Turin – Mole Antonelliana and the Egyptian Museum

Mole Antonelliana, Turin

During my afternoon in Turin, I’d decided to visit Turin’s tallest building, the Mole Antonelliana (above), as well as the city’s renowned Egyptian Museum. So after having a spot of lunch, I wandered along Turin’s elegant covered streets, past lots of shops and cafés, on my way to the Mole Antonelliana.

The Mole Antonelliana is an enormous late 19th century building with a 550ft spire – in its heyday, it was the tallest brick building in Europe. It was designed by the architect Antonio Antonelli in the 1860s when he was commissioned by Turin’s Jewish community to build them a synagogue. As Antonelli’s plans became more elaborate and the costs spiralled, the Jewish community pulled out of the project and the city of Turin took over. The Mole Antonelliana was finally finished in 1889 and today is home to the National Museum of Cinema.

The Mole Antonelliana is a stunning building with an unusual and distinctive shape. You can take a panoramic lift to a viewing platform, which is 278ft from the ground, and I was keen to do this until I saw the queue and the hour-long wait for it. As I was planning to visit the Egyptian Museum before I left, I didn’t think I had time to do both so I decided to skip the viewing platform, even though the views across the city and the Alps must be incredible.

Egyptian Museum, Turin

From the Mole Antonelliana, I walked through Turin’s streets to the Egyptian Museum, which is housed in a gorgeous palazzo-style building in the centre of the city (above), admiring the sights and window shopping as I went.

Turin’s renowned Egyptian Museum is the only museum outside Cairo dedicated to ancient Egypt and boasts the second largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world. Only a fraction of the museum’s 32,500-piece collection is on display, with some 6,500 artefacts on show and the remaining 26,000 in storage.

I visited in early December 2017 and there was an interesting temporary exhibition on the ground floor about the men and women who were responsible for amassing, curating and preserving the museum’s collection. It was interesting to read about the people behind the collection, their motives for collecting the artefacts and the impact it had on their lives. So often you visit museums or art galleries and admire the amazing objects within, but it’s rare to learn about the people responsible for those collections.

From there, I followed the visitor route around the museum. Starting on the second floor, it told the story of ancient Egypt from its prehistoric origins all the way through to the later dynasties of pharaohs. There were lots of artefacts on display, the most impressive being the scrolls from the Book of the Dead. They looked as good as new – the colours were vivid and not at all faded, and it was hard to believe they were thousands of years old. I would have loved to have been able to read the hieroglyphics so I could understand what they said.

There were also lots of mummies and coffins (some with brightly painted exteriors), statues, pieces of pottery, steles and more on display, as well as a net made from turquoise beads, which had been found wrapped around a mummy. It’s an extraordinary and extensive collection, and very well curated. I spent a good two hours looking around the museum and could easily have spent longer as it’s a fascinating place.

One of the more interesting aspects of the museum was the exhibit of material culture on the balcony above one of the galleries on the second floor. The display brought together lots of similar objects, such as head rests, grave goods and so on, in one cabinet. It was an unusual but effective approach to displaying lots of similar artefacts, and one I’d like to see repeated in other museums.

The only slight downside was the huge number of tour groups who blocked paths and access to the display cases for long periods of time. I found a few of them quite rude and unwilling to let people past, and it would be good if the museum restricted the number of tour groups it allowed on busy weekends so that all the visitors could enjoy the attractions.

Piazza Carlo Alberto, Turin

I really enjoyed my day trip to Turin, although I could have done with a lot longer to look around. The few attractions I visited – the royal palace and the Egyptian Museum – were enormous and world-class, with lots to see, and there were many more attractions I didn’t get chance to visit. A day isn’t long enough in Turin and I could have done with at least three or four days. I’ll have to go back one day to see all the attractions, as well as the parts of the royal palace and the Egyptian Museum, I missed on my whistle stop tour.


Turin – Cathedral and the Royal Palace

View over Turin

Famous for its sports cars and chocolate, the elegant Italian city of Turin is only an hour from Milan by train, so I decided to spend a day there during my recent Italian jaunt. With its large charming squares, tree-lined avenues, covered walkways, palazzo-style buildings and Alpine backdrop, Turin is a picturesque city to explore.

