Isola is a trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood in Milan that bloomed out of the city’s former working-class district to the vibrant hipster area it is today. For many years, Isola was relatively disconnected from the rest of Milan, but nowadays the smooth-running metro system makes it very easy to commute from here to the city center and beyond. Isola is one of Milan's coolest neighborhoods – perfect for families looking for a quieter area or travelers who want to experience alternative Milan. Here are a few ideas for the best things to do in Isola, Milan.
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Explore the art scene
Isola has a lively art scene with plentiful of colorful street art, secret galleries and welcoming creative spaces. A cool and completely free way to get a feel of the creative energy of this neighborhood is with a street art walking tour. If you walk through the underground tunnel connecting the Isola and Garibaldi metro stations, you’ll see some incredibly imaginative pieces by local graffiti artists. In addition to all the public art installations, Isola has many art galleries that can be considered hidden gems since a lot of these spots haven’t yet been discovered by the tourist crowds who flood to Milan for its most famous art galleries. Visit The Don Gallery, a ‘hidden’ art gallery on via Cola Montano that local street artist, Matteo Donini, better known as ‘The Don’, opened in 2008 as a space to exhibit and celebrate the work of his fellow street artist friends.
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Experience Milanese cuisine
Ratanà is one of the best restaurants in all of Milan. This contemporary Italian eatery is located in a former train station with unique features like tables remodeled out of the old train tracks. What makes Ratanà so cool is the interesting take on traditional dishes from the area. Milan-born head chef Cesare Battisti opened the restaurant about 10 years ago, drawing inspiration from dishes he remembers from his childhood to bring his signature twist to typical Milanese dishes. The menu regularly changes up but the top-quality of artisanal produce, and simple yet interesting flavors remain the same. A few must-try dishes are the freshwater asparagus pasta soup, the beef carpaccio and the saffron risotto with braised veal shank. Lunch is served from 12:30 until 14:30 and dinner from 19:30 until 23:30.
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Eat gelato at Artico Gelateria
Artico Gelateria is the number one place to get artisanal, handmade ice cream in Isola. On a warm Italian summer day, there’s nothing as refreshing as ice-cold gelato! Artico Gelateria is a fairly new addition to the neighborhood and was opened by the highly skilled Italian ice cream maker, Maurizio Poloni. He only uses natural and locally sourced raw ingredients to make world-class gelato with no artificial colors or flavors. There is a wide range of unique flavors, including Poloni’s signature salty pistachio and Peruvian chocolate – a real crowd-pleaser. You can watch the all-natural ice cream being made behind the shop counter and there are regular gelato-making courses with the mastermind Poloni himself.
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Attend Milan Design Week
The annual Milan Design Week is one of the biggest highlights in the city, along with the famous Milan Fashion Week. An event recently introduced during Design Week is Isola Design District, a project created by the Milan-based creative agency, Blank, to present a platform for young designers and new design brands to exhibit their work and network with industry peers. The event consists of design showcases, art installations, workshops and informative talks taking place in various locations across the creatively charged neighborhood of Isola. This is a really cool event to attend if you want to discover Milan’s young up-and-coming creative talent!
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Hang out in Deus Ex Machina
Deus Ex Machina is a unique space combining a café, workshop and store for motorcycles, bicycles and surfboards. The brand originated in Australia and has expanded to a handful of locations world-wide, of which Isola is one. Be sure to pay a visit to this super cool hangout if you’re in the area. Also known as the ‘Temple of Enthusiasm’, there is always something going on at Deus. The café regularly hosts music events accompanied by specials on food and drinks. You can roam around the workshop to watch the experts work on iconic motorcycles or admire the hand-crafted surfboards made in Deus’s Bali rollout. The restaurant and bar are open every day from 09:30 until 01:00 (until 02:00 over weekends).
Shop till you drop
Milan is famous for its luxury shopping and high-end fashion boutiques, and the quirky Isola has its fair share of shopping opportunities. Head to the area surrounding via Pastrengo and via Guglielmo Pepe for a massive selection of interesting shops where you’ll find a little bit of everything, from local fashion lines and hand-made jewelry collections to artisanal cafes and off-beat music stores. If you’re specifically shopping for clothing, via Thaon di Revel is known for its alternative fashion scene with bohemian and vintage rock influences. Visit Live in Vintage, a store owning up to its name with its one-of-a-kind vintage fashion pieces and designer accessories dating back as far as the 1950s.
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Visit the Monumental Cemetery
Isola’s Monumental Cemetery isn’t as morbid as it sounds. This outdoor museum is more than your average graveyard and features exceptional pieces of architecture and sculpture. The cemetery is divided into different zones to house tombs for Catholic, Jewish, and non-Catholic families. The architecture bears traces of Romantic, Gothic, and Neo-medieval influences. Strolling through the cemetery, you’ll come across impressive sculptures, like the massive Last Supper bronze installation and a life-size figure of the music critic and composer Filippo Filippi. Visiting the Monumental Cemetery is a captivating experience and a good option if you’re looking for unusual things to do in Milan. As a bonus, the entrance to the grounds is free! The cemetery is open to the public from 08:00 until 18:00 every day.
Enjoy Italian wine
Italy is well-acclaimed for its fine selection of wines. Cantine Isola is a cozy wine bar situated between the Chinatown district and the Garibaldi metro station. This bar is a popular hangout spot among the locals who live in the area, so if you want to get a taste of what a typical night out in Isola looks like, make sure Cantine Isola is a stop along the way. Born in 1896, Cantine Isola has a long and rich history. If these walls could talk! The Sarais-family took the business over in the ’90s, bringing a new touch of family-style cooking to the atmospheric bar. The wine cellar is well-stocked with everything you can think of, from Conegliano and sparkling wine to Chianti Classico, Amarone, Bordeaux, Moselle and much more. The bar hosts regular cultural events, like the popular poetry events held every Tuesday.
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Get creative at Fabbrica del Vapore
If the collection of art galleries and street art installations haven’t satisfied your inner art enthusiast, the Fabbrica del Vapore might be just what you need. Occupying a former steam factory, this laid-back arts center celebrates every art – dance, music, theatre, and more. The center is an inviting space for creatives to gather throughout the year with a series of events like art exhibitions, live performances, and interesting workshops to get the imagination flowing. In a neighborhood as creative and upbeat as Isola, the local community comprises many artists and musicians who love meeting up at this spot, making it the ideal place to network and make like-minded friends. Check out their website to find out about events happening during your time in Milan!
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