In June 2016 one of my best friends had a bit of a juicy win at Bingo. With her winnings, she very generously paid for three of us to go for a girly city-break in Milan. Italy is my favourite country to visit, so of course, I jumped at the chance of being able to go. And as a bonus, Milan is only a two-hour flight away.
Milan has two main airports, Malpensa being the largest, and Linate. We went for Linate as it was closer to the city, and being the slightly cheaper option. If I went back again I’d actually go to Malpensa airport. What we didn’t know at the time was that there is a train straight from the airport to the city called The Malpensa Express. The Malpensa Express costs €13.00 each way to get to Milano Centrale station, taking 43 minutes. Obviously then you’d need to get the Metro from there to the stop nearest your hotel.
We chose instead to pay for a private transfer which was around £20 each for a return journey. This seems all well and good, but what we forgot was that the many European drivers are…slightly less careful than what we were used to. In the car on the way to the hotel we practically had a prayer circle going in an attempt to boost our chances of surviving the car journey. Being that neither one of us were particularly good at small talk, the journey from the airport to our hotel soon became a haven for fear of dying, awkward silence, and trying not to look at one another for fear of bursting into fits of nervous laughter in front of an Italian stranger.
Slightly dishevelled, but still intact, we made it to our hotel. (The car company actually emailed me afterwards asking me to give feedback on our experience. How about “I’m glad I’m still alive”?)
We stayed at UNA Hotel Scandinavia, which is located in the north-west of the city. (Linate airport is on the south-east – makes complete sense). Check-in was not until 3 pm, but when we arrived at around 10.30 am they told us our room was ready which was a very welcome surprise. Our first impression of the hotel was that it was clean, modern, friendly staff, and some wonderful luxurious touches to the decor.
We stayed in one of their triple rooms, which was simple, but a very nice base for exploring the city. The room was on the small side for three people, but we were good friends so the lack of space wasn’t much of an issue. Also, what most hotels in Europe consider to be ‘twin’ beds, is actually two single beds pushed together with separate sheets and duvets, and a separate bed for the third person. If this is an issue for you, and you’d like your own space, then I’d recommend a single room. Their breakfast was very nice. It was continental, as you’d expect in Europe. But there were many options to fuel yourself for the day ahead.
After a much-needed power nap and shower we were ready to head into the city. The best way to get around Milan is by using the Metro. The Metro itself is actually really easy to use, as there are only four lines. The ticket machines, however, are an unresponsive, touch-screen nightmare. There are many different types of ticket available, but for a short city break, the best option is either the 1 Day ticket (€4.50) or the 2 Day ticket (€8.25). There is actually an ATM Metro app you can download…that would have been great to know while we were there!
Once you know which stop is closest to your hotel, it’s very easy to navigate your way around Milan. We wanted to see the Duomo first which is conveniently labelled ‘Duomo’ on the M1 line.
Once we got there, the Duomo hit me in the face so hard it made my head spin. It’s MASSIVE. The pictures really don’t do any justice to just how big it actually is. I will spend my life wishing we’d gone inside this amazing piece of architecture. You can actually walk (or take the lift!) up to the roof to look over the city, which would be especially beautiful at sunset.
We did start to queue up, only to realise we were actually in the worshipper’s queue. We attempted an inconspicuous shuffle to escape and find the visitors queue, only to find it stretched halfway around the entire square. Reluctantly, we decided that we didn’t want to waste the small amount of time we had in Milan waiting in a queue, so we left to go and explore the rest of the city. Looking back, I do wish we had gone inside and up to the roof! My advice: go early to avoid the queues.
Milan is known as one of the fashion and shopping capitals of the world. What they don’t mention though, is that is generally for designer brands only. There are a lot of high street shops such as Zara, New Look etc. But why bother to find them in Milan when they are most likely going to be in every major town near where you live?
The real gem in Milan is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall, which is located in the main square right next to the Duomo. Opened in 1877, it contains cafés, restaurants, and every luxury shopping brand you’ll ever need, including the world’s very first Gucci store. Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to come out with arms full of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Prada shopping bags, so I just had to settle for window shopping and admiring the architecture. Sigh.
