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An aerial view of Milan, Italy. There is a building with ornate architecture in the foreground. Below there is a plaza with many people. Surrounding the plaza are various city buildings. Getty Images/Westend61

The 21 best things to do in Milan if you love design

Locals and frequent visitors dish on their favorite haunts in Italy’s hotbed of design

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It’s true: Milan is not Rome, Venice, or Florence. You aren’t likely to turn a corner and stumble on the kind of picture-perfect scene for which Italy has become renowned among tourists. And that’s part of the city’s allure.

As the country’s capital of design—not to mention fashion and finance—Milan sets itself apart from the postcard-ready pack with a heady mix of scruffy post-industrial buildings-turned-galleries and grand apartment buildings with enviably chic courtyards (each one a visual delight—if you can get inside).

Because so much of what’s good about Milan hides behind the city’s stately facades, we asked a few savvy locals and frequent visitors to list their picks for the best spots to gawk, shop, and dine with design in mind, and mixed them in with our own recommendations gleaned from pounding the pavement terrazzo.

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De Padova

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“A legendary furniture showroom created by the late Fernando and Maddalena De Padova, De Padova is still one my favorite stops in Milan. The product selection and the quality of the displays, combined with a grandiose space, definitely stands out.” — Emmanuel Plat, Director of Merchandising MoMA Retail

Palazzo Sola Busca

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This palazzo, completed in 1927, is only one of three buildings by Aldo Andreani, who was influenced by Baroque architecture as well as the “spatiality of Borromini, Bernini, and Corton.” Look for the small, carved ear set into the stone facade near the front doors: it’s the signature of Andreani, and symbolizes “listen[ing] to the city.”

Villa Necchi Campiglio

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“In the centre of the city is a treasure of art and architecture [ed. note: that was also the setting for I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton]. It’s an old villa built between 1932 and 1935 by Piero Portaluppi for the middle-class Lombard industrialist family Necchi Campiglio, inventors of the well-known Necchi sewing machine. It’s a totally unexpected oasis in the middle of the city.” —Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi

Rossana Orlandi

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“Everything has been said and written about the famous Spazio Rossana Orlandi design gallery, which has become a must-see during Salone. Many designers have gotten international visibility thanks to Rossana’s keen eye.” — Emmanuel Plat, Director of Merchandising MoMA Retail

Latteria

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“Latteria San Marco is not design-focused at all, but it’s the tiniest, most delicious old-school trattoria in Brera that everyone who’s anyone knows to have lunch in at least once during the fair. We always run into important people when we eat here, yet it’s completely relaxed and un-fussy.” — Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer, Sight Unseen

A post shared by ℳorena ℳaci (@_morem_) on

Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

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“You can’t miss Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the first public building in Italy by Herzog & de Meuron.” —Giulia Molteni, Head of Marketing and Communication, Molteni&C

HighTech

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“One of Milan best kept secrets [is] High Tech. The cavernous, maze-like space sells a variety of home decor (of sometimes unequal quality) but one will always find a hidden gem.” — Emmanuel Plat, Director of Merchandising MoMA Retail

Fondazione Prada

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We’ve lovingly nicknamed OMA’s ode to luxury art and retail an “orgy of architecture” for its complex arrangement of gilded, camouflaged, mirrored, and treated surfaces. Miuccia Prada personally commissioned Rem Koolhaas and team to renovate seven old factory buildings—and build three new ones—on the Milan’s southern edge to prove that the company “take[s] their art as seriously as their fashion.” Don’t skip the sherbet-toned (i.e. oft-Instagrammed) cafe designed by Wes Anderson.

The exterior of Fondazione Prada in Milan. The facade features tall windows and terraced roofs.

Bar Martini

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“This restaurant is also not design-focused (unless you’re a fan of the cheesy Euro designer look), but it’s got really amazing salads at lunchtime, and a Martini Bar (that’s the name of it) out back where they serve two dozen types of martinis and feed you an entire meal’s worth of aperitivo while you drink them. We’ve had so many debaucherous group outings here.” — Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer, Sight Unseen

A post shared by 赵慧 (@hui_vita) on

Via Pinturicchio, 11

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One secret of Milan is that the city’s most remarkable spaces are hidden from plain view: in courtyards, behind walls, or just inside the door of a nondescript apartment building. Taschen’s new bookEntryways of Milan (Ingressi di Milano) highlights lavish entry halls across the city, like this one built in 1960 by Pierluigi Requliani that features pendants by O’Luce and a Porfido Monumentale di Bienno stone floor with round Carrara marble inlays.

