Milan is an exceptional and dynamic city that everyone should visit at least once in their life! I have been living in Milan since I was born and I never seem to get tired of exploring this city. Milan is both modern and historic, and creatively brings together ancient Roman architecture with present-day influences. If you want to explore Milan off the beaten path, here are my suggestions for the coolest and most unusual things to do in Milan!
Photo credit: Filippo Bianchi, Flicker
San Bernardino alle Ossa is a peculiar church in the city center, also known as ‘The Bone Church’. The church is known for its strange human skull decorative pieces – rather creepy, but very interesting! Rumor has it that the church originated as a storage place to house dug-up skeletons from the nearby cemetery when it ran out of burial space. The church was built next to this ‘bone room’, as it was called, and the off-beat decorations were kept intact. The church was rebuilt and enlarged in the 1700s when the building was largely destroyed by a fire. The new church was dubbed San Bernardino. The concept might be a bit creepy, but this church makes for a very interesting visit – a great way to kickstart your tour of alternative Milan. San Bernardino is just a stone’s throw away from the famous Milan Cathedral and can be visited between 7:30AM and 4PM every day (only until noon over weekends).
Photo credit: flawlessmilano.com
Palazzo Invernizzi is a private residence with a beautiful garden, known to the locals as the ‘flamingo house’. You don’t see flamingos around every corner in Milan, so it’s quite an unusual sight to see them peacefully roaming around. Invernizzi’s garden is home to a flock of pink flamingos, drawing curious visitors to peer through the fence to spot these birds. The flamingos are quite the mystery. Quiet, reserved, and mostly hidden away from the public’s eye, they’re not always visible even when you can hear them. Located in the quiet residential area, Quadrilatero del Silenzio (literally translating to the ‘silent district’), the flamingo neighborhood is perfect for a relaxing afternoon stroll to marvel at the picture-perfect 20th century villas and humble palaces.
Photo credit: wheremilan.com
La Scala Opera House
La Scala is one of the most important cultural establishments in Milan and has hosted some of the world’s most famous music and theatre performers over the years. If you want to see an opera or ballet, this is the best place to go in Milan! The theatre was opened in the late 1770s and has since expanded with a theatre academy offering professional training in music, dance, and theatre performance. La Scala is home to a choir, orchestra, and ballet company that trains and performs here throughout the year. A highlight is a yearly concert in early December to mark the opening of the opera season. Keep an eye on the theatre’s website to stay updated on upcoming shows!
Photo credit: martini.com
Terrazza Martini is an elegant cocktail bar on the top floor of the skyscraper in Piazza Diaz. 14 floors above ground level, this rooftop bar offers the best views of Milan, best served with a dashing martini in hand. On a clear day, you’ll have a panoramic view of the entire Milan and you’ll even see the mountain beyond the borders of the city. This is one of those spots completely contrastive to the historic architecture you’ll see all around Milan. Piazza Diaz is a modern and urban landscape and the classy Terrazza Martini follows suit with contemporary, luxurious designs. This bar is in the higher price range but definitely worth the splurge if you want to do something special. Wait for a clear day and head to this gem for sundowners – it’s guaranteed to be a highlight of your trip!
Photo credit: qcterme.com
QC Termemilano is a spa and wellness center with a wide variety of relaxing features like steam rooms, dry saunas, foot baths, foot scrubs, waterfalls, whirlpools, and more. Originally, this site was one of Milan’s tram stations and housed the historic horse-drawn trams. Celebrating this interesting part of its history, QC Termemilano built a bio-sauna inside one of the original trams, known as the Tram Sauna. The spa also has a café and restaurant where a hearty buffet lunch is served between 12:00 and 15:30 every day. From 19:00, the spa hosts an aperitivo consisting of sparkling wine and snacks. You can get a full-day pass for around €48, so if you’re planning to visit this serene haven, make sure you’re there as soon as the doors open to get maximum worth for your money! The spa is open from 09:00 until midnight during the week and from 08:30 until midnight over weekends.
Milan is Europe’s shopping capital, but unfortunately the luxury brands and exclusive fashion boutiques don’t fit everyone’s budget. If you’re looking for more affordable shopping options, Milan has a couple of really cool markets. The Sinigaglia Market is one of Milan’s oldest and biggest flea markets that has faithfully been taking place every weekend since the 1800’s. You can find anything from vintage clothing, books, records, and collector’s art pieces. Even if you’re not looking for any souvenirs to take back home, the atmosphere at this market is so energetic and authentic to old Milan that it’s something you have to experience! Head over there on a Saturday morning to enjoy a real flea market brunch while hunting for hidden treasures.
Photo credit: ratana.it
Ratanà is a contemporary Italian restaurant in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Isola. Italian cuisine encompasses more than pasta and pizza, and Ratanà is a great restaurant to get a taste of typical Milanese food. Chef Cesare Battisti opened Ratanà in 2009 to bring his modern take on traditional Milanese cooking to the city where he grew up. Ratanà’s food is incredible, simply but expertly made from locally sourced seasonal produce. Battisti’s signature saffron risotto with braised veal shank is a must-try on the menu. The restaurant is open every day, serving lunch from 12:30PM until 2:30PM and dinner from 7:30PM until 11:30PM. Reservations can be made online.
Seeing a building as impressive as Castello Sforzesco isn’t something you’ll experience any day. This 15th-century castle was built as a fortress by the duke of Milan and after it was enlarged in the 16th and 17th centuries, became known as one of Europe’s biggest citadels. Today the castle is home to a handful of interesting museums, including the Museum of Ancient Art, the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Egyptian Museum, and the Archaeological Museum of Milan. The castle is packed with ancient artworks and other historical artifacts. After visiting the museums, take a stroll through the castle grounds, from where you can go straight to the beautiful Parco Sempione, a public park that makes for the perfect picnic spot. The castle is free to enter, but the museums have an admission fee of €10 for adults and €8 for students and seniors. The castle is open every day from 7AM until 7:30PM and the museums from 9AM until 5:30PM (every day except for Mondays).
Photo credi: www.tunnel-milano.it
Tunnel Club is an underground electronic music club tucked away in a former railway shed beneath the tracks of Milan’s Central Station. More of a local hangout spot rather than being very well-known among tourists, you’ll love this club if you want to party with the locals. Tunnel Club opened in the 90’s as an experiential space for electronic music and DJ-sets. The club went through a quiet patch in the start of the new century, but really started picking up around 2009. Today this is one of Milan’s coolest nightlife hangout spots, featuring the city’s best techno, indie-rock and hip-hop artists. If you’re heading out to experience Milan’s vibrant nightlife, make sure Tunnel Club is on your itinerary for the evening. Definitely one of the coolest alternative spots in the city!
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