The Insider's Guide to Milan: Where to Shop, Eat, See Art and More


Four locals gave us their inside scoops on the historic city: Tommaso Calabro, a gallerist who founded an eponymous modern and contemporary art gallery in Milan in 2018; the creative director and set designer Valentina Cameranesi Sgroi, a long-time Milan resident by way of Rome; Guido Taroni, a Milanese photographer who spent his youth in Como; and Uberta Zambeletti, designer, author and founder of Wait and See, an exuberant concept shop located in Milan’s historic center.


What to bring

From Fashion Week to the Salone del Mobile design fair, Milan is host to a rich cultural calendar attracting some of the world’s most stylish visitors. When the small city gets crowded, do as the locals do: walk. Comfortable shoes and an umbrella are a must.

Alternatively, follow Zambeletti’s lead and bring “a hat that acts as a parasol or an umbrella according to the characteristically unpredictable ‘Salone Weather,’” as locals refer to the variable spring climate.

She also recommends day to night outfits to keep up with the unrelenting pace of design week. Taroni reminds visitors to bring a camera and pause once in a while “to immortalize the beauty of the city,” much of which is hidden within interior courtyards and reveals itself slowly.

What to leave behind

Don’t let the palms and banana trees in Piazza del Duomo fool you, Milan is no tropical destination, so save the shorts and flip flops for the seaside. Not only will they mark you as a tourist, but wearing beach-y or overly casual attire in the summer months will definitely elicit looks of consternation and may even prevent you from dining in certain establishments and entering churches.

What to keep in mind

Much of Milan’s city center is a tight web of one-way and pedestrian-only streets, creating dense traffic on the city’s concentric ring roads. All locals agree that taxis are overpriced and inefficient. The public transit, on the other hand, is reliable and more affordable than many other European cities, as Calabro notes. While the 1920s-era canary yellow tram cars double as a photo-op and a quick way of getting around, moving by bicycle (especially e-bike) is the fastest and most stylish way of crossing town. BikeMi and RideMovi have strong networks throughout the city, while Cameranesi says that “if you are comfortable and capable driving one,” Cooltra’s moped-sharing service is also fun. Foreign licenses are accepted, but make sure you sign up in advance of arrival.


Where to stay

Thanks to its central location—just up the street from La Scala—and refined service, the “iconic” (per Zambeletti) and “elegantissimo” (Calabro) Grand Hotel et de Milan has been a favorite for discerning visitors for over 150 years, including luminaries such as Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev, and Giuseppe Verdi, the latter of whom took up residence there for nearly three decades. The grande dame doesn’t rest on its laurels ,however, having just completed a renovation with a “beautiful bar and restaurant re-designed by Dimore Studio,” notes Zambeletti, referring to the buzzy Milanese design firm.

Courtesy of Grand Hotel et de Milan

For those in search of luxurious respite after busy days on their feet, Taroni recommends the Bulgari Hotel, while Cameranesi vouches for the Four Seasons, both of which boast stunning spas and beautiful interior gardens.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Milan

Part members club, part 15-room hotel, Casa Cipriani, which opened in 2022, is one of several new hotel offerings. Calabro recommends staying not only for its spa but also for its forthcoming art program, which will adorn its elegantly designed spaces with works from Milan’s most notable galleries.

Courtesy of Casa Cipriani Milano

Meanwhile, Zambeletti raves about the Portrait Milano, the latest venture into hospitality by the Ferragamo group’s Lungarno collection. The hotel delivers “stunning interiors designed by renowned architect Michele Bönan, a wonderful bar with a great cocktail menu, two delicious restaurants, parking, and wonderful service,” Zambeletti says.

Courtesy of Portrait Milano

Where to start the day

As the bakery’s regal namesake might suggest, Taroni and Zambeletti agree that Pasticceria Sissi reigns supreme when it comes to a proper Milanese breakfast: cappuccino served in stylish, pink-rimmed china, buttery mini brioche (the Milanese equivalent of a croissant) filled with prosciutto, and fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice with ginger to jumpstart your busy day.

Pasticceria Gatullo—another Milanese institution—has been Calabro’s favorite since his university days and Cameranesi also attests to its deliciousness, though warns that its popularity makes it best visited during weekdays.

Courtesy of Pasticceria Gattullo

In need of an espresso break? Stop in at Giacomo caffè in the Palazzo Reale just near the Duomo for a strong coffee in an elegant interior, or alternatively duck into one of Marchesi’s three locations around the city. Pro tip: if you need to take the edge off in the daytime “without raising any eyebrows,” Zambeletti suggests you order your coffee “corrected” (caffè corretto) with a splash sambuco or grappa.

