It’s no secret that Milan isn’t the biggest tourist destination.
Sure, Milan has a few big tourist attractions along with some hidden gems if you dig a little deeper, but overall Milan is not a touristy city. Especially when Italy has other cities like Rome, Venice, and Florence, Milan doesn’t get much love at all. However, this makes Milan an ideal place to study abroad. Without the hoards of tourists that take over the rest of the country, Milan is a wonderful place to just live.
Over the last four months, our lives have become so much more than just school, traveling, and sightseeing. We have some of the best shopping, food, and nightlife in the world, and it’s all at our fingertips. Milan is a city that is very spread out and has very different neighborhoods, but everything is very reachable for us via the public transportation system of buses, trams, and metros.
In a city as fashion forward as Milan, you better believe we’ve got some great places to go shopping. There’s a mall a few stops south of Arco, but I prefer to do my shopping in the city center on either Corso Vittorio Emanuele or Via Torino. Our go-to stores quickly became H&M, Zara, and Mango. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, there are places like La Rinascente and 10 Corso Como. La Rinascente is a high end department store, and 10 Corso Como feels more like a museum than a store, everything is incredibly high end and when I visited I was afraid to touch anything.
While I can’t afford to buy anything here either, my absolute favorite place in all of Milan is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It is the most beautiful building, and I take every chance I get to walk through it when I’m in the area around the Duomo. The Galleria is known as Milan’s “drawing room,” the first Prada store was (and still is) located here, and there’s also a very unique tradition that takes place here. On the mosaic floor, there’s an image of a bull and if you put your heel on the bull’s balls and spin around three times, you’ll have good luck. I have no idea why, but everyone does it at least once (I definitely made a trip before my final exams).
Something I did after finals was treat myself to something I had wanted to do all semester. As I’m sure you all know at this point, I’m obsessed with Armani, and I figured that something from my favorite designer would be a great souvenir to get for myself from Milan. Nothing fancy – just some “accessible luxury” Emporio Armani sunglasses and Giorgio Armani (Sì) perfume, but it felt amazing to finally (I’ve been to this store a lot this semester) walk out my favorite store having actually bought something!
Being in Italy, food is as much a part of life as fashion in Milan. One of the only Italian phrases I know is “due gusti” (two scoops) because this semester I’ve had gelato more times than I can count. Over the course of the semester we’ve found our favorite gelato places near the Duomo, near Bocconi, and across the street from Arco, and of course we were never against trying somewhere new too! We lived our lives by the motto “If you’re not eating gelato every day, you’re doing Italy wrong.”
Italy also did a great job of getting me addicted to coffee. I went from a girl who had maybe one latte (out of desperation and sleep deprivation) all of last semester to a girl who was making hourly runs to the Lavazza vending machine during finals week and making every excuse to get an Armani Cafe from the Emporio Armani Caffe on a continual basis.
Milan is also the home of aperitivo, the American college student’s dream come true. Aperitivo is meant to be a pre-dinner drink with light snacks, but obnoxious Americans like us turn it in to an all-you-can-eat-buffet. So for anywhere between 7-10 euro, we get a drink and can fill our tiny little plates with food as many times as we want!
I’ll admit that at the beginning of the semester we didn’t take full advantage of our very fortunate food situation. We had Esselunga and our favorite pizza place and that was all we needed since we ate plenty of good food when we traveled on weekends. As the semester went on, we started branching out more, whether it was a new restaurant in Navigli or a food truck outside of Bocconi. Our wallets didn’t appreciate it, but our stomachs certainly did!
While we usually go and eat closer to Bocconi and the city center, one of our last family meals was at an adorable Milanese restaurant near Arco. It required a 20 minute walk through cornfields to get there (yes, Arco is so far outside the city that we’re in the middle of cornfields – just like Chambana!), but it was totally worth it. It’s not often that we do the big, long multi-course Italian dinner (antipasto, primo, secondo…), but when we do it’s always memorable!
Like I said, most of the places we usually go to eat are further in the city. Our favorite area is Navigli, the canal district of Milan which is a short walk away from Bocconi. It’s full of awesome restaurants, bars, and places for aperitivo. The canals were empty when we first got to Milan, but when the weather got nice they filled them and it’s become a really fun place that we love to hang out in the evenings.
And speaking of evenings, I can’t talk about life in Milan without at least mentioning the nightlife. I am incredibly biased, but I think that Milan has the best nightlife of any of the cities that we’ve visited this semester. I love how everything is so classy, it’s so much fun to get dressed up with your friends and go to a club that’s in a beautifully renovated bank or church, or owned by a famous designer. It’ll be nice to be back in Champaign and not feel the need to wear heels every night, but it was a fun change of pace for a semester!
It has been so much fun living in Milan this semester! I’ve probably consumed more gelato, coffee, carbs, cheese, and tomatoes than is good for me, but whatever this may be my only chance to live here! I’m in love with this city, and again I just want to emphasize how livable this place is. It’s not just a home-base that I only use for it’s three airports and two train stations…it’s actually home, and I love spending time here.