Located in Lombardy in Northern Italy, Milan is the country’s financial and fashion capital. It’s a sophisticated metropolis, a city with a forward-looking attitude that never forgets its past glories. Home to designers like Prada, Armani and Versace, Milan’s impressive shopping centers attract nearly as many visitors as the city’s centuries-old cultural institutions.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
The Gothic brick church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the Corso Magenta, was begun about 1465, and its massive six-sided dome in the finest Early Renaissance style was designed by Bramante, one of Italy’s most influential Renaissance architects. The church – and adjoining refectory, which holds Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper – were badly damaged in World War II, and during the repair work, old sgraffito paintings in the dome were brought to light. At the end of the north aisle is the Baroque chapel of the Madonna delle Grazie, with an altarpiece of the Madonna.
After the Duomo, Castello Sforzesco is the next major ‘symbol of Milan’ and is the best place to learn about the city’s medieval and early modern history – the castle bore witness to Spanish, Habsburg and Napoleonic rule. The imposing fortress was built by Francesco Sforza (the first Duke of Milan) in the 15th century, but underwent several modifications in the following decades. It is worth allotting a large amount of time to visit the castle because it comprises multiple museums and galleries.
Opera at Teatro alla Scala
Considered the most prestigious opera house in the world, La Scala has rung with the music of all the great operatic composers and singers, and its audiences – the theater seats 2,800 people – are known (and feared) as the most demanding in Italy. The season begins in early December and runs through May, but tickets are often difficult to come by. The best way of getting tickets is through your hotel concierge, but it’s worth checking at the box office.
The administrative center of the city during the Middle Ages, the Piazza Mercanti offers visitors a glimpse of Medieval life in Milan. The square is smaller now – the 13th-century Broletto Nuovo that once stood at the center of the piazza now marks the square’s northeast boundary – but the buildings look much as they did centuries ago. On the southeastern side is the Loggia degli Osii where the city’s authorities once addressed the populace from the structure’s balconies.
Risotto alla Milanese at Ratanà
Characterized by a distinct, saffron-infused golden hue, risotto alla Milanese is without question an important dish to seek out in Milan. There are hundreds of variants that range from terrible to mediocre to good to great and everywhere in between. At Ratanà, chef Cesare Battisti a Milan native known locally as the king of risotto prepares an outstanding risotto alla Milanese that adheres to tradition, meaning copious amounts of butter.