As the capital of the Duchy of Savoy from 1572 and the first capital of Italy between 1861 and 1865, Turin has a long and interesting history, and as a result there’s lots to see and do. The city is home to numerous museums, a huge royal palace and a cathedral, as well as churches, grand cafés and an architectural gem of a tower. The capital of the Piedmont region also hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006.

Piazza San Carlo in Turin

When I arrived in Turin, I was cheered to find it had been snowing overnight, and while most of the snow had melted, there were still some pockets around, which added to the city’s wintery charms. After leaving the train station, I picked up a map from the tourist information office, then set off through the city via a series of palatial squares and handsome walkways.

A giant advent calendar and Christmas market in the Piazza Castello

When I reached the Piazza Castello, I was delighted to find it playing host to a silvery white Christmas tree, as well as a giant advent calendar (above). There was also a small Christmas market to the side. I love a good Christmas market and hadn’t found one in Milan, so I was pleased to come across it – although I was a little disappointed to find there was no mulled wine nor many Christmas-themed stalls.

From the market, I walked the short distance to Turin’s cathedral. The late 15th century cathedral is the home of the Turin shroud, the linen cloth that bears the outline of a crucified man and may or may not have been used to wrap Jesus’s dead body. Despite carbon dating suggesting the cloth is a clever medieval fake, there’s still much debate about the authenticity and the origins of the cloth.

Turin cathedral and bell tower

The cathedral sits in a small square next to the royal palace beside a 15th century bell tower. After the magnificence of Milan’s Duomo, Turin’s fairly plain cathedral somewhat paled in comparison and inside there wasn’t much to see other than a massive display case, which I think contained the Turin shroud.

The home of the Turin shroud on display

The shroud itself isn’t on display – the last time the public was allowed to view it was in 2015 – and I can only presume it’s inside the coffin-like structure that’s covered by the cloth (above). There were a few people sitting opposite in quiet contemplation and prayer, but if I’m honest, I found it a little weird. I’m not religious so the symbolism was lost on me and there was nothing to tell me what I was looking at, which I found confusing.

After looking around the cathedral, I headed to the bell tower where you can walk to the top for stunning views across the city for just €3. I climbed the rickety wooden and metal staircase, and when I got to the top, walked out onto the platform only to start slipping. The centre of the platform was covered with ice and snow – which at 272ft in the air, wasn’t the safest place to be sliding around!

View over Turin and the Alps

Luckily, the edges around the bell tower were free from snow, so I kept to the edges and avoided the icy middle. Minor drama aside, the views from the top were incredible and well worth the climb. I could see right across Turin in all directions, but the view towards the snow-capped Alps was the best (above). It was stunning and I could have spent ages looking at it.

Royal Palace, Turin

From the bell tower, I walked to the royal palace where I stopped off at the café for a cup of thick hot chocolate before looking around the royal apartments.

Home to the dukes of Savoy, the royal palace was commissioned in the mid-17th century by the regent at the time, Maria Cristina. The palace was built on the site of the city’s old bishops’ palace and construction continued until the 19th century. It is now, along with the city’s other royal residences, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ballroom in the Royal Palace, Turin

The grand palace is enormous and the royal apartments within impressive, with ornate gilding, sumptuous fabrics, eye-popping chandeliers and magnificent works of art everywhere you look. My favourite room was the beautiful ballroom (above). I also really liked the Chinese room, so-called because of its black lacquer and floral print walls, and the council room, with its spectacular green furnishings.

Armoury in the Royal Palace, Turin

The palace is also home to an massive armoury (above) that’s set over two rooms. The first room is a long hall with armoured soldiers and taxidermied horses, as well as display cases filled with helmets, guns, daggers, shields and more. The second room is much smaller, with a magnificent piece of Chinese armour that was gifted to one of the dukes of Savoy.

The royal palace is free to visit the first Sunday of every month – the day I visited – so it was heaving. It was great to have free entry, but it did mean it was so busy it was difficult to look around.

