The Brera district in Milan is one of the most fascinating in my beloved adoptive city. I’ll tell you about the things to see and do, as well as some places to eat!
According to this post from the Expedia magazine that I recently read, the Brera district in Milan has a romantic and bohemian nature. I very much agree! The artists’ district of Milan is truly suggestive; although it is often invaded by tourists and not only, it remains a truly fascinating neighborhood; at certain times it is quieter and it is there that all its magic comes out: from its narrow streets, from its elegant buildings and from those glimpses that you do not expect as soon as you turn the corner.
I love walking around Milan and lately I go to Brera more and more often because its atmosphere fascinates me : there is always some detail to discover, can you ever really say you know this district of Milan well? Maybe not, but I write this post as completely as possible to help you find your way through its narrow streets: don’t miss anything, except yourself!
Brera district: where is it?
The Brera district is located in the heart of Milan, about ten minutes walk from the Duomo; indeed, some even bring the Teatro alla Scala back into the neighborhood. However, Brera itself tends to be bordered by Via Pontaccio and Via Fatebenefratelli to the north, Via dei Giardini to the east, Via Monte di Pietà and Via dell’Orso to the south, Via Ponte Vetero and Via Mercato to the west. Often the Brera district is “ideologically” combined with that of Moscova and Corso Garibaldi, immediately adjacent to the north.
Brera district: how it was, how it is
The neighborhood takes its name from Via Brera, the main artery of the area; Brera, in turn, is a name that derives from braida , which many translate as uncultivated land, moor. However, I read somewhere that, in reality, braida was referring to suburban lands, the most fertile of all … the fact is that the Brera area was once outside the city proper. It was in this area, on the edge of the inhabited center, that the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria had the Academy of Fine Arts built, founded in 1776. Just two years later, the inauguration of the nearby Teatro alla Scala dates back. Over the centuries the neighborhood has expanded and populated, and the presence of the Academy has transformed Brera into a “cultural district”,a neighborhood of artists, students and intellectuals who have made it truly fascinating, elegant and a place of great creativity . Today this liveliness is also embodied by the Brera Design District project and is found in the art and antiques shops, in the streets with particular names, in the bohemian-looking squares and in the craft market that takes place in the alleys. di Brera every third Sunday of the month (except in August), where you can find antiques and modern antiques, glass and porcelain, prints and costume jewelery… a bit of everything!
An itinerary through the streets of the Brera district in Milan: what to see
Brera is to be explored strictly on foot : not only because many of its most beautiful streets are pedestrianized, but also because it is only by walking that you discover interesting cafes, shops with crazy windows, hidden corners of greenery and all the characteristic atmosphere of Brera. I propose a complete itinerary that starts from Piazza della Scala, a stone’s throw from the Duomo, and ends in Lanza, from where you can take the metro for other explorations or continue the walk to Parco Sempione or to Corso Garibaldi and beyond.
Via Brera and Palazzo Cusani
Starting from the Scala, take Via Giuseppe Verdi which, on the next block, will turn into Via Brera: you have entered the heart of the neighborhood! Along Via Brera you will find many interesting shops (such as Rigadritto and the Crespi workshop, or the modern art gallery Il Castello), but also Palazzo Citterio and Palazzo Cusani : one of the few expressions of Milanese Baroque, the latter was built in the seventeenth century by family of the same name, while the marvelous and sumptuous facade dates back to 1719. Today, the building houses the Military Command of Milan.
I believe that you cannot discover the Brera district in Milan without first having known its flagship ! The current palace complex is located in the braida where, in the thirteenth century, the church of Santa Maria was located, part of the convent of the Umiliati. In 1571, the convent was assigned to the Jesuits, who founded a college here; It is to them that we owe, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the current appearance of the building with the exterior in bricks and stones, according to an initial renovation designed by Francesco Maria Richini. When the Society of Jesus broke up, in 1773 the structure passed to the State becoming a “royal palace”, and the empress asked the architect Giuseppe Piermarini to renovate the complex with the aim of founding hereone of the most advanced cultural institutes in the city of Milan .
