An unfashionable traveller in fashionable Milan

I was lost in a city unlike any other I’d ever been to before, a city in which high fashion is a religion and even homeless people dress better than I do.

I was in Milan and I was not enjoying myself.

Fashionable Milan, Italy

If travel is about leaving your comfort zone in pursuit of a new and unique perspective on life, then that’s exactly what I got in Milan, Italy’s capital of fashion and glamour.

Wandering around in my shorts and t-shirt, jandals flip-flopping on my feet, I wasn’t marvelling so much at the wonderful Italian architecture as I was at the city’s funky bars and cafes, outside of which seemingly hundreds of models were sipping on espresso.

I was a stranger in a strange land, an unfashionable traveller in one of the world’s foremost capitals of fashion and style. And I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

All style and no substance – or just an acquired taste? Surely there had to be more to Milan than fashion?

Milan's famous Duomo stands proud

If Milan was a film it would be A Single Man, the 2009 Academy Award-winning film directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, and if it was a pop singer it would probably be Lady Gaga.

That’s not to say that it’s necessarily bad – just that it was never meant for me.

I’d be happier taking my chances on the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City than take a stroll through Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, cracking my neck  to look up at just another impressive European cathedral – as spectacular as it undoubtedly is (pictured above).

And I’d far rather explore Naples in southern Italy, a city not known for giving a great first impression, but one that’s rich in colour and fiery Italian passion.

Feeding the pigeons in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo

The food in Milan is excellent, of course – as is the shopping. One could easily lose his or her head in a whirlwind of pizza and pasta, new season collections and elegant shop displays. Indeed, Milan could very well be Disneyland for some people.

Surprisingly, for a place that puts fashion on a pedestal Milan certainly isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing city in Italy; in fact, of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples only the latter would be an uglier city than Milan.

Shops and cathedrals abound but Milan is remarkably lacking in greenery, trees and grass seemingly eschewed in favour of stone and concrete.

It’s a city of fashion, then, but it’s not the most fashionable city in all of Italy – at least where this traveller is concerned. It may not have been my favourite flavour of gelato but it may well be yours.

Interestingly, the Italians have a proverb that says “Rome is like a voluptuous woman whose gifts are very apparent, while Milan is the shy, demure girl whose treasures are plentiful but discovered in time”.

They might have a point.

About Simon Petersen 504 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.


  1. I adored Milan. I went in March – it was cold and it was Easter so very quiet… but it was lovely. It’s the only place in Europe ever did an organized city tour. You know the ones…. with the guide walking around with a microphone and stick with a streamer on it for hearding sheep!

    I found it beautiful. I loved the architecture and the fashionable locals. The absolute best thing (and the only reason I took the tour) was seeing Da Vinci’s Last Supper in situ. Breathtaking. Literally. The guide told us not to breathe too much in the room! Did you see it?

    • I do know the kind of tour you’re talking of but I have to say I’ve never done one, although I can think of many a time when it would have been a great way to see a place! Haha, that does sound like a breathtaking experience

  2. This post made me think of my first trip to Italy years ago. My friend and I were planning on ending our trip in Milan, but then a guy we met at a hostel in Florence told us Milan was too fashionable for backpackers and we should go to Cinque Terre instead. This ended up being extremely sound advice as Cinque Terre remains one of my most favorite places in the world, however when I finally made it to Milan, it wasn’t quite as fashionable as I was expecting. Granted, it was very fashion-centered, so I think I’d really overhyped it in my mind. 🙂

    • I haven’t been to Cinque Terre – just Italy’s largest cities plus the Amalfi Coast – but I’d really like to. As for Milan, it’s definitely not the most backpacker-friendly place in Italy…

  3. I am not the most fashionable person, preferring to spend my money on travelling and other important things rather than clothes, but I really love Milan. I lived there for a year, and it’s definitely true that you have to get to know it. There are some very beautiful areas as well as beautiful people! Naples and Milan at probably my favourite places in Italy – and I’ve been to quite a few! When I tell people to go to Milan, I always tell them not to expect a normal Italian city and I suppose Naples is a bit like that too but for different reasons. I do hate the way people talk about Naples- as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best cities in the world! I’m glad you like it there!

    • Wow, great comment! Naples and Milan feel like two Italian cities at opposite ends of the spectrum, which makes it interesting that they’re your two favourites. And they’re probably the two cities in Italy that you really do need to spend a little bit of time in to get to know.

  4. I love this short snappy post Simon. I once wore crocs in Paris so I’d say that’s on par with jandals in Milan!

    Anyhow the pigeons are ok with your choice of style!

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