Confession: after moving to the north of Italy over a year ago, I still hadn't explored Milan.
You know how it is: you arrive in a new city, you get comfortable in the tourist center, and you kinda just, well, stay there. Schlepping along with the usual tourist fare. People speaking to you like you're just passing by. Never really getting out and finding your own spot. After all, where do you go?
So, I found myself in that terrible limbo. And I hated it. There is nothing worse than living in a place and feeling like a tourist. It just doesn’t feel like home still.
But the question remained: how do I find these coveted, non-touristy spots? Where can I strike out and make my own corner in Milan? I live outside the city, and I didn't know anyone there to show me the way. But I desperately needed more-- and much more real-- things to do in Milan.
So, I took a tour.
I can understand what you might be thinking. Tours are kinda lame. Full of old folks and dad-type dudes wearing socks with sandals in the middle of the city. Chained to the worst, most touristed spots in the city, going to the most obvious tourist-trappy restaurants.
I get it. That ain’t me either.
But, as it turns out, not all are so bland.
When I came across Withlocals, I immediately knew it was more for me. Offering lots of different choices for tours-- from personalized fashion tours to guided tours of the city-- I felt like it had that missing link I had been looking for.
Led, organized, and personalised completely by a local (not some stuffy tour operator!) and totally one-on-one, you find yourself around the city with a true blue native.
An actual local bringing you around the places they go to normally? Now this was what I needed.
So I booked an aperitivo tour-- I mean, let's be real, I wanna know where I can get good food with some awesome drinks on the weekend. And it did not disappoint!
When we got to the meeting point at the Constantine Statue in front of the Colonne di San Lorenzo, the sky was grey and thunder was already rumbling in the distance.
But Francesco, our amazing guide, was already there waiting for us.
Though he offered to reschedule our tour-- a huge plus for those disinterested in getting wet on their tour!!-- we decided to press on anyway. And Francesco was quick to come up with a plan B off the top of his head, another plus of hitting the city with someone who truly knows it.
Rain starting to fall, we started off with a nice prosecco-to-go in the piazza-- a true tradition of the lively and popular Navigli, Francesco tells us. And definitely a tradition I can get behind!
As we walked from the piazza to behind the Basilica and through a park, Francesco is quick to answer my tons and tons of questions about Milan. I know nothing about Milan, after all. He tells us all about Navigli, possibly the coolest, most frequented area in Milan, and I'm already feeling right at home in the area.
By this point, it was pouring. Most tours would have cancelled by now, but Francesco leads us on with a smile. He knows just the spot nearby to have an aperitivo. He explains it's not where he wanted to take us, but, the sky absolutely opening up, we're happy to get inside.
And it's still amazing!
The bar is a charming spot with good music, lots of space to relax, dim lights, and strong drinks-- everything you really want in a place.
And the best part? There's not a tourist or a flashing camera in sight. The sound of Italian permeates the atmosphere, which is music to my ears after too much time spent near the Duomo. For a rainy option B, the place is amazing.
So I figure that Francesco must do a lot of these tours, and that he must be a tour guide for a living.
"No," he corrects me as we grab another plate of the delicious aperitivo snacks, "this is actually the first tour I've done."
Could have fooled me.
As he tells me to sample the pugliese pasta, he explains that really he's a musician and an actor, and that he just gives tours in his free time. And it's awesome having a tour guide that isn't really a tour guide. It was so much more authentic. After another drink, Francesco felt like an old friend that we happened to meet while out in Milan for the day.
As we stuff our faces with more delicious food and the rain pours on, Francesco tells us that each tour is personalized by the guide. So, no one tour is ever the same-- it's always a new experience. I ask Francesco what he likes most about Milan.
"The opportunities here, of course. You can be whoever you want to be. You can do what we you want to do. You can do anything in Milan!"
Having thoroughly enjoyed the food and drinks, and the rain winding down, we part ways out on the street in the now buzzing Friday night in Navigli. Having gotten to know the area better with a true Milanese, I think about what he had said: you can really do anything in Milan.
And with that thought in mind, I took back off into the streets, vowing silently to never set foot back in the awful tourist center again. For once, Milan finally felt like it was mine. I finally felt home. I finally felt like I knew where I was, and like I had the keys I needed to see more.
To be the local I really am now.
Sometimes, all you really need is a friendly face, a chat, and a short walk with someone who is the city. Next time you're feeling like you're trapped like a tourist in a new city, call a local.
Psssst… Can’t wait to discover Milan like a local? Spotahome & Withlocals want to welcome you with a 10% discount on any Withlocals experience in town! What are you waiting for? Visit Withlocals and insert this coupon "SPOTAHOME_MilanPostPromotion" in the payment section. It's the best way to discover your new home :)
And if you still don't have a place to live, Spotahome has great apartments and room in Milan.