Milan: Easy Travel and the Last Supper
We have both traveled to Milan for business, together and separately. Milan is in the north and the largest business center in Italy, the heart of the country’s banking and fashion industry. The metro area is the busiest in Italy with an estimated 7.5 million residents.
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We have never considered traveling to Milan for vacation, but we chose to fly there for the start of our trip so we could easily get to the Italian Riviera via high-speed train. Since it is a popular business destination there are many different airlines and flight options.
Arrival and transfer
We arrived in Milan from California without doing much research beforehand. Since we are pretty familiar with Italy’s transportation system, we thought we could figure it out when we got there. We did, but it was not as easy as we remembered.
Milan Malpensa (MXP), the main international airport, is not close to the city center. There are frequent Malpensa Express trains that leave every thirty minutes and take about an hour to reach the main train station, Milano Centrale. It was easy to buy a ticket from the airport kiosks with our credit card, but we neglected to validate the ticket before we boarded. When the porter checked our tickets, he gave us a choice of getting off the train and validating them, or paying a small fine. We were tired and cranky and the fine sounded ok to us. You can avoid this hassle by purchasing your tickets ahead of time on the Trenitalia app. Once you buy them in the app they are automatically validated.
Once at Milano Centrale, we took an Uber to our hotel in town. Uber only offers Uber Black, Lux and Van in Italy, staffed with professional drivers, so we were treated to a well-dressed driver in a spotless Audi sedan rather than our typical UberX experience of someone’s regular car. It was a bit tough to find our driver in the urban chaos outside the train station. Lucky for us our driver was patient and we were able to communicate enough to find each other. We’ve noticed many of the public transport locations, especially in major cities, now have specific places for rideshare pickup, so it’s worth asking someone in the station before exiting.
We stayed at a very nice DoubleTree hotel in a regular Milan neighborhood thanks to some Hilton Honors points. It was definitely a business hotel, located far away from the main tourist spots, but it was quiet with friendly staff and breakfast included. The hotel staff recommended a wonderful nearby restaurant, L’Immagine Bistro, exactly what we were looking for on our first night after a long flight. Our only challenge was waiting for it to open – Italians don’t eat dinner very early.
The Last Supper
Since we were in Milan, we decided to take the opportunity to see one of the world’s most iconic masterpieces, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The Last Supper Mural is on a refectory wall in a somewhat obscure church in Milan, the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Since the mural is fragile, the museum only allows visitors for 15 minutes at a time. Tickets sell out well in advance so if seeing the Last Supper is important to you, make sure you plan accordingly.
After a bit of online investigation, we decided to book a Last Supper Tour through Viator. Normally we would have booked this online, but we got a bit confused with the different options and reviews so we called Viator directly. The operator walked us through the different tours, departure times and locations and helped us pick the one that worked best for us. We wound up doing a tour that included two other Milan churches and other interesting parts of the city – a great way to get a quick taste of the city.
The Last Supper was absolutely breathtaking and we learned so much about the painting and its historical context during our visit. Leonardo Da Vinci was originally from Florence, but he spent almost twenty years in Milan and was commissioned to paint the Last Supper around 1495. Since he was a busy man and couldn’t dedicate the time to paint it all at once, Leonardo chose to use oil and tempera paint on a dry wall instead of the more common fresco technique painted on wet plaster. He finished it about three years later in 1498. Because of the technique, and since the room was a dining hall for the monastery for many years with the associated heat and food fumes, the mural is deteriorating, even after a restoration in 1999. We were so happy we got our fifteen minutes with the painting and would encourage everyone to make the effort to see it if you visit Milan.
Normally you would get to take photos of the painting, without flash of course, but this time there was another exhibit in the museum of Queen Elizabeth’s collection of rare Da Vinci drawings, so we were not allowed to take any pictures. Some people in our group were really upset about this, but realistically, there are plenty of photos on the Internet, which probably look a lot better than what we would have taken in the dim room.
Thanks to our hotel staff, we traveled back and forth to downtown Milan on the tram, which was easily accessible from our hotel. We rode in a charming older tram filled with commuters and shoppers and without a lot of other tourists. When booking your hotel we recommend checking for the local trains/trams as you may find a nice hotel for a reasonable price only a few stops from the center of town.
Easy connections to the rest of Italy
When we were ready to leave Milan, it was easy to get almost anywhere in Italy via train. The national train system, Trenitalia, offers many different options, including many high speed Frecciarossa trains to popular destinations throughout the country. For this part of our trip, we did do our research and booked from the US directly via the Trenitalia site. We recommend upgrading to business or first class and reserving a seat to ensure you’ll have a seat in a nicer car.
Our trip to Milan was a great way to start our vacation in Italy. We were pleasantly surprised and wouldn’t hesitate to visit again as a gateway city for a future trip.