A recent visit to the fashionable city of Milan left me bursting with creative inspiration thanks to its rich artistic culture, impressive variety of art galleries, and stunning architecture. Situated in Italy’s northern Lombardy region, Milan’s surface is faced-paced, fashion-obsessed, and extremely sophisticated, which may seem intimidating to some, but taking your time deeper explore the city reveals that it really is a beautiful destination, perfect for a short break.
As a result of my inspiring trip to Milan, I created a collection of illustrations depicting my favourite parts of the city. There may be many guides to Milan out there, but none like this one. Instead of bombarding you with photos, let me guide your imagination through Milan’s beauty via illustrated artwork, and inspire you to one day go and see it for yourself. (All of the illustrations I feature in this article are also for sale in my new store, please see details about the grand opening special coupon code below!)
Visit the Piazza del Duomo
Milan is full of places to go and things to see, but the number one attraction by far just has to be the Duomo di Milano. This massive Gothic cathedral is one of the largest in the world, and has become iconic, not just because it stands in the geographic centre of Milan, but because it is so significant to the art, culture, and history of the city – this impressive architectural masterpiece has taken around 600 years to complete! (And what felt like nearly 600 years to illustrate…) Visits to the interior, and the roof, of the cathedral are so popular that queues line the square almost every single day. But if, like me, you are unable to find time to wait in line for a visit, don’t worry, it is so spectacular from the outside that there is plenty enough marvelling to be done. One fascinating fact I just had to share is that there are more statues on this building than any other in the world, with a total of 3,159!
Although the cathedral itself is the star of the show, the Piazza (square) also has a lot more to offer. If you are one for museums and galleries I’d strongly recommend the Palazzo Reale for fine art, and the neighbouring Museo del Novecento for more contemporary art. Home to la Rinascente department store and the elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shopping mall (think Dior, Gucci, Prada, Versace) the Piazza Duomo is also a shopaholics paradise. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the mosaic of the dancing bull and spin on its balls on your heel… weirdest tradition ever, I know, but it is renowned in Milan for giving you good luck.
Navigli is Milan’s canal district, and the place to be if you are an artist or art enthusiast! As you explore this up-and-coming part of the city you will discover a whole host of small galleries nestled next to the canal or hidden away down the side streets. Here, you can appreciate the talent of not just well-known artists, but often a lot of younger, more local artists too. This neighbourhood is also home to a variety of small shops and authentic Milanese cafes and restaurants (as well as some great places to buy gelato!) And if you value history and architecture, you’ll enjoy a visit to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, which was consecrated in the late fourth century, making it one of the oldest churches in Milan.
See Navigli at Night
Despite all of its shops, galleries, cafes, and bars giving it such appeal to explorers during the day, perhaps one of the most special things to witness in Navigli is to stay until the sun sets over the canal. Watching as darkness falls and the canal-side lights come on, you will see the district transform. You don’t need to worry about it becoming a ghost town though, as Navigli is still buzzing with energy and activity even after dark, only it suddenly seems so much more magical, which is why I created two Navigli inspired illustrations: one during the day, and one at night.
Discover the Cimitero Monumentale
Although it may seem odd to recommend a city cemetery as a tourist destination, a visit to Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale really is a must...
The spectacular mausoleums, sculptures, and monuments here truly are works of art made to be admired, making walking through the grounds feel like exploring an outdoor gallery exhibit. I could lose myself in there for hours on end, it’s just so touching to regard the haunting beauty of what love for another can make people create, even after they have passed on from this life. Be warned though, some of the sculptures are eerily lifelike, I swear I felt some of their eyes following me around as I passed through – unlike Navigli, this not a place I’d be eager to visit at night!
Take a day trip to Bergamo
As wonderful as the city of Milan is, if you have time while you’re there you shouldn’t neglect to visit the surrounding area either, as Italy’s Lombardy region has a lot of other fascinating destinations to offer. One such destination worth a mention is Bergamo; thanks to its proximity to Milan, and the direct route from Milan’s Centrale station (via double decker train!), you can be there in under an hour, making it the perfect place for a day trip. Bergamo is particularly interesting in that it is divided into two parts: the Città Bassa, or ‘lower city’, and the Città Alta, the ‘upper city’.
Although the lower city is very lively, and definitely worth a wander, it is the upper city that certainly steals the show! Suspended above the lower city, it makes for some dramatic scenery, and after taking the two-minute funicular railway journey upwards, you can enjoy incredible views looking down from Città Alta’s fortified Venetian city walls. This part of Bergamo is a UNESCO world heritage site that is swimming in history, with the ancient town of Bergomum being founded by the Celts, then becoming a Roman municipality in 49 BC. Bergamo’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, as depicted in the above illustration, is considered the most prestigious monument in the city. Founded in 1137, its exterior is rich in ornate architecture and sculpture, and the interior is decorated with stuccos, frescoes, tapestries, and wood carvings so precious that you aren’t even allowed to take photos- got to be worth a visit!
Don’t forget to brush up on your Coffee Etiquette!
It may seem like a stereotype, but the Milanese really do enjoy their coffee. And little did I know before I visited, there seems to be many ‘rules’ of coffee etiquette that it might be handy to learn! For example:
- Milky coffees are morning coffees only. A cappuccino after 11am? Are you mad!?
- In Milan it seems unusual to sit down and enjoy a coffee slowly; don’t be surprised if you find you’re expected to down your coffee whilst standing at the bar.
- A caffè, is not (as I thought) the direct translation for a ‘standard coffee’, it’s actually an espresso. So, if you’re a coffee wimp like me, watch out, it’s going to be a lot more powerful than you were expecting.
- Please never say ‘expresso’… but that’s just a tip for life in general!
As a freelance content writer, editor, and illustrator, I’m transforming my passion for travel and creativity into a career. All the illustrations featured here are for sale in my new store, as prints, postcards, stickers, and handmade mini journals. If you are interested in my freelance services, please see my ‘Work With Me’ page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org