For anyone planning to go to Milan, here are some tips from my experience.
1. The area around the station seemed quite alright in case you need an accommodation closeby. I was out until 10:30 PM and it looked pretty fine. May be some bylanes have some stuff going on but I didn’t see anything alarming. Best is to follow the gut feeling – if you see anything that makes you uncomfortable, turn away from there and take another route. Having google maps is really helpful!
2. It is easy to get from the airports to the city center. There are buses operated by different agencies – so there is no problem with the frequency. The one from Bergamo costs EUR 5 and you can get the ticket directly from the driver. The metro system is quite good. Costs EUR 4.50 for 24 hours (unlimited number of trips). That’s good value for money. One time one way ticket costs EUR 1.50. I believe that the first time validation happens when you insert it in the machine to open the turnstile to reach the metro platforms. You also need to insert it in the machine at the turnstiles to exit the station too. This day pass is also valid on the wonderful ancient trams :). Even if you don’t need to take the tram, just board one for an experience!
3. Take the guided walking tour. That’s my advice for every city actually. You will get to see and experience a lot more than if you go on your own from one point to another. Since the last couple of years many cities in Europe (may be in other places too) have the free walking tour option where the guide doesn’t take any money upfront. He/ She relies on the tips that people will give at the end of the tour. Most people give between 5 and 10 EUR per person. Be generous if the tour was good. The paid ones cost much more and are usually sound like someone just reading out of a text book. But if there is no free tour in a city, then don’t worry – take the paid one. It will be fine. I usually check the reviews and also provide mine on TripAdvisor.
4. At the end of the tour, you can ask the guide for recommendations as a local. They are quite happy to provide that. Sometimes they even have discount vouchers for some restaurants or attractions.
5. The Duomo – which is the Cathedral – is stunning. The queues are long and it has high security. So be prepared to stand for quite sometime to get inside it. You need to buy a ticket. I didn’t have enough time for that so I didn’t get inside. But the outside itself will provide enough photo opportunities. It is decorated with the maximum number of sculptures amongst all the churches in the world. And you will be surprised at the subjects of sculptures – anything and everything can be found as it took 6 centuries to complete it! People claim that even a sculpture of a mobile phone can be found there ;-). Locate the “original inspiration for statue of Liberty” :-)! Have fun exploring.
6. The Monumental Cemetery – it is a cemetery unlike any I had seen before. There are small temple like buildings for families (probably the rich ones) and amazing sculptures everywhere. You can easily spend two to three hours there.
7. Shopping – there are enough sites dedicated for recommendations there. There are lots of temptations, so indulge if you like.
8. If you want to see some things off the beaten path, then go to these churches –
- Church of San Bernardino – From the outside you won’t even know that it is a church. It is next to another big church Basilica di Santo Stefano. What is interesting in this church is – a chapel which is an ossuary where you would see decorations done with skulls and other human bones. They are the remains of the people from the 13th century who died in the hospital which was closeby. The burial site needed to be reused so the bones were housed in a room. In the 17th century, the restorer of the church created decorations out of these stored bones. You can donate some money for the upkeep.
- S. Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore – Beautiful frescoes, partitioned structure with separate areas for the nuns and other worshippers.
- Church of Sant’Antonio Abate – Another example of the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Go inside and be awed with the beautifully decorated church. It’s a 14th century church where the monks of the order of St. Anthony lived. The patron saint San Antonio is shown with a pig beside him. The monks had discovered a cure for shingles using pig fat. The pigs reared by these monks were protected and could roam freely without any harm coming to them by anyone in the city!
There are several such hidden places that can be explored in Milan. According to the guide of the walking tour I took, just enter whatever places you see open and be pleasantly surprised :). I wouldn’t take that literally but I understand now what he meant.