The Amalfi Coast may have been the hottest destination seen on Instagram this summer, but September is the month Milan shines. Italy’s quintessential fashion week, taking place September 20-26 this year, sees the cobblestone streets flooded with editors, influencers and publicists, all running from show to show (often in heels, nothing less). But it’s during downtime — at night or between shows — that the city really turns on the charm.
Get ready for an endless parade of pasta, pizza and wine…this is Italy after all. But the city is also full of interesting art and architecture, often hidden just behind a large, intimidating gate or through an unexpected courtyard. You can visit Leonardo da Vinci’s work and, a short walk later, arrive at the Fondazione Prada, where you can stroll through unexpected modern art galleries and end the day with a Negroni or a big scoop of gianduia gelato. All this to say that it is a city that can please all the senses.
Before you book your next visit, to catch the shows or just for your own pleasure, you’ll want to bookmark these fashion insider recommendations for everything from 5-star hotels to hole-in-the-wall lunch spots. And, of course, shopping.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for a luxury experience, artist Jenny Walton recommend the 5-star Grand Hotel (and stop by the Gioielleria Pennisi jewelry store on the ground floor if you have the chance). For a more affordable option, Roommate Giulia is her suggestion for its central location. “You can wake up and have breakfast at Marchesi in the galleria (and shop at Prada afterwards).” If you prefer a modern approach, try the Viu Hotel Milan, which is a bit farther from the city center but has stunning views from the rooftop terrace (and a pool). Publicist Federica Parruccini’s favorite is the Hotel Senato, “there’s also the best little hideaway in the garden, where you can sit all year round for a drink or your morning coffee and the papers (I love reading the papers every morning in Milan) For me this is an oasis from the MFW craziness.”
Where to eat dinner
Da Giacomo is a favorite spot for those who want to see and be seen during fashion week. Another (albeit hidden) favorite in the Brera neighborhood is La Latteria. A piece of advice from Walton: “[There are] no reservations so get there early as it’s also super small.” For The cupsenior fashion editor Emilia Petrarca, it’s hard to go wrong in Milan, but she keeps an insider secret. “Prada publicists recommended Cantina della Vetra when I started going there five years ago, and I trust their taste more than anyone,” she says. “I’ve been to every visit since. It’s nothing fancy, but that’s why I love it. They also have tables outside in a public square, and I saw someone get slapped once. Classic!”
La Specialita is one of Puccarrini’s top choices if you’re visiting town, especially if you have special dietary needs. “It’s an extensive menu, and they’re always willing to make changes to any dish, which can be hard to find in Milan,” she says. “It’s a family business, and by extension the owners and staff treat you like family. It’s one of my favorite things about Milan…every restaurant has a distinct family vibe and makes the city feel like home. She also recommends Rugantino, a Roman restaurant she offers for large groups.
Where to eat lunch
Pasta seems to be the theme of the day at lunchtime (it is Italy after all). “I probably shouldn’t tell you this because there are only a few tables, but Pasta Fresca Brambilla,” says Petrarca. Last time I went, the woman who makes the pasta served it to me straight from the kitchen. For Walton, popping into a hotel mid-day is a must. “I love a good spaghetti pomodoro at the Bulgari hotel or the Armani has good pasta too,” she says. If you’re feeling more in a pizza vibe, Puccarrini suggests Papermoon. “Why can’t we eat pizza this way for lunch in America?” she said. “In Milan, I’ll eat a whole pie, have a little glass of wine and be in the front row greeting the press an hour later, no worse for the wear and tear.”
where to drink
“Everyone will tell you Bar Basso, and they’re not wrong,” says Petrarca of the Milan bar where the Negroni was invented. “It may sound fancy, but it’s worth it.” If you’re looking for a drink with a view, Walton suggests the upstairs bar at the Armani Hotel for a sunset drink. Head to Cracco if you’re near the Duomo, and Marchesi Patisserie is a favorite for snacks and a drink between shows.
Where to stop for a coffee between shows
While great for evening drinks, Marchesi is also a favorite with visitors for a morning coffee. Petrarca suggests visiting the Prada Marchesi through the duomo. “It’s like going to the Plaza for tea, but only Prada (and Italian),” she says. If you need an afternoon or evening espresso (Italians usually have milk in their morning coffee, but stick to it right after 11 a.m.), check out Biancolatte. “It’s a new spot, and it’s open from morning to night,” says Puccarrini. “It’s very Italian and you won’t find any Americans.”
Milan is a city for shoppers. While there are iconic Italian brands like Gucci, Prada and Bottega Veneta to visit, the city also has a healthy selection of great vintages. “Try Cavalli e Nastri or Madame Pauline,” suggests Walton. 10 Corso Como (and its outlet) are also popular destinations. One last tip from Petrarca: “For gifts, I also go to the top floor of the Rinascente shopping center, where they have good packaged food that’s easy to throw in a suitcase.”
Where to sightsee
Fondazione Prada is a must if you have extra time in the city, according to Petrarca and Walton. You can also pop into Bar Luce, the adjoining café designed by Wes Anderson. “Depending on how much time you have, you can take a short trip to [Lake] Come and have lunch,” suggests Parruccini. “It’s 20 minutes by train. Once there, hop in a taxi and head straight to Villa d’Este for a nice glass of wine or stroll around town. it’s so beautiful and peaceful.”
Where to find a moment of zen
When Walton needs a break, she heads to Parco Sempione or Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli. “There are large areas where the dogs can run free so you can observe the dogs,” she says. Petrarca turns to luxury zen when she needs some downtime. “The Bulgari Hotel,” she suggests. “I could never afford to stay here, but their garden is tucked away and incredibly luxurious.” Puccarini also suggests visiting La Vigna di Leonardo, a vineyard hidden behind a house where Leonardo da Vinci lived while painting The Last Supper. She says: “it’s probably the most beautiful place in Milan”. If all else fails, you can always relax with a plate of fresh pasta and a glass of red wine.