Whenever I go back to Milan, I always want to cram as much as is humanly possible into each day. This intensifies significantly when friends come to visit. I essentially want them to fall in love with the city in the space of a few days as much as I did over the course of five years.
So every time somebody else is coming to stay for the first time, I plan at least one full day of non-stop sightseeing. It's hard to choose what to see - despite Milan not being on many people's radar when considering trips to Italy, there's a surprising amount to see, do and (most importantly) eat in the industrial North.
Here's one route around the city.
The typical breakfast is a caffé and either a brioche or a cornetto - neither of which will be what you expect it to be as they are essentially both croissants. Which one you order depends on where you are in Italy - the northerners call them brioche so that is what you should try to order in Milan. I've had lots of stale pastries over the years but Princi (also based in London) is always a godsend when it comes to freshly baked goods. The photos below however were taken in the Panino Giusto (again, also based in London) in Stazione Centrale, where this little tour begins.
(Also, take advantage of the early hour and get your cappuccino order in now - milky coffee is a social no-no after breakfast time.)
Oh, and by the way, when you find a good pastry, it is a good pastry.
After breakfast, have a wander around Centrale and take in one of the finest examples of early 20th century Italian architecture in existence. The first stone was laid by the last king of Italy, King Vittorio Emanuele III. However another famous Italian power had a lot more influence over the final designs of the station - a certain Benito Mussolini wanted the station to be a symbol of the power of the fascist regime. There are some details, particularly these terrifying fountains on the building's facade, that really hammer home the history of the building.
From there, take the green line of the metro down to Porta Genova. This leads us to the Navigli, the enchanting canals of Milan. The Naviglio Grande has most to offer along its streets and is a fantastic place for a daytime stroll or a night on the cobbles, so to speak. There used to be many more navigli in the city, some of which were engineered by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci himself to transport the pink Carrara marble that makes up the fairytale wedding cake of a cathedral in the Piazza Duomo (which we shall come to later!)
When looking for somewhere to rest and rehydrate, Mag Cafè never disappoints. It's cute, it's quirky, it's set in an old pharmacy - what's not to like? They do coffee (opt for a shakerato if you want an iced coffee in the summer heat) and excellent cocktails, from pre-dinner aperitivi to late night tipples.
After your second coffee of the morning (or a very early cocktail - hey, Brits abroad have a reputation to uphold...) start tracing the path of the old canal network up towards the Darsena, the old inner city port which was opened up only last year.
And from there, walk up the Corso di Porta Ticinese, past the colonne di San Lorenzo (another bustling nighttime spot to return to) and onwards to Via Torino, where amongst the high street shops, you can find the occasional hidden wonder of a church to dip into. Our favourite is the Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro which houses an intricate tromp l'oeil to give the tiny church the appearance of the shape of the cross.
By now you'll have reached the historic centre. Before making a beeline for the Duomo, have a look at the beautifully picturesque Piazza Mercanti, nestle behind the ancient arches of the market building. If you and a friend position yourselves in diagonally opposite corners of arches and speak into the walls, your voices will travel through the stone surprisingly well.
And then finally, turn your attention towards the incredible Piazza Duomo. Here you can find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (home to the Prada flagship store which is well worth a visit), the Duomo itself and a sprinkling of pavement and rooftop cafes, most notably the Terrazza Aperol (il posto piú "cool" according to their website) and the Obica on the roof of La Rinascente. We visited Obica for dinner and were sad to find that the quality and service had really nosedived since our previous visits but this may have been due to the overwhelming number of people they were trying to seat for Fuori Salone so I'd probably give it another go at a quieter time.
The views from the ground are stunning enough. But why not work up an appetite before lunch and see what it's like from a bird's eye view? A ticket to go up by foot costs around €9 but you can stay up there as long as you like and it's probably the best spot for sunbathing in the entire city.
After all those stairs, it's definitely lunch time. The queues outside Luini don't lie - their panzerotti are absolutely delicious. Think miniature calzones stuffed with all sorts of delectable ingredients and then either deep fried or oven baked. YUM. The queues move really quickly so don't be put off but if you really don't want to wait, Spontini nearby is another Milanese institution (although this one is a take away rather than the super-fast-food-sit-down experience you get in one of the more classic venues) with plenty more outlets scattered around the city. Also, the ice cream at Cioccolati Italiani (conveniently opposite Luini) is too delicious - especially when they fill the bottom of your cone with melted chocolate.
Also, it's a nice idea to buy some lunch for any street sellers or homeless people you see around. You might not want to give them money directly but I bought a couple of panzerotti for a guy selling books nearby and the gratitude and happiness on his face was so lovely. It can be hard to stay sympathetic as a tourist when you have sellers shoving things in your face at every corner but kindness goes a long way.
We waddled our lunch off between the golden walls of the Galleria. This is one of the oldest galleries of its kind in the world and was built as an homage to the first king of the newly united kingdom of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II.
Once you've safely stopped eating for the afternoon, head into the ossuary at San Bernadino. It's pretty impressive, rather beautiful and incredibly creepy. The ossuary was built to handle the overflow from the local cemeteries and the guide on hand that day told us that the bones used as decorations were those of criminals.
On that note, head home and take a shower and put your feet up for five minutes before going out for pre-dinner drinks in the glorious sunshine. The Negroni is the cocktail of Milan and whilst it's an acquired taste, the taste of bitter orange will forever remind you of your evenings in the golden Italian sun. Try a Negroni sbagliato (or simply "sbagliato", meaning "wrong") if you want something a little lighter - the gin is replaced by prosecco in this version, pioneered at the classic Bar Basso where it's served with what can only be described as an iceberg in a giant glass. We headed to a small bar in the streets near a friend's place at Porta Venezia.
Milan at night is a wonder to behold. We decided to stroll down through the high-end shopping district of Via della Spiga and through to the city centre for one more glimpse of the sights at night.
Local legend has it that spinning on the bull's balls in the Galleria is apparently good luck. This little nugget of information is responsible for the fact that the mosaic has completely worn down at this spot from millions of heels turning in search of their fortune.
And then finally, dinner. It's late, you're tired, you're drunk, you've seen the sights. Time for a bite to eat and then bed... right?
If you head to the Isola district, you can find plenty to do no matter your stamina levels. We had dinner at Nisida, where my pizza arrived with an entire ricotta cheese on it (hello cholesterol, I always wondered why you shot up so much when I moved to Italy..) La Coccinella is also famously good for pizza (I have never made it because it's either closed or too busy so plan ahead!) We finished our evening with gelato from Artico, another institution which will turn you off supermarket-bought ice cream for the rest of your life.
And then the night is yours! Perhaps you'll be exhausted from a day of exploring and eating - perhaps not. There are plenty of bars in Isola to visit such as Deus or the nighttime hot spot of Corso Como is just a few minutes walk away. Piazza Gae Aulenti is another beautiful evening destination whilst the nearby Princi in Piazza XXV Aprile turns from bakery to cocktail bar and restaurant by night. Or perhaps you'd like to venture further afield, back to the colonne di San Lorenzo or the Navigli area.
The opportunities in this city are truly endless. And that's just one of the reasons I love Milan so much.