While it can't claim the extensive ancient ruins of Rome or the Renaissance legacy of Florence, Milan boasts a modern energy that many other Italian cities lack. Plus, there's that undeniable sense of style, which you'll pick up on as soon as you hit the sidewalk and admire fashionably-dressed Milanese on their way to work, to the market, or just out walking the dog.
A great way to discover Italy's second-largest city is through exploring its many diverse neighborhoods, ranging from artsy, bohemian enclaves to innovative modern quarters. Read on for a guide to Milan's top neighborhoods.
The streets surrounding the Duomo di Milano are certainly among the best-situated for visiting Milan's most popular sights and shopping areas. Apart from the Duomo, the historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II retail arcade is here, as well as the Ducal Palace and La Scala theatre. You'll pay a premium for a hotel room, though you'll be in the very heart of Milan.
Well-heeled culture vultures love Brera for its proximity to the Pinacoteca di Brera art museum, as well as its shopping and café scene. Brera's narrow side streets offer sidewalk dining and a lively—if refined—aperitivo scene. It's an expensive area to bed down for the night, but you'll be near the Duomo and far from the madding crowds.
The Navigli area, once the site of bustling commerce via a network of canals, is now best known for its boho vibe, its once-a-month antiques market, and its nightly party scene along the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese canals. Stay here if you want to feel like a real Milano insider, and if you're either a night owl or a heavy sleeper.
Central Station Area
The hotel-dense blocks around Milano Centrale train station may not be the most attractive in the city, but they are among the most affordable. Stay here if you're on a budget or you've got just a short time in the city. The top sights in Milan, including the Duomo and the Sforza Castle, are just a short Metro ride away, or within one hour's walk.
The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, home of Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," may be the most famous site in Zona Magenta, but it's not the only reason to visit or book a stay in the neighborhood. Its elegant streets are lined with 19th-century palazzos housing bars, cafés, shops, and restaurants, with leafy side streets giving this close-in area a suburban feel.
With a Metro stop whisking travelers and commuters to the Duomo every five minutes, visitors staying in the Porta Romana area might not notice they're not right in the city center. The trade-off for being slightly off the beaten path? Cheaper hotel rooms, a neighborhood feel, and a slew of bars and restaurants favored by the area's upwardly mobile locals.
Porta Venezia/Zona Buenos Aires
Although it houses the Giardini Pubblici (public gardens) and the Museum of Natural History, Porta Venezia is best known as home to Milan's longest and most popular shopping street: Corso Buenos Aires, which runs into Zona Buenos Aires. This retail runway boasts more than 350 stores, ranging from affordable chains like Zara and Foot Locker to more expensive outlets.
Once considered quite literally the "other side of the tracks" due to its location near the Porta Garibaldi train station, the Isola/Porta Nuova area now looks very much like the Milan of the future. Innovative high-rises (including the tree-covered Bosco Verticale), corporate tech and banking headquarters, and a young, professional vibe mean increasingly higher rents and an of-the-moment nightlife scene.
If you're looking for an inexpensive place to stay; a colorful, out-of-the-ordinary area to explore; or you just need a break from Italian food, Milan's Quartiere Cinese (Chinese Quarter) might be the district for you. Italy's oldest and largest Chinese neighborhood offers a lot more than Chinese food; pan-Asian restaurants abound, and the area is only a 30-minute walk from the Duomo.
As the home of both Milan Fashion Week and Milan Design Week, Zona Tortona wears its style on its sleeve. The small enclave, set southwest of the city center, is anchored by a museum dedicated to Giorgio Armani, as well as the Mudec Museum of Culture. This is a good base for shopping for one-of-a-kind designer duds and for exploring the neighboring Navigli district.
With its mix of banal modern apartment buildings, historic churches, and Roman and medieval remains, Ticinese reflects its socially diverse population, which ranges from artists and young professionals to the idle rich. With good connections to the city center, this neighborhood is a popular option for those who want to save a little money while enjoying a whole lot of nightlife and dining options.