1. Admire the Duomo
The Milan Cathedral, or Duomo, one of the world’s largest cathedrals, was built over a span of almost six centuries. Its magnificent spires are visible from all over the city, but you have to step inside to fully appreciate the Duomo’s grandeur. Its most notable feature is the 18th-century sundial, built into the cathedral floor. The sundial is so precise that it was used in the past to regulate clocks throughout the city. Also, take time to gaze at the cathedral’s beautiful stained-glass windows and the gruesomely detailed statue of Saint Bartholomew (wearing his own flayed skin). For €9, you can climb to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of the city.
2. Relax at the Parco Sempione
Grab a cappuccino and a biscotti and head for Parco Sempione, the city’s largest park. It covers more than 386,000 sq m of land adjacent to the gardens of the Sforza Castle and the Arch of Peace. There’s free WiFi throughout the park, and it’s tempting to sit and catch up on your e-mail – but first, go explore. The park was given the look of an English garden in 1893 by local architect Emilio Alemagna. Take a stroll along the winding walkways, past the rolling green lawns, flowerbeds and the lake. Look out for the Arena Civica – the mini colosseum designed in 1806 by Swiss architect Luigi Canonica – which was once used for chariot races and mock naval battles. Today, it’s a stage for athletic events and outdoor concerts.
3. Window-shop at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
This magnificent glass-vaulted, cross-shaped arcade, known as il salotto di Milano (the living room of Milan), is a popular meeting place in the city. It’s home to some of the oldest shops and cafes in Milan, like the Biffi Caffe (founded in 1867 by Paolo Biffi, pastry chef to the monarch). While the goods in most of the shops are on the pricey side, it costs nothing to wander through the arcade and admire the beautiful architecture and floor mosaics. See if you can spot the mosaics representing Milan (a red cross on white), Florence (an iris), Rome (a she-wolf) and Turin (a bull). If you have trouble finding Turin’s symbol, look for tourists spinning on their heels on the bull’s genitals – it’s said to bring good luck.
4. Visit the Santa Maria delle Grazie
One of Milan’s most treasured and most visited sights – Leonardo da Vinci’s mural of The Last Supper – can be found inside the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie (Via Giuseppe Antonio Sassi, 3), a 15th-century church. Seeing this masterpiece will cost you €6.50, but visiting the church is free. The exterior is dominated by Donato Bramante’s magnificent dome – Bramante was chief architect of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome – decorated with delicately designed medallions of saints and coats-of-arms. The interior is just as impressive, with pointed arches decorated with intricate frescoes and beautifully carved wooden choir stalls. Look out for the entrance to a small cloister named Chiostrino delle Rane after the bronze frog (rane) sculptures around the edge of the cloister’s fountain.
5. Learn about marine life at the Civic Aquarium of Milan (on Sundays)
Milan’s aquarium might be on the small side, with only 100 different species, but it still makes for a fun outing. The huge tanks are home to numerous species of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and echinoderms (animals such as starfish and sea urchins) from the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. There are also several rare tropical and freshwater fish – some of which you can view from below when you are in the glass viewing tunnel. Entry used to be free, but now this only applies on the first Sunday of the month. However, the building itself (below) is still an impressive sight – dating from the early 20th century, it’s full of beautiful details such as squid and octopus carvings and tiled decorations representing marine life.
6. Enter museums for free on Fridays after 2pm
Several museums and galleries that usually charge an entry fee are free after 2pm on Fridays. One of these is the Natural History Civic Museum (below), which showcases everything from the evolution of humans to palaeontology. It also has real dinosaur skeletons on display. Another is the Archaeological Museum, which is housed in the ex-convent of the Monastero Maggiore church. It has a wide range of objects, from coins of ancient Milan to Greek vases to Etruscan statues. Get there before 2pm to avoid the queue.
PHOTOS: INSTAGRAM, SUPPLIED
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.