The interior of Via Pinturicchio in Milan. There is a red carpet running up the staircase. The walls are wood. There is a red ceiling. Delfino Sisto Legnani courtesy Taschen

Orto Botanico di Brera

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“Not the secret it once was, Brera’s romantic botanical garden, established in 1774, becomes a hotspot throughout the fair. While it’s hard to beat sundays in the lush gardens, save some time for the Brera Art Gallery, the Astronomical Observatory, the “Braidense” Library and the Academy of Fine Arts.” —The Future Perfect

A post shared by Nico (@wheres.nico) on

Casa Degli Atellani

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A Renaissance villa partly renovated by Piero Portaluppi sits opposite the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo painted his fresco The Last Supper. Portaluppi (known for Villa Necchi; see above) lived nearby, on the ground floor of a rationalist concrete building he designed in the 1930s. The villa is now a museum, and visitors can wander the adjacent vineyard.

Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni

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“For sure one of the most interesting “must-see” spots in Milan is the beautiful studio of Achille Castiglioni, founded in 2006 with the aim to open [his work] to the public. Through the four rooms of his studio and the several objects, prototypes, sketches, books, pictures and other materials archived, it is possible to understand better the genius behind his projects as well as the intelligence, humility and levity that characterized him.” —Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi

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Corso Como, 10

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Steps from Porta Garibaldi lies 10 Corso Como in a world of its own creation. Opened in 1991 by fashion editor Carla Sozzani, the culture and commerce hub houses a picturesque courtyard, bookshop, gallery, fashion boutique, cafe, and even a three-room hotel. Nothing quite like it exists stateside—except, perhaps, the 10 Corso Como that’s been due to open in New York’s South Street Seaport since 2016.

Mandarin Oriental, Milan

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“Perfect for a quiet Negroni moment, the new-ish luxury hotel, in Milan’s center, has become popular for aperitivo. Decked out in black and white mosaic, it’s also a great destination for morning breakfast meetings during design week.” —The Future Perfect

Nilufar Depot

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Gallerist Nina Yashar expanded her kaleidoscopic vision in 2015 by opening up her warehouse chock-full of furniture and lighting near the Garibaldi train station. The space, which comprises three floors organized around an open atrium, was inspired by La Scala opera house and mixes contemporary and blue-chip vintage design in dramatic vignettes. Nilufar Depot is simultaneously the most indulgent and educational experience in all of Milan.

La Triennale di Milano

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Triennale is Milan’s museum devoted to contemporary design, and it pulls out all the stops for design week. (One highlight for 2017 involves a history of Italian design, for children.) It’s located on the grounds of the Parco Sempione, which is ideal for a brief respite from the hordes, vis-a-vis a stroll around the lake, or a tour through the medieval Sforzesco Castle. The museum is also a hop and skip away from Cadorna train station, for when the red line calls you back toward the fair.

Italian Stock Exchange

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This temple of Rationalist architecture was finished in 1932 by the architect Paolo Mezzanotte. Travertine and classical motifs abound, but dare we say the flattened reliefs on the facade seem almost postmodern? The best angle for viewing the building is through the archway on the southwest corner of the Piazza degli Affari, where you also get an eyeful of the giant Maurizio Cattelan sculpture in the center of the square.

The exterior of the Italian Stock Exchange in Milan. The facade has columns and there is a statue in front of the building. Shutterstock

Metro San Babila on the M1 (red) line

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There’s a reason the metro in Milan looks so damn sexy: The system was designed in the 1960s by the renowned Franco Albini, with graphics by Bob Noorda (a co-founder of Unimark International with Massimo Vignelli). The first line, M1, opened in 1964, and you can still ogle the unpolished stone and curved handrails—and extra-functional circulation patterns—today.

Bosco Verticale

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Conceived by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, Bosco Verticale, or “Vertical Forest,” is a high-rise apartment building concept that features balconies overflowing with thousands of trees, shrubs, and plants. The abundant greenery absorbs carbon dioxide and is an efficient and inexpensive—not to mention stylish—way to combat air pollution. —Lauren Ro

The exterior of the Bosco Verticale in Milan. The tall apartment building has balconies with many trees and plants. Boeri Studio

Dan Flavin at Chiesa Rossa

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If you dig the minimalist, neon-light sculptures of American artist Dan Flavin, you’ll love the site-specific installation he created in 1996 as part of a renewal effort for Milan’s Santa Maria Annunciata church.

