(All photos by Glauco Canalis unless otherwise stated)
While all the tourists make their bored pilgrimages to Rome and Florence, here in Milan we have the best food, the coolest fashion, the most attractive people and we all like going to bed early, so you don’t even have to pretend you still like clubbing. If you do like clubbing, then it’s about time you took a break – come to Milan, but read our guide first.
Jump to sections by using the index below:
– WHERE TO PARTY
– WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
– POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Squats | Protests | Meet the Immigrants
– WHERE TO EAT
– WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
– WHERE TO DRINK
– WHERE TO STAY
– LGBT MILAN
– WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
– HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
– HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
– PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
– TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
– A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
– VICE CITY MAP
WHERE TO PARTY
The Milanese aren’t the wildest party animals on the planet. We’re not even the wildest party animals in Italy. To be honest, there are Bedouins with a better understanding of rave than us – most people here would be much happier just getting an early night and staying pretty.
Don't expect to find anywhere that really breaks the 5AM barrier, there are still a few clubs doing their best to keep people out past bedtime. The Dude club, in Lambrate, is the spiritual and actual home of the city's techno scene, and does its best to keep up with London and Berlin.
Back in the day, the tiny Rocket venue, in Navigli, only had a bar licence, which meant you legally weren’t allowed to dance. A run of parties later and they finally got around to getting their groove permit and nowadays the lights stay on until dawn. One night here you’ll see the city’s good-looking indie kids pulling shapes to Hoosiers songs, and the next night somebody might actually fulfil your holiday fantasies and put some Italo on. Whatever’s going on, dancing has gone from prohibited to pretty much mandatory.
Another of the city’s best party venues is Tunnel Club in the north-east of the city, which is in a railway arch close to Milan’s Central Station. The brick walls and exposed steel pipes add to the underground vibe, while the DJ roster draws from the top tier of European techno DJs and they also throw in the odd live gig by people like Wild Beasts and St Vincent. Basically, this is a much better use for a railway tunnel than just letting the Mafia store their dead bodies here.
So some bad news. We used to have this great label called Buka who became a sort of clubnight and hosted amazing parties at weird locations playing nutty underground electronica. Then it closed down. We live in hope of it being resurrected – it doesn’t seem completely unlikely, so it’s worth checking for signs of life when you’re here.
Obviously, it goes without saying that you should avoid all the trashy overpriced clubs in the city centre unless you’re a professional footballer or are keen to have sex with one (an admirable and achievable goal).
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
The good news about drugs in Italy is that things are chilling out a bit. Since 2006, we’d had one of the harshest anti-drug laws in Europe, known as the "Legge Fini-Giovanardi" after Gianfranco Fini and Carlo Giovanardi, the two right-wing assholes who supported it. Thankfully, that law was recently thrown out by the Constitutional Court. Nevertheless, this is hardly a tolerant city.
Unlike hard drugs, which are still under Mafia control across the country, the weed in Milan is often grown here in Italy. Hashish is slightly more expensive than grass, unlike the old days when it used to be much more popular with locals.
In a city with a fashion industry as big as Milan’s, you won’t be too surprised to learn that there’s enough cocaine around to keep our men limp and women tense forever. Outside of fashion parties it's prevalent at raves, in the suburbs, restaurants and anywhere urine is collected – after all, wastewater investigations in 2011 suggested that the city consumes 330 kilograms of cocaine every year.
MDMA, speed and ketamine aren’t unheard of, but this isn’t exactly Berlin or Amsterdam, most of us think the "straight through crew" are just people who cut the queue in the bakery. Soz.
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Milan is the city where Berlusconi was hit in the face with a miniature metal souvenir of the Duomo cathedral, so we’re no strangers to weird political moments. During the 1970s, a decade-long period of turmoil known as the Years of Lead saw terrorism from both left and right-wing groups, and the city is still politically divided. The left is in the majority, but the right is muscling in. Political parties from both sides have their headquarters in the city, but they tend to only make public appearances during major events.
