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8 Best Things to do in Milan During the Winter

Milan is a vibrant city that is rich in culture, art, fashion, and cuisine. Being the second biggest city in Italy and at the centre of the Po Valley, it is a popular destination for travelers from around the world, and the winter season is a great time to visit. While Milan is known for its many attractions, there are five activities in particular that are especially enjoyable during the winter months.

the Duomo in Milan, Italy


1. Visit the typical Christmas markets and skating rinks Milan has several Christmas markets throughout the city, each with its own unique atmosphere and offerings. The biggest one is the Mercatino di Natale, which takes place in Piazza Duomo and features hundreds of wooden stalls selling handmade gifts, decorations, and festive foods. It is very crowded before Christmas, and it is a great place to get gift ideas. Another famous market is Oh Bej! Oh Bej!, located in front of the Sforza Castle and taking place around the 7th of December, the day of Saint Ambrose, Milan’s patron saint. This event dates back to the 16th century, when the Church began to distribute presents to the local kids, who, according to the legend, shouted “Oh bej! Oh bej” (“Oh belli! Oh belli!”) to express their joy and surprise. Over the centuries, this tradition gradually turned into the Christmas market we know today. At the city park in Porta Venezia you can also find the Villaggio delle Meraviglie, a full Christmas village equipped with stalls, a skating rink, and the houses of Babbo Natale (Santa Claus), Mamma Natale (Mother Christmas) and the Befana, the traditional Italian witch that brings candies to children on January 6th. If you like ice skating, you will also love Senstation of Ice: no, it is not a typing mistake, the name is correct, and it comes from the fact that the event takes place in front of the Central Station. This ice rink is the biggest in the city, with 1300 square meters of ice, extensive decorations, and a Christmas tree with 15.000 led lights.

Skating rink


2. Walk in the Brera district and visit the Pinacoteca di Brera The Brera district is known for its bohemian atmosphere and narrow streets lined with quaint shops, cafes, and fortune tellers. When compared to other Italian cities such as Florence or Venice, Milan usually looks more like a modern city, but Brera is one of the districts where you can surely be brought back to the past, especially during the winter months. Drink a hot chocolate at a fancy café or have an aperitivo at one of the many bars, which get crowded with life during the evenings, and you’ll experience the real atmosphere of the city. The Pinacoteca di Brera, an art gallery located in the district, is one of the most important museums in Italy and is home to an impressive collection of art from the Renaissance to the 19th century, including works by masters such as Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian. The museum is hosted in a 17th century building that is itself a work of art, making a visit to the gallery a wonderful and inspirational experience. At Brera you can also enjoy the local Botanical Garden. Established in the 18th century by order of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, it is home of over 300 species and it is a peaceful oasis inside the crowded city.

Cena in Emmaus, Caravaggio, Pinacoteca di Brera


3. Visit the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology This museum is a must-see not only for those interested in science and technology, but for anyone in general. It is a large building, located in a beautiful former convent and featuring a wide range of interactive exhibits, so it can easily take an entire day to visit! The most interesting sections are those dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci and to the history of transportation. The former contains numerous in scale replicas of Leonardo’s machines and projects, while the latter features real life locomotives, ships, airplanes, a space rocket and even a submarine! This last exhibit can be visited from the inside by booking a special ticket in advance. Other fascinating areas of the museum with original exhibits are dedicated to the history of space exploration, to industry in the 19th century and to the recycling processes. All in all, a very interesting experience for visitors of all ages.


4. Enjoy the city's delicious cuisine The cuisine of the North of Italy is not the typical Italian cuisine that is so famous abroad: due to the continental climate, olive oil is substituted by butter, while potatoes are more commonly used than tomatoes. In this respect, gastronomy here has more things in common with Central Europe rather than with the Mediterranean area. Due to the nature of its cuisine, which is certainly not the lightest, cold winter days are the best time to enjoy it. The most famous dish from Milan is probably cotoletta alla milanese, a breaded and fried veal cutlet that, according to the local legend, was invented in Milan during the Austrian occupation and then copied in Vienna, where it became more internationally famous than its Milanese counterpart. Another very famous local dish is risotto alla milanese, a creamy rice dish made with saffron often served with ossobuco, a braised veal shank. A typical and not very famous dish winter food is the cassoeula, a tasty stew made with pork meat and cabbage that is sometimes accompanied by polenta, or boiled cornmeal, a very typical side dish from all across northern Italy and some areas of the central Appennini. Not many places serve cassoeula, which can be found only in traditional Milanese restaurants, such as the Trattoria Milanese in the city centre. And we couldn’t talk about the Milanese cuisine without mentioning panettone, a sweet bread filled with raisins and candied fruit that for many Italians has become the culinary symbol of Christmas. Indeed, panettone, together with its all-time rival pandoro from Verona, is omnipresent at dining tables during the holiday season.