The armoury, in particular, was crammed with people taking photos and selfies. It was annoying trying to squeeze past so many people who were too busy taking photos to look at the exhibits and I didn’t find it a pleasant experience. It’s a shame as the armoury is such as grand and impressive room it must be a spectacular sight when it’s empty.

Courtyard inside the Royal Palace in Turin

Once I finished touring the royal apartments, I followed the path through the building to the Galleria Sabauda, an enormous art gallery that’s housed within one of the palace’s wings.

The gallery features art works by Brueghl (Jan the elder, Jan the younger and Abraham), Anthony van Dyck and Rembrandt van Rijn. It also had a temporary exhibition about biscuit porcelain, so named because it’s twice baked. The gallery is extensive – in the two hours I was there, I didn’t manage to see everything – and the numerous works of art remarkable.

On the ground floor, underneath the gallery, there’s an archaeological museum, which tells the story of Turin’s origins and showcases archaeological finds from the city. The artefacts on display include coins, pieces of pottery, as well as an extraordinary bronze head of a young man. The museum was interesting and informative, and I learned a lot about Turin’s history.

The royal palace was fantastic, with lots to see, and it was much bigger than I had been anticipating. I hadn’t expected it to also house an art gallery and an archaeological museum, so I spent hours there, and it was so interesting and well curated, I was reluctant to skip any of it. The only downside, as I’ve already mentioned, was the hoards of people, which is to be expected when there’s free entry. I’d love to go back when it’s quieter so I can take my time seeing it all.

Milan – Top tips

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade in Milan, Italy

Despite doing a lot of research before my trip to Milan, there were a few things I learned while I was there that I wish I’d known sooner. So I’ve put together some of my top tips for anyone planning a trip to the Lombard capital.

Getting there

Milan has three airports – Malpensa, Linate and Bergamo. I flew into Malpensa, which is some 30 miles from the centre of Milan. It’s really easy to get to Milan from the airport – there’s an express train that takes you to Central Station or Cadorna Station. But I chose to hop on the express bus, which leaves every 20 minutes from Gate 4 – it only costs €8 (I bought my ticket from a guard beside the bus) and takes around an hour to get to Central Station. Linate and Bergamo airports also have express bus services that take you to the centre of Milan.

Getting around

The city centre is very compact and all the main sights are within walking distance. But if your legs are tired or you want to get from A to B quickly, then the Metro is very reliable. The underground transit system has four lines – a red, yellow, purple and green one – and stops close to all the major sights.

You can buy your tickets from the ticket machines or kiosks in the Metro stations. But be warned, many of the ticket machines are old and aren’t in the best condition, and I found a lot of people struggled to use them so you can be queuing for a while to buy your ticket. A one-way ticket costs €1.50 and is valid for 90 minutes or you can buy a day ticket for €4.50.


The Last Supper

Santa Maria delle Grazie Church and Convent

If you’re planning to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper while you’re in Milan, make sure you book your tickets weeks in advance. I booked my tickets two weeks before I went and the only tickets left on the Saturday morning were for slots that started before 9am.

Tickets cost €10 (plus a €2 booking fee) and you can buy them from the Vivaticket website or by phone on +39 02 9280 0360. Only 30 people are allowed in to see The Last Supper at any one time and visits last 15 minutes. You’ll need to pick up your tickets at least 20 minutes before your scheduled visit – the ticket office is in a separate building to the Santa Maria delle Grazie refectory, it’s the other side of the small garden next to the refectory entrance.

The Duomo

The Duomo in Milan, Italy

Milan’s magnificent cathedral is open every day from 8am and if you’re planning a visit, you’ll need to buy your tickets from the box office across the street or online from booking.duomomilano.it. You can buy tickets for the cathedral, its roof terraces or its archaeological area, or you can do as I did and buy a Duomo pass, which allows you to visit all three and will save you money.

I opted for the Duomo Pass B, which cost €12 and gave me access to the terraces by foot. If you want to take the lift to the roof terraces, you can buy a Duomo Pass A for €16, but unless you have mobility issues, you’re better off saving yourself the €4 and walking – it’s not a particularly arduous climb and you’re at the top before you know it.