The Navigli district is hailed as the “Venice of Milan”. I think Navigli is the kind of place you’re either going to love or hate. Its good points and bad points are pretty much the same, being that it’s a very busy area with lots of hustle & bustle and a great atmosphere. I actually really loved the atmosphere. It’s a great place to sit with a cocktail in hand, watching the tourists and locals go about their lives. The nearest metro stop for Navigli is Porto Genova on the M2 (green) line, which isn’t too far from the city centre. There’s a short walk through a street of restaurants, bars and cafés before you get to the canal itself.
There are tons of restaurants to choose from for all tastes and budgets, each serving the amazing local Italian cuisine. When we were there, there was a street musician playing the electric guitar which really gave an urban, bohemian vibe to the whole place. On the last Sunday of every month, it’s the home to the Navigli Flea Market where local vendors sell vintage jewellery, handbags, clothes, and other items. If you like the Navigli district then I would highly recommend going to Venice. I’d advise you to go to Navigli on a Friday or Saturday night, as I’ve heard that there aren’t many places open there during the week.
I really wish we’d had time to actually go inside the castle, as it looks stunning. We only made it as far as the fountain by the entrance, but we were more than happy there after walking for what feels like miles around Milan’s shops in the June heat. You’ve no idea how good it was to stumble upon a place to chill out and just to sit down. We were hot, hungry, and our feet hurt. There also were stalls nearby which sold Gelato and cold drinks. Winner. We ended up coming back here for a little break on two out of the three days we were there.
On the second day, we witnessed something really beautiful. We saw a man, leading his blindfolded girlfriend around the fountain (hear me out). He was talking to her in Italian, and there was a third man who was walking with them with a camcorder. We wondered what they were up to, so, in a non-creepy way, we followed them. At that point, he was either going to do something romantic or throw her in. Either way, we wanted to see the outcome. When they reached the other side of the fountain, there was another group of people each holding a rose, and one of them holding a sign with something written on it in Italian. The guy took his girl’s blindfold off, then got down on one knee and proposed to her. Of course, she said yes!
Since we booked Milan we had planned to visit Lake Como on the last day of our trip. We headed for the Domodossola metro station, which was only one stop away from the station nearest our hotel. From there we bought a ticket to the town of Como on the south coast of the lake. A single ticket costs €4.50, it takes about 1 hour and the station at Como is right next to the lake. I couldn’t believe how easy and cheap it was.
Lake Como Boat trip
There’s one thing you need to know about me – if I can go on a boat, I will go on a boat. So the first thing we did was head straight for the boat dock to book a boat trip on this beautiful lake. Believe me, there is a reason why Lake Como is named as one of the most beautiful lakes on Earth. Even on a cloudy day, it was still gorgeous. There’s an hour-long round trip around the bottom half of the lake, or a two hour, one way trip to the town of Bellagio, which is in the centre. One downside is that the schedules aren’t labelled amazingly well.
We bought our ticket at the ticket office, and they told us which platform to go to, and how long it would be until the next boat. When we arrived at platform 5, and there was already a boat there. “Great”, we thought. “This must be ours, so we’ll queue up”. It was only when we were boarding that we started thinking how weird it was that everyone who was getting on with us seemed to know each other. They were even hugging and kissing the boat staff when they boarded.
We assumed this was just an Italian thing so we rolled with it.
Once we were nearly on the boat, it became clear that it was actually a private boat party for the class of 1969 from some sort of school or college. We figured that as we weren’t actually alive then, this probably wasn’t our boat. We endured the walk of shame back along the platform and waited for the boat which actually was ours. (Luckily, from doing this, we ended up at the front of the queue, and had our pick of seats on our actual boat).
We even had the pleasure of flying over Lake Como on the flight back.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”
One thing I really wish we’d had time to see was The Last Supper at the Piazza Santa Maria. We had looked into it, but it was €36.00 each and you only get around 15 minutes to look at the painting, so I was outnumbered. If it was just me, I would have gone to see it.
If you’re planning to visit Milan, I’d recommend around 4 nights. We had 2 nights/3 days, which, in my opinion, wasn’t enough time to explore this wonderful, vast city!
Have you been to Milan or Lake Como? Let me know in the comments below!
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