Milan is often considered to be ‘the hidden city of Italy’, as it’s easily overlooked. Dubbed as the fashion and business capital, it’s home to a multitude of must-see sights such as the Duomo and the colorful Brera district.
Aside from the standard sights, there’s a hidden Milan that few people ever get to know about, places you won’t find in your average guidebook. In this blog I share some hidden and unusual attractions in Milan that you won’t want to miss.
Wander around in Via Lincoln
Via Lincoln is possibly the best-kept secret in Milan. It is a street which is dotted with colorful terraced houses, something which stands out as atypical in an industrial, business-oriented city like this.
Take a detour to the east of Milan, not very far from the city center and just a few steps away from Corso XXII Marzo you’ll find Via Lincoln. This area is the place where nature meets city, where time stands still. As a district, it was devised as a “garden city project” in 1889 where artistic and creative young adults could feel away from the growing Italian metropolis. Over the years it’s inhabitants have transformed it into a colorful and nature-filled small paradise. Owners have embellished their properties with bright red, orange and even yellow colors, generating a characteristic vibe and look for the street. Strolling up and down the street is free of charge and is sure to delight any architecture lovers hitting town.
Search for treasures at the Mercatone del Naviglio Grande
On the last Sunday of every month, Mercatone dell’Antiquariato are held along Naviglio Grande, the oldest canal in Milan. A walk through this flea market is a real journey back in time. The markets cover nearly 2km and they sell everything! Furniture, clocks, porcelain, jewellery, books, toys and other home wares, you name it and they have it.
Navligi is known for it’s great atmosphere of good food, cafes and restaurants, and it’s hip bars and pubs. During Mercatone dell’Antiquariato, most of these cafes and bars open up their doors al fresco style, with seating, tables and couches all out along the banks of the canals, adding to the great family fair, Sunday session style atmosphere.
Cycle around the Navigli
One of the best ways to explore Milan (especially if you’re a little short on time and want to see as much as possible), is to cycle around the many Navigli (canals) which criss-cross the city. And no, you’ve not stumbled into Venice, although it definitely feels like it at times!
Instead, the Navigli were once navigable canals which were constructed to transport the Milanese around the city. Today, the waterways are no longer passable by boat but are a picturesque reminder of the city’s rich past.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s secret Vineyard
Milan is the only city in the world that has a vineyard in the middle of it’s historic district. And the owner of this 500-year-old vineyard was none other than Leonardo Da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance genius. The original vineyard of Leonardo, according to recent findings, is still intact, and is located in the courtyard of the House of Atellani, Corso Magenta. When visiting this place you’ll be transported right back to 1490, the year in which the original vineyard was planted.
Take a peaceful walk in Cimitero Monumentale
Cimitero Monumentale definitely competes with Père-Lachaise in Paris. The Monumentale is easily recognisable by its grand entrance, the famedio, and it has many famous Italian gravestones, amongst which Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Verdi, Giorgio Gaber, the founding father of teatro canzone, and Davide Campari, the inventor of the famous drink.
As it is in Italy, the cemetery mainly hosts Catholic graves, some of which are definitely over-the-top. However, the separate non-Catholic and Israelite sections are just as interesting. After some time you’ll forget you’re in a cemetery and start feeling like you’re walking in an open-air museum.
Discover a copy of the Last Supper by one of Leonardo’s apprentices
Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of those buildings that looks like just another church until you learn that it holds a fascinating secret inside. Besides being one of the oldest churches in Milan (originally built in Roman times), it is home to a perfect copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper, painted by one of his apprentices. Some parts of this version are better preserved than the original, so you can take a close look at some of the mysteries of the famous mural – all the saints and Jesus have halos except Judas or the feminine face of John, for example.
Pay a visit to the green towers: Bosco Verticale
Opened in 2014 and called “the most exciting new tower in the world,” Milan’s Bosco Verticale, or “vertical forest” comprises two 27-story residential high-rises teeming with cantilevered balconies and planted with almost 900 trees and more than 2,000 shrubs and bushes.
Bosco Verticale’s extensive greenery provides apartment dwellers with shade in the summer and filtered sunlight in the winter, as well as cleaner air and reduced noise pollution. The buildings are also equipped with solar panels and a gray water recycling and irrigation system.