View this post on Instagram

Neon mass.

A post shared by COCO (@coco_nb_) on

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De Padova

“A legendary furniture showroom created by the late Fernando and Maddalena De Padova, De Padova is still one my favorite stops in Milan. The product selection and the quality of the displays, combined with a grandiose space, definitely stands out.” — Emmanuel Plat, Director of Merchandising MoMA Retail

Palazzo Sola Busca

This palazzo, completed in 1927, is only one of three buildings by Aldo Andreani, who was influenced by Baroque architecture as well as the “spatiality of Borromini, Bernini, and Corton.” Look for the small, carved ear set into the stone facade near the front doors: it’s the signature of Andreani, and symbolizes “listen[ing] to the city.”

Villa Necchi Campiglio

“In the centre of the city is a treasure of art and architecture [ed. note: that was also the setting for I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton]. It’s an old villa built between 1932 and 1935 by Piero Portaluppi for the middle-class Lombard industrialist family Necchi Campiglio, inventors of the well-known Necchi sewing machine. It’s a totally unexpected oasis in the middle of the city.” —Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi

Rossana Orlandi

“Everything has been said and written about the famous Spazio Rossana Orlandi design gallery, which has become a must-see during Salone. Many designers have gotten international visibility thanks to Rossana’s keen eye.” — Emmanuel Plat, Director of Merchandising MoMA Retail

Latteria

“Latteria San Marco is not design-focused at all, but it’s the tiniest, most delicious old-school trattoria in Brera that everyone who’s anyone knows to have lunch in at least once during the fair. We always run into important people when we eat here, yet it’s completely relaxed and un-fussy.” — Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer, Sight Unseen

A post shared by ℳorena ℳaci (@_morem_) on

Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

“You can’t miss Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the first public building in Italy by Herzog & de Meuron.” —Giulia Molteni, Head of Marketing and Communication, Molteni&C

HighTech

“One of Milan best kept secrets [is] High Tech. The cavernous, maze-like space sells a variety of home decor (of sometimes unequal quality) but one will always find a hidden gem.” — Emmanuel Plat, Director of Merchandising MoMA Retail

Fondazione Prada

The exterior of Fondazione Prada in Milan. The facade features tall windows and terraced roofs.

We’ve lovingly nicknamed OMA’s ode to luxury art and retail an “orgy of architecture” for its complex arrangement of gilded, camouflaged, mirrored, and treated surfaces. Miuccia Prada personally commissioned Rem Koolhaas and team to renovate seven old factory buildings—and build three new ones—on the Milan’s southern edge to prove that the company “take[s] their art as seriously as their fashion.” Don’t skip the sherbet-toned (i.e. oft-Instagrammed) cafe designed by Wes Anderson.

The exterior of Fondazione Prada in Milan. The facade features tall windows and terraced roofs.

Bar Martini

“This restaurant is also not design-focused (unless you’re a fan of the cheesy Euro designer look), but it’s got really amazing salads at lunchtime, and a Martini Bar (that’s the name of it) out back where they serve two dozen types of martinis and feed you an entire meal’s worth of aperitivo while you drink them. We’ve had so many debaucherous group outings here.” — Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer, Sight Unseen

A post shared by 赵慧 (@hui_vita) on

Via Pinturicchio, 11

The interior of Via Pinturicchio in Milan. There is a red carpet running up the staircase. The walls are wood. There is a red ceiling. Delfino Sisto Legnani courtesy Taschen

One secret of Milan is that the city’s most remarkable spaces are hidden from plain view: in courtyards, behind walls, or just inside the door of a nondescript apartment building. Taschen’s new bookEntryways of Milan (Ingressi di Milano) highlights lavish entry halls across the city, like this one built in 1960 by Pierluigi Requliani that features pendants by O’Luce and a Porfido Monumentale di Bienno stone floor with round Carrara marble inlays.