Even if you don’t have time to visit even one of the palace’s attractions (which is a shame !!), allow yourself 5 minutes to enter at least its internal courtyard , embellished by a wonderful portico and with the Napoleon I Monument in the center. in hand the winged victory, made by Antonio Canova in the early 1800s.
– the Brera Art Gallery
Born in parallel with the Academy with didactic purposes, the Pinacoteca di Brera was one of the first public museums of Italian art, founded in 1776. It began with the collection of works from the conquered territories during the Napoleonic period; today, it is an ancient and modern art gallery that houses one of the largest and most prestigious artistic collections in Italy , with pieces covering several centuries of art and with an eye to the Lombard and Venetian schools. Frescoes, Gothic paintings, Renaissance Ferrara, Emilia and Marche, works by Bramante, Raphael, Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Rembrandt, the famous Kiss by Hayez … about 40 rooms of pure and eternal beauty!Even a brief visit takes about two hours, because the gallery is large and certain works inevitably require a few seconds of admiration. So plan some time for the visit… believe me, it’s really worth it!
– the Braidense National Library
It was established in 1770 by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, it is located on the first floor of the building and contains about one and a half million units, including books, manuscripts, periodicals, prints, photographs, microfilms and more: it is therefore the third library Italian for wealth of heritage . Unless you register and start studying there (maybe !!), the parts that can be visited are those of the atrium (with seventeenth-century shelves and frescoes on the ceiling) and the monumental hall, or Sala Maria Teresa, also in this case designed by Piermarini and dedicated to the empress (of which there is a huge portrait above the entrance). The room is truly spectacular, with the walls entirely covered with ancient books, a terrestrial globe dating back to 1829 and two marvelous Bohemian crystal chandeliers hanging from the frescoed ceiling. If you are lucky you can visit one of the small temporary exhibitions set up in the hall from time to time! I’m just showing you a few photos here, but I was able to photograph like every square inch of this room
-Observatory and Astronomical Museum
The historic Brera Astronomical Observatory (OAB) is located on the roof of the homonymous building and is part of the INAF (National Institute of Astrophysics) circuit. It is the oldest scientific institution in Milan, with the first observations made in the mid-1700s ; even if today most of the observing activities have been moved to the detachment of Merate, in Brianza (where Margherita Hack also worked for about ten years), it is really interesting to visit the historic Schiaparelli Dome , which has remained intact since 1800, and the Museum, which houses several ancient astronomical instruments. I took the guided tour just last week and I found it very interesting: the astronomer who guided us knows a lot of things and the visit ranges from history to astronomy to the future of our planet … a couple of hours a lot instructive!
-Botanical Garden of Brera
The story is always the same: the old Jesuit garden passed into the hands of the State at the time of the Empress Maria Theresa, who transformed it into a Botanical Garden with an educational and training purpose, still intact today. Today the garden is under the management of the University of Milan, which has maintained its original layout. In my opinion it could be a bit more refined than it is, but this “decadence” makes it almost more fascinating ; and in any case it is certainly always pleasant to stop in this corner of green where it really does not even seem to be in the center of Milan, perhaps to rest under the tall lime tree or the ginkgo biloba! The garden can also be reached from a second entrance, at the end of the elegant Via Fratelli Gabba, where the Bulgari Hotel is also located.
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
As I said before, in my opinion the best thing about the Brera district in Milan is literally getting lost in it; but if you prefer order, keep following my itinerary! Once you have left the Palazzo, retrace your steps for a few meters and take the small Via del Carmine , until you reach the beautiful Piazza del Carmine . Here you will find some bars and the particular bronze statue of the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, called Grande Toscano but known by many as Petto in mezzo . The star of the square is obviously the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Milanese headquarters of the Carmelites, built between 1339 and 1400 and partially restored in the 17th century. The façade, from 1880, is in Lombard Gothic style and was designed by Carlo Maciachini, the same architect of the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.
Among the most evocative streets of the Brera district in Milan
At this point the time has come to throw yourself headlong into the narrow streets of Brera , with their cobblestones, the flowers on the balconies and the railing buildings where I would so much like to go and live one day. You could take Via Madonnina , go back along Via San Carpoforo (the deconsecrated church of the same name is located at the end of the street) and take a small piece of Via Mercato to admire the shop windows of Torriani, the historic costume and accessories shop for carnival; then take my favorite street in Brera, Via Fiori Chiari , and continue on its opposite, Via Fiori Oscuri; here, towards the end, there is also the historic Antica Farmacia di Brera, which was once owned by the famous pharmacist Carlo Erba. Other very nice streets of Brera on which to stroll a little aimlessly are Via Melone , Via Ciovasso and Via Ciovassino .
