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MILAN

Six ‘secret’ places in Milan you need to visit

From the Duomo to the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s most popular sights are in no way safe from overcrowding, especially during the warm season. Here are six of the northern city’s best hidden attractions to escape the tourist crush.

Milan's Cimitero Monumentale
A view of Milan's Cimitero Monumentale, in the north of the city. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Though it may not have the artistic cachet of Rome or Florence, Milan has no shortage of world-famous attractions, with hundreds of thousands of people visiting the city every year. 

But, as in the case of nearly all major tourist destinations around the country, the northern capital’s most popular sights – from the iconic Duomo to the imposing Castello Sforzesco – tend to get extremely (and often hopelessly) crowded during the warm months. 

So, if you’re not exactly a fan of long queues and packed tours, is there a way you can escape the crowds while still making the most of the city?

Luckily, Milan has plenty of hidden gems which attract smaller numbers of visitors but are just as enjoyable as some of the more popular attractions. So, here are six of the city’s best ‘secret’ places.

Stroll through Leonardo’s Vineyard

While he was born and raised in Florence, Renaissance mastermind Leonardo da Vinci spent most of his adult life in Milan.

In 1498, Milan’s Duke Ludovico Sforza thanked Leonardo for his services by gifting him with a beautiful vineyard located just 10 minutes away from the Castello Sforzesco.

Thanks to large-scale recovery works undertaken in 2015, the vineyard looks now just as it looked in the eyes of its former owner some 500 years ago, also producing its own wine, Milan’s Malvasia, since 2018. 

Tickets to the Vigna di Leonardo also give access to the adjacent Casa degli Atellani, a historic 15th-century mansion boasting prestigious fresco paintings. 

Get lost inside the Necchi-Campiglio Villa

Built between 1932 and 1935 for a family of well-heeled Lombard industrialists, the Necchi-Campiglio Villa is one of the best-preserved examples of 20th-century high-society urban residences. 

Located at the heart of the elegant Quadrilatero del Silenzio district, the luxurious villa is known for its marble art deco features and its impressive modern art collection.

The property is also surrounded by a verdant, magnolia-dotted garden, which makes for an idyllic place to wind down on a sunny day.

Marvel at the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and its ‘rainbow dome’

Located in the south of the city, close to the popular Navigli area, the Romanesque-style Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio is often overlooked by experienced locals as well as international visitors. 

The church, which boasts the tallest bell tower in Milan, holds one of the most celebrated examples of Renaissance art in Italy: the striking Portinari Chapel.

Decorated with frescoes by art master Vincenzo Foppa, the chapel culminates in a majestic polychrome dome which is often referred to as ‘cupola arcobaleno’ (‘rainbow dome’).

Take a walk in the city’s Monumental Cemetery

You may have a hard time thinking of a cemetery as a city attraction (and rightly so), but Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale is not an ordinary cemetery, by any stretch of the imagination. 

Built in 1866, the site has an endless array of spectacular architectural works (chapels, mausoleums, temples, etc.) and sculptures, including a scaled-down version of Rome’s Trajan Column. 

The cemetery, which measures over 250,000 square metres, is also known for its commanding Neo-medieval marble entrance.

Turn back the hands of time at the Alfa Romeo Museum

Located in a former car factory in Arese, about 12 kilometres northwest of Milan, the Alfa Romeo Museum tells the story of the glorious Milan-born manufacturer. 

Classic Alfa Romeo cars

Classic Alfa Romeo cars on display at the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, just outside Milan. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

From the HP 24 – the first-ever Alfa Romeo vehicle – to the latest Tonale model, the museum chronicles a 112-year journey through speed, technology and unique aesthetics.

Discover Milan’s ‘Sistine Chapel’

As ordinary as it might look from outside, the Chiesa di San Maurizio is anything but on the inside. 

Once part of the largest female Benedictine monastery in Milan, the Baroque-style church is one of the city’s best-hidden treasures.

Suffice to say that the superb fresco paintings covering the building’s walls and parts of its ceiling have earned it the moniker of Milan’s ‘Sistine Chapel’.

Music buffs will also be happy to know that the church’s choir loft is home to a pipe organ dating back to 1554. 

Bonus item: Enter Casa Rossi and look up

At number 12 of Corso Magenta, less than 50 metres away from the Chiesa di San Maurizio, you’ll find Casa Rossi, an elegant neo-Renaissance building designed by architect Giuseppe Pestagalli in the 1860s.

But, the real surprise lies just behind the building’s main entrance as an internal courtyard of Greek-reminiscent style carves a perfectly octagonal shape out of the Milan sky.

