Best of Milan: Where to eat, drink and stay

Our inside guide to the Italian fashion and design capital, with expert tips from Giorgio Armani, Giovanni Paradiso, and more.
The world famous Duomo di Milano in the heart of Italy's fashion and finance capital.
The world famous Duomo di Milano in the heart of Italy's fashion and finance capital.

“Milan is the victim of certain clichés,” said Giorgio Armani, as he celebrated the launch of his eponymous hotel in 2011. “In the ’70s it was indeed an industrial city, but from the 1980s onwards it became the capital of fashion. It is a city that still offers many opportunities, and, although seemingly cold, it is actually welcoming and generous. It is a multifaceted city: austere like its buildings, but which often hide beautiful gardens.”

Today, it has become Italy’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city, offering a sophistication and edge that you won’t find in Florence, Rome or other main centres. Here’s our Milan travel guide, with our picks of the best Milan hotels, restaurants, places to drink and things to do in Milan.

Best Milan hotels: Where to stay

The Mandarin Oriental Milan.
The Mandarin Oriental Milan.

Mandarin Oriental Milan

With Milan’s famous La Scala on its doorstep, the Mandarin Oriental boasts one of the most enviable locations in Milan, discreetly tucked away down a flagstone laneway, a short stroll from both the Duomo and the glossy boutiques of Via Monte Napoleone. With just 70 rooms and 34 suites, the property – which became the first Mandarin Oriental to take up residency in Italy in 2015 – feels more intimate and boutique than some of its flashier international siblings. A leafy internal courtyard serves up quiet serenity and all-day dining, before it gradually warms up to become a spirited cocktail bar that keeps buzzing well past aperitivo hour. The hotel is also home to the two Michelin-starred Seta by Antonio Guida, which offers three distinct tasting menus across lunch and dinner service.

Armani Hotel Milano.
Armani Hotel Milano.

Armani Hotel Milano

The Armani Hotel Milano occupies the upper floors of a rationalist-era building designed by famed Italian architect Enrico Griffini and makes easy work of translating Armani’s famously streamlined aesthetic into a hotel experience. There isn’t a trace of that gilded rock ‘n’ rococo that Italians love so much. Instead, a Far Eastern temple bell soundtrack gently announces a more meditative pace; the smell of amber-infused fragrance (from the Armani Privé range, of course) hangs in the air. The mood is one of quiet discretion. 

“Milan is not just my city, it’s also the international capital of fashion and design, a city with an important economic and productive role,” says Armani. “My hotel, with its characteristics, location and services, enriches and fits perfectly into an active, busy urban setting.”

The lobby of Room Mate Giulia in Milan.
The lobby of Room Mate Giulia in Milan.

Room Mate Giulia

If you like your hotels bright, bold and affordable (by Milan standards), look no further than Room Mate Giulia in the heart of Milan, located just behind the Piazza del Duomo. This Spanish hotel brand may not be familiar to Australian visitors but has earned a widespread following in Europe for its stylish and spacious interiors in prime locations. Designed by Patricia Urquiola, Room Mate Giulia is nothing if not distinct, embracing the same bold aesthetic beloved by so many of Italy’s leading fashion designers.

Park Hyatt Milano

If it’s your first time drinking in the magic of the Italian city and want to tick off all the best things to do in Milan, the Park Hyatt offers the perfect base to get your bearings and the key compass points of this bustling city. Located just next door to the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) and the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (you’ll recognise it the second you step under its glass-vaulted archways), there’s no risk of you getting lost down Milan’s cobbled backstreets. Housed in an 18th-century palazzo and fully refurbished in 2022, the Park Hyatt stands proud as one of the city’s leading luxury addresses.

Inside the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Inside the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Best restaurants in Milan: Where to eat

Restaurateur Giovanni Paradiso, of Sydney’s Fratelli Paradiso and 10 William St, is a seasoned visitor to Milan. Flying in from Sydney, he usually arrives early in the morning and heads straight out for breakfast. 

“My first stop will be a café called Marchesi for a caffè and brioche. Marchesi has been there for 200 years – a small place, mainly just locals that go there. It’s tiny. You grab your brioche, the guy at the machine in a bowtie makes you coffee, boom, boom, you have your coffee and walk out, listen to some other people’s conversations or meet somebody… I might also stop by at the famous Princi for a coffee and the pizza al taglio. I go to the one on Via Speronari, because I think it’s a really good-looking place.”

Pasticceria Marchesi
Pasticceria Marchesi (Credit: Simon Bajada)

As the day wears on, Paradiso’s first dinner is always at Rovello 18 where you’ll find one of the city’s best examples of risotto al salto. “That’s my go-to Milanese dish. It’s the one they do in the pan, crisping it up…. They fry it, then flip it over when they serve it to you, so you break through the crunchy top and you’ve got the soft risotto underneath.” He also recommends their classic risotto Milanese, as well as the agnolotti del plin and spaghetti alla chitarra with cipolle de Tropea. “The puntarelle salad with anchovies there is another favourite, and they do another beautiful one with grana and artichokes. It’s always my number one, and I’ll eat there two or three times in a week.”

For something different, Paradiso suggests Mangiari di Strada. “It’s in the south, about a 30-minute tram ride. It translates as “street food”, of course, but they’re doing some really cool stuff – lampredotto sandwiches, or sausages from northern Italy, or porchetta, and they’ve got an all-natural wine list. It’s fresh and casual.”

Or if you prefer something a bit smarter and more formal, Paradiso enjoys Ristorante La Brisa. “A stunning room, beautiful courtyard dining – you sit encircled by glass with all this foliage around you. The food’s pretty good and there’s always interesting things to drink there. I’d recommend it strongly as a lunch spot.”

For Paradiso, it’s not a proper visit to Milan without a trip to Luini. “It’s behind the Duomo, and they specialise in panzerotti. Two euros a pop. Just look for the line – there’s always about 40 people waiting there. All the deep-fried dough you can eat. It always makes me happy, that place.”

Best bars in Milan: Where to drink

“Milan is big on the aperitivo thing – they really embrace it,” says Paradiso. “If I’m in the mood for a big walk I’ll go to Cantine Isola. It’s very simple, just four walls covered in wine. They’ve got a list that’s big on natural wines. It doesn’t really have a menu, but there’ll be some bits of food on the bar – salumi and bruschetta, some bits and pieces – and you grab a bottle and they’ll open it up, or they’ll be pouring something interesting.”

N'ombra de Vin in Milan
N’ombra de Vin in Milan

Another good spot for aperitivi is N’Ombra de Vin, which Paradiso likes for its  “Milanese buzz”. 

“It’s a bit more chic, a lot more Milanese, more fashionable. It’s quite a pretty space, too, and the good thing about Milan during aperitivo time is that everyone just spills out into the street drinking. You’ll end up sitting on the kerb across the road, or leaning against a building drinking good wine out of good glasses and no one’s going to hassle you.”

If you find yourself strolling near the Teatro all Scalla in the evening, Paradiso suggests popping into the infamous Jamaica. “It was a big artists’ hangout in the ’40s and ’50s and is always a good place to stop in for a Fernet Branca or a few. Everyone’s on the street drinking and you can really get yourself into a lot of trouble there.”

Fellow Italian wine-lover Giorgio De Maria of Sydney’s Paski, recommends Champagne Socialist for a late-night vino. Here, you’ll find a steadfast commitment to lo-fi wines from small, eclectic outfits across Europe – and the list stretches to 500 of them. Wine lovers with a penchant for dimmed lights and cramped quarters will find themselves right at home here. 

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