Most non-business travelers only pass through Milan for a night or maybe two. It’s a shame because the city has a lot to offer visitors. Not only are there must-see attractions like the Duomo, Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Castello Sforzesco, Milan is home to Italy’s hottest dining scene. You’ll find everything from the city’s institutions serving Milanese classics to newcomers serving international innovative cuisine like Nobu. When you find yourself in the Italian capital, here’s where to eat and drink in Milan:
Where to Have Apertivo
Apertivo is mostly a Northern Italian custom and Milan is one of the best places to experience it. Apertivo is the few hours between work and dinner when Italians like to relax with wine or cocktails and snacks. When in Milan, head to the Naviglio Grande.
Once the most important canal in Milan, the Naviglio Grande was used as a trade route in the 13th century and salt, grain, wine and manufactured goods were transported on it to Switzerland. Marble and stones were brought to Milan on the canal to begin the construction of the Duomo in 1386. These days the canal no longer sees boats using it as a route to Switzerland, but it is the place to see and be seen during Apertivo. Chic cafes line both sides of the Naviglio Grande and Milanese head here to share a drink with friends.
Some bars will have a buffet like set-up and the snacks are inclusive with your drinks. In true Italian fashion, just place a few small nibbles on your plate. Apertivo is not meant to replace a meal. Here are a few of my favorites to try:
My favorite apertivo spot on the Naviglio Grande is Il Vinaccio. Grab an outdoor table when the weather is nice, which is great for people watching. It’s actually hard not to completely fill up on apertivo snacks here with a generous platter of salami, local cheese, mortadella, mushrooms, olives and breads. Try a local wine like a Barbera.
Il Vinaccio is located at Ripa di Porta Ticinese 49 and is open from 4pm – 10pm. Closed Sundays.
Twist on Classic
Before I really appreciated wine, I loved a fancy martini like my go to mango and chambord martini or a mojito. Good cocktails are pretty hard to come by in Italy, which is why I love Twist on Classic. As the name implies, this Naviglio Grande bar serves up the classics but with a twist. You can even find the go to Italian cocktail, the Aperol spritz, but here it’s served with a twist – an artisanal French liqueur called St. Germain instead of with Aperol. Better yet, the snacks are a board of a trio of bruschetta (pronounced bru | SKET | ta, not bruSHETta. Olive Garden, sorry but you’ve got it wrong).
Twist on Classic is located at Ripa di Porta Ticinese 13 and is open from 6pm – 2am Monday – Friday and 3pm – 2am Saturday and Sunday.
La Vineria isn’t located right along the Naviglio Grande, but it is on a lovely pedestrian street only a few minutes walk from the canal. What I like about La Vineria is that you can bring in your own bottles (any plastic bottle like a 1 liter water bottle will do) and have them filled up with wines from various regions in Italy. Right from the tank, the wine is inexpensive ranging from just €2 – €4 per liter. You can also buy wine by the glass and sip it while people watching from the handful of tables outside the shop.
La Vineria is located at La Casale 4 and is open from 10:30am – 1:30am Monday – Saturday and 4pm – 12am on Sunday.
Naviglio Grande Apertivo Tour
A great way to get acquainted with the Naviglio Grande is to go on an Apertivo Tour of the neighborhood. Not only will you discover more great bars for apertivo, you’ll also learn a lot about the history of the area and see some of the hidden courtyards only locals know about.
The Naviglio Grande Apertivo Tour is $65 per person and includes one drink at each bar visited on the tour.
Where to Eat
Milan’s dining scene is a chic as its fashion scene. New restaurants are regularly opening, but like a Chanel suit, some just never go out of style. Here are a few of my favorites that are institutions in the Italian capital:
Panzerotti di Luini
This is a must in Milan! Panzerotti Luini has been a Milan institution run by the same family since 1949. Perhaps Nonna Giuseppina’s high standards and family recipes are why this little shop always, always has a queue of chic Milanese and in-the-know tourists stretching out the door. The thing to try here, though all of their pastries are incredibly tempting, is the panzerotto. The panzerotto is the delicious original version of what my hometown (Erie, PA) calls the pepperoni ball. Fried dough stuffed with mozzarella and spicy salami. At just €3 each, you can have two. And I promise you that it is worth the wait!
Panzerotti di Luini is located at Via S. Radegonda 16 just a street over behind the Duomo.
Located on the Naviglio Grande, the restaurant is another world once you step inside. I prefer dining in their lovely garden when the weather is nice, which is situated along the ancient laundry house. El Brellin is said to have the best risotto alla Milanese in the city, and while I haven’t eaten every risotto alla Milanese to be found in Milan, I have had my fair share of them. This one truly is my favorite. I also adore their fried squash blossoms served with a row ham.
Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone
Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone has some serious ambiance as it’s set in the courtyard of the stunning old Bagatti Valsecchi palazzo in the heart of the fashion district. It’s been run by the same family for three generations since 1957 and is acclaimed as one of the best restaurants in the city. The food is divine with a menu of Milanese classics like cotoletta alla Milanese (a breaded veal cutlet) and innovative pasta and meat dishes. And if you don’t want to dine there, you can pop in to the shop to purchase delicious cheeses, salami and other products.
Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone is located at Via Santo Spirito 10 (across from the Four Seasons Milan) and is open 8:30am – 11pm (shop) and 12pm – 11pm (restaurant). Closed Sundays.
La Veranda at the Four Seasons Milan is set in a restored monastery. In summer, there is outdoor seating available in the garden and you’ll quickly forget that you’re in the heart of a bustling city. The menu features fresh, seasonal ingredients and I love when the Alba white truffle is available in fall. You’ll also find Milanese classics and Italian dishes, like the delicious zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and drizzled with pesto.
Looking for things to do in Milan other than eat and drink? This city has a lot more to do than you might expect! Margherita is a local from Milan and her blog has a great list of the best free things to do in Milan.
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