Travel: City breaks: 48 hours in Milan

For the ultimate in elegant shopping and a feast of Renaissance art, visit Milan. Jon Winter checks out the best sights of the city
Click to follow
Why go now?

Because for the first time ever, Italy's most stylish city finds itself at the centre of a fares war. This morning's maiden flight on Go from Stansted to Milan has sparked deep discounts; just as Barcelona came to prominence when EasyJet started flying there, so Milan will surely be the trendiest city break for summer '98.

Beam down

Go (0845 60 54321) has an introductory rate of pounds 100 return from the Essex airport, an offer matched by KLM uk (0990 074074). Expect retaliation by Alitalia (0171-602 1711) from Heathrow and London City.

Get your bearings

The latter two airlines have the edge on Go because they serve the convenient Linate airport (a quick local bus ride) rather than Malpensa, 30 miles out. The No 73 bus shuttles you between Linate airport and the piazza San Babila, from where it's just a short stroll to the piazza del Duomo at the very heart of the city. (From Malpensa, you'll have a long connecting coach ride.) Dominating this large pedestrianised square is the world's largest Gothic cathedral and it is from this unforgettable structure that you orient yourself. Most of what Milan has to offer the visitor is within easy reach of here.

Check in

Head north of the cathedral to the arty Brera quarter and join the beautiful people at Antica Locanda Solferino, a hotel reputedly favoured by models - 180,000 lire (pounds 63) including breakfast - via Castelfidardo (00 39 2 657 0129). For an upmarket crowd, head for the exclusive Four Seasons hotel a couple of blocks north west of the piazza San Babila which offers five-star luxury in the unlikely setting of a former monastery - via Gesu 8 (00 39 2 77088). Budget travellers can rely on Milan's youth hostel, located out in the north-west suburbs along the M1 metro line, where bed and breakfast will cost you 23,000 lire (pounds 8) - via Martino Bassi (00 39 2 3926 7095).

Cultural morning

Of course you must go to see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Milan's star exhibit is housed in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie west of the cathedral. It opens 8am-1.45pm, and 7pm to 10pm. Admission costs 12,000 lire (pounds 4.20)

It took the artist two years to render one of the world's most famous paintings and it continues to occupy at least two hours of every tourist's schedule (most of which is spent in a queue). Nevertheless, after a final approach through a series of timed sliding doors, it does have an extraordinary aura, even with restoration scaffolding in place.

For an uninhibited view, walk a couple of blocks south to the Museo delle Scienze which has a full-size replica of the Last Supper along with some arguably more interesting work by the great Renaissance man. Leonardo's diversity is represented in anatomical, geological, architectural and botanical drawings and schemes which include his ideas for a flying machine.

Lunch on the run

Milan's hectic pace of life caters perfectly for visitors wanting a quick pit-stop lunch. Step into one of the many panotechi and you won't even have to sit down. Just prop yourself at the counter and refuel with an espresso and a tost (toasted sandwich).

For a liquid lunch, head for the Al Panino Bar on the corner of via San Paolo and via Agnello, just behind the Duomo, where buying drinks allows you to snack for free on an array of delicious titbits on the bar.

Take a hike

Shopping is the chief preoccupation for visitors to Italy's biggest metropolis and thanks to the home-spun talents of designers such as Georgio Armani, and an exhaustive collection of swanky shops stocking top names from around the globe, Milan has earned itself the ultimate designer label: "style capital of the world".

Keep your credit card tucked away for the time being and spend the morning browsing in the shops around the Quadrilatero. Suss out who's wearing what, where they bought it and how much it cost as you amble through this maze of streets just north east of the cathedral. All the names are here: Versace, Salvatore Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino and, of course, Georgio Armani. You can find a list of all the names along with the 100 or so shops stocking designer accessories for the home in Milano - Where, When, How, a free booklet available from the tourist office.

Most shops in the centre close at 7.30pm, so look first, see some sights, then return later on to pick up your wares and join the Milanese parading the streets in the evening with those all-important names proudly displayed on your shopping bags.

Take a ride

To get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, take a tram from the piazza del Duomo along the via Mercanti to the Castello Sforzesco. Its peaceful courtyards and museum halls are the perfect place to sit and quietly convince yourself that you can afford that Armani sweater, under the gaze of Michelangelo's Rondanini Pieta rather than a pushy shop assistant.

Demure dinner

If you are not spending the evening at Milan's famous opera house - standing tickets for La Scala are available on the day for as little as 10,000 lire (pounds 3.50) - head south away from the city centre and dine in the Navigli district. Here, among the many restaurants and bars that line the old canals, there are a few great pizzerias, such as Solo Pizza on naviglio Pavese, that still cook with traditional wood-burning ovens. Just make sure you are familiar with the Italian for anchovies - acciughe.

Sunday morning: go to church

Aside from Leonardo's Last Supper, Milan's magnificent cathedral is the other major historical attraction. Oddly, while being the focus of both tourists and locals, it is one of the few sanctuaries where you can escape the traffic, noise and temptation to put something else on your credit card. So save some money and invest some time marvelling at the sheer scale of the building and the craftsmanship of its 3,000 carved figures.

A walk in the park

Although within easy reach of the city centre, Milan's largest green space, the Parco Sempione, is frequented by the city's ne'er-do-wells and can feel a little threatening. Instead, ride Metro M1 right out into the suburbs to Lampugnano and join the joggers on Monte Stella. At 550ft it's no mountain, but it is Milan's only real incline. It was built from the rubble left at the end of the Second World War and, over the years, has become a rather nice park and one of the few places to get a view across the city skyline.

Icing on the cake

Italian ice-cream really does live up to its reputation. So if you don't treat yourself to a new designer outfit, or that stylish table lamp or even a Last Supper tea-towel, allow yourself one little indulgence with a visit to one of Milan's many gelaterias.