For those looking to balance their caffeine intake in other ways, Cameranesi recommends Verso books, a bookshop with a small bar nearby Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore, as well as Fioraio Bianchi—part bistro, part florist—in the Brera district.

Where to eat

Milan winters are infamous for their cold, humid nebbia (dense fog), but a young trio of restaurateurs have flipped the script, co-opting the term and offering a refreshing take on typical Northern Italian dishes set within a cozy space. “The interiors at Nebbia are minimal and sober, yet sophisticated, and it’s one of the few venues in town that has dim—thus very flattering— lighting,” notes Zambeletti, adding that it’s her favorite restaurant these days.

For classic Milanese fare, Taroni recommends La Libera, where “the fantastic owners, Italo and Patrizia, can offer you the typical Lombard recipes,” as well as Osteria del Binari, equally great in winter, with its wood-burning fireplaces, as in summer, with its pergola-covered garden. Calabro’s recommendation comes by way of an iconic British artistic duo: “When I left London to open my gallery in Milan, I went to say goodbye to Gilbert & George. They were the ones who suggested I go eat at Trattoria Milanese where they used to go in the ’70s! It’s undoubtedly my favorite restaurant in Milan. I recommend the cotoletta, potatoes and artichoke. Alternatively, risotto with ossobuco, ça va sans dire!”

Caught somewhere between the sleek and new, and elegant and classic, is Piero e Pia, Cameranesi’s preferred off-the-beaten-path lunch place which is “quite small, and quite local.” With a keen eye and an appreciation for an Italy of her youth, Cameranesi appreciates the abstract art that hangs on the family restaurant’s walls, giving the place a feel that is “a bit ’80s, but in a subtle way.”

Where to shop

While it may be Italy’s fashion epicenter, Milan offers discerning shoppers much more than high street ubiquity. For a selection of well curated vintage garments, accessories and home decor, explore The Cloister’s beautiful space. “I never leave empty handed,” says Zambeletti. And for an antidote to the understated black and navy uniform of Milanese cool, dive headlong into the bright, eclectic world that Zambeletti herself has created at Wait and See.

The city is also an excellent source for custom fashions. “I’m a sucker for fabrics,” shares Cameranesi, “so I go to Asnaghi Tessuti for their silks.” Though French of origin, Stephan Janson has been creating his “couture-à-porter” for a discerning Milanese set since opening there in 1989. A visit is merited to see his atelier and art collection alone, notes Taroni.

Sofia Zevi’s eponymous space presents a tightly curated selection of furniture, objects and fashion in a highly refined context, achieving a hard-to-find balance somewhere between a gallery and a boutique. Zevi’s program includes collaborations with the glass maker Akira Hara, textile designer Chiarastella Cattana, and the architectural designer Edgar Jayet, while also highlighting the work of modern masters such as Luigi Caccia Dominioni, the modernist Milanese architect also celebrated for his furniture.

Bibliophiles will enjoy poring over the rare and used books of the mercatino (flea market) in Piazza Armando Diaz, held on the second Sunday of the month. “I spend a fortune on art catalogs from the 50s and 60s there,” says Calabro. “It’s actually where many of the ideas for my exhibitions begin.” Strong selections of contemporary titles can be found at COMMERCE and Marsell Paradise, while Reading Room also offers the latest magazines. All three hold regular cultural events and presentations.

If in search of delicious ingredients for home-cooked meals, try the wholesale fruit and vegetable market Frutta Sì in the Navigli district, Re della Baita for cheeses, and Davide Longoni for fresh bread.

Courtesy of Davide Longoni

Where to look at art

A long-time arts hub, Milan hosts several significant private collections and house museums. Perhaps the most impressive and historic is the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, an eclectic collection of a Milanese nobleman housed within his family’s 17th century palazzo. Despite suffering considerable damage in World War II, the small museum is still full of delights, from Old Masters to an extensive armory, and is a favorite of both Cameranesi and Taroni.

Courtesy of Museo Poldi Pezzoli

The Casa Museo Boschi di Stefano presents some three hundred modern works, including pieces by several notable Italian artists of the 20th century including Giorgio Morandi, Mario Sironi, Filippo De Pisis, and Lucio Fontana. Hung cheek by jowl, the works are displayed in a beautifully designed apartment by Piero Portaluppi, the Milanese architect known for creating some of the city’s greatest modernist spaces.

Casa Museo Boschi di Stefano

Courtesy of Casa Museo Boschi di Stefano

Those wanting to continue the Portaluppi tour should visit Villa Necchi, used as the mise-en-scene for Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, as well as Massimo de Carlo’s contemporary gallery housed within Casa Corbellini-Wassermann. Portaluppi also had a role designing the Palazzo dell’Arengario, now home to The Museo del Novecento, one of Italy’s most significant collections of modern art, and a primary source of inspiration for Tommaso Calabro’s own program. Don’t miss the room that overlooks the Duomo, with a looping neon work by Lucio Fontana overhead.

