For a city that can trace its history back to Roman times, you might expect Milan to focus on heritage and tradition. But this elegant, sophisticated and cosmopolitan city in northern Italy's Lombardy region takes a different approach to Venice or Rome. The focus is noticeably towards the future, and you'll find the latest trends in art, food, fashion and design. The beauty is that the city celebrates ancient and modern with equal passion.
Milan rose to prominence as one of Italy's powerful city states in medieval times under the Visconti and Sforza families. Their legacy is the city's striking Renaissance-era monuments and buildings such as the Duomo and the Castle. They also created a cultural centre that was able to attract the most famous painters, sculptors and thinkers of the time. The city has never let go of that cultural dominance and today remains the Italian capital of art, fashion and finance.
Always in tune with the seasons, Milan changes noticeably throughout the year. The year kicks off with the famous Fashion Week [http://www.cameramoda.it/en/] in February, when the eyes of world couture turn to the Lombardy capital as the great Italian designers unveil their autumn and winter collections. In April, it is the turn of the MiArt modern art festival [http://www.miart.it/] in the Fieramilanocity district to showcase the latest trends in art and design.
During the hot summer months, the city basks in the sun on the open-air terraces around the canal district and the piazzas. In mid-June, the Milanese celebrate La Notte Blanca, a night when all bars, shops and entertainment venues stay open until the early hours.
The calendar year culminates with the popular Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Food festival in December, presenting local delicacies and classic Milanese cuisine around the piazza Sant'Ambrogio, named after Milan's patron saint. Whatever time of the year you come to visit, however, there is a wide variety of attractions to capture the imagination.
Things to Do
Milan is a relatively easy city to explore, with many of the main attractions clustered around the city centre. You can divide your time between checking off the iconic attractions and exploring the various neighbourhoods to discover your own personal favourites. Milan is one of those cities that appeals to a wide range of interests.
The Duomo is Milan's Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower -- the single landmark that instantly identifies the city. This particular cathedral lives up to the task. The striking marble façade of the Duomo looms out of the surrounding piazza, but it's also worth heading inside to take in the stained-glass windows. Milan's other Renaissance-era masterpiece is the Castello Sforzesco, parts of which were designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It's a striking building in itself, but art-lovers can discover seven museums within its walls incorporating works by the great Italian artists.
Home of a masterpiece
Pride of place among Milan's artistic heritage is one of the most famous paintings in the world: Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which can be found at the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Viewing the painting, which underwent restorations that were completed in 1999, is a tightly controlled exercise, and you must join a guided tour or book ahead for a 15-minute slot. Dating back to the 15th century, the painting is an astonishing work of which the Milanese are justifiably proud.
As one of the world's leading centres of high couture, the city is home to a seemingly endless roll-call of famous luxury fashion brands. Most have their roots in the Quadrilatero d'Oro, a network of streets a short walk from the Duomo. There are four main thoroughfares through the district, and each is lined with flagship stores of renowned Italian fashion houses. Also near the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a covered arcade packed with fashion stores in the world's oldest shopping mall.
Milan's canal district
Away from the central tourist areas, the Navigli district in the southwest of the city is a tranquil, elegant neighbourhood built around a network of canals where you'll find markets, waterside cafés and restaurants as well as a vibrant artistic community. You can take a canal tour by boat, drop in at some of the art galleries which showcase emerging talent, browse the boutiques or sample the famously rich and indulgent meat dishes for which Milan is famous for, not least the signature Risotto alla Milanese.
A famous city rivalry
You can't spend long in Milan before becoming aware that the city is divided by one of the greatest rivalries in world football. The two local clubs, Internazionale and AC Milan, share the same stadium in the San Siro district west of the city centre. Whether you like football or not, it's worth taking a tour of the magnificent San Siro stadium [http://www.sansiro.net/?page_id=1757&lang=en] just to witness one of the most distinctive stadia in the game, and to imagine the passionate atmosphere when the two clubs meet for their hotly contested derby.
Calendar of Events
Like most Italian cities, Milan does tend to quieten down during the summer months, but you will find world-class events running throughout the year covering fashion, art, food, cinema and more.
Oh Bej! Oh Bej! The Milanese version of the Christmas market, this food festival is held in the area around the Sforza Castle in early December. It brings together the substantial gastronomic offerings from across Lombardy, as well as crafts and antiques. The festival is held in honour of Saint Ambrose, starting on 7th December.
Open House. Many of the city's hidden cultural delights throw open their doors to the public in the last week of March/first week of April for the Fondo Ambiente Italiano [http://eng.fondoambiente.it/]. This is an initiative that takes place across Italy, and it means you can visit some of the wonderful Renaissance-era palaces, art collections and monuments that are behind closed doors for the rest of the year.
Live music. When the summer temperatures rise, many residents head to the coast for August. Those that remain are treated to a free festival of art, culture, live music and cinema at the Milano d'Estate
[http://www.turismo.milano.it/wps/portal/tur/en/eventiamilano/danonperdere/milanoestate2017]. Most events are focused around the Sforza Castle area and you can usually see some top international bands performing.
Fashion week. Move over London, Paris and New York; at the end of February, the eyes of the fashion world are on Italy as the international fashion press descend on Milan for catwalk shows and exhibitions. Admittedly, most of the shows are invitation-only, but the buzz in the city during fashion week is something not to be missed.