The interior of Via Pinturicchio in Milan. There is a red carpet running up the staircase. The walls are wood. There is a red ceiling. Delfino Sisto Legnani courtesy Taschen

Orto Botanico di Brera

“Not the secret it once was, Brera’s romantic botanical garden, established in 1774, becomes a hotspot throughout the fair. While it’s hard to beat sundays in the lush gardens, save some time for the Brera Art Gallery, the Astronomical Observatory, the “Braidense” Library and the Academy of Fine Arts.” —The Future Perfect

A post shared by Nico (@wheres.nico) on

Casa Degli Atellani

A Renaissance villa partly renovated by Piero Portaluppi sits opposite the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo painted his fresco The Last Supper. Portaluppi (known for Villa Necchi; see above) lived nearby, on the ground floor of a rationalist concrete building he designed in the 1930s. The villa is now a museum, and visitors can wander the adjacent vineyard.

Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni

“For sure one of the most interesting “must-see” spots in Milan is the beautiful studio of Achille Castiglioni, founded in 2006 with the aim to open [his work] to the public. Through the four rooms of his studio and the several objects, prototypes, sketches, books, pictures and other materials archived, it is possible to understand better the genius behind his projects as well as the intelligence, humility and levity that characterized him.” —Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi

A post shared by Zetafrancy (@zetafrancy) on

Corso Como, 10

Steps from Porta Garibaldi lies 10 Corso Como in a world of its own creation. Opened in 1991 by fashion editor Carla Sozzani, the culture and commerce hub houses a picturesque courtyard, bookshop, gallery, fashion boutique, cafe, and even a three-room hotel. Nothing quite like it exists stateside—except, perhaps, the 10 Corso Como that’s been due to open in New York’s South Street Seaport since 2016.

Mandarin Oriental, Milan

“Perfect for a quiet Negroni moment, the new-ish luxury hotel, in Milan’s center, has become popular for aperitivo. Decked out in black and white mosaic, it’s also a great destination for morning breakfast meetings during design week.” —The Future Perfect

Nilufar Depot

Gallerist Nina Yashar expanded her kaleidoscopic vision in 2015 by opening up her warehouse chock-full of furniture and lighting near the Garibaldi train station. The space, which comprises three floors organized around an open atrium, was inspired by La Scala opera house and mixes contemporary and blue-chip vintage design in dramatic vignettes. Nilufar Depot is simultaneously the most indulgent and educational experience in all of Milan.

La Triennale di Milano

Triennale is Milan’s museum devoted to contemporary design, and it pulls out all the stops for design week. (One highlight for 2017 involves a history of Italian design, for children.) It’s located on the grounds of the Parco Sempione, which is ideal for a brief respite from the hordes, vis-a-vis a stroll around the lake, or a tour through the medieval Sforzesco Castle. The museum is also a hop and skip away from Cadorna train station, for when the red line calls you back toward the fair.

Italian Stock Exchange

The exterior of the Italian Stock Exchange in Milan. The facade has columns and there is a statue in front of the building. Shutterstock

This temple of Rationalist architecture was finished in 1932 by the architect Paolo Mezzanotte. Travertine and classical motifs abound, but dare we say the flattened reliefs on the facade seem almost postmodern? The best angle for viewing the building is through the archway on the southwest corner of the Piazza degli Affari, where you also get an eyeful of the giant Maurizio Cattelan sculpture in the center of the square.

The exterior of the Italian Stock Exchange in Milan. The facade has columns and there is a statue in front of the building. Shutterstock

Metro San Babila on the M1 (red) line

There’s a reason the metro in Milan looks so damn sexy: The system was designed in the 1960s by the renowned Franco Albini, with graphics by Bob Noorda (a co-founder of Unimark International with Massimo Vignelli). The first line, M1, opened in 1964, and you can still ogle the unpolished stone and curved handrails—and extra-functional circulation patterns—today.

Bosco Verticale

The exterior of the Bosco Verticale in Milan. The tall apartment building has balconies with many trees and plants. Boeri Studio

Conceived by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, Bosco Verticale, or “Vertical Forest,” is a high-rise apartment building concept that features balconies overflowing with thousands of trees, shrubs, and plants. The abundant greenery absorbs carbon dioxide and is an efficient and inexpensive—not to mention stylish—way to combat air pollution. —Lauren Ro

The exterior of the Bosco Verticale in Milan. The tall apartment building has balconies with many trees and plants. Boeri Studio

Dan Flavin at Chiesa Rossa

If you dig the minimalist, neon-light sculptures of American artist Dan Flavin, you’ll love the site-specific installation he created in 1996 as part of a renewal effort for Milan’s Santa Maria Annunciata church.

View this post on Instagram

Neon mass.

A post shared by COCO (@coco_nb_) on