In Depth

Slow burner: A guide to Milan

Less showy than Rome or Venice, this northern Italian cultural stronghold packs quite a punch when you look beneath the surface

At first, Milan can seem a little low on charm, but invest a few days and the city's boutiques, bars, brilliant eats and da Vinci paintings will soon have you utterly smitten. And, to make it an easy getaway, there are new British Airways flights from London City and Stansted to Linate airport, just 30 minutes' drive from the centre of town.

What to see

Leonardo da Vinci lived here for two decades and his sumptuously vivid fresco The Last Supper occupies one wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery. Visits are in timed, 15-minute slots, and require advance booking. Nearby, silvery Il Duomo di Milano is one of the world's handsomest buildings. Walk among its rooftop spires for views as far as the Alps.

Where to shop

From Il Duomo, covered Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II leads into the Quadrilatero della Moda, where Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada et al all have emporiums (which explains why the Milanese are so dauntingly well dressed). Visit in winter for incredible sales.

Take some time out

Luca Finardi, general manager at the Mandarin Oriental Milan hotel, recommends the boho, canal-lined Navigli district: 'It's perfect for a stroll during the day,' he says, 'but it gives its best at night, when locals fill the bars and restaurants. Every last Sunday of the month there's a traditional flea market along the towpaths.'

What and where to eat

Milan's gastro scene is particularly strong in two areas – fine dining and cheap eats. Try the risotto alla milanese served with saffron and bone marrow at Ratana, which offers daring twists on classic local dishes. The city offers Italy's best pizza scene outside Naples: Pizza AM has a great selection of high-quality slices.

What and where to drink

Aperitivi are taken oh-so seriously here. Located within the district of Citta Studi, Bar Basso is said to have invented the Negroni Sbagliato – a Milanese negroni with prosecco in place of gin. While back in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Campari-owned Il Camparino serves 19th-century-style offerings.

The best place to stay

The Mandarin Hotel Milan occupies four former bank buildings in elegant Brera in the centre of town. The hotel boasts a vast spa and pool, Antonio Guida's two-Michelin-starred restaurant Seta and the bustling bar, where cool Milanese come to socialise.

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