Chris and I had always wanted to visit Italy, so we decided to make the most of our week, visiting as many cities as we could while still slowing down enough to enjoy each destination. We flew into and out of Milan, which made it easy to plan our train travel to other northern Italian cities.
It was a wonderful week. We wouldn’t have changed a thing, and we can’t wait to go back. Here are some notes about traveling to and around Italy, including a Milan city guide. I hope you enjoy!
Brush up on your Italian.
We experienced the greatest language barrier here. “Ciao,” “per favore,” and “prego” can get you pretty far.
Italy was less card friendly than other European countries we visited. We recommend waiting to get cash until you arrive at the airport of your ultimate destination; we used an ATM at the Milan airport (MXP) before we went into the city.
Eat all the gelato.
Hot tip: pistachio and hazelnut is the best combo. Practice: “Due coni, pistacchio e nocciole, per favore.”
Drink all the caffè.
Caffè = espresso; don’t order Caffè Americano, because, as they say, you’re “in Rome.” Drink it hot with breakfast and after meals. If you want to follow the Italians’ lead, take it with sugar. And never say ex-presso. Mama mia.
Savor your experience.
Italians (and Europeans in general) spend time at restaurants differently than in America; they savor the experience, smoking, drinking, smoking, eating, and smoking some more at their tables for several hours.
Tipping is different, too: just round up to the next Euro for tips. Many restaurants include a service fee for €2.50 per person, which serves as a type of tip anyway.
Travel by train.
Train travel in Italy is easy and convenient, and you can buy your tickets online ahead of time.
Be optimistically cautious.
While I was researching for our trip, I read a lot about pickpockets and warnings to be careful and aware of your surroundings. I ended up freaking myself out a little bit, which was totally unnecessary and alarmist.
We had no bad experiences, nothing of ours was stolen, and we did not encounter any pickpockets. We were approached by a few street vendors in several cities, and a few times someone wanted to “help” us buy a MetroCard, but we didn’t encounter anything that we wouldn’t experience in any other big city.
I carried a crossbody bag that latched closed and kept it at my front at all times, even seated at a restaurant. I carried my camera around my neck without any issues. Chris kept his wallet and phone in his front pockets and wore a money belt for cash.
When we needed to buy a ticket or get cash from the ATM, Chris would handle that transaction while I stood beside him, facing outward. We were never caught unawares, and others were not so eager to approach us at that moment since I could assess every passerby. (RBF helps with that, too, I suppose.)
What to do in Milan
Milan is the fashion capital of Europe and its architecture is a mix of old and new.
We stayed at an adorable Airbnb in the Brera district, a gorgeous neighborhood within walking distance to the Duomo di Milano and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. There’s a convenient metro station in Brera, which allowed us to get around the city easily. On our last night in Milan, we stayed at NYX Milan at Centrale so we could catch our train early the next morning.
We arrived in Milan on a Sunday, and our street was closed for artists to display their wares. Every restaurant is fantastic. We visited the same gelato shop every evening (pistacchio e nocciole, per favore) and strolled the cobblestone streets until dark.
What to do
Walk everywhere you can! The Milanese have an incredible sense of style, which makes for excellent people watching. I noticed that the Milanese paid special attention to details. Their style is classic, but with a flair: fun cuffs on a button-down, popped collars, and fabulous shoes. I left feeling so inspired!
Duomo di Milano
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (book your tickets months in advance–we missed out on this)
Teatro alla Scala
Yummy Food / Must-Eats
La Prosciutteria (prosciutto sandwiches)
Trattoria del Corso (get the Ossobuco, a Milanese specialty)
Parma & Co.
Bar Luce (Wes Anderson’s restaurant!)
Italian cocktails: Aperol Spritz and Negroni, both of which we thoroughly enjoyed before dinners.