If cosmopolitan Milan is Italy's undeniable center of fashion and culture, then Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is its sophisticated nucleus. Located on Piazza Duomo, to the left of the front entrance of Milan's majestic cathedral (Duomo), the architecturally stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is an ornate shopping arcade with a star-studded list of luxury emporiums, international chain and department stores, and trendy gourmet eateries.
A symbol of Milanese style and wealth, the gallery features intricate mosaic floors and a magnificent archway into its portico-covered "streets." It also displays one of Umberto Boccioni's masterpieces, "Riot in the Gallery" (Rissa in Galleria). Standing 154 feet tall and comprised of 389 tons of iron (mostly used to build the skeletal supports of the glass roof), the Galleria is a must-see destination on any visit to the city.
If these walls could talk, they would tell a tale of mystery and intrigue.
The Galleria was designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni in the Renaissance Revival style popular at the time. Construction broke ground in 1865 and was completed less than two years later – an astonishing achievement even by modern standards. But a dark cloud hung over the grand opening—just days before the building's inauguration, Signor Mengoni's lifeless body was discovered lying beneath scaffolding. Some believed he died of a heart attack, while others speculated that he had committed suicide rather than face harsh criticism of his work.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was nicknamed "il salotto di Milano" (Milan's drawing room) because of its popularity with the city's bourgeoisie. In the late 1960s, its complexion drastically changed, dominated by radical student demonstrations, rallies, debates, and clashes with police. But the Galleria managed to reinvent itself yet again, and today it's a gorgeous place to stroll, people-watch, shop, and dine.
What to See and Do
Spin on the testicles of Taurus the Bull. The gallery's floors are decorated with the signs of the zodiac and at the building's octagonal center, you may notice a crowd gathered around one of the figures: Taurus the Bull. A symbol borrowed from the Savoy coat of arms, the bull is said to bring good luck to those who spin on their heels three times over his testicles. This would explain the deep hole that has formed in the pavement below the animal's attributes.
Take a walk on the roof. The Galleria recently opened a new Highline walkway on its rooftop that stretches 820 feet from Piazza Duomo to Piazza della Scala. It can be accessed via two high-speed elevators that are located inside the courtyard at Via Silvio Pellico 2. The rooftop walk is open Monday through Friday from 12:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. and from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. On weekends, the Highline is open from 12:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. The elevator costs €12 per person.
Shop 'til you drop. A major retail mecca and popular meeting point for the affluent and hip, the Galleria's predominate attraction is shopping. Its abundance of high-end boutiques, breathtakingly expensive designer shops – think Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton – and a see and be seen vibe make it a fun place for people-watching and retail therapy – or just some wishful window-shopping.
Shops and Food
Among the scores of tempting places to eat, drink, and shop in the Galleria, here are a few historic standouts:
Savini. Established in 1867 during the Galleria's Belle Epoque period, Savini restaurant is famous for serving what is considered the best risotto allo zafferano (saffron risotto) in the city. The dish, a Milanese tradition, is said to have been a favorite of Princess Grace of Monaco, back when she was just the commoner and American actress, Grace Kelly.
Bar Camparino. Occupying an envied spot in the Galleria overlooking the lacy, white facade of the cathedral, this drinking establishment keeps alive the ritual of the Italian aperitif (aperitivo). Back in 1897, liquor magnate Gaspare Campari set up his restaurant (along with his home and wine shop) in the gallery, adding his Campari location in 1915. In the 1980s, the bar's name was changed to "Bar Camparino." Stop in to sip an iconic Campari and soda or Negroni cocktail, while nibbling on accompanying snacks.
Libreria Bocca. This charming, historic shop has been a Galleria mainstay since 1930. The bookseller was also once the official printer of the House of Savoy and published such authors as Pellico, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Freud. One of the oldest bookstores of its kind still in operation, it features a retail division (national and foreign titles) and continues to produce books and newspapers, as well as promote cultural events, art exhibits, book presentations, and conferences.
How to Visit
Location: Piazza del Duomo, Milano
Metro: To reach the Galleria, take Metro Line 1 or 3 and get off at the Duomo stop.
Hours: The Galleria common areas are open 24 hours, while stores and restaurants set their own hours.
Sights and Attractions Nearby
The Galleria is in the heart of Milan's centro storico and, as such, is close to several of the city's major attractions.
Duomo di Milano, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, was built in the 14th century and took over 500 years to complete. It is located, appropriately, on the Piazza Duomo.
La Scala walking from Piazza Duomo through the Galleria's corridor to the other side, you'll arrive at La Scala, one of the most famous and beautiful opera houses in the world.
Gallerie d’Italia is an important art museum exhibiting contemporary Italian works from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Starbucks opened its first location in Italy in 2018, causing some to worry that the arrival of an American coffee conglomerate could threaten the very existence of Italy's revered coffee culture. A five-minute walk from the Galleria, people are flocking to Starbuck's glitzy store to gawk at the 30-foot marble-topped bar, the affogato corner where espresso is poured over ice cream, and an on-site roastery and bakery. Italian millennials may be smitten, but we can say with confidence that the county's mom-and-pop coffee bars are still thriving.