The Perego Gardens
Turn right onto the elegant Via Borgonuovo and then, at the end, take a left onto Via dei Giardini ; you will soon find yourself at the entrance of the small and green Giardini Perego . Once, when they belonged to the family of the same name, they were much larger than now and looked like a typical English garden. With the new master plan of 1934 they were destined to disappear, but they were partially saved and today they are a small corner of greenery and relaxation , perfect for resting a bit between a walk and the other in the Brera district in Milan!
The Basilica of San Marco
Continuing on Via dell’Annunciata and then Via Fatebenefratelli , you will find yourself in the small Piazza San Marco , a historic place in Milan. Here is the Basilica of San Marco , built in 1254 but renovated in the seventeenth century (interior) and in the nineteenth century (facade, also by Maciachini). Take a leap inside: the aisles are 96 meters long and the right one is adorned with chapels with wonderful frescoes.
Beyond the borders of the Brera district
Let’s say that here we are on the northern border of Brera, but the promenade can stretch even further along other streets that are unofficially part of the neighborhood. Via Solferino is a very nice one and from here you can take Via Ancona, which then becomes Via dei Cavalieri del Santo Sepolcro , a small corner where you really don’t seem to be in Milan. At the end of the street, on the right, is Piazza di San Simpliciano , which overlooks the small window of one of my favorite literary cafes in Milan: the Libreria del Mondo Offeso. Also take a tour inside the Basilica of San Simpliciano, built on a pagan cemetery of the third century and commissioned, as it is said, by Sant’Ambrogio himself. San Simpliciano also preserves a precious treasure: a wonderful cloister, called the Chiostro Grande , dating back to the sixteenth century and unfortunately only open on a few days a year. I was able to see it only beyond a glass, I hope to be able to enter it sooner or later!
From here, then, you could go anywhere, and continue towards Lanza and the Piccolo Teatro, go up along Corso Garibaldi and wander around the area of Via Moscova and Largo La Foppa.
Some curiosities of the Brera district
Here are some random curiosities that I discovered during my wanderings in the Brera district in Milan!
-Inside the Church of San Marco there is an ancient organ : the oldest in Lombardy and the second in Italy. Just think that it was also played by Mozart , who lived next door for about three months! And it is also here that Giuseppe Verdi conducted the first of the Requiem Mass , dedicated to Alessandro Manzoni.
-The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine also has its curiosities: inside here is the statue of Sant’Espedito in an unequivocal attitude: with one foot he crushes a crow to which the word cras (tomorrow) is linked , while holding up a cross with hodie (today) written on it . The meaning lies in not postponing to tomorrow what can be done today, and that is why Espedito is the saint of quick and urgent graces ! It is the students, in particular, who come here and ask for a quick grace, perhaps for a particularly difficult exam
-Speaking of a completely different subject… it seems that Brera has been for many years a red light district among the most sought after in Milan and Italy! It is said that already at the time of Sant’Ambrogio there were various brothels in the streets of the area, and even that, in 1176, it was the beauty of a young prostitute that made Barbarossa’s troops fall in love, delaying the invasion of the city! The boom, however, was in the 1950s, with several houses located mainly along Via San Carpoforo. Each house had its own price list, the services cost up to fifty lire!
-Also in the Brera district in Milan there are several expressions of the Liberty style . If you are passionate about it, include in your itinerary some goodies in the immediate vicinity of the neighborhood: the Civic Aquarium on the edge of Parco Sempione (born as a pavilion for the universal exhibition), Casa Verga (Via Legnano 26) and the buildings in Via Lovanio . In Via Solferino there is one of the main expressions of Milan’s industrial Liberty: the Corriere della Sera Foundation , in Via Solferino 26.
