How to live like a Local in Milan

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Lonely Planet Local Stephanie Ong ended up in Milan like so many foreigners do – by falling for an Italian. Five years later the city feels like home. For Stephanie, Milan is all about late-night bike rides in the elegant centre, after-work aperitivo and dressing to impress on a daily basis.

Sunset shot of a Navigli canal, with crowds of people walking down the streets on either sideThe Navigli district comes alive at night © deimagine / Getty Images

The best time to be in Milan… is Design Week in April. It’s my favourite time of year. I never go to the industry event Salone del Mobile, for me it’s all about the fringe event – Fuorisalone. I spend my time at the free pop-ups, emerging designer shows and parties that take place all over town, mostly around Tortona and Lambrate. Even if you’re not into design it’s still a lot of fun.

When I’m up for a big night out… I usually head to the Navigli. You can start the night at any number of good bars and then simply stroll your way to a club. Apollo is my pick; it almost always has something good on, such as disco-house night Rollover (although it can be hard to get in as they have a strict door policy – to improve your chances, wear black and hope the door staff take a liking to you). Otherwise, if I’m in the mood for something something fun with more commercial music I might head to Rocket.

A coffee and a dessert on a table at PaveCoffee and a delicious dessert at Pavé © Stephanie Ong / Lonely Planet

My perfect weekend… starts with brunch at Pavé, a hip pastry-shop-cum-cafe, and of course includes one of their picture-perfect desserts. Next is some shopping and a scenic stroll down the Naviglio canal. On Sunday, if the monthly East Market is on I’ll peruse their vintage clothing and vinyl stacks. It’s a great place to find pre-loved treasure. The weekend can only end with pizza! Marghe is my favourite place for Neapolitan-style pizza, located conveniently close to my home.

What I hate about Milan… are the mosquitoes in summer. No one tells you this, but it’s like living in a tropical country. Bring your insect repellent everywhere, especially if you’re around the Navigli canals during the ‘golden hour’ (from 7pm to 9pm). The heat during summer can also be pretty unbearable, especially because air conditioning is not that common. If you do find it, it’s usually on such a low setting as to be purely decorative.

View from a hill towards the town of Lecco and Lake Como, with mountains in the distanceView of Lecco and Lake Como © afinocchiaro / Getty Images

When I want to get out of the city… I like to go hiking in the countryside around Lecco. The mountain scenery is stunning and you get great views over Lake Como. There are lots of different walks to choose from, taking you from mountain peaks to waterfalls, tiny chapels and hilltop chalets.

When my friends are in town… I always take them to aperitivo (Italian happy hour) because it’s a very local experience. I usually go to the Fonderie Milanesi because it’s like being in a country house in the city, and it also has one of the best buffet spreads. Otherwise, I like Bar Basso, a historic bar that offers a more classic aperitivo experience and also invented the negroni sbagliato drink.

Stephanie Ong at the Rotonda della BesanaStephanie Ong at the Rotonda della Besana © Stephanie Ong / Lonely Planet

My favourite ‘secret’ places include… the art deco planetarium designed by Piero Portaluppi, which is one of the most beautiful spaces to look at the stars; the Rotonda della Besana, a baroque complex with a garden that’s perfect for relaxing in; and Piazza Affari for Maurizio Catalan’s Il Dito (the finger). The latter is an enormous sculpture of a hand giving the middle finger that sits outside the stock exchange building.

For street food… you can’t go wrong with Luini’s panzerotto – fried pizza-dough parcels stuffed with cheese and tomato, yes it is as good as it sounds! The Macelleria Popolare also has excellent meat-based snacks, as the name suggests (it translates as ‘the popular butcher’). You can get regional delicacies here, such as a lampredotto (tripe sandwiches) or mondeghili (Milanese meatballs).

People sit on outside table in a cafe at the Hangar BicoccaHangar Bicocca is a contemporary art exhibition space © Paolo Reda / Getty Images

When I’m in the mood for some art and culture… I simply take my pick; there are so many places to choose from. Palazzo Reale has big-name exhibitions and almost always has something worth seeing. Otherwise, the Triennale is great for design. Hangar Bicocca is an industrial space further from the centre that’s a bit difficult to get to, but often has fascinating contemporary exhibitions. It also hosts a lot of creative workshops and events.

What I’ve learnt after living in Milan for five years is… dress well and people will treat you accordingly. Never order a cappuccino after a meal. Lack of parking is an opportunity to get creative. As a woman, you’ll never have to open a door or carry something heavy. And there really is a hand gesture for everything!

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