The city is also host to a multitude of different ideological groups, each with their own space. Starting from the South, in Conchetta Street you'll find Cox18 – a left-wing squat founded in 1976. They offer beer at affordable prices, Balkan-beat concerts and a decent outdoor area primarily designed to annoy their neighbours. If you like books and beards, you've come to the right place.
A few miles away there's Vittoria, a squat where you can talk about feminism while drinking wine from plastic cups. Further north is Macao, the Milanese artists' squat. It’s a former slaughterhouse that is now used for art installations and performances and is a good place for a quiet drink. They don’t bang on about politics too much at Macao, though the management are undoubtedly leftists.
The North of the city is equally divided between left and right-wing groups. Here you'll find the Presidio (the right), the T28 (the left), the Leoncavallo (the middle-class left) and the Torchiera (the reggae left). The Presidio is the local office of Forza Nuova, a national far-right party. The counter is covered with flags bearing the Celtic cross, and every Thursday they put on a skinhead gig. The T28 is a squat not far away from Loreto Square. It's leftist, looks like it might fall apart at any moment and there's always some more wine to go around. The Leoncavallo is a historic Milanese left-wing squat that hosts political meetings on Mondays and then for the rest of the week is a buttrock goa, dub and electro psy venue. Further north, there's the Torchiera, a former farmstead next to a cemetery and a Roma camp where you can listen to reggae and drum 'n' bass and drink sangria.
You get the gist.
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
In Milan, there are at least a couple of protests a month. There are times though, where you have one a week or even more. Apart from public transport strikes, this mainly happens when summer approaches, between April, May and June, when all the left-wing students prefer trotting down the streets to staying in class, and right-wing students follow just to avoid being forgotten.
Then summer comes, and protests go on holiday. Throughout the year there are many historical anniversaries, mainly linked to WWII and the Italian Resistance movement – Milan received a gold medal from the State for its role in fighting in the Resistance, and is the city where the corpse of Mussolini was hung upside down for public viewing. Fascists have their own rallies too, and anti-fascists always show up for a counter protest.
Some demos can be quite rough, especially when the police get fighty. The main problem with the rallies are the streets, which are constantly getting closed down. So be careful, and if you’re hoping to do some shopping, do avoid the demonstrations' paths.
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
MEET THE IMMIGRANTS
In 2013, there were 20 immigrants for every 100 residents of the city of Milan. The biggest immigrant communities are from Asia, Eastern Europe and North Africa, and as anywhere else, each group tends to congregate in certain areas of the city: The Chinese and Filipinos live right outside the centre, from Monumentale Cemetery to Arena. The Slavs share the central area of Porta Venezia with the Eritreans, who reached Milan in the 1970s and are now a well-established community with their own restaurants, bars and shops. In Padua Street, immigration has no boundaries: Peruvians work as delivery boys, and Ecuadorians drink Heinekens in the park. The Moroccans run butcher shops, and the Egyptians – the second biggest immigrant group in the city of Milan – pizza restaurants. The Pakistanis have their convenience stores where they sell beers for a few Euros.
The weird thing about Milan is that these communities live right next to the headquarters of the right-wing parties who have been fighting immigration for years. This guy here, who seems to be a fan of Anders Breivik, has his office right next to a Roma market, while Berlusconi's headquarters are a couple of metres from Padua Street.
WHERE TO EAT
Alzaia Naviglio Pavese, 286, 20142
“They got that homegrown shit!” would be an inappropriate but not inaccurate thing to shout when eating in this beautiful and traditional Milanese restaurant, where all the vegetables come from the owners' garden. It’s worth the long drive for the taster menu of six courses for €40. If you feel bucolic but don’t want to make the journey out to Erba Brusca, try Un Posto a Milano instead, which is a real farmstead but right in the city centre.
Osteria Alla Grande
Via delle Forze Armate, 405
Every website designer on the planet could learn something from whoever decided that the best way to advertise a traditional Milanese trattoria is with a picture of the proprietor nude, holding a statue of an eagle in front of his junk. (Seriously, check it out.) They serve all the best local dishes, with a strict policy against burgers and other fast food.
