Milan is a polarizing city. Some love it, some hate it. To me, it depends on your purpose for visiting. I try to experience the places I visit on their own terms, without projecting onto them what I think a visit-worthy place ought to be like.
Milan is known as one of the great fashion capitals of the world – no doubt a selling point to some of my readers. Especially notable is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a huge covered shopping area with flagship stores for little-known brands like Prada, Versace, and Louis Vuitton. Shopping is everywhere, though. No need to limit yourself to the Galleria. I’ve never seen a city with such a high clothing-store-per-capita ratio. I kept finding a shopping district and thinking ‘Oh, this must be the main area,’ just to find another, and another, and another.
Consequently, the people in Milan look the part. Italian men generally have a reputation for being metrosexual but in Milan it reaches new heights. Clean-cut, well-groomed, and well-dressed. That’s the MO for Milanese men. The Great Beards of the Pacific Northwest and hipsters everywhere may not recognize their own gender.
If you’re looking for Italian history, Milan shouldn’t be your first stop. History is everywhere in Italy, but it just doesn’t compare to Venice, Florence, and Rome in that category. That being said, directly adjacent to the Galleria is the Duomo, Milan’s massive and massively gothic cathedral. Milan’s other major historical draw is Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco of the Last Supper, in a tiny little unassuming chapel in an otherwise nondescript neighborhood. Nothing to thumb your nose at, but just wait til we start talking about Florence and Rome.
To me, Milan feels more like the modern world than the other Italian cities I visited. Though I love the history I discovered throughout the country, I also appreciated experiencing what contemporary Italy is like.
Milan has a decent gay scene but maybe not as large as you would expect for a fashion capital. Rome is still the gay capital of Italy. There are a couple posh lounges, a few casual hangouts, and several of Europe’s requisite cruise bars.
Milan is where I first ran into Italy’s Anddos system, which is a country-wide membership system for entering the majority of gay bars. You pay for a membership and get a card that you can use all over Italy. If a bar has any area that could conceivably be used as a cruising area, it is part of this system. Personally, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. It makes entering most of the gay spaces in the country feel like an illicit and hidden activity. (Of course, I don’t blame the bars for this; they’re just working within the cultural mores and laws of the land.)
As I mentioned, Milan is controversial, but I liked it so much I ended up extending my stay by a few days. I just enjoyed the general vibe of the city and found plenty to keep me busy.
Next stop: Florence.