Panettone


5. Attend a concert, opera, or ballet If you love opera, Milan is surely your go-to place in Italy: La Scala, one of the world's most famous opera houses, is located in the center of Milan and is renowned for its world-class performances. It is home to a theater that seats over 2,000 people, with stunning interiors and acoustics. During the winter season, La Scala hosts a number of operas, ballets, and concerts, making it a must-visit destination for culture enthusiasts. But Milan’s offer in terms of music goes well beyond that: especially during the Festive Season, numerous venues organize concerts of a wide variety of musical genres, for anyone’s taste. And if you are a lover of classical music, keep an eye on the free concerts organized in churches! A good way of staying up to date with the events is the Vivimilano portal, which is regularly updated and has the most complete list of upcoming events. It is in Italian only, but asking your browser to automatically translate the page will do the trick.

Ballet


6. Go shopping Milan is the fashion capital of the world, with endless shopping opportunities for all prices ranges. The 19th century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a historic shopping arcade with high-end stores, as is the Quadrilatero della Moda, a district centred on Montenapoleone Street, famous for its fancy boutiques from the most famous worldwide luxury brands. But if your budget is lower, there are also plenty of options for you: on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, via Torino, and Corso Buenos Aires you will find hundreds of shops to satisfy your needs. And, since these streets are in the heart of the city, you can easily combine shopping with sightseeing! If you have the possibility to visit the outskirts of Milan, we also suggest Il Centro shopping center in the suburb of Arese, which is one of the biggest in Europe and is home to over 200 stores and restaurants. Being an indoor structure, it is perfect for braving the cold on chilly winter days.

Natale in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele


7. Go skiing at an Alpine resort and visit lake Como Milan isn’t just a great touristic choice on its own: its position at the centre of the Po Valley makes it a perfect starting point for trips of one or more days. In winter, from December up until April, there are wonderful skiing resorts in the Lombardy region that can be easily reached from Milan. The closest one is Piani di Bobbio, at just about 1 hour by car from the city, with beautiful slopes and stunning views. But if you have more than 1 day at hand, we highly suggest you visit the resorts of Livigno, Madesimo and Chiesa Valmalenco, among the best in Italy and situated in the northernmost part of Lombardy and in the heart of the Alps, for a true and unforgettable experience. Milan is also close to lake Como, and winter is a great time to visit it, first of all because it is considerably less crowded than in the summer, and secondly, because the snow-covered mountains make a perfect background for this already wonderful lake located at under an hour from Milan.

Skiing in Lombardy


8. Take a tour of the Navigli district Until around a century ago, Milan was crossed by a large number of canals that were progressively covered, making the water now flow underground. However, in the Navigli district the canals and the atmosphere of old Milan remain untouched. This is indeed a charming area of Milan and, apart from its water ways, it is well known for its art galleries, restaurants, and lively nightlife. This is especially true during the winter, when the narrow streets and cozy bars and restaurants make it a great place to wander and warm up with a hot drink. Many of the bars and restaurants in the area offer live music, making it a great place to go out on a cold winter night. In the short alley called Vico Lavandai, you can enjoy the unchanged traditional architecture, see where women did their laundry in the canal during the old times, and visit the local art galleries. Nearby, you can enjoy the traditional cuisine in one of the many traditional Milanese restaurants. While very quiet and relaxing during the day, the Navigli district becomes vibrant with life during the evenings, especially over the weekends, when the streets become crowded with young people having an aperitivo at a bar or walking along the Darsena, the old docks now transformed into a walkable area around the water.

Navigli during Christmas


No matter what you choose to do, Milan is a city that has something for everyone, and there are plenty of ways to stay warm and entertained during the winter months. Whether you're interested in culture, history, or just enjoying the city's vibrant nightlife, there's always something to do! What do you love doing in Milan during the winter? Let us know in the comments!

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