Milan is the second largest city in Italy after Rome and the capital of Lombardy.
It is located in the Po Valley and is therefore characterized by a mild Mediterranean climate with warm summers and moderately cold winters.
Founded 400 BC by the Celts, Milan was conquered by the Romans in 222 BC and repeatedly plundered and destroyed during the Barbarian Invasions. From 774 on Milan belonged to the Frankish Empire and became a city-state. In 1162 it was destroyed completely by Frederick Barbarossa. After reconstruction, a golden age followed, and under the noble family of the Sforza Milan became one of the leading cities of the Italian Renaissance. The Sforza brought Leonardo da Vinci to the city, who worked at their court for nearly 20 years and in that period produced some of his most famous works.
In the 16th century Milan fell into Spanish hands, after the War of Spanish Succession it was awarded to Austria in 1714, until finally in 1859 the Italian Kingdom began to emerge. In the age of industrialization Milan became one of the first strongholds of the labor movement. During World War II Milan suffered heavy destruction as center of the Italian defense industry. In the 1980s it became an economically thriving metropolis, leading especially in the fields of fashion, design and media.
Four times a year the Milan Fashion Week takes place. Over the course of one week the world's most prestigious fashion labels present their latest collections in elaborate catwalk presentations. When it comes to men's fashion, Milan is setting the tone ahead of Paris, New York and London. If you want to buy some of the works presented, it's best to go to Via Montenapoleone, the most exclusive shopping street in Milan, where all the famous Italian and international fashion designers have their flagship stores.
For art and culture lovers Milan has plenty to offer, too. Lovers of architecture should visit the Milan Cathedral, the third largest church in the world. Built in Gothic style, it is an exception within Italian architecture. Particularly impressive are its colorful glass windows and the nearly 4,000 statues on top of the cathedral, of which La Madonnina – a four-meter high gilded statue of the Madonna – even became Milan's landmark.
For opera lovers, we recommend visiting the Scala, the most famous opera house in the world, where the biggest stars of the opera world have performed and are still performing, from the divine Maria Callas to Placido Domingo. Since it is nearly impossible to get one of the coveted tickets for a performance, and individual visits are not allowed, you should take part in a guided tour to gain access to the impressive interior.
Milan also has the biggest gay scene in the whole of Northern Italy. The bars and clubs are scattered all over Milan, but there are no particular gay areas. You might have read about a so-called ›Gay Street‹, but that's just 3–4 gay venues close to each other in Via Sammartini and can not be considered the gay center of Milan.
As elsewhere in Italy, a membership card is required for all gay cruise bars and saunas in Milan, usually the ONE PASS card or the Arcigay card. In Milan, that card is also required for some of the gay parties. If you don't have an ONE PASS card or Arcigay card yet, you can usually acquire it at the entrance of the venues that require the card. (For foreigners 8 € for 1 month. When you acquire the card, you need to show your photo ID; after that you only need the membership card.)