I’m going to keep it real. We took a quick day trip to Milan on our last full day staying in Lugano. But we kind of wish we hadn’t.
Getting to Milan from Lugano is a super easy direct, one-hour train ride. So the jaunt seemed like a no brainer. We thought we’d get a taste of Italy before heading further South to Florence for the last leg of our trip.
But if I had it to do over again, we probably would have stayed in Lugano to explore more of the neighboring villages.
It’s not really that we didn’t like Milan (although, to be totally honest, we didn’t really like Milan). The main problem was the limited amount of time we had in such a sprawling and bustling city.
We got off the train at 10 a.m. and headed straight for the Duomo. We soaked up the Italian gothic architecture as we navigated the large crowds to take pictures. With time working against us, we opted against waiting in line to climb the tower. Instead, we forged on to find other adventures.
Food is always a main priority for us on any trip. So we decided to have a proper meal before tackling any major activities. We knew just where we wanted to go. With some online searching we had discovered Peck. This place is huge and has a deli, bakery, cafe, wine shop, restaurant and more all under one roof. We strolled by the different counters ogling the fresh produce, meats, cheeses and pastas on the main floor before proceeding up to the restaurant.
The sign said they’d opened about 10-15 minutes before we arrived, so we assumed someone would greet us and show us to a table. However, this never happened. We waited at the front counter but no one came. We were amazed as several restaurant staff walked right by us without a word as the restaurant remained empty. Turned off, we decided to venture towards a more accommodating eatery.
We eventually found a place that acknowledged our existence but, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be that much better. It was a perfectly unremarkable meal, so I’ll spare you the dull details.
After lunch, we walked around the Galería Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping mall. This huge four-story structure is beautiful to look at, and we wandered around taking photos for quite a while. But the fun stopped there, because we both hate shopping. Also, if we’d wanted to spend thousands of dollars on high-end clothes we could easily have done so in Lugano.
After much deliberation, we decided to devote most of our day to exploring the Sforza Castle. This place is a former fortress turned palace turned modern-day museum. Inside the castle are numerous collections of ancient and modern art, with the main attractions being Michelangelo’s Pietà Rondanini and the Sala delle Asse featuring frescoes by Leonardo da Vinci.
We were bummed to learn that the Da Vinci portion was undergoing construction and not open to the public, so we made sure to see Michelangelo’s Pietà. The Pietà is famous for being Michelangelo’s last, unfinished work. Despite the fact that he never completed the work, ther is a certain allure in seeing the work-in-progress as it was at his death – frozen in time.
You could spend days exploring the castle’s grounds and many exhibits, but after about four hours we needed coffee, stat.
We stumbled into a place across the street and ordered espressos at the bar (which is usually cheaper than sitting down and ordering from the wait staff) before meandering through the streets for a while.
We couldn’t not enjoy a glass of wine or two on our first day in Italy, so we hit up a bar for aperitivo. Potato chips and sparkling wine have yet to let us down, but somehow the combination tastes even better in Italy.
We managed to fit in a quick dinner at Sciatt à Porter before leaving the city. This little restaurant serves street food inspired cuisine from the Valtellina region of Italy. Our server recommended a meat-on-a-stick dish and mashed potatoes. Definitely not the type of thing one typically thinks of when they think of Italian food, but the potatoes turned out to be a highlight of our day in Milan. Go figure!
And with that, it was time to hustle back to the train station and leave Milan. And although we weren’t necessarily enamored with the city, we chalked it up to a little bad luck and the fact that some places are really just not conducive to quick day trips like this. Plus, we definitely could have done some more planning to increase our odds of success. Taking this trip immediately after the holidays left us less than prepared to say the least.
If we ever had the chance to spend more time in Northern Italy, using Milan as a jumping off point for the surrounding regions, we’d take it in a heartbeat.
That said, if you are a fashion or art lover or prefer sprinkling bigger, modern cities into your European travels don’t count Milan out. We never regret seeing a new place, and left pleased to have seen the Pietà in person. But we were definitely ready to experience more of Italy. Luckily, that’s exactly what we had planned. Stay tuned for the rundown of our time in beautiful Florence!