Across town, the Fondazione Prada also features a set of stunning Fontana ceramics in its sky-high restaurant Torre, while its OMA-designed galleries host important contemporary works from the foundation’s collection along with relevant and well executed exhibitions. Strong independent programs of contemporary art can also be found nearby at Ordet, as well as at the ICA Milano, just down the street.

Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

Balance out your viewing with visits to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Pinacoteca di Brera, both of which boast rich collections including works by Renaissance greats like Botticelli, Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Mantegna, Raffaello and so on. For those in search of a stunning if not somewhat disconcerting flourish, visit the ossuary of San Bernardino alle Ossa, a chapel decorated in human remains carefully arranged in an astounding gesture of macabre rococo. Even Zambeletti, the queen of “la vita è bella” mindset, promises it’s Milan’s “best kept secret!”

Where to get some fresh air

If all the walking and cycling across town isn’t enough, Milan has several parks popular for exercising. Parco Sempione is Calabro’s preferred spot for his morning run and “Milan’s most beautiful” as it surrounds the imposing Sforzesco castle. For those seeking repose and sun, the generous and well-maintained park is equally well suited for sunbathing and relaxing, as are the Montanelli public gardens. For those in need of a real reprieve, Zambeletti recommends Parco delle Cave, about a thirty minute drive out of town.

Despite not having a river, Taroni recommends exploring Milan’s navigli (canals) either for a run or a row. The canals are home to several rowing clubs, including Canottiere Milano, Canottieri Olona, and Canottiere San Cristoforo.

Where to have a drink

As day turns to dusk, join the Milanese as they descend on local bars for the daily Italian ritual of aperitivo. To be right in the thick of it, Taroni’s recommends heading to Camparino in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, right next to the Duomo.

For a sandwich and a beer, try Bar Quadronno’s handsome wood-paneled interiors: a Cameranesi favorite. Or head just up the street to Si Ma Townhouse, a sleek space that’s “great for drinks and quick meals,” says Zambeletti. Calabro also recommends B Restaurant’s outdoor tables in Piazza Borromeo for a drink and a snack.

Courtesy of Sima Townhouse

If in search of a special wine bar, try Bottiglieria Bulloni (a classic) or Vinoir (a more contemporary approach, with an emphasis on natural wines). Bene Bene serves up some of the city’s best cocktails, and is “the go to place” for the hip crowd, according to Zambeletti; “their Gimlet is beguiling.”

And of course, there is Bar Basso, the de facto social headquarters of Design Week. Its bartenders invented the now-ubiquitous negroni sbagliato in the seventies, and they continue to ply the design week crowds with endless bichieroni spritzes—the Milanese equivalent of a big-gulp—well into the night.

Bar Basso’s owner Maurizo Stocchetto with a Negroni Sbagliato. The space has remained relatively unchanged since the 1950s, with its marble floors, pink walls, brocades and mirrors.

Photo by Pierpaolo Ferrari, Maurizio Cattelan

Where to stay up late

For a diverse program of performances, Calabro recommends Germi, a so-called “a sort of experimental stage where you can find both established singer-songwriters as well as young poets,” and is best “enjoyed with gin and tonic in hand.”

If you’re in search of a reliable dance floor, “there is only one discotheque,” says Taroni: Plastic. “Since always and forever,” concurs Zambeletti. “Its three dance floors and resident DJs will have you dancing until dawn.”


Like much of Italy, Milan’s best months, weather-wise, are May and September. The city is brimming with stylish crowds in mid-April during design week, when Miart, the contemporary art fair, and Salone del Mobile, the design and furniture fair, occur in quick succession.

Design with Nature Auditorium at the Salone de Mobile, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects

© Mario Cucinella Architects


“Milan has a hidden beauty, unlike many other Italian cities,” notes Calabro. “But it’s [also Italy’s] most European and international city, and perhaps the richest in terms of events and general quality of cultural offerings. It’s a city to be discovered slowly, and sometimes you have to be patient with her.”

“I think it’s a place for people who are curious and like exploration and discovery, particularly of architecture and weird juxtapositions,” adds Cameranesi. “It’s also a place for introspection. Maybe go to a cafe with a book to sit and watch the sciure (bourgeois ladies) having a drink in the afternoon!”

And what’s more, when you’re ready to leave, Como is an hour away, while Portofino and St. Moritz are both in striking distance for a weekend getaway alla Milanese.

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