I was a little wary of Milan, but after a day or two about the city I quickly became very relaxed, as if I'd lived there all my life. There are a few areas you need to show caution, but for the most part the city felt very safe. Places I'd advise caution for would include:
The main exit of the Central Station, and the Piazza Duca D'Aosta right in front. Lots of shifty characters here, and large tight crowds, so be careful.
The Piazza Duomo. Again large crowds, and also lots of potential scam artists offering free gifts of coloured string and pigeon food. Avoid these, and be alert to your belongings.
Parco Sempione. This placed didn't feel 100% safe during the day, and my Milanese friend would not go there at night. I saw drug dealing in the open during the day when I passed through.
Arch of Peace. This place seemed pretty much abandoned to civilization, and had a lot of evidence of homeless and drug addicts in the form of needles and sleeping bags. One guy was sitting in the steps facing the back of the arch nonchalantly preparing to jack up.
Despite somewhat scary sounding descriptions, nobody made any aggressive moves towards me, and apart from the few annoying string givers, and other people shoving things in my face to sell me, I didn't find Milan much of a problem at all, and not in the least bit scary or threatening.
First of all, I need to say that this is a warning, but not really a danger. I never really felt threatened in Milan, and I think that the touts and other people like that are not worse there than they are in other big European cities. Still, it might be a good idea just to prepared, so I just want to write down my observations.
Men giving you bracelets in the Duomo area
Around the Duomo area, there are many men holding a bunch of leather bracelets in their hands. They are trying to put one around your arm, but when you accept one, they expect a payment afterwards. I also saw some of these men around the train station at Cadorna.
I think they are not really dangerous, we just said "No!" very strongly when they approached us and walked into a different direction, and they never followed us.
Around the Duomo area, there are also some men trying to sell cheap guidebooks to you. I don't know if those books are good or how much they cost, I just didn't like that they approach you, ask you where you are from, and try to charm you. But again, not really a danger - just say "No!" in a firm manner, and walk away.
Around Stazione Centrale and in some Metro stations, there are hawkers selling toys and also soap bubbles which they blow right into your direction, but these men never approached us or talked to us.
Men offering their help at ticket machines in Centrale
If you are buying a ticket at a machine in the main train station in Milano Centrale and are a little confused, there will no doubt soon be a man offering his "help" to you. They just come out of nowhere, but confuse you further by wildly touching the touchscreen and talking to you very fast. I don't know what their goal is (probably to take your change while you are busy with your ticket, or similar). They made me a little uneasy, but when (again), I told them "No, grazie!", they walked away.
Altogether I always felt safe, I think it is just important to follow some simple rules, as you would in any big European city - use a sensible bag and take care of your belongings, don't flash your valuables, don't speak to people looking suspicious. I found these tips by Leics and Brendareed very useful: Don't be scared and Beware of pickpockets & beggars.
We visited Milan in August 2012 during a heatwave, and the heat was absolutely terrible. I don't know the temperatures and I think they were not even that high compared to what I had experienced in Australia (maybe it was about 38°C during noon), but the stiff air in the city, the reflection from the concrete and asphalt, and the general climate of a big city made it hard to endure. Moreover, we were so stupid not to drink enough water on our first day and to climb upon the roof of the Duomo in the early afternoon, where the white marble reflects the heat like a mirror. This resulted in the fact that I got dehydrated and got very sick in the evening. It was just my own stupidity and I was so angry with myself - I really should have learned my lesson in Australia - so I thought I should describe this in a tip.
Please don't take the sun and heat too lightly, and don't take any risks! If you are easily suffering from heatstrokes or dehydration, avoid Milan in the hot summer months. Try to do most of your sightseeing until noon so that you can relax when it gets hot later. Always drink enough water, and wear a hat when queuing outside in the sun or visiting places outside.
As far as I know this is a custom throughout the whole country of Italy, and I am sure most VTers know about this, but I still wanted to write a tip here because it was new to me before I read about it here on VT, and it seems there are many tourists who don't know about it.
When visiting a church in Italy, your knees and shoulders must be covered, no matter if you are a man or a woman, although it seemed that it was imposed a little stricter on women. When we were standing in front of the Duomo in Milan before we entered, we observed that there were several women who were denied entry because they were wearing sleeveless tops (for example tank tops or spaghetti straps). Some were quite angry about this and couldn't believe it. I think this is quite stupid, it is just the custom in Italy, and tourists should accept that!
