Stylish Milan is worth a visit

Share this Post:
Photo by Bill Malcolm
Photo by Bill Malcolm

I attended the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association Conference held near Milan and thoroughly enjoyed my trip to this vibrant, stylish northern Italian city, just south of the Alps. There is lots to do in this, the country's second largest (and wealthiest) area.

The Porta Venezia district is the designated "gayborhood," although Milan's LGBTQ venues are actually more scattered. It features lots of cafés, restaurants, and shopping (plus Gay bars) within steps of each other, and the metro is very is very convenient, as is the tram (streetcar). The Esselunga supermarket offers food to go, so you can grab some fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast.

Where to stay
I stayed at the Mercure Milano Centro Hotel (part of the Mercure brand by Accord Hotels), which made for a perfect base to explore the city, as the subway station is literally in front of the hotel. The service and rooms were great at this small lodging located on the Piazza Oberdan. My room was comfortable, after I insisted that they let me control the room temperature instead of the front desk.

However, skip paying for the hotel breakfast, and enjoy one of the many nearby cafés for a morning double espresso and freshly baked roll (Like Spain, Italians don't drink a regular cup of coffee, although the café americano comes close.)

Photo by Bill Malcolm  

What to do

  • The wonderful natural history museum (Museo di Storia Nautrale) and huge city park (Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli) are also very close the Mercure Milano Hotel.
  • The Duomo cathedral and plaza are a must.
  • Don't miss the Sforzesco Castle. This huge fortress is complete with a moat and features works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Wander along the Navigli canal district.
  • Visit the new CityLife district and stroll through the contemporary art park.
  • The new downtown skyscraper district is also worth a visit, offering stylish buildings, including a "treehouse" high-rise.
  • Go shopping in the nearby Corso Buenos Aires district. Also, check out the stores at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.

    Food & drink
    Do you like risotto, pasta, fresh breads, eggplant Parmesan, pizza, smoked meats, or cheeses? How about wine? They all are Italian specialties.

    Cute restaurants abound near the Mercure hotel. And it's just steps to the bars. Note: Like in Spain, Italians eat late.

    Great coffee is everywhere, including the joint next door to the Mercure. Or enjoy a cocktail on the rooftop bar of the Dome Milano (on Via Giuseppe Mazzini).

    The city's Gay life is centered around the Porta Venezia neighborhood, specifically down Via Lecco (Lecco Street). There's even a LGBTQ-friendly gelato stand.

    Check out Leccomilano, the Red Café, and MONO, which was great for an apertivo, a pre-dinner semisweet alcoholic beverage. Try the aperol spritz, which consists of aperol, spumante (sparkling wine), soda, and fetta di arancia (a slice of orange), with free chips, for 9 euros.

    The IGLTA Conference
    The International Gay Lesbian Travel Association had its 38th Global Convention in Pero, drawing 550 attendees from 39 countries. A key theme was that travel is an agent of change.

    Special thanks to Visit Milan, Sonders and Beach, Visit Ft. Lauderdale, and Quiiky Magazine for hosting events at IGLTA.

    Fun facts
    Despite all the pasta, bread, smoked meat, and cheese (not to mention the tiramisu), the Italians are a slim bunch, with only 10% being overweight. The Mediterranean diet is very healthy, and they don't snack and graze all day, like many (overweight) Americans do.

    The chic Milanese are amazing. Perfect stylish haircuts, modern eyewear, and designer outfits make them the best-dressed folks in the world. I had never been to Italy and was stunned at this classy crowd. Even the barista at the coffee bar looks like she is headed to a wedding. Leave room in your suitcase for some shopping.

    Italian design also spills over into the architecture and autos.

    Getting there
    With the euro at par with the US dollar, Italy (like Spain) is a bargain right now. So before you book a domestic vacation, compare it with a trip to Europe. Airfares are more reasonable for travel to Europe than they are to many US cities, and the hotels are about the same (but still a bit high for this value traveler).

    I took EasyJet from Barcelona to Milan. It was cheap but modeled after US budget airlines (charge for everything, including a carry-on bag, onboard beverages, etc.). They made us stand in the jetway for a half hour before letting us sit down, and then announced a delay due to a crew change. But I made it. And it is reportedly better than Ryan Air, another budget carrier, as is Vueling Airlines.

    From Malpensa Airport, take the Malpensa Express train (13 euros) to the Carbano metro stop and transfer to the M1 subway line to get to the Mercure hotel. The subway is known as the ATM; you can get an all day-pass for 7 euros.

    On the way home, I took American Airlines from Milan to JFK. The lengthy flight (7.5 hours) went over the Alps as well as the Maritimes of Canada and Boston Harbor. The meal service was good (pasta or meatballs), followed by ice cream and then a pizza snack before landing. The free wine and beer was a surprise. I am growing to like American Airlines.

    For more information
    Pick up a copy of VIVA (, which has listings of bars and restaurants throughout Italy. Don't miss Milan's Quiiky Magazine, or take a tour with Quiiky Travel ( Visit IGLTA's website for all your LGBTQ+ travel resource needs. Also check out for more information on Milan.

  • Bill Malcolm is North America's only syndicated LGBTQ value travel columnist. His columns appear or have appeared in LGBTQI+ publications in Toronto, Seattle, LA, DC, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte, Ft. Lauderdale, and other cities.