Milan See And Do
2 Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie
Tel: 39 02 9280 0362
Some claim that a visit to Leonardo da Vinci's greatest wall painting is an Emperor's New Clothes experience: The artist used an unstable dry-painting technique rather than fresco, and so much paint has faded and flaked off over the years that it has become difficult to appreciate the work for the masterpiece that it once was. Enough is left, though, to catch the daring compositional scheme and Leonardo's bold use of primary colors—looking fresher since the end of a 20-year restoration in 1999. But if you intend to visit—perhaps to check out firsthand Dan Brown's thesis that fey, blond John the Baptist, to Christ's right, is actually Mary Magdalene—you'll need to reserve well in advance. Book your 15-minute slot online or by phone (39 02 9280 0362); at peak times, it may be a long wait before calls are answered. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance (for example, April times can be booked starting at the beginning of January), and slots tend to get snapped up very quickly. Currently, the 9:30 am and 3:30 pm visits are accompanied by an English guide, at no extra charge.—Updated by Lee Marshall
When the Gianfranco Ferré spa opened at the back of the designer's new Quadrilatero d'Oro store in 2004, it was a first for Milan; way back then, the Italian fashion capital was decidedly short on serious pamper-lounges where busy fashionistas could dip in for an hour or so. Today, Milanese residents have a variety of day spas to choose from. One of the most exclusive—though, like the Ferré version, it's run by global players ESPA—is the Bulgari Hotel Spa, thanks to its location (secluded, but close to the fashion strip) and stunning minimalist design. New arrivals include the Ancient Rome–themed Aquae Calidae—where you can pop in for a lunchtime facial or book the whole place for a toga party treatment session with friends—and Culti Day Spa, the spa offshoot of Alessandro Agrati's cool, chill-out lifestyle brand.
Piazza del Duomo
Tel: 39 02 8646 3456
With its fairytale forest of spires, herds of fierce gargoyles, and army of perched stone saints, Milan's Duomo looks from a distance more like a Disney castle than a place of worship. It's the fourth-largest church in the world and one of Europe's great Gothic cathedrals. Begun in 1386 and consecrated in 1418, the Duomo was a work in progress for centuries (the facade was only completed early in the 19th century, under the orders of Napoleon). To fully appreciate the wealth of exterior ornament—and for a fine view over the city—take the elevator to the roof. The highest of the estimated 3,400 statues is the famous Madonnina, a four-meter-tall, gilded copper Virgin Mary, touchstone and protectress of the city. Inside the cathedral, the lofty roof is held up by 52 columns, one for each week of the year. Don't miss the stained-glass windows, some of which date back to the 15th century.
36 Via Fogazzaro
Tel: 39 02 5467 0515
Not merely a fashion genius, Miuccia Prada is an inventive patron of the arts. Her contemporary-art foundation, housed in a former bank archive in the eastern suburbs, is involved in a range of projects, including the restoration of neglected cinema classics, but its main activity is the organization of two major shows each year (spring and fall) dedicated to cutting-edge contemporary artists. The space is only open when exhibitions are on view; check the Web site for dates.
Open Tuesday through Sunday during exhibitions, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
28 Via Brera
Tel: 39 02 722 631
Milan's most worthwhile picture gallery is housed on the upper story of the city's still-functioning art academy. Take time over rooms six to nine of this chronological collection, home to some real Renaissance gems, including Andrea Mantegna's Dead Christ (a dazzling exercise in foreshortening), Giovanni Bellini's moving Pietà, and Tintoretto's dynamic Miracle of Saint Mark. Other standout canvases in later rooms include Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin and Piero della Francesca's Pala Montefeltro, with its oddly stiff, posed portrait of 15th-century warlord Federico da Montefeltro in celestial company.
Piazza della Scala
Tel: 39 02 7200 3744
After a three-year, $70-million renovation, the world's most famous neoclassical opera house reopened in December 2004 complete with two controversial new rooftop structures designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, and some vastly improved stage machinery. Thankfully, the opulent auditorium has not been reworked, only painstakingly restored: Its tiers of ornate gilt boxes, magenta velvet seats, and elaborately carved ceiling look much as they did when the present building was inaugurated in 1778. A long-running behind-the-scenes power struggle, which culminated in 2005 with the resignation of longtime artistic director Riccardo Muti, has not dampened the locals' passion for their temple of bel canto, and it's well-nigh impossible to get tickets for the ultradressy opening night of the season on December 7 (book well in advance the rest of the year, too, if you want to be sure of a good seat). La Scala's loggionisti—the serious, not particularly well heeled opera buffs who occupy the upper-gallery seats—can be ferocious: Boos from the gallery famously prompted tenor Roberto Alagna to stride offstage during a performance of Aida in December 2006. Housed in a series of neoclassical rooms, the Museo Teatrale alla Scala consists of a rather specialized collection of vintage musical instruments, scores, and memorabilia relating to famous composers and singers associated with the opera house. But it also allows visitors a glimpse into the auditorium from one of the boxes—a privilege that is suspended only on rehearsal days.
6 Viale Alemagna
Tel: 39 02 724 341
Erected in the 1930s, this lofty pavilion on the edge of the Parco Sempione gardens has found new life as an exhibition venue and design center after years of decline. Originally built for a triennial art show, hence the name, the renovated space now plays host to temporary exhibits of contemporary art and architecture (subjects have included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Gehry). The ground-level café, with its mismatched designer-classic chairs, has become a popular meeting spot, and the adjacent shop is a good place to stock up on art books and gift items. Since 2007, the Triennale has also housed Milan's first permanent design museum, with a collection dedicated to the city's strong 20th-century design tradition, displayed in a series of long-running themed shows. In 2006, the Triennale opened a sister gallery, Triennale Bovisa, in a northwestern former industrial suburb that has become a university and cultural hub (31 Via Lambruschini; 39-02-3657-7801).—Updated by Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10:30 am to 9:30 pm.
14 Via Mozart
Tel: 39 02 7634 0121
The cultured lifestyle of Milanese high society around the middle of the 20th century is brought vividly to life in this fascinating new casa museo. Located a short stroll away from the fashion strip and yet immersed in greenery, the villa was designed by Fascist-era architect Piero Portaluppi for two sisters whose vast fortune derived from their family's sewing machine factory—they were the Singers of Italy. It's a fascinating mix of '30s rationalism and out-and-out luxury: In one of the bathrooms, there's a bench carved out of a solid block of lapis lazuli. Portaluppi's plan, later partly reworked in flouncy Venetian mode by Tommaso Buzzi, is surprisingly technological for its time, with double glazing, underfloor heating, and a system of flashing-light panels in the scullery so that servants knew exactly where in the house they were required. Two 20th-century private art collections are also on display here, both big on Italian artists of the metaphysical school, such as Mario Sironi and Giorgio De Chirico. Outside are the small swimming pool and a summer pavilion that has become a charming café, open daily from 10 am to 9 pm (it's a great insider spot for lunch). You can visit the villa itself on a guided tour, but you must book ahead (English-speaking guides can be arranged).
Tours Wednesdays through Sundays, every 20 minutes from 10 am to 5:15 pm.