Risotto alla Milanese

Milan’s most famous dish is probably osso bucco, which is a dish of slow-cooked veal shanks in a vegetable broth. It’s often served alongside risotto alla milanese (above), which is a saffron-based risotto. I made sure to try both during my trip to Milan and the osso bucco, in particular, was incredibly tender and tasty. I ordered it at a pleasant little restaurant called Momus on the Via Arco. Milan is also the home of Panettone.


Luini Panzerotti in Milan

On my first day in Milan, I passed a small shop called Luini (above) selling panzerotti  that had a long line of people outside queuing to get inside.

Whenever I go anywhere and see a long line of people queuing for food, I take it as a good sign. So at lunchtime the next day I headed over to Luini’s, tucked away in a little side street between the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade and the Duomo, only to find there were two enormous queues stretching down the street – in both directions!

Panzerotti look like pasties but are essentially small calzone pizzas – they’re made with dough and filled with typical pizza toppings such as tomato, mozzarella and hot salami. They also have sweet versions with fillings such as peaches, almond and amaretti, and figs, walnut and cocoa.

Tomato, mozzarella, olive and anchovy panzerotti

I joined the queue and it took around 20 minutes to get served, and I was amused to find there was a security guard near the front making sure no-one pushes in and that the queue moves efficiently.

I opted for a tomato, mozzarella, anchovy and olive panzerotto (above), as well as a chocolate and pistachio one, which I saved for later. I then copied my fellow diners and stood in the street opposite the shop tucking into my warm panzerotto. It was delicious and  worth the wait! The sweet panzerotto was also very good.


Before going to Milan, I’d read the Brera district (to the north of the Duomo) was a good place to go for dinner. So on my first night, I headed off on foot up the Via Brera only to find a number of places that looked like tourist traps. Famished, I stopped off at one where the food was good and reasonably priced, but not quite as nice as I was hoping for.

On my final night, I did a bit more digging and found I was in the right district, but at the wrong end. So I hopped on the Metro and got off at Lanza (on the green line), then headed in the direction of the Via Mercato and the neighbouring side streets where there were loads of great restaurants. If I was to visit Milan again, this is where I’d go for dinner.

Food shops

Passion fruit and raspberry eclair

Milan is renowned for its fashion boutiques, but the city also has some impressive food shops. The food hall on the seventh floor of La Rinascente department store is incredible with unbelievably pretty chocolates, desserts and patisserie (above), along with unusual pastas, pasta sauces, condiments and wines. It’s not cheap, but well worth a browse.

Window display at Peck, Milan

Peck is another of Milan’s famed food halls, it’s like the Milanese Fortnum & Mason’s. I had a great time wandering around and gawking at all the incredible food stuffs I couldn’t afford to buy. There’s a fish counter, a meat counter, a cheese counter and so on, all brimming with top quality produce, as well as chocolates and other sweet treats that are so pretty it would be a crime to eat them (above).

Have you been to Milan? If so and you have any more tips to share, I’d be really interested in reading them – please leave them in comments below.

Milan – Castles, churches and more da Vinci

Castle Sforza in Milan

As regular readers to my blog may have guessed, I’m a sucker for a castle and when I found out Milan has its very own castle, it ended up somewhere near the top of my must-visit list. Having spent the morning exploring every last inch of the city’s Duomo, I made my way to the castle.

The Sforza Castle, or Castello Sforzesco to give it it’s Italian name, was built between 1360 and 1370 on behalf of Galeazzo II Visconti, the then-ruler of Milan. It then passed into the hands of the famed Sforza dynasty, after whom the castle is named, who turned it into a great ducal residence. Over the centuries, the castle changed hands multiple times between Milan’s ruling powers and fell into decline, until it was rescued and restored by the architect Luca Beltrami in the late 19th century.

Courtyard inside the Castle Sforza in Milan

When I arrived at the castle, I walked through the massive gates into a huge courtyard, and it was then that I realised that the Sforza Castle isn’t a castle in a traditional sense with lots of rooms, and nooks and crannies, to explore. Instead various parts of the castle have been turned into museums – there’s an Egyptian museum, an art gallery, a museum of ancient art, as well as a museum dedicated to Michelangelo’s masterpiece Rondanini Pietà.