In some churches, the wardens keep a stock of shawls which are borrowed to visitors in case they don't meet the requirements, but I would not rely on it. If you are wearing a top that is not suitable, just bring a light jacket or shawl to cover yourself, and you will have no problems.
The same goes for shorts and skirts - they should cover your knees.
After a morning's wandering around the central touristy bit I fancied putting my feet up for a bit and just watching the world go by. This little cafe, whose name may, or may not, be Caffe Portioli, with its pavement terrace overlooking the piazza Duomo was the ideal location.
It was still a bit too early for a beer (even for me!) and so the friendly (and very pretty) waitress cheerily took my order for an espresso and a glass of water. I spent a very pleasant half-hour chain smoking and trying to take pictures of girls on bicycles and suitably relaxed and refreshed called for my bill - 5.50 Euros!!
Well I suppose it is prime touristville and I should have expected it - but next time I visit I'll definitely learn the phrase - "A glass of tap water please." HA!
I've been through Milan Central Station four times over the past two summers and have spent a night in a hotel only a few hundred metres away. I have felt safe in the station and in the neighbourhoods around it. People who are reporting being robbed in or around the station or who find the area dodgy must neither be used to travelling nor have lived in a large city. There are police throughout the station and there is police presence as well in the Metro stations and often on a subway train itself. I've seen beat cops patrolling the area around the station. As long as people exercise the same kind of street caution they'd exercise in any city, they'll be fine. Do you talk to drunks, deranged people, or beggars in your home city? Probably not. So why would you do it in Milan? As for the touts and people selling cheap crap, again, avoid them, as you probably do similar characters back home.
This tip also appears under "Restaurants" but 'll repeat it here just in case someone is checking out just the "Warning or Danger" tips -
After a long day's travelling (about 26 hours all told) I'd decided to eat close to my hotel and grab a few takeaway beers and an early-ish night. This pizza place, on the Piazza Duca D'Aosta in front of the Central Station, was pretty much opposite my hotel and with a few others eating on the slightly scruffy terrace looked OK to me. I duly sat down ordered a beer and a Pizza Inferno which admittedly arrived quite promptly. The beer was cold and the pizza edible - a little bland and lacking any serious heat to justify the "Inferno" bit. I ordered another beer and sat watching some drunks fooling around on the Piazza which was quite entertaining (a bit like looking in a mirror for me!).
On the table next to me an oldish couple were paying their bill. The man pointed to something on their bill and asked, in Italian, a question. The youngish, quite heavy-set, waiter responded agitatedly in rapid-fire Italian and made some quite threatening gestures. The two had a short, but very heated, argument about the bill which eventually the man paid, looking very disgusted.
As the couple were about to leave the man leant over to my table and said something, inn Italian obviously, to me which began with the word "Attenzione...". Unfortunately my command of the language is limited to being able to order a beer, and that's it, and so when I shrugged my shoulders to indicate I didn't understand the guy looked at me with sympathy and tried again a bit slower. I still didn't grasp what he was trying to say and so they left with the guy looking daggers at the waiter.
I was soon to find out what it had been abouth though. When I got my bill (handwritten BTW) it was itemised - pizza 10 Euros, beer x 2 11 Euros and then an 8 Euro addition to bring the total to 29 Euros. When I challenged the 8 Euro extra charge the waiter launched aggreessively into something about "cover and service charges". Well I now understood what the previous table had been arguing over but I paid the 29 Euros anyway, handing him 30 in notes. He actually came back with my 1 Euro change and then stood over me until I said "Keep It!"
So 21 Euros for a very mediocre pizza and a couple of OK beers was, as I discovered when eating elsewhere, totally OTT and the 8 Euro "Cover and Service" a barefaced rip-off. I did encounter a "Coperto" elsewhere when I had a basket of bread with a meal but that was perfectly reasonable and was advertised on the menu as such.
Give this one a miss!!
This bar/restaurant across from the central station was a major rip off. 30 euros for a small pizza for two and two small beers!! They done us and were rubbing it in our faces as well - wankers. Were not Italians though, or at least I dont think so, but eastern European filth.
