By Marco di Chio
A student of classic literature who has been living in Milan his entire life.
26 February 2020
Art, fashion, design, opera, theatre, wine, fine dining… Milan has it all. This historic Italian metropolis is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and one the world’s most culturally rich destinations. For anyone who enjoys music, art and history, Milan should be at the top of their travel bucket lists. If you’re visiting this picture-perfect city and you’re wondering where to stay in Milan, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about its best neighborhoods. Here are my suggestions for the best areas to stay in Milan!
Porta Venezia: Best for first-time visitors to Milan
Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porta_Venezia
Porta Venezia is my first recommendation for a neighborhood that offers a little bit of everything: food, shopping, culture, family entertainment and nightlife. Porta Venezia is a blend of three very different parts of Milan: the sophisticated Porta Nuova, the fast-paced Corso Buenos Aires and the laid-back Porta Romana. This area has many options for mid-range shopping that will give you a taste of Milan’s high fashion without spending your entire travel budget in one go. This is not generally considered the most attractive part of the city, but if that is indeed true, you can only imagine how beautiful the rest of Milan is. The streets are lined with neoclassical buildings and feature public spaces like the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli park, the Natural History Museum and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, housed in an 18th-century palace. At night, Porta Venezia comes alive with wine bars, food trucks and karaoke clubs. The heart of this neighborhood, Via Lecco, is one of Milan’s most popular spaces for the city’s LGBT community. During June, international Pride Month, this area becomes known as Milan’s Pride Square and is lit up with colorful Pride flags all around.
The Brera district is the artistic center of Milan. This area is home to countless art galleries and workshops, making it the perfect neighborhood for travelers who want to soak up all that Milan’s art scene has to offer. This district is so beautiful, and I suggest exploring it on foot. It’s pedestrian-friendly and you’ll see so much more when you walk through along the cobblestoned streets and narrow alleyways. There’s a lot to see in this neighborhood. Visit the Accademia di Belle Arti, the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, the Museo Astronomico, the Giardino Botanico and the 15th century Santa Maria del Carmine church. The shops and restaurants in this neighborhood are on the higher end, featuring luxury boutiques and fine dining street-side eateries. Nightlife in Brera is quieter than Porta Venezia, for example, and largely centers around sophisticated restaurants and romantic wine bars rather than pubs and night clubs. Brera’s relaxed vibe also makes it a good option for families with kids to stay in Milan.
Colonne di San Lorenzo is a collection of ancient Roman ruins in central Milan. Colonne is a favorite among the local young crowd who love this area for its lively nightlife and affordable food, drinks, and entertainment. Located in the heart of Milan, Colonne is a neighborhood with spirit – street musicians, cheap beer, and an inviting community of local artists and students. Aside from partying, this district has significant historical charm. The 16 impressive columns in front of the Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore form the architectural centerpiece of this neighborhood as one of Milan’s most famous attractions. I recommend Colonne for students and other young travelers – or anyone traveling on a budget. This is a great neighborhood if you want to make friends with locals who will show you around Milan!
Cinque Vie: Best for history enthusiasts
Better known as 5Vie, this neighborhood is considered the historic center of Milan. This is one of the oldest parts of Milan and used to be a very important trade center during the Roman era. The name translates to ‘five streets’, referring to the five streets that meet up in one point to form the heart of this area. 5Vie is known for its art, design and history. Nowhere else in Milan will you find such a high concentration of museums, art galleries, churches and historically preserved sites as in 5Vie. Stay in this neighborhood if you’re fascinated by the age-old history of Milan and can’t get enough of the city’s ancient architecture, Roman artworks and innovate designs. Like most of Milan, this neighborhood is most uniquely explored on foot since the best hidden gems are always found in the narrow alleyways that you’ll miss if you blink for too long. Also great for photography enthusiasts to find inspiration!
Zona Tortona: Best for fashion and design gurus
Zona Tortona is a synonym to fashion. This district hosts both Milan Fashion Week and Milan Design Week, drawing a massive stream of visitors to these iconic events every year. Whether you’re attending or just want to experience the creative atmosphere surrounding these annual conventions, staying in Zona Tortona will get you as close to all the fashionable action as can. For the rest of the year, this area remains a wonderful place to stay, especially if you’re looking for elegant restaurants and cocktail bars where you’ll be treated like a guest of honor. Trendy eateries in Zona Tortona are plentiful – a dream for the Instagram foodies. Art, history and architecture lovers will also find this neighborhood has more than enough to offer in terms of galleries, museums and beautiful historic buildings. A must-visit is Armani Silos, an enormous museum featuring the life-long work of the famous designer, Giorgio Armani.
Porta Romana: Best for nightlife
Photo credit: thecrazytourist.com
Porta Romana is packed with bars, clubs, and a diverse range of restaurants, giving it a vibrant nightlife scene. This neighborhood has something for every budget, from classy upscale restaurants and swanky cocktail bars to laid-back ramen joints and bars with dirt-cheap beers. There are parts of Porta Romana that are quite expensive when it comes to accommodation, you’ll find plenty of budget-friendly stays as you move towards the outskirts of the neighborhood. This area particularly appeals to the millennial hipsters, who love the out-of-the-ordinary spots like PotaFiori, a florist/bistro where you eat among the beautiful flower arrangements, Fondazione Prada, a contemporary art space, and Plastic, one of Milan’s most popular nightclubs. I recommend staying in Porta Romana if you want to experience the best of Milan after dark.
Isola: Best for families with kids
Photo credit: theculturetrip.com
Isola is an up-and-coming neighborhood that has been going through a lot of renovations during the past couple of years. This used to be the primary working-class district of Milan and, before the metro system was introduced a few years ago, it used to be relatively unconnected to the rest of the city. But because it’s now so well-connected to the city center and all of Milan’s top tourist attractions, Isola is well on the way to become one of Milan’s coolest neighborhoods. New restaurants, bars and shops are popping up all the time and the mixture of old and modern architecture make for quite an interesting visual experience. Isola mostly houses locals who were drawn to the area for its affordable accommodation; the neighborhood isn’t overrun with tourists yet, making it the best place to stay in Milan if you’re looking for a real local experience and want to avoid the crowds. Also the ideal option for families with kids who are looking for something a quieter and somewhat more residential than what the city center has to offer.
Chinatown: Best for a cultural experience
Photo credit: theculturetrip.com
The bustling Chinatown district is the oldest and biggest Chinese community in Milan. Neighboring the popular Brera district and the historical city center, Chinatown is within easy reach of all Milan’s coolest sites. Chinatown is perfect for travelers who want to see a different side of Milan. This neighborhood is a unique blend of romantic Italy and traditional China, presenting an interesting mixture of Eastern cuisines, decorations and traditions intertwined with Milan’s picturesque architecture and narrow, cobblestoned streets. This area is great for budget shopping and hearty food. Accommodation around here is generally very affordable and locals who live here are really friendly and welcoming to visitors. Chinatown is a lively district where you’ll never find yourself without something to do – especially during the very exciting time surrounding Chinese New Year and the celebrations that come with it.