Trattoria Sabbioneda da Romolo
Via Alessandro Tadino, 32, 20124
If you’ve always dreamed of having an Italian grandmother – an oddly specific dream – this place flogs simple, traditional dishes cooked just the way our grandmothers make them. To complete the experience, the waiters are rude and the chef, Romolo, is terrifying. You’ll probably need to make a reservation, as it’s wildly popular – we fucking love it when waiters are rude to us.
Via Santa Radegonda, 16, 20121
The pizza places in the city centre are tourist traps selling pale imitations of our most famous food. Avoid them at all costs. If you do want to taste real Italian pizza, grab a slice from Spontini or get a true Naples style pizza from Tegamino. To really eat like the Milanese do, go to Luini's for the panzerotti. They look like Cornish pasties but they’re actually miniature calzone and they’re amazing. Luini’s doesn’t have anywhere to sit, so do as the locals do and take them to eat in the nearby square and watch all the fashion people stride by, daydreaming about eating pizza.
Daniele Crespi 14 (angolo Cesare da Sesto) 20123
Two very cool young women from Palermo and Modena run this place close to Porta Genova, where they serve a different menu every day. Whatever they’re flogging when you visit will include dishes from Sicily, vegan food and the famous crescentine from Modena – a delicious filled-bread thing. If you’ve got a taste for vegan food, there’s an upmarket option at Ghea, in Porta Genova, or the much cheaper Alhambra restaurant in Porta Venezia. Basically, it's Italy; you're not going to starve any time soon.
WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
Because we love trapping baby animals in crates till they're dead then covering them in toast, breaded veal cutlets on the bone are wildly popular here. If you want to show off your local knowledge to impress absolutely no one, try asking for an "Elephant Ear", a bizarre local colloquialism based on the fact that from the right angle, if you squint a bit, they might look vaguely similar.
Look, I know risotto isn’t exactly a “weird local food”, but we’re Italian; everyone stole our food, so we don’t have too many surprises left. Anyway we make this better than anyone else, so screw you.
I know a dish made from pork leftovers and savoy cabbage sounds like it would be shit, and we’re willing to grant you that it looks like medical waste, but it’s honestly pretty great.
Think you know pizza? Yeah, fine, you probably do know pizza, but we invented it. My favourite varieties are Naples style, the soft and doughy original, the thin and crispy Roman style and the panzerotti we told you about earlier, which is like a mini-calzone. But there are loads more. In fact, pretty much the only type of pizza you can’t get here is that one with the little cheeseburgers baked into the crust. Boy, are we mad about that one.
To drink like a local, order a Negroni Sbagliato as an aperitif. A twist on the classic Italian cocktail, this was invented in Milan’s Bar Basso and is basically a Negroni with prosecco wine instead of gin. Another common drink is the spritz, made with prosecco wine, alcoholic bitters and sparking mineral water; although this one comes from Venice, so it’s not as traditionally Milanese. Either way, we’re doing our best to reclaim prosecco from hen parties and first dates.
WHERE TO DRINK
Most of the best places to drink in Milan are in the Porta Ticinese-Porta Genova-Navigli area near the river Darsena – known for having almost as much cocaine in it as the water in London. Still not worth drinking, though.
Instead, start your night on Vigevano Street. Here you’ll find the Peppuccio bar, which despite its shitty interior is right at the heart of many of Milan’s social scenes. Also on Vigevano, you’ll find Cape Town where all the Milanese hipsters hang out, pondering whether their lifestyle of indolent and infantile dandyism is compatible with the red-blooded Italian alpha archetype that has been closeting gays and ruining female lives for generations. There’s also a great juice bar called La Susina nearby, although a) it’s only open during the day and b) this is a guide to going out drinking, so fuck juice bars.
Away from Navigli, the preppy Porta Venezia area is worth checking out, if only because it’s the best place to hang with people who’ve come from all over the world to make Milan their home. Our big Eritrean community is around here and if you came from Eritrea, you’d be pretty chuffed to be in Italy too, which is what makes the One Love Cafè such a nice place to get pissed. Also good is Bar Picchio in Melzo Street – they haven’t changed or cleaned anything since the 1950s but the cocktails are dirt-cheap.
