While Rome and Venice hold court as Italy's most visited destinations, Milan is a constantly evolving cultural hub packed with rich history and iconic architecture. Sara D’Souza plots the must-see sights and eats during a quick 72-hour stopover
Get up early to avoid the lines at the Duomo — it’s Milan’s best loved site and with good reason. Construction began in 1386 and took a staggering 500 years to complete. It has 3,500 statues, 135 spires and a Baroque façade; Each of its five enormous bronze doors was sculpted by a different artist. Scale its steps to the roof for incredible views of the city and a glimpse of the Madonnina (Milan's much photographed copper figure of Mary built in 1774).
As the Italian capital of fashion, a trip to Milano wouldn’t be complete without hitting the shops. Do some serious damage to your plastic at the exquisite glass-domed octagonal Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II, home to the likes of Prada, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, which opened in 1867 and is one of the oldest, chicest shopping malls in the world. Next door, the infamous La Rinascente is eight floors packed with everything from lingerie to lighting. Stop for a glass of Prosecco in its rooftop Il Bar Milan for unrivalled views of the Duomo. Nearby Via della Spiga, Via Sant’ Andrea and Via Montenapoleone make up the ‘golden triangle’ and will test your retail willpower with a 16,000 square foot, four-storey Ralph Lauren and the Armani Megastore on Via Manzoni, which has all of the Giorgio Armani labels as well as an Armani flower shop, a book shop, the Emporio Armani Café and Nobu.
Take aperitvo at the Aperol Terraza before catching a show at Teatro alla Scala. The striking building was designed by neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini and opened in 1778. Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte will be showing until July 18, Giuseppe Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra will begin in October and Rudolf Nureyev’s ballet Don Chisciotte starts in September.
Start a day of culture at the Palazzo Reale. Once home to the seat of the city’s government in the early middle ages, it was opened to the public in 1920 and now displays 1,500 masterpieces from around the world each year. Currently on show is a fantastic Gustav Klimt exhibition.
From the historic Palazzo Reale, head to the more contemporary Prada Foundation. In a renovated industrial building, Miuccia Prada's elegant space delivers on its mission to provide the public with "the most profound and thought-provoking art projects of our times." Next up is an art and sound exhibition curated by Germano Celant. The foundation is reportedly moving to a new location in a former distillery designed by Rem Koolhaus for the Milan 2015 Expo, but from its current location you are perfectly placed for exploring the trendy Navigli. Meaning canal in Italian, it was once a network of waterways and trade routes, designed in part by Leonardo da Vinci, and is now jam-packed with one-off boutiques and artist studios. It also has plenty of summer festivals up its sleeve. Early-June sees the Festa dei Navigli kick off the area's summer season with street artists, concerts and antique markets.
Start the day the Italian way (and clear the cobwebs) with an espresso on the beautiful cobbled street of Via Fiori Chiari (serious espresso aficionados can travel a few miles out of Milan to MUMAC, the Museum of Coffee-Making Machines, which opened in 2012) before heading for the Brera district for a little more culture at the Pinacoteca di Brera . Catch works by Caravaggio, Picasso, Bramante and Ruben's Last Supper in its 28 rooms. While you're in the area take the 15-minute walk up to Corso Como, which is well-worth checking out for its arty bookshop, fashion and lifestyle store in a converted garage and sculpture-filled roof garden.
Afterwards, head for the recently opened four-story food mecca Eataly, which is packed to the rafters with every conceivable Italian delicacy. Buy a spread of cheese, cured meats and Italian breads and make a beeline for Milan’s green-lung, the 47-acre Parco di Simpioni, to stretch out and picnic in the Italian sunshine. The park, which once teemed with deer and pheasants as a hunting reserve, is now filled with joggers, dog walkers and summertime drinkers, and is home to the rather spectacular Castello Sforzesco, which housed the Visconti family in 1368 and the Sforza family in the 1450s. While its grounds are free to visitors, pottering its 12 mini-museums will cost $4. Pop into the Palazzo d’Arte ($10), for its brilliant collection of chairs and Olivetti typewriters.
Admire some heady 360-degree views of the city at Gio Ponti’s Torre Branca, which in true Milanese style has a Just Cavalli designer drinking den at its base. Finally, after one last lingering look (and a lot of photos) of the Duomo, make a stop at Luini, a teeny but infamous counter (which is so busy it requires a bouncer) serving Panzarotti, something that can only be described as a type of doughnut served hot and stuffed with melting mozzarella and tomato. Heaven.