What to eat, see, drink and buy in Milan, Italy

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On my last trip to Milan, in June, I ran into a local I know who asked me, at least half-seriously, “You’re so here, why don’t you get an apartment?” ” It’s a good question. I’ve been to Milan over a hundred times since I started working as a fashion editor in the 90s. This year I’ve been four times and will be back in a few weeks. I always liked him.

Milan is an active and bustling city with around 1.5 million inhabitants. Over the past decade it has transformed into a decidedly modern venue that proudly lives up to its reputation as the world leader in contemporary style, art and design. And while big designer fashion usually attracts most visitors, I tend to frequent the stores you’ll only find in Milan. And I prefer reliable bars and restaurants rather than trendy ones. Here is my slice of Milan.


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Milanese trattoria

Hush, don’t tell anyone about this place. It’s in the heart of the Cinque Vie district, literally five narrow streets that represent the oldest piece of medieval Milan. There’s nothing hip about this classic, old-school Lombard restaurant, but the food is excellent – have the tortellini al sugo d’arrosto (tortellini with beef gravy).

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Pisa tower

What is the best cuisine in Milan? Undoubtedly Lombard. But for something more Tuscan, head to Torre di Pisa. Pro hits are the terrific Steak Fiorentina and the heavenly Rigatoni alla Toscana with Beef Stew.

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A Saint Lucia

A lively but cozy restaurant near the Duomo with a no-frills menu, overlooked by photos of 400 Italian celebrities who have dined there. The service is attentive and the food is really, really good. Most of the customers are locals, along with a handful of fashionistas and a few knowledgeable foreigners.

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The Latteria

Determined to do everything their own way from the start, the Arturo and Maria Maggi spouses, owners since 1965 of the Latteria di San Marco, a former creamery, do not take reservations, do not accept credit cards and do not produce neither does a menu. Instead, if you can sit down, you’ll choose from an ever-changing – and very short – selection of dishes based on produce unearthed that morning from a market garden just outside of town. It’s humble Italian cuisine at its finest, and it’s only served at eight tables. The interior is decorated with dated furniture and artwork of frankly questionable quality. We feel invited to a Milanese grandmother for lunch. In a sense, you have.

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Bar Jamaica

Perfectly preserved from the hand or eye of an interior designer, the century-old Bar Jamaica sits in the heart of the chic Brera district. It was for decades a popular meeting place for Milan’s luminaries of art, journalism and photography. Upstairs, a small bistro serves basic meals into the night. It may not be the creative hub it once was, but it’s still a great place for a Milanese espresso or an aperitivo.

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Bass Bar

A favorite gathering place for international design during Salone del Mobile, Bar Basso is famous for its negronis. Negroni sbagliato was invented here when a bartender replaced the gin in a negroni with a drop of prosecco. These – and the regular type – are served in huge handmade glasses in two rooms that have not been modernized since the 1940s.

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Bar Elita

A top choice for an early evening gin and tonic, Elita Bar is in Milan’s trendy Navigli neighborhood in southwest Milan, a place packed with bars, restaurants and fashion boutiques. The small plates are excellent, especially the alici, whole fried anchovies. On the last Sunday of each month, a large antique market is held along the banks of the nearby Naviglio Grande.

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N’ombra de Vin

This is a historic wine bar with a usually crowded sidewalk that attracts the local fashion types – chatting, drinking and smoking. The cavernous wine cellar downstairs is usually much quieter, but even that fills up at peak times. Ideal for wine or cocktails and great fresh snacks of bread, cheese and salami.

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sea

Of all the big-name designer boutiques on Via Monte Napoleone, Milan’s most famous fashion street, an exciting new arrival is Sease, the performance clothing brand created by brothers Franco and Giacomo Loro Piana that merges high-tech functional design and old school fabrics. Inspired by surfing, sailing and skiing, the brand takes performance sportswear and kicks it up a notch or three. A current collaboration with non-conformist environmental campaign group Sea Shepherd features pieces made from recycled plastic recovered from the oceans.

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Fortela

Alessandro Squarzi’s sportswear brand is growing fast and available online, but there’s nothing better than buying from the source. Fortela is a casual garment inspired by the military and American style with an Italian touch. There’s a sense of continuity in each new collection, so something you buy now will probably still look great ten years from now, if not better.

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Eral 55

For vintage enthusiasts, Eral 55 is the unmissable stopover in Milan. It’s a place where you can find second-hand English or American shoes, Japanese denim and vintage clothing from a range of well-known and lesser-known brands. You can also choose from founder Ermanno Lazzarin’s designer and reasonably priced ready-to-wear clothing or his high-end bespoke label Sartoria Lazzarin, with pieces made directly above the store.

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Massimo Alba

Alba is a veteran of producing luxurious and interesting garments, many of which are hand-finished with dyes to add depth. He’s a champion and avid follower of slow fashion, and his men’s and women’s clothes are the kind of clothes you wear once and feel like you’ve owned and loved for years. A current fashionable ready-to-wear buy is the fine-cord “Sloop” costume he created for Daniel Craig for the opening sequence of no time to die.

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Aspesi

In the men’s style, Italy has the monopoly of modern sportswear with a technical-military tendency. Founded by the first streetwear guru, Alberto Aspesi, this brand has been around since the late 60s but has never seemed so relevant. Now conceived by a former Aspesi protege, American designer Lawrence Steele, the brand is undergoing a subtle change while remaining true to the original philosophy of wearable functional clothing, more focused on authenticity than trends.


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Fondazione Prada

This versatile gallery housed in a century-old distillery to exhibit and promote contemporary art is one of the city’s biggest recent developments. It also has a cafe-bar designed by Wes Anderson inspired by mid-century Milanese cafes.

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Novecento Museum

The novecento, or 900, is how Italians refer to the 20th century. Housed in the Palazzo dell’Arengario, the museum was opened in 2010 to showcase the explosion of Italian modernist art in the 20th century.

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Brera Pinacoteca

One of Milan’s oldest museums and a fun way to spend an afternoon surrounded by Renaissance greats, followed by an aperitivo around the corner at Bar Jamaica.

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Milan Triennial

Named after the Milan Triennale, an art and design exhibition that ran from 1933 to 1996 and again in 2016, this modern museum of art, design and architecture features a permanent collection of Italian industrial design, from the Fiat 500 to the Olivetti typewriter.

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