Smaller courtyard inside the Castle Sforza in Milan

Rather than explore the castle’s many museums, I spent time looking around the castle’s courtyards, taking photos of the different facets of this impressive building. It’s an imposing sight and must have been quite something during its heyday when the Sforza family held court.

Parco Sempione in Milan

Behind the castle, sits Milan’s Parco Sempione, and having seen all there was to see in the castle’s courtyards, I headed to the park through an exit at the rear of the castle. The 116-acre park used to be a hunting ground for the Sforza family but in the late 19th century it was turned into a landscaped park. At the far end of the park is a huge triumphal arch, commissioned by Napoleon, that was remodelled as an Arch of Peace by the Austro-Hungarian emperor Francis I in commemoration of the 1815 Congress of Vienna.

After making a quick detour to a nearby gelateria for some gelato, I headed back to the park where I took my time walking around it. The park is a large, attractive space, and although there isn’t anything particularly special or distinctive about it, it was nice to spend some quiet time away from the busy streets, ambling around the park’s pretty trees and lakes.

Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio in Milan

After a pleasant stroll, I headed off on foot to the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, which I’d read was one of Milan’s most impressive churches. When I arrived, the church was closed for lunch so I hung around for 10 minutes or so until it opened, then headed inside.

The basilica was founded by the city’s patron saint, St Ambrose, in the 4th century and is notable for the two campaniles that stand either side of the church. Inside, the basilica is a fairly standard Milanese affair with a pretty patterned roof and lots of priceless-looking paintings hanging above the many altars that line the church’s sides. There’s also a striking marble pulpit decorated with delicate, intricate carvings.

The church’s crypt is the resting place of St Ambrose, along with two martyrs, the Roman soldiers Gervasius and Protasius, and I was somewhat taken aback to find their three skeletal corpses on display in a see-through casket, their bones clothed as though they were still alive. It was such an unexpected and unusual sight that I had to take a second glance to make sure I hadn’t imagined it.

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan

From the basilica, I made my way through the back streets of Milan to the Pinacoteca and Biblioteca Ambrosiana. The art gallery and library is home to paintings, sculptures and artefacts from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and features artworks by the likes of Jan Brueghl, Paul Brill, Sandro Botticelli and Titian, as well as a number of Lombard artists. But the gallery’s pièce de résistance is Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician, as well as pages from a folio featuring sketches and notes by the great master.

The Pinacoteca and Biblioteca Ambrosiana has some 22 galleries to explore and is situated in a magnificent late 16th century building. I followed the suggested visitor route around the gallery, which at times took me outside to a balcony lined with statues, overlooking a spectacular courtyard (above).

The building itself is as much a work of art as the priceless pieces within and many of the rooms are spectacular. Room 12, for example, features a stunning marble staircase and mosaic, with a series of marble statues above it. While rooms 10 and 11 feature a fake wooden library above the artworks.

The lighting throughout is superb, too, and is possibly the best lighting I’ve come across in a museum or gallery. The artworks are showcased in dimly lit rooms with spotlights shining on them, which makes them pop and shows them at their best.

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is best known for its da Vincis but as I walked around I had yet to see them and was worried I’d missed them. But as I was leaving the gallery, I stepped into a room and there, taking pride of place, was da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician. It’s a striking painting and dominates the room, and I spent quite a bit of time admiring it, as well as the other painting in the room, before moving into the library.

The library (above), which was commissioned by Cardinal Federico Borromeo in the early 17th century, is supposedly Italy’s first public library and is stacked high with thousands of books, but its main attraction is the Codex Atlanticus.

The Codex is a collection of sketches and notes by da Vinci, and pages from the Codex are on display in clear panels in the centre of the room. I took my time looking at all the pages, some of which are really impressive, others less impressive scraps and doodles, and I came away with the impression that da Vinci must have been a prolific doodler.

There’s one last masterpiece within the gallery, tucked away at the far end of the room, just before the exit – Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit. It’s a magnificent painting, and with this and the da Vincis, the gallery saved the best for last. I’m always amazed by how true to life so many still-life paintings are and Basket of Fruit is no exception. I have no idea how Caravaggio managed to paint such realistic looking grapes, apples and figs, it’s really clever and I was a little dumb stuck by how good it was. It’s a fabulous painting and a brilliant way to end a superb museum.

By now it was early evening, so I stopped off for a cup of tea in one of Milan’s many swanky cafés (bog standard Starbucks-type establishments seemed to be few and far between in Milan), then spent the rest of the evening wandering around the shops. I had another look around La Rinascente department store, then ambled up the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a large shopping street, until I reached the fashion quarter.

There, I turned down the swanky Via della Spiga, aka Milan’s Bond Street, where I marvelled at the incredible window displays in the designer stores. Being a pauper, I avoided going inside any of the shops as I wasn’t too keen on having a Pretty Woman moment, but the window displays were so spectacular I was happy just gawking at them and the overpriced goods within.

Milan is very much a walking city and I enjoyed my day ambling around the city, mooching from one attraction to the other. From churches to priceless works of art, castles to parks, I visited so many varied places it made for a fun and eventful day. I was also glad I found time to fit in a spot of window shopping. I wasn’t sure I’d have time to fit in any shopping as I’d planned such an action-packed day, but I’m pleased I did as I couldn’t go to one of the world’s greatest fashion capitals without seeing a few sartorial masterpieces.

Milan – Duomo

The Duomo in Milan, Italy

I’ve visited a lot of cathedrals over the years, but Milan’s Duomo is one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve ever seen. Commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1386, the 157m-long Gothic cathedral took an astonishing five centuries to complete.

This fact is less surprising when you see how detailed and elaborate the building is. Its façade features some 2,300(!) statues and there are a further 1,100 statues inside. While its highest spire stands at 108m tall and is topped by a 4m-high gold leaf statue of the Madonna. Having briefly laid eyes on the Duomo the previous evening, I was keen to have a proper look around, so it was my first port of call on my second day in Milan.

Inside, I was struck by how big the Duomo is. It’s the third largest cathedral in the world (after Seville Cathedral and St Peter’s in Rome) but I hadn’t appreciated just how enormous or how wide it was from the outside.

In contrast to the ornate façade, the inside of the cathedral felt quite plain. I was expecting the cathedral’s walls and ceiling to be adorned with colourful frescoes and elaborate gilded decorations like you see in a lot of Italian churches. But the grey stone walls and high-vaulted ceilings were left largely untouched, aside from the obligatory statues, and the cathedral’s paintings hung from the ceiling instead (above).

I made my way down the right side of the cathedral, stopping as I went to look at the many altars off to the side and the impressive artworks within. One of the altars featured the remains of Pope Paul VI, who was Archbishop of Milan until he became pope in 1963.

Saint Charles Borromeo's tomb

I carried on going as far as the crypt, where I stopped to have a look inside. At either end of the crypt, behind locked gates, were opulent alcoves housing the cathedral’s treasury and the rock crystal tomb of Saint Charles Borromeo, a 16th-century Archbishop of Milan (above). The alcoves were amazing and I was taken aback by the riches and splendour within. It was by far and away the most lavish crypt I’ve ever seen.

Replica of the Madonnina statue inside Milan's Duomo

From the crypt, I walked back to the main body of the cathedral, where I continued walking until I reached the replica of the Madonnina of the Duomo di Milano (above), the statue that sits atop the cathedral’s main spire. The glamorous Madonnina was covered in gold leaf and it was good to see a close-up replica of the statue, as the original sits so high above the cathedral it’s almost impossible to make out.

The archaeological site at Milan's Duomo

I then turned around and walked back towards the main entrance, where I followed a narrow staircase down into the archaeological area beneath the Duomo (above).

The archaeological area showcases the remains of the ancient buildings that once occupied the site, among them the baptistery of Ambroses and the old Santa Tecla Cathedral, along with display cases featuring artefacts unearthed at the site. The archaeological area is quite small and doesn’t take long to look around, but it was interesting and I enjoyed learning about the site’s history.

Spires on the Duomo's roof terrace in Milan

Having seen all there was to see inside the cathedral, I walked outside and turned down the left side of the Duomo towards the entrance to the roof terraces. You can either walk the 250 steps to the Duomo’s roof or pay an extra €4 to take the lift – I chose to give my legs a good work out and walked. Luckily, the climb didn’t take as long as I was expecting, and before I knew it, I was on the roof.

The Duomo’s roof terraces are incredible. The architecture is superb – even better than the façade – with elaborate spires, intriguing shapes and intricate carvings everywhere you look. The views across Milan are fantastic, too – and it was a clear enough day that I could make out the Alps in the distance, their pale blue snow-capped peaks contrasting beautifully with the cathedral’s creamy, pale pink marble.

I made my way along the outer edge of the terrace, stopping every so often to admire the architecture and the views, and dodging the many people who were blocking the path to take selfies.

From the outer terrace, I climbed a very narrow staircase (there wasn’t room for two, above left) to the roof. I spent quite a bit of time clambering over the enormous sloping roof, making sure I stopped to take in the wonderful views over Milan from as many angles as possible.

The roof terraces were fantastic and I was glad I made the effort to go up there. I had great fun exploring all there was to see, and the views and the architecture, as I’ve already mentioned, were breathtaking. Milan’s Duomo is an exceptional world-class building, but clambering over the roof and seeing its architecture up close was a fantastic experience. It’s easily one of the best and most interesting cathedrals I’ve visited.


View from the roof terraces of the magnificent architecture of the Duomo in Milan

The Duomo’s ticket office is situated across the street from the cathedral and there are a number of ticket types on offer, depending on what you want to see. You can pay to go inside, visit the roof terraces (above) or buy a combined ticket that provides access to the cathedral, the roof terraces, the archaeological site and the Duomo museum. Wanting to see all this impressive building had to offer, I chose the latter.


The Duomo in Milan, Italy

Italy’s economic capital is probably best known for its bi-annual fashion week, but there’s much more to this stylish city than big name designer outlets and shopping. I spent last weekend in Milan, and before my trip, it wasn’t somewhere that was on my radar. But I was looking for somewhere to go for a pre-Christmas mini-break and noticed there were cheap flights to the city, so I decided to see what it was like.

The Lombard capital may not have the same must-visit status among travellers as Italy’s cultural powerhouses Venice, Florence and Rome, but I found a city that’s steeped in culture and history with great food and shopping, and a slew of incredible artworks that almost rivals Florence.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade in Milan, Italy

Milan is home to one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals, an architecturally renowned shopping arcade (above), a world famous opera house, two da Vincis (including one of his most celebrated masterpieces), countless other priceless artworks, an imposing castle, top-notch museums and charming churches. In a nutshell, I wasn’t short of things to do.

I arrived in Milan mid-afternoon and after checking into my hotel near the central station, I hopped on the metro to the Duomo to have a quick look around the city centre. On walking out of the metro station, I was greeted by the imposing sight of Milan’s magnificent and enormous cathedral, which dominates the Piazza del Duomo. It’s an incredibly decorative and ornate building, and I was amazed by how many statues and carvings adorn the outside of the building.

Christmas time in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade in Milan, Italy

I’d decided to visit the Duomo the following day, so instead of going inside I walked over to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade. The arcade, which was built by Giuseppe Mengoni in the 1860s, is something of an Instagram star and having seen it in so many photos, I was keen to have a look at it myself. Built from a pinkish marble, the arcade is laid out in a cross shape, with an incredible glass and iron roof that culminates in a massive dome in the centre of the arcade.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is filled with grand cafés and shops, including designer labels such as Prada and Louis Vuitton, and when I went in, was packed with shoppers and tourists taking photos. In the centre of the arcade there was a giant Christmas tree, sponsored by Swarovski, and it looked as though they were about to have an event to switch on the Christmas lights as there was a stage set up in front of the tree with cameras and security guards milling around.

La Rinascente department store in Milan, Italy, illuminated for Christmas

I wandered through the arcade, window shopping as I went, then walked back towards the Duomo, where I ventured inside the plush La Rinascente department store. La Rinascente is essentially Milan’s Harvey Nicholls, only posher. Walking through the store, I’m not sure they had any labels that weren’t high-end and completely unaffordable for mere mortals such as myself. But I was heading to the store’s renowned food hall on the seventh floor.

Alongside the rows and rows of delicious products, the food hall features a number of places to eat including a lobster bar, a juice bar, a mozzarella bar and a sushi restaurant. I skipped the restaurants, preferring to look at the incredible products in the food store. There I found fantastically shaped pastas in different colours, wines, sauces, condiments, and stunningly inventive and artistic sweet treats for Christmas – all with eye-watering prices.

I stopped to look at some pretty chocolates that had caught my eye when one of the store assistants came up to ask if I needed any help. At that moment I spotted the price tag for the chocolates – $70! – and politely told her I was “just looking”.

Passion fruit and raspberry eclair

By now, I was a wee bit peckish so I stopped at the patisserie counter, which was filled with scrumptious-looking pastries and desserts. I couldn’t resist one of the passion fruit and raspberry eclairs (above, a bargain at $3.90!) and bought one to take away.

From La Rinascente, I hopped back on the metro as I had booked tickets to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The painting is in the 15th century convent’s refectory and is so popular, you have to pre-book your tickets online or by phone weeks in advance.

Santa Maria delle Grazie Church and Convent

The ticket office, where I had to pick up my ticket 20 minutes before my scheduled visit, is in a separate building to the church. I found this a little confusing and wasn’t really helped by the sour staff who seemed to have no patience with the many bemused tourists looking to collect their tickets. I eventually found the ticket office myself, and once I had my ticket, headed towards the refectory entrance.

Only 30 people are allowed to view The Last Supper at any one time and all 30 from my group were soon huddled together in a narrow corridor waiting to be allowed in. At 5.45pm, a lady came down to scan our tickets and we passed through an electronic door. Once the entire group was through, the door behind us closed and another electronic door in front of us opened. We went through two more chambers like this before we got in to see The Last Supper.

The refectory was bombed by the US during the Second World War causing lots of damage to the building, but The Last Supper miraculously survived intact. The huge painting is on the right wall of the refectory, and on the opposite wall, there’s a painting of The Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano.

The Last Supper, which was commissioned by Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, in 1495, dominates the room, and although it’s very faded, has a mesmerising quality. It’s a masterpiece and I spent quite a bit of time admiring it and soaking up all its details. The one thing that struck me was how much John the Baptist looks like a woman and then I remembered all the (frankly believable) conspiracy theories that John the Baptist is actually Mary Magdalene.

The Crucifixion opposite is a great work of art, too. It features two very faded portraits of Ludovico il Moro and his wife Beatrice added by da Vinci, and I spent some time admiring that, too. Before I knew it, our 15 minutes were up and we were quickly ushered outside.

Inside the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie

After my visit to the refectory, I decided to have a look around the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. The church, which was designed by the architect Donato Bramante at the end of the 15th century, looks like a fairly typical Milanese church from the outside, but inside, I realised it’s a work of art.

It was gone 6pm when I visited and I couldn’t see very well inside as the lights were off, but the walls and ceilings were covered in a beautiful patterned fresco. Along the right and left walls, there were a series of altars in little alcoves behind locked gates. I soon discovered why the alcoves were protected as above the altars were priceless pieces of art by the likes of Caravaggio.

In the St Crown’s Chapel, for example, Carvaggio’s Deposition from the Cross took pride of place. Even more astonishing, the painting had replaced Titian’s The Crowning of Thorns Coronation, which was stolen by the French in the late 18th century and now sits in the Louvre. The Santa Maria delle Grazie church is a spectacular building, everywhere I looked there were superb pieces of art, and I was glad I’d popped in, even if it was too dark to see it in all its glory.

Having looked around the Santa Maria delle Grazie, I headed back into town where I wandered around the main sites again. It was great to see them all lit up at night. If anything the buildings looked even better in the dark as they were much more dramatic with the illuminations. I then walked the short distance to the Brera district, where I was amused by the prosecco-themed Christmas lights (Cardiff take note!), and found a nice little trattoria for dinner and some quiet time after the jam-packed start to my Milanese trip.