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FOOD AND DRINK

15 typical Roman foods you need to try at least once

Rome’s 2,000-year-old food scene has something to make everyone’s taste buds tingle. So what are the typical dishes you really must try?

15 typical Roman foods you need to try at least once

It almost goes without saying that Italy is a very regional country when it comes to food. From pesto in Liguria to tortellini in Emilia Romagna, Italy is chock-a-block with regional specialities. Rome, and wider Lazio, are no different. 

If you try a carbonara in Lombardy, you’ll more than likely be told by the Laziali (people from Lazio) that you haven’t tried a real one. This is the same for most regions in Italy. 

READ ALSO: Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

While breakfast in Rome is made up of coffee and some form of cornetto, there are plenty of specialties to try and things to know, such as pork being as abundant as vegetables, or the two popular types of artichoke you’ll want to try.

A carby affair

Pasta reigns supreme in Italy, but Rome has its fair share of options. The city’s key four pasta dishes are: cacio e pepe, amatriciana, gricia, and carbonara.

Word of advice, skip the restaurants that include cream and ham in their carbonara; if they’re getting that wrong, imagine what else they’re getting wrong.

The traditional Roman carbonara is supposed to be a blend of guanciale (pork cheek), eggs, and pecorino. There are lots of legends as to where carbonara came from, but the most well-known is that it was invented during World War Two when Americans came to Italy during the liberation of Rome. Legend has it that the Italians supplied the eggs and the Americans the guanciale.

READ ALSO: Do Italians really eat pasta every day?

Amatriciana is a bit more tomato-based. Originating from a Lazio town named Amatrice, the guanciale-tomato blend of this pasta dish is a firm favourite. It is known locally as ‘matriciana.

Cacio e pepe is perhaps the most simple in terms of taste but not necessarily in terms of preparation. The dish only includes pecorino and black pepper, but the right technique is needed to make the sauce perfectly creamy.

Then there’s pasta alla gricia. This is said to be the ancestor of Amatriciana, as it doesn’t have the tomato base, but some say it’s the ancestor of all four of the pasta dishes, cacio e pepe included. 

Spaghetti alla carbonara being prepared. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Gnocchi Thursdays

A special mention goes to gnocchi, the potatoey pasta. Romans have gnocchi Thursdays, and you’ll see many tavole calde (a type of Italian diner) serving it up.

The common custom is due to eating a high-calorie meal before Friday, which according to Catholic tradition is the day to abstain from meat or fast.

The quinto quarto

Most parts of an animal is eaten in Rome. Dishes with the quinto quarto, or fifth quarter, can be seen on most menus. It just means offal and no organ goes to waste. Tripe (trippa) is a popular meal, as is oxtail (coda alla vaccinara) . It’s also not uncommon to see tongues or brains on the menu. 

READ ALSO: The essential vocabulary you’ll need to dine out in Italy

If offal is not your thing, there are meat options without it. For example, saltimbocca alla romana which is veal wrapped in prosciutto, flavoured with sage and cooked in butter and wine. Lamb is also another rustic delight as is often on menus as abbacchio alla cacciatora. 

Is it all meat?

Strictly speaking, no, although it’s hard to come by a traditional meatless option for a second course in Rome. Artichokes are extremely popular here with carciofi alla giudia and carciofi alla romana being the favourite two.

Carciofi alla giudia (Roman-Jewish artichokes) are entirely fried twice making them crisp and then sprinkled with salt. Carciofi alla romana (Roman artichokes) are braised and seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley and garlic.

Though not strictly from Lazio, friarielli, a type of leafy green, is also a popular topping on pizzas and a constant side dish.

Artichokes are used frequently in Roman cuisine. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP.

Street food galore

Rome is pretty big on street food and fried fare. Supplì, little balls of stuffed rice bread-crumbed and fried are beloved. They’re usually filled with mincemeat and mozzarella. If you buy one, see if you can make a cheese bridge also known as supplì al telefono. 

READ MORE: Do Italians really hate all spicy food? 

Pizza cut into square slices is also very common. This is known as pizza al taglio. The dough is thin and crisp, which is very common for Roman pizzas even if you get a circular, whole one. They are the opposite of pizzas from Naples.

For the sweet tooth

Lastly, what is a guide to food without a bit of sugar at the end? Light, sweet, cream-filled buns named maritozzi are the go-to in Rome. They can be enjoyed any time of day. 

If you’d prefer something cooling, other than gelato, try grattachecca, an iced drink full of flavour and occasionally topped with fruit. Lemon and cherry are popular favourites.

Do you have another favourite Roman dish or a story about trying one? Let us know in the comments below.

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