You should check out the Isola district, which as the name suggests is an isolated area away from the town centre. Ten years ago it was empty, but these days it's blossoming with unusual bars done out in radical-chic. We recommend the Frida, the Blu and the Deus Ex Machina.
There are only two good bars in Ortica, but they’re both well worth visiting. The unusual Santeria is a bar, a restaurant, a shop and a workspace where many Milanese people meet for an aperitif, or a brunch. The second place is the Balera dell'Ortica, which has been a spot for scenesters since the war ended and everyone started making babies.
WHERE TO STAY
Our taxis are overpriced and our public transport is like taking a short trip around hell, so you’ll want to stay somewhere pretty central to avoid commuting. Top of our list would be the Ostello Bello (from €35 per night for a dorm bed). It's right in the centre of town and the young owners have done a good job. They put on gigs that even the locals turn up to, so this is also a good place to a) nod your head to some songs you’ve never heard before and b) make some fashionable new Milanese friends.
Alternatively, get a taste of what life would be like if you’d taken up the habit by staying at Monastery Hostel (dorm beds from €26 per night), which is located in one wing of a Franciscan convent. It’s completely independent of the Church, so you should be alright to stay here even if you’re an unmarried couple, or gay, or Jewish, or trans, or coveting an ox or one of the many other things the Vatican hates.
The Bio City Hotel (rooms from €60 per night) in the Central Station area is decent. It’s out of the bustle of the city and as the name suggests it makes a big effort to be lovely to the environment. This way you can tell yourself you’re offsetting all those toxic emissions you created travelling here just by sleeping in a place with zero-emission heating.
If you hate nature, or if you’re just keen to stay right in the heart of the liveliest part of the city, try the BB Hotel Navigli (rooms from €63 per night). It has smart, modern rooms but most importantly if you pinned a map of Milan to a dartboard, this would be the bull's-eye.
Also, obviously AirBnB exists here.
It might surprise you to learn that a city which has been dominated by the Catholic Church for the last 2,000 years doesn’t have the most thriving gay scene. Still, there are a handful of places worth checking out. On Fridays, head to Q21 on Padova Street, while on Saturdays you should choose Glitter Club instead. Later in the night, head to VERBOTEN at Queens Club, which has a no photos and no mobile phones policy, so who knows what goes on in there.
WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
San Bernardino alle Ossa
Not exactly a bunch of laughs, but if you’re feeling a bit metal we recommend a tour of this small chapel in the Santo Stefano square which was built over a cemetery and is decorated with real bones and skulls. There’s a giant cross made of skulls. A giant fucking cross made of skulls.
These are chilled out spots to eat, because restaurants aren't enough for us. It's worth noting that there's no such thing as a "healthy Italian diet". This is especially true in northern cuisine, where even the greenest dish is usually cooked in lard. Still, they’re great places to hang out because everyone’s in a good mood when they’re full of lard.
Bagatti Valsecchi House
If you want to get an idea of what your trip in Milan would have been like in the 1500s, come here to check out an incredible range of art and antiques from the 15th and 16th centuries. To complete the effect, smash your iPhone up, snap your credit cards and then dose yourself with tuberculosis.
If you want to pass yourself off as a local, there are two things you should do: 1) Never ever walk around barefoot when you’re drunk or too tired for high heels (Italians would never be so crass) and 2) pay a visit to Frip. It's in the Ticinese area and it's where you can make sure you’re at the bleeding edge of contemporary Milanese fashion. We can’t make you good-looking, but we’ll do our very best to make you stop dressing like a 14-year-old with a PlayStation addiction and a Pringles habit.
HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
Italian pickpockets have elevated their vocation to an art, and Milan is their museum. Keep a close eye on your pockets and bags, particularly in busy train stations. These thieving bastards come in all shapes and sizes, including teenagers and children. Opportunistic theft is quite common, so even the apparently refined clientele in a bar and club could relieve you of your wallet or phone if you make it easy for them.
