Fans of Slow Travel don’t need to be told that booking a vacation rental instead of a hotel room is an excellent way to travel more slowly and have a more authentic experience, something akin to what the locals in that place experience. Vacation rentals aren’t just villas in the countryside, however – there are plenty of options in urban settings to rent apartments right in the heart of the city. In Milan, a city I’ve come to love after making many trips and many friends, renting an apartment for a stay of a week or more is ideal. Hotels in Milan can be quite expensive, especially if you’re staying more than a day or two and you’re trying to stay in the city center. This business, and banking, centric city is set up to host business travelers on expense accounts, and hotel rates reflect that.
But what part of Milan should you stay in if you’re going to rent an apartment? The short answer is that nearly any part of the city center will work because Milan’s public transporation system is so efficient and because the city is so compact – but if you’d like a little more information on a few neighborhoods you might choose from when selecting your vacation rental, here are a few I’d suggest and why.
If I had unlimited funds and was moving to Milan, I’d snap up an apartment in the Brera in a heartbeat. It’s a few steps from the Duomo (the real center of Milan’s city center) and it’s a mini-maze of narrow streets, many of which are lined with cute shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s not quite the high-end shopping district (that’s a few streets away), but the shopping – as well as the real estate – in the Brera isn’t really for true budget travelers. There are rental apartments in the Brera, and if you have a bit more money to spend on accommodation it doesn’t hurt to look. But even the prices on a week-long stay have been enough to make me sigh wistfully and look elsewhere every time.
The Navigli, southwest of the center, used to be the apparently-required part of every big city where the “struggling artists live.” Of course, those areas always eventually become hip enough that the struggling artists are priced out, but if you’re lucky the funky vibe remains. In the case of the Navigli, it’s well on its way to being completely gentrified, but it’s still definitely funky – and the struggling artists have been replaced by small art studios. This is one of the best nightlife spots in Milan, so if you prefer quiet after-hours I’d suggest you look elsewhere. Also note that because of the canals in this area the mosquitoes (in my experience, anyway) seem to be even more plentiful.
In central Milan most people know about the Castello Sforzesco. Right behind the castle is one of the city’s big parks, Parco Sempione. And right behind the park is the neighborhood around the big boulevard, Corso Sempione. Like the Navigli, this is another of Milan’s nightlife hubs – Corso Sempione itself is lined with aperitivo bars, which makes eating out a delight if you’re staying nearby. This is one of my favorite parts of the city to stay in – I love the proximity to such a wide array of aperitivo bars (all full of locals) and the tree-lined streets. Again, however, with this area’s penchant for late-night drinking and dining, it might not be a good choice for anyone who goes to bed early or has trouble sleeping through noise. It’s worth noting that the Sempione neighborhood is close to a small area that’s fairly international, in that it’s home to several non-Italian restaurants and markets where you could find imported food goodies if you wanted them.
The first apartment I ever rented in Milan was in the Città Studi area, an area sort of northwest of the city center, and I’ve a soft spot for it. It’s very residential and decidedly un-touristy, with lots of little parks and green spaces where grandparents bring their grandkids after picking them up from school. Depending on where you end up, it can be a little more challenging to get to on public transportation (my apartment was near two bus lines and a tram line, but the closest stops were several blocks away), so that’s something to consider. But if you want a somewhat-overlooked and (in my experience) very real neighborhood to call home for even a little while, the Città Studi is an excellent choice.
You usually can’t beat the neighborhood around a city’s main train station for convenient transit connections (both in the city and for day trips) and budget-friendly beds, and the area around Milan’s Stazione Centrale is no exception. What station neighborhoods also usually bring, however, is also a bit of a seedy atmosphere. I’ve never felt unsafe around Centrale Station, and it’s among the cheaper parts of the city for an apartment rental, so don’t rule it out immediately. Try looking for places that aren’t right on the big main streets that lead to the station if you’re looking in this area.