No city is in thrall to the beautiful people like Milan. A love of luxury permeates the place, from haute couture and fine dining to cutting-edge design. This is also the home of opera, and amid the warren of cobbled streets that fans out from the graceful Duomo cathedral there remains a palpable sense of history and charm.
The Duomo took nearly 600 years to finish, its name becoming a catchphrase: ‘fabrica del Dom’, or ‘impossible task’. It was worth the wait: a vision in pink and white marble with 3,200 statues, 146 stained-glass windows and 135 spires (duomomilano.it; admission free, terrace tickets from £6).
The Teatro alla Scala is the world’s most famous opera house. Virtually all opera singers of note have trodden its boards in front of six stories of boxes and crimson-lined galleries. The season usually begins on 7 December (teatroallascala.org; Via Filodrammatici 2; tours from £5, tickets from £8).
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, two glass-vaulted 19th-century arcades, links two of the city’s biggest landmarks, the Duomo and Teatro alla Scala. The four-storey arcade is filled with elegant boutiques selling everything from haute couture to paintings (Piazza del Duomo).
In a city filled with artistic masterpieces, one not to miss is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Seeing the original is an unforgettable experience (cenacolovinciano.net; Via San Martino 1/a; closed Sun; advance tickets £6).
Parco Sempione is the city’s best park, with an aquarium and the Torre Branca steel tower, and fantastic city views. Its Palazzo dell’Arte houses the Triennale di Milano, showcasing top Italian design (triennaledesignmuseum.it; Viale Alemagne 6; admission £6).
Eat and drink
The city’s nightly aperitif ritual sees glasses of wine or beer come with an endless buffet of antipasti, bruschetta, cured meats and seafood. There’s a great selection at cultural complex 10 Corso Como, which has a beautiful courtyard lit at night by a canopy of fairy lights (10corsocomo.com; Corso Como 10; drinks from £6).
Risotto lovers should head for Trattoria Abele la Temperanza, a tavern offering more than 100 variations, plus local dishes such as brasato (braised meat stew). Go for the ‘three rices’ – a selection of three different risottos which change daily, and book ahead (00 39 02 261 38 55; Via Temperanza 5; risotto mains from £7).
Food and wine emporium Peck first opened its doors as a deli in 1883. It now also has a wine bar and a dining room upstairs. The food hall is the best in the city, stocked with a huge selection of Parmesan cheeses. Other treats include chocolates, pralines, gelato, seafood, caviar, meats and pâtés (peck.it; Via Spadari 9; closed Sun; cheeses from £14 per kilo).
One of the few true osterie (hosted taverns) left in the city, Osteria della Lanterna serves homemade pasta and gnocchi. The owner-cook introduces dishes in the Milanese dialect (00 39 02 583 09 604; Via Giuseppe Mercalli 14; closed Mon; set dinner from £20).
The culinary manifesto at Lacerba involves Mediterranean fish, and innovative cocktails such as basil and honey. The lipstick-red sofas and print wallpaper lend the place glamour (lacerba.it; Via Orti 4; closed Sun; mains from £12).
Situated next to the Piazza della Repubblica and halfway between Centrale station and the Duomo, Hotel Casa Mia is non-flashy, great-value accommodation in a city that doesn’t generally do bargains. Its simple but homely guestrooms have been recently renovated (hotelcasamiamilano.it; Viale Vittorio Veneto 30; from £50).
Timber floors and Vietnamese furnishings set the tone at Vietnamonamour, a 1903 residence turned b&b, with four rooms above an excellent restaurant. The location is good, just a two-minute stroll from the Piola Metro station (vietnamonamour.com; Via Alessandro Pestalozza 7; from £80).
Smart and stylish, the Foresteria Monforte is so slick, it even has Gucci wallpaper in the wardrobes. The three classy guestrooms are filled with a mixture of cutting-edge design and antique furniture, the owners are a font of knowledge about the city, and the place is just a 20-minute walk to the Duomo (foresteriamonforte.it; Piazza Tricolore 2; from £120).
A charming hideaway, Antica Locanda Solferino has 11 retro-styled guestrooms decorated with early-20thcentury prints, broderie anglaise curtains and antique furniture (anticalocandasolferino.it; Via Castelfidardo 2; closed for part of August; from £150).
The four-star Hotel Spadari Design was one of the city’s first ‘art hotels’, with rooms doubling up as miniature galleries showcasing the work of emerging Milanese artists. The place is owned by an architect’s family – they designed everything, right down to the sinuous pale-wood furniture (spadarihotel.com; Via Spadari 11; from £190).
The Metro is the best way to get around. Urban tickets can be purchased for either one journey or 90 minutes of bus or tram travel within the city centre (tickets £1; atm-mi.it). Taxis can only be caught from ranks, so cannot be flagged down.
When to go
The heat in July and August makes hotel air conditioning a must – late spring or September are good for warm, but bearable, weather. Winters are mild, and a visit in early December offers a chance to catch the opening opera of the season at the Teatro alla Scala.
How to go
Flights to Milan Malpensa airport leave from Birmingham and Manchester with Flybe (from £110; flybe.com), and Edinburgh, Gatwick and Luton with easyJet (from £75; easyjet.com). Milan Linate airport is served by Alitalia, BA and easyJet from London airports (from £80; easyjet.com).