Two Hours in Milan

Break within a break

If you are in a rush, you could reduce those two hours in Milan to 15 minutes and still see Italy’s largest Cathedral, the world’s oldest shopping mall and opera’s most famous theatre, all of them “next-arcade neighbours” in one of the smallest central cores of any major city in Europe

In the last post from our short series of “breaks within a break”, we will take you today across another border, albeit a merely linguistic one (increasingly, they are the only ones that count), going from Italy’s largely German speaking province of Alto Adige (where we recently went for a hiking trip) to Milan, Italy’s second city and in many ways its first, the country’s secret capital and economic powerhouse.

"what to visit with two hours in Milan"

If you want to hike in the Alto Adige (aka South Tyrol) and are arriving by plane, Milan (Malpensa) is the nearest large international airport (Verona and Innsbruck are nearer, but offer a much more limited range of flights), so this may serve as a perfect pretext for a half-day stopover.

Of course, you won’t be able to see everything that Milan has to offer in the space of a few hours, but you will be surprised at how much you can cover in such a short period of time. This is because the core of Milan’s town centre is rather small for a city of its size and importance, and most major sites can be conveniently explored in a couple of hours.

This core of the city centre is, however, also rather far away from the train station. So, particularly if you are pressed for time, buy yourself a public transport day ticket from a tobacconist inside the station – you will pass one on the way to the subway system, right opposite the entrance. (Look for the shop sign with the large white “T” on a black background.)

Start your two hours in Milan

Take the green line to Cadorna, and as soon as you leave the station, you will see the gardens of the Castello Sforzesco, the ancient castle of the Dukes of Milan which was built in the 15th century and was for centuries one of the largest fortresses in Europe. (Nowadays, it accommodates a whole range of Milan’s best museums, a fact which is advertised by exhibits in the interior courtyard.)

"Castello Sforzesco in Milan"

Walking straight out of the Castello’s main entrance, we follow Via Beltrami to Piazza Cairoli and head across for the pedestrianized Via Dante, continuing straight until we reach the Duomo, Milan’s magnificent Cathedral and the only truly “Gothic” building of renown in Italy.

"The Duomo to see with only two hours in Milan"

 No matter how rushed you are, you should take the time for a short visit. It is really quite stunning and as impressive from the inside as it is from the front.

"Inside the Duomo of Milan"

Just as impressive and magnificent, in its own way, …

"Visit the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle with two hours in Milan"

… is the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle next door (or “next arcade”, to be more precise), perhaps the world’s first shopping mall (there are other contenders) but definitely its most elegant. (Eat your heart out, Edmonton.)

Have a good look around and leave the Galleria through the exit on the far side for a brief glimpse at yet another Milanese landmark: the Teatro alla Scala, or La Scala for short, the world’s most famous opera house …

"La Scala of Milan"

… before you turn right into Via Manzoni.

After a couple of blocks, turn right again into Via Monte Naopleone or the street after, Via della Spiga: this is the Milanese fashion district, the “Golden Quadrangle” (with Via San Andrea as the eastern border) where you can find some very elegantly designed shops …

"visit designer shops with two hours in Milan"

… as well as some elegantly designed buildings: clothes and dwellings, one suspects, for some of the richest people in Milan and the whole of Italy.

"a private courtyard in Milan"

After this, if you still have time on your hands, you can choose: either visit one (or two) of the splendid little churches for which Milan is rightly famous, such as Bramante’s Santa Maria presso San Satiro

"inside the Santa Maria presso San Satiro church in Milan"

… or, alternatively, explore the less central areas of Milan, preferably by taking a tramway, an experience in its own right. (But make sure you take a line with historic rolling stock such as line no. 1.)

With two hours in Milan, take its tramway around"

If you have a full day, you may even want to take a look outside the inner city, perhaps visiting Milan’s unique Cimitero Monumentale which we have described in a previous post. This will also allow you to get a more rounded view of the metropolis, which may very well be the least “Italian” city in the country.

Milan may be economically stronger than any other town in Italy, but it is also greyer, rainier and, somehow, less “full of joy”. Sometimes, it feels as though it belonged on the other side of the Alps – or is this because we have, in the end, failed to cross any border at all?

Have you read our previous tip for a break within a break? It is here!

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Two Hours in Szczecin

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Break within a break Borders within the European Union may have become largely symbolic, scars of ancient conflicts, but there are also places where the underlying wounds are relatively fresh.

When you are crossing European borders for a “break within a break”, you should not expect to see a sudden and dramatic change of scenery. Across most of Europe, the lands on either side of national frontiers have more in common with each other than with the faraway lands of the state they belong to.

In our previous post, I quoted the French and Italian Rivieras as an example, but the same is true in the Alps, along the Rhine and almost everywhere you may care go to.

“Scars run specifically deep in Eastern Europe…”

Borders, after all, are (by and large) arbitrary lines: they divide what belongs together and what is,

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Two Hours in Basel


Break within a break Switzerland’s gateway to Europe and the river Rhine is the place to visit for medieval architecture, modern art and overpriced burgers

Variety is king when it comes to taking “a break within a break”: that’s what I said in our last post.

And your best bet for seeing and experiencing something different during a holiday break of any kind is and remains – even in the era of European integration – a hop across a national border.

It is true that most European borders are a bit blurry. Nearly all border regions, after all, have gone back and forth several times from one country to the other over the centuries. Still, borders do matter.

Take the coastal region shared by Italy and France, for example: the French and the Italian Rivieras are very similar in many

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Two Hours in Valletta


Break within a break Counterpoint is king for any “break within a break” – and the busy street life of Malta’s capital city was the right antidote after the solitude of Gozo Sometimes, even a break needs a break. During a trip of, say, four days or more, about half-way in you will long for a day with something else to do – if only to avoid your holiday from descending into mere routine.

On a city break, for example, after three days of shopping and going to museums, in search of something as much different as you can think of, you might want to go out on a hike. But the same “let’s do something else” rule applies after three days of hiking, of course.

The rule is simple: always look for the most change that you can get. Do you like pizza? I do,

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The Castles of La Napoule

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The French Riviera would be as beautiful, culturally much poorer without its long history of eccentric Anglo-Saxons The French Riviera is a truly blessed spot – with its richly articulated coastline, its pretty coastal villages, its bays and its boats, its nearly perennial sunshine and pleasant temperatures all year round.

But just to prove that nothing is perfect this side of paradise, there are also a few things it distinctly lacks. Historical interest, above all. So when I heard about the castles of La Napoule, I instantly knew that there was something not quite right about them.

And true enough, as we found out when got to La Napoule (7 kilometres west of Cannes), no medieval knights ever set foot in either, and both “castles” owe their existence to the eclectic tastes of their former owners who were typical representatives of the people who came to

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