But generally found Milan to be way over priced
Before you board a train in Italy, you must validate your ticket by feeding it into a machine on the wall, which stamps a date/time code on it. This prevents people from reusing tickets.
We knew about the validation rule, having read in guidebooks that the penalty for an unvalidated ticket is a whopping 55 Euros per person. But we made the mistake of thinking that logic would sometimes override regulations.
When we were returning to Milan from a day trip to Bergamo, the only validation machine on the platform was out of order, its slot taped over, and our train was getting ready to leave the station. It was late afternoon, we were cold and tired, and the next train to Milan didn't leave for another hour. We decided to get on the train with unvalidated tickets and explain the situation to the conductor.
Very bad decision! He was The Great Stone Face, totally unmoved even after I'd explained about the machine in my broken Italian and my husband had produced our tickets from that morning. The young woman across the aisle advocated for us, arguing with him in rapid Italian, but to no avail.
"110 Euros," the conductor insisted. I was trying to figure out what he could do to us, since we didn't even have 110 Euros on us.
He finally said that because our ticket stubs showed we had traveled just a few hours before, he would fine us only 5 Euros each.
After we had paid him the 10 Euros and he had moved on, the young woman said that she disagreed with the rule and did not think we should have been penalized. "The machine at Bergamo is often broken," she said.
We thanked her for her help and concluded that these fines must be a regular source of income for the train system.
So. . .train travelers, be forewarned: they are dead serious about the ticket validation rule! Do it or pay the price.
If you are shopping at the Galleria and needed a bathroom, you are doomed! There are no public restrooms anywhere except to go to the ground floor. When I was there, the only bathroom the Galleria has was closed to the public use. So, poor me, I had to walk two blocks away finding some public restrooms. Luckily, I found Hyatt Hotel. I acted like I was a guest and just walked casually since I was passing those concierge at the door! Luckily, again, they didn't stop and asked me where I was going or whether I was a guest at the hotel.
I found the nicest bathroom in Milan. It was awesome I ended up taking a picture of it!
Anyway, here's a great tip: make sure to empty your bladder before you head out to the Galleria. If you needed to go once you are there go to a restaurant and buy something over there just to use their bathroom. However, most of the restaurants there are are expensive!!!
I am not sure whether this tip applies merely to certain regions in Italy or is nationwide, but I think it is worth passing on. Having arrived in Milan, travelled easily and cheaply to Milan Central Staion by bus, I bought my ticket. No problem and the man in the kiosk even spoke a bit of English. Going into the station, I found it well signed and had no difficulty at all in boarding my train to Turin.
The problem arrived when the ticket collector on the train appeared. Unknown to me, I should have validated my ticket before boarding the train, although I did not see anything to that effect posted anywhere. In fairness, the ticket collector was very good and accepted my genuine explanation that I did not know the procedure. It appears I could have been subject to a fairly hefty fine had he not been so decent about the whole thing. Just a little thing to watch out for that might save you a bit of embarrassment and / or a few €€€.
I am 95% sure that the personnel of Ristorante Salernitano took my bag with all my documents while me and my friends were dining there. The employees were extremely rude and within 1 hour my bag had gone missing with few people going by than the waiters. Not going too much into details, it took the manager 1 HOUR to call the police after we requested.
The behavior of the personnel was unprofessional and repulsive throughout the dinner. Can't recommend this place to anyone, even if you do not carry a purse.
In the piazzas of Italy there are a lot of pigeons, and along with those come also the bird seed sellers. These guys are standing in the piazzas and waiting just for you. They try to sell you the seed by any way - force it into your hands, on your shoulders, or wherever else they can put it on you - even if you do not want it. And in the end, when you look like a scene from horror movie of Hitchcock, they expect you to pay them for this.
Beware riding the metro that thieves may look very presentable. Yesterday a man on a crowded metro car was surrounded by about 6 other men in nice suits and ties. They pretended that one of them dropped something on the floor. They all started "looking" for it and then grabbed the man's legs so he couldn't move before stealing everything out of his pockets and jumping off the train! All the passengers just watched.
In general, if there's a "commotion"-- someone seems to lose something or act bizarrely or do anything other than just stand there-- this is a good time to hold tight to your belongings or leave.
There are few canals (Navigli) in Milan that you can fall into. So be careful. I've seen it's not that easy to get out. And once you fall in, you can not only get wet but also dirty. (See the picture above)
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