All Articles 4 Milan neighborhoods not to miss

4 Milan neighborhoods not to miss

Consider this the ultimate guide to experiencing the city’s iconic and local sites.

Gianvito Fanelli
By Gianvito FanelliApr 5, 2024 6 minutes read
Sun setting over Cathedral Square in the center of Milan
Piazza del Duomo
Image: Tripadvisor/Management

Milan is unquestionably one of the world's leading fashion and design cities. To locals, it’s considered the economic engine of Italy—we often hear that this is the place where things happen. And, indeed, the city lives up to the reputation: it bubbles with energy. It is possible, however, to experience a more relaxed Milan and let yourself be surprised by its lesser-known corners.

One easy way to do so? Skip the rental car and opt for public transportation and use the metro, bus, and streetcars to get around—the latter are often beautiful and historic (albeit a bit noisy). Here, a guide to some of the city's most iconic neighborhoods—many of which you can pair together for the ultimate day out in Milan.

Tip: No matter what neighborhood you’re exploring, keep your eyes peeled for Milan’s iconically gorgeous courtyards and entrance halls. After all, an entire Taschen coffee-table book is dedicated to their design.

City Center and Cinque Vie

Intricate and ornate ceiling of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Image: 254rajn/Tripadvisor

Milan was built around its heart, the Duomo di Milano. In addition to peeping at the exterior, you can climb inside the cathedral to admire the golden Madunina atop its tallest spire and take in a panorama of the city. But there’s more to the city’s center than just the Duomo. There are three other must-sees here: the museum inside the Palazzo Reale, which allows you to trace the cathedral’s history, alongside art exhibits; the Arengario, which houses a museum dedicated to 20th-century art; and the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is packed with restaurants, bars, and luxury stores. I suggest a cocktail at Camparino, a historic bar from the Campari group, and a slice of cake and a cup of tea at Marchesi, a pastry shop that now belongs to Prada, when you’re done.

For a break from the museums, head west into Cinque Vie, the iconic star-shaped neighborhood "hidden" behind Via Torino, one of Milan’s iconic shopping streets. Here, streets are lined with historic stores such as Laboratorio Paravicini, vintage shops like Wait and See, and ruins dating back to Roman times when the city was called Mediolanum. You could spend days exploring these neighboring areas and still have more to see.

Where to eat: This area is teeming with restauramt. Here’s a short list of fine-dining hits: Verso, Cracco, Horto, and Niko Romito, all restaurants opened by Michelin-starred chefs. For a more casual snack, try the famous club sandwich at Park Hyatt Hotel’s Mio Lab. And for a drink, in addition to the aforementioned Camparino, drop by Straf.

Hotel pick: Check into the Room Mate Giulia, a boutique hotel designed by Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola that’s just steps from the Piazza del Duomo.

Tip: Look for the Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro on Via Torino and approach the altar. Do you notice anything strange? (There’s an optical illusion at play here.)

Porta Venezia and Palestro

Various works of art on display at Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano
Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano
Image: Airborne503/Tripadvisor

A few subway stops from the Duomo, you’ll find the Palestro and Porta Venezia neighborhoods. These two nabes are connected by one of the city's largest parks, the Giardini Indro Montanelli (make time to visit the park’s planetarium designed by Piero Portaluppi in 1930). Here, it’s definitely worth peeking into the entrance halls of public buildings and venturing into open courtyards, as they’re full of beautiful mansions. Two houses have become veritable museums: Villa Necchi Campiglio, a 1930s gem also designed by architect Pietro Portaluppi, and Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano, with its collection of 20th-century art. If you’re in an artistic mood, visit the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna and its gardens, which often host Milano Piano City concerts in May. Moving toward Porta Venezia, a neighborhood beloved by Milan’s queer community, make time to visit Spazio Maiocchi, a multifunctional space dedicated to fashion, art, and design that hosts temporary exhibitions.

Where to eat: Porta Venezia is a diverse neighborhood when it comes to food. Start with breakfast at Pavè, one of the city's best bakeries, or Gelsomina pastry shop. For lunch, stop by Frangente for outstanding contemporary cuisine (you’ll never be disappointed by the famous cotoletta alla milanese), Lùbar inside the Galleria civica d’Arte Moderna, or Røst, a modern trattoria. For aperitifs, you'll find excellent wines selected by the founders of Trippa, one of the best trattorias in town, at Osteria alla Concorrenza. You’ve got plenty of options for cocktails, too, including Nottingham Forest, Kanpai, and Gesto, which was recently renovated to include a vinyl record listening room.