-The modern history of Brera follows that of Bar Jamaica , the historic bar located in Via Brera. It was inaugurated in 1911 and, having an espresso machine and a telephone, it immediately began to be frequented by the most prominent men of the time . Among them Benito Mussolini, the musician Giulio Confalonieri (to whom we owe the name of the bar, inspired by the film by Hitchcock Jamaica Inn ), Lucio Fontana, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Salvatore Quasimodo and many others.
Some suggestions on where to eat in the Brera district in Milan
The Milan tourism site talks about the Brera district as for happy hour lovers or just for lovers . For sure Brera is a romantic corner of Milan, but also with the Milanese aperitif and, in general, with all the meals of the day, it really knows how to do it ! I love going to Brera on spring or summer evenings, when the cobbled streets are filled with people and tables in the outdoor areas, between a whimsical window and a sorceress who reads the cards or the lines of the hand. But even during the day Brera really leaves you spoiled for choice in terms of food! I have not tried the clubs in Via Fiori Chiari and Via Brera, just outside the Pinacoteca, because they have always seemed a bit too touristy to me. And then there are still a thousand clubs that I would like to try,but in the meantime I recommend the ones I know!
For a quick and tasty lunch or snack there are the bakeries (which are, in reality, much more!): Princi , Panarello , Pattini . Panini Durini is for a good sandwich on the go, California Bakery is perfect for brunch or a yummy avocado toast, while Temakinho is the place to go to try Japanese-Japanese cuisine, at the height of creativity. The Jamaica Bar is for a coffee in a historic place, the bar dell’Hotel Bulgari for an aperitif in an exceptional location. In Corso Garibaldi and its surroundings there are many places: the Cotoletteriato taste a Milanese doc, Pescetto to taste some fresh fish that comes directly from the on-site fish market, Botega Cafè Cacao for a super tasty snack. On a side street you find Tigella’s , where I recently went for a feast of tigelle, fried dumplings and cold cuts. Around San Simpliciano you will find the bar of the Libreria del Mondo Offeso , Tramé for a classic or whimsical sandwich, Santu Paulu for a plate of orecchiette or a pasticciotto. If you like a hamburger I recommend Fatto Bene , near San Marco. Think you really need a cupcake or a macaron to keep fueling? Then go toOf licorice violets , in Via della Madonnina; while, for an ice cream, there are Amorino’s cones .
– How to get to the Brera district in Milan : Brera is easily reachable from the Duomo area of Milan or from the Sforzesco Castle (about 10 minutes on foot in both cases). The neighborhood is surrounded by several underground stops that allow you to reach it in a few minutes on foot: the closest is Lanza (MM2 Verde), but there are also Moscova (MM2 Verde), Cairoli and Cordusio (MM1 Rossa), Duomo ( MM1 Red and MM3 Yellow), Montenapoleone and Turati (MM3 Yellow). Convenient tram lines: 1, 2, 4, 12, 14. Convenient bus lines: 57, 61, 94.
– Brera Art Gallery : the art gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays, January 1, May 1 and December 25), from 08.30 to 19.15, with last admission at 18.40. Every first and third Thursday of the month, the closing is postponed to 22.15 (with last admission at 21.40). The ticket has a cost of € 10/7 full / reduced. Admission is free every first Sunday of the month, € 2 on the first Thursday of the month from 18.00 to 22-15 and € 3 on the third Thursday of the month at the same times.
– Biblioteca Braidense : the library is located on the first floor of Palazzo Brera: after crossing the courtyard, go straight along the corridor and you will find the stairs to go up to your left. Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 08.30 to 18.20, Saturday from 09.00 to 13.50. Admission is free.
–Osservatorio e Museo Astronomico : the Schiaparelli Dome and the Gallery of Ancient Instruments can be visited together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2.00 pm, with a guided tour (lasting 60/90 minutes) and without an appointment, with guaranteed admission until exhaustion places. The visit costs € 5. It is also possible to visit only the museum (Gallery of Ancient Instruments), in this case with free offer and from Monday to Friday, from 09.00 to 16.30.
– Orto Botanico di Brera : open from Monday to Saturday from 10.00 to 18.00 (from April to October), from 09.30 to 16.30 in the other months. Closed on Sundays, public holidays and the closing days of the Academy. Admission is free.