 1507, to the Italian architect Giovanni Antonio Amadeo. Once, that governor was miraculously cured by the water source with healing powers located under the same site. To finish our short trip to Isola, it is interesting to note that this working-class neighborhood is the birthplace of the famed Italian tycoon and politician Silvio Berlusconi.

A store shutter covered in graffiti of an image of a face and trees
A graffitied shutter

Monumentale

Is it worth sightseeing in a cemetery? In Milan, yes. The Monumental Cemetery is a supreme project by the architect Carlo Machiachini, built in 1886 and made with an eclectic style that combines Byzantine, Gothic and Lombard Romanesque features. As the years went on, the cemetery was enriched with many works of funerary art, such as Greek temples, obelisks and other original works, including a scaled-down version of the Roman Trajan’s column. The main memorial chapel of the cemetery, whose entrance is called Famedio (Hall of Fame), contains the tombs of some of the city’s and the country’s most honored citizens. This includes the novelist Alessandro Manzoni, author of “The Betrothed,” and the philosopher Carlo Cattaneo, president of the city council during “The Five Days of Milan” in 1849. Exploring the cemetery, surrounded by praiseworthy sculptures and shrines of high artistic value, you will meet the graves of very famous people, which left an indelible mark on the history of this city. Just to name a few (or more): the Milanese industrial families Falck, Campari, Bracco, Treccani, Bocconi (the father of the namesake university), the poet and main founder of the futurist movement Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the novelist Salvatore Quasimodo (Nobel prize winner in literature in 1959) the painter Francesco Hayez (leading artist of Romanticism era), the socialist politician Filippo Turati, the poet Alda Merini, the singer and songwriter Giorgio Gaber, the father of the scientist Albert Einstein, Hermann, the sculptur Adolfo Wildt, the comedian Gino Bramieri, the Formula One father-son champion drivers Antonio and Alberto Ascari, the founder of the AC Milan soccer club, the English Herbert Kilpin, the opera singers Mario Tiberini and his wife Angiolina Ortolani, and the great Milanese soccer player Giuseppe Meazza. The Monumental Cemetery also has a Jewish section where, among others, the Russian political activist Anna Kuliscioff is buried and there is a monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Nazism.

Monumentale Cemetery

Tre Torri

The upgrading of the old trade fair of Milan, moved almost completely to the near town of Rho in 2005, created the opportunity of a space-age and innovative project, destined to become the new symbol of Milan around the world. Its name is City Life and was designed by the “archistar” Zara Hadid (who has recently passed away), Arada Isozaki and Daniel Libeskind. Each of them is the designer of the three distinctive skyscrapers at the heart of the project, which take on the name of their creators and serve as headquarters of prestigious business companies: the Isozaki Tower, also called The Straight One for its high-rise silhouette, belongs to the financial services company Allianz; the Hadid Tower, called the Twisted One due to its warped shape, belongs to the third largest insurance group in the world, the Italian Assicurazioni Generali; the Libeskind Tower, still under construction and called the Curved One, will serve as the Italian headquarters for the multinational professional services company PwC. The area around the three towers is a series of luxury buildings, green spaces and includes a modern shopping mall, in an environment of alternative energy sustainability and with a large car-free area, through a system of underground roads and parking. Despite a big portion of the historical expo site having been dismantled to create City Life, FieraMilanoCity is still able to host smaller exhibitions in its pavillions, in addition to offering the new largest convention center in Europe, called MiCo. Finally, walking a few minutes along Viale Ludovico Scarampo, we can reach “Casa Milan,” the headquarters of AC Milan, the oldest soccer club in the city and the most successful Italian team in Europe. The club’s museum is worth a visit by all soccer fans.

An outside view of two distinct towers surrounded by green space
City Life under construction

San Siro Stadium

Our long itinerary along the tracks of Milan ends in San Siro district, where we can visit the the largest Italian soccer stadium, nicknamed “The Temple” for its monumental architecture, or also “La Scala of football,” in honor of Milan’s opera house. San Siro stadium is well-known, named after its home neighborhood, and was built in 1925 by the architect Ulisse Stacchini and the engineer Alberto Cugini, by the request of the then AC Milan president Piero Pirelli. The inaugural match in 1926 was a between the two historical rivals of Milan, AC Milan and FC Internazionale, with a 6-3 victory for FC Internazionale. The stadium was the home ground and property of AC Milan until 1947, when FC Internazionale decided to move from the historic Civic Arena downtown to the more modern and larger stadium of their “cousins.” This shared ground, through the next decades would see epic games between the two Milanese clubs. They have inspired some of the most beautiful writings of Italian and European soccer. On March 1980, the stadium was named after “Giuseppe Meazza,” one of the best Italian soccer players who had died the year earlier; he was a double world champion in 1934 and 1938 and a legend of FC Internazionale, scoring 242 goals in 365 games for the club. Due to the 1990 World Cup held in Italy, the stadium was largely renovated, adding a third ring to three stands and four sumptuous concrete towers at their corners to support the new red roof. San Siro Stadium hosted four finals of UEFA Champions League, which used to be called the European Cup. The first of these, in 1965, saw the triumph of the home team FC Internazionale against the portuguese Benfica.

In the summer, the stadium is also a theater of legendary concerts, where musical giants such as Bob Dylan, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Micheal Jackson, U2, The Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode and many others have played. The “San Siro Museum & Tour” opened in 1996, where you can not only visit the stadium but also retrace the history of AC Milan and FC Internazionale, through a unique exposition of historical shirts, trophies, shoes, balls and old paraphernalia. The entrance is located at Gate 8. But San Siro district is not only about soccer: just behind the north stand of “Giuseppe Meazza” stadium, there is the big racetrack of Milan, with the biggest and most magnificient equestrian statue of the world in front of its entrance, regarded as the greatest unfinished work by Leonardo Da Vinci. Indeed, in 1482 the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro, commissioned da Vinci to create a monument for his late father Francesco, representing him in a great bronze horse sculpture. Despite Leonardo having worked hard on it, he was only able to produce a clay model which was located in the courtyard of Sforza Castle, but when the French soldiers invaded Milan in 1499, it was completely destroyed. Luckily some sketches of the project survived and in 1977 an American admirer of the Renaissance, Charles Dent, continued da Vinci’s dream five centuries after his death, starting a fundraising to creat the masterpiece. The owner of a successful supermarket chain in Michigan, Frederik Meijer, gave a significant contribution and so, in 1999, the monumental bronze horse from overseas was given to the city of Milan, in memory of Leonardo.

The outside view of the striking San Siro stadium
San Siro Stadium

Our long interrail ends here. Italics Magazine hopes that your memories of this city will shine over time, just as the gold “Madonnina” shines over the sky of Milan. Buon viaggio!