Embarrassingly for us, one very real problem for women in our city is sexual harassment on public transport. It ranges from dickheads trying to surreptitiously touch your tits "by accident", through to more explicit and obscene types of abuse. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re dressed like a nun or a stripper, it just happens. In general, try to keep your distance from the groups of men who will be making loud comments about you – and there will be many – and stay close to staff like bus drivers, who can be guardian angels. I’m really sorry about these guys, they’re the fucking worst.
HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
There aren’t as many tourists in Milan as there are in Rome or Florence – I guess because of the slightly austere vibe of the place. Those tourists we do get fall into two categories. The first are hard to hate, even though they get in the way of all our shit – slow-moving families who herd around the Duomo Square and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, where they pirouette on the balls of the mosaic bull on the floor for good luck.
But the second, the second kind wind us all up. They’re the fashion-obsessed droves who come to Milan to steam up the windows of high-end shops with their breath. So, if you come, don’t spend your time staring at high-end shops they had in the airport you left from. Go and find something else – especially if you’re into fashion.
PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
This street starts from the train station of Porta Garibaldi and ends in the chic neighbourhood of Brera. The nightclubs here are stuffed with 40-year-old douchebags on a constant, charmless search for “figa” (the Italian equivalent of “pussy”).
The worst people in Milan are the preppy men who hang around on Corso Como. These are the guys who study Economics at Bocconi University with the hope of becoming tomorrow’s Berlusconi and the only thing they love as much as themselves is chatting up tourists, so be on your guard.
Certain Types of Fashionable People
Fashion designers and fashion design students share an ironclad belief that being a Milanese fashion designer gives them the right to makeover anybody.
Duomo on Saturdays, Especially on Carnival
Duomo Square, Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Torino Street have the highest concentration of bland clothing shops in the entire world. They're also where all of Milan’s bored teenagers congregate on a Saturday afternoon. During Carnival they come armed with shaving foam – which obviously, is great fun for them, but totally humiliating for anyone who gets foamed.
Eataly is well known as the place to buy the most expensive Italian food. Do you know where else you can find good Italian food in Italy? ANY SUPERMARKET, most of which don’t have price tags designed to give Russians hard-ons.
The Number 90 Bus Line After 11PM
Not long ago, the number 90 bus used to be the only one running after 1AM. It connects all the shittiest areas in Milan, and if you’re riding it late in the evening your chances of meeting some unpleasant drunk cunt are close to certain.
Any Bar with a Slot Machine
Slot machines are currently turning a vast number of people into addicts all across Italy. Do your best to avoid this tragic diorama of ruined people handing their last Euros over to the state.
To ride in a Milanese taxi is to submit yourself to a half-hour lecture about how all the alternatives (like Uber) suck while you sit stationary behind a bus watching the meter tick over and over until it finally bankrupts you.
TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
You don’t really need to tip in Italy. Obviously most workers won’t refuse a tip, but let us be clear: Italians don’t tip. At least, not for simple things like taxi rides, a coffee or a pizza. Our grandmothers do tip sometimes, on particular occasions – birthdays or golden anniversary lunches that bring the whole family together – or if they were given an outstanding service.
Rather than tipping, in certain cases Italians allow the restaurant to keep the change when paying cash (e.g. leaving a €50 banknote on a €48.50 bill).
Ciao – Hello
Bella – Gorgeous
Grazie – Thanks
Baciami – Kiss me
Ciao, Balotelli – Hello, Italy's second best footballer
Grazie, Berlusconi – Thank you, man who isn't Italy's Prime Minister any more
Coglione – Idiot
Pezzo di merda – Piece of shit
Che cazzo vuoi? – What the fuck do you want?
A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
Here's a little primer of the kind of stuff you'll be hearing while you sway about in our bars. It's not all as fabulous as our shoes.
VICE CITY MAP
Well, there you go. Have a lovely time and don't drop litter please.
– VICE Italy