Hotel picks: Between San Babila and Porta Venezia, Portrait Milano is a luxury hotel inside the courtyard of the Archbishop's Seminary. Inside, it also has a restaurant known for its bianco (plain pasta), which has become the talk of social media across Italy. For backpackers, Ostello Bello Grande near Central Station is a contemporary hostel that hosts tons of social events.

Porta Genova and Navigli

Sunsetting over Naviglio Grande
Naviglio Grande
Image: SecretTaster/Tripadvisor

There is no Milan without the Navigli, the network of canals designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Only a few of the original remain—one is the Naviglio Grande, around which a restaurant-heavy neighborhood has now sprung up. (Shoppers, an important note: Every last Sunday of the month, there is a beautiful vintage market stocked with antiques here.) The rule of courtyards applies here, too—as you delve into the characteristic Milanese railing houses, you can discover workshops or beautiful tucked-away gardens.

The area is also home to some of Milan’s best art and design spaces. Be sure to stop by Mudec, a municipal art and photography museum designed by starchitect Daniel Libeskind, and Tenoha, a beautiful concept store and restaurant inspired by Japanese culture. You’ll also find Armani Silos, the Giorgio Armani museum that houses the brand's archives and a rotation of temporary exhibitions, here. On Via Savona, Spazio Munari, a bookstore dedicated to the great Italian designer Bruno Munari, is a new must-visit.

Where to eat: For breakfast, I recommend the historic Clivati and Gattullo pastry shops. For lunch, opt for a pizza at Cocciuto's or choose one of the many bars that offer lunch service. Elita Bar is a great option for a plate of carbonara and a gin and tonic. If you are looking for a contemporary trattoria, Nebbia is one of the best in the city. And if you're in the mood for a locals-only aperitivo, look for Frizzi e Lazzi and soak up the atmosphere of a Milanese courtyard. For dinner and cocktails, book a table at Carico, Mag, or BackDoor43, one of the tiniest bars in the world (reservation required).

Hotel picks: Combo is a modern hostel that hosts events, a recording room, exhibitions, and a co-working space. For a more exclusive choice, 21 House of Stories, on Naviglio Pavese, is a well-designed hotel with all the amenities and the I Mirador sky bar.

Tip: When you travel along Alzaia Naviglio Grande, look for Vico dei Lavandai on your phone's map. It is a place that will immediately take you back to the past, to when people used to do their laundry outdoors.

Chinatown, Sempione, and Porta Garibaldi

Close up showing the green balconies of Bosco Verticale
Bosco Verticale
Image: 179cynthiaf/Tripadvisor

This trio of neighborhoods could keep you entertained (and fed) for practically your entire trip. To the east, you’ll find modern Porta Garibaldi and its Piazza Gae Aulenti, which is dedicated to a famous city architect of the same name. Home to the Bosco Verticale, one of the city’s most iconic skyscrapers, it’s where you’ll find the exclusive concept store 10 Corso Como and several high-fashion boutiques along pedestrian-only Corso Como.

Porta Garibaldi and the Sempione district are connected by Via Paolo Sarpi, a very long street that runs through the heart of Milan’s Chinatown. It’s home to the ADI Museum, which is run by the association that annually awards the Compasso d'Oro—the most crucial prize in Italy dedicated to design. Take a stroll around the nearby Monumental Cemetery, which houses the graves of several of the city's illustrious figures, including the writer Alessandro Manzoni.

Once you’re in Sempione, head straight to Parco Sempione, which houses the must-visit Milan Triennale, Italy's most influential design museum, and the Arco della Pace, a triumphal arch celebrating peace among nations.

Where to eat: Chinatown, in particular, is brimming with places to eat. You can start with breakfast at oTTo (also an option for lunch or drinks) or at the Neapolitan pastry shop Sciuscià, which serves baked goods and coffee. You can stop at Ravioleria Sarpi for a dumpling or the Hotel VIU's Bulk Bar for a pan-European lunch menu. If you are looking for a Michelin-starred dinner, book a table at Iyo, a Japanese restaurant in Piazza Alvar Aalto. And if you're in the mood for karaoke, head to Ronin and reserve a small room for belting out some hits.

Hotel picks: Hotel VIU in Chinatown is a great choice for business and leisure and comes with a spa, sauna, fitness center, pool, and rooftop.

Gianvito Fanelli
Gianvito Fanelli is a designer, founder and curator of the Instagram project Vita lenta with more than 600k followers, food writer, and author of the newsletter "The Breakfast of the Champions".He has written about food and travel for Vice, Munchies, Rolling Stone, and Lonely Planet. His articles have been translated into US and France.