Forget la dolce vita; Milan is more Berlin than Rome. It's a city where even the flowing, romantic Italian language is clipped and to the point. This is the commercial capital of the country and the fashion capital of the world.
Milan blends the best of northern and southern Europe, bringing together the world's greatest cuisine with a ruthless, businesslike efficiency. Go in with a bulging wallet and an open mind and come out with designer gear and a full belly.
A comfortable bed
In such a fashionable city, you'd expect some stylish sleeping options, and Milan delivers. Armani Hotel occupies an entire block in a leafy street at the edge of the fashion boutique neighbourhood. Each of the 95 rooms was designed by Giorgio himself, and they are some of the largest in the city (www.armanihotels.com; 00 39 02 8883 8888; double from €495 [Dh2,850] including taxes).
For a prettier option, Hotel Maison Moschino is built in a converted neoclassical railway station dating from 1840 (www.maisonmoschino.com; 00 39 02 2900 9858; double from €180 [Dh1,000] including taxes). And Bulgari's take on a good night's sleep comes complete with a 4,000-square-metre green space hidden behind the facade of the 18th-century former palace (www.bulgarihotels.com; 00 39 02 8058 051; double from €530 [Dh3,000] including taxes).
Find your feet
Start your day by ordering a marocchino (a Milanese-style espresso with a dash of cocoa) at one of the outdoor tables on the tree-lined Corso Sempione. Take a walk through the beautiful Parco Sempione to the 14th-century Castello Sforzesco, one of the biggest citadels in Europe and now home to Michelangelo's last sculpture. From the other side of the castle, jump on the legendary tram Number 1 for a trip back in time (these single-car wooden vehicles have been trundling along this route since the 1920s). Get off at the Armani building (home to the hotel, boutique and cafe), and head down any of the side streets into the quadrilatero d'oro (golden rectangle), the fashionable heart of the city, where every pavement looks like a catwalk.
A few blocks south is La Scala, one of the world's finest opera houses (you can pick up last-minute bargain tickets from the nearby box office). Opposite is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, two magnificent glass-covered arcades that form a 19th century shopping centre. Walk through to reach the Duomo, the white stone Gothic cathedral that is the one of the world's largest churches. Get the lift to the top for views across the whole city.
From the south-eastern corner of the Piazza del Duomo, take Via Torino and you'll see Milan starting to relax. More Benetton than Prada, this is where the city's cool young things come to play.
Meet the locals
While the tourists while away their evenings drinking €10 (Dh45) coffees at tables on the Piazza del Duomo, Italians are more likely to head down to the canals. By day, there are quirky little shops selling vintage clothes and second hand records. By night, the waterside turns into a open-air party with live music and street food. On the last Sunday of every month, Milan's best antiques market sets up stalls here.
Book a table
Milan may not be known for its cuisine, but since the population comes from every corner of Italy, you can find some great regional fare. Rugantino (www.ristoranterugantino.it; 00 39 02 8942 1404; meal for two around €60 [Dh272]) is the place to try specialities from Rome, like cacio e pepe, a simple pasta dish made with tonnarelli and pecorino cheese.
Some say the best pizza in the world can be found at SPIB (00 39 02 603 536; meal for two around €40 [Dh181]). It's out in the suburbs, but worth the journey for a massive, Neapolitan-style pizza.
For something a bit more local, head to the 1930s-style Alla Cucina Della Langhe on Corso Como (www.trattoriaallelanghe.com; 00 39 02 655 4279; meal for two around €80 [Dh362]) for Piemontese dishes such as breaded veal cutlets and tajarin pasta with ragu, Parmesan and brown butter.
After dinner, try Riva Reno (www.rivareno.com; 00 39 02 8940 8459) for the lightest, fluffiest ice cream you'll ever taste.
The quadrilatero d'orois home to many of Italy's most prestigious fashion labels. Don't miss the nearby 10 Corso Como (www.10corsocomo.com; 00 39 02 653 531), a concept store founded by a former Vogue editor. As well as clothes and accessories from a range of brands, there is a bookshop, art gallery and a restaurant set in a tree-covered courtyard.
Don't come to Milan looking for bargains. You may find a few discounts in La Rinascente (www.rinascente.it; 00 39 02 88521), the massive department store opposite the Duomo, but you'll have to head out of town to find the best deals. Fox Town, 40 minutes north of Milan just over the Swiss border, has three kilometres of shop windows and 250 brands selling last season's outfits at bargain prices (www.foxtown.ch; 00 41 848 828 888).
What to avoid
Caffe Cova is one of Milan's oldest coffee houses. During its golden era in the early 19th century, it was the meeting place for the Milanese elite. These days, the place trades on its history: it's all gold and bow ties with service as starchy as the waiters' collars. