Located just to the south of Switzerland at the base of the Alps lies Italy’s second largest city in Milan. This capital city of the Lombardy region and its more than 1.3 million inhabitants represent the modern side of the Italian culture. From fashion and design to sports and business, Milan boasts a wide range of roles on the international scene.

When most people think of Milan the first thing that comes to mind is likely tall, slender models gracing the runway at a fashion show. The city is known as one of the four major fashion capitals of the world along with New York City, Paris and London. Many famous Italian brands such as Gucci and Prada are based in Milan, which helps to solidify its importance in the industry.

Although the first impression of Milan may be that of fashion and design, the city’s most prominent role is as the financial capital of Italy. Milan is home to the Italian Stock Exchange and is a large player in international business. It ranks as the tenth best city for business in Europe and averages a gross domestic product nearly as high as that of the entire country of Austria.

Piazza Duomo square

Piazza Duomo square. Photo: Claudio Divizia

Not only does the bustling Milanese economy have fashion to thank, but also one of the largest sport scenes in the country. The two world-renown football, or soccer, teams F.C. Internazionale Milano and A.C. Milan are based in Milan. Both teams have won the FIFA World Cup, and the city has won more European Cups than any other city. One of the world’s oldest racing circuits, the Monza Formula One circuit, is also nearby. The circuit has hosted an F1 race every year except one since it was finished in 1950.

With all of the city’s modern appeal in fashion, architecture and business, it has been said that Milan does not feel as “Italian” as other major cities in Italy. Many of the buildings lack the iconic red roofs of Florence and Venice, instead going for a sleek, modern look. Despite this apparent absence of traditional Italian architecture, there are still many areas of the city that add to the authentic feel.

Many stores, cafes and gelato shops can be found along the city’s Navigli canal. These restaurants serve some of the traditional cuisine of the Lombard region, which varies greatly from what most people think of Italian food. Most of the region’s dishes consist of rice rather than pasta, and many sauces do not use tomatoes.

The city also contains numerous museums and churches, such as the Duomo, Milan’s main cathedral. The Castello Sforzesco is another major site as it is the former home of Milan’s ruling families. Now the estate has been converted into several museums. Buildings such as these help to add to the authenticity of the city and balance the modern impression some may get.

While Milan’s atmosphere shouts contemporary, providing an image of “new” Italy, the city still holds many old-world Italian gems for those who seek them. For those who are more interested in the fresh and trendy, Milan has those as well. As a whole, the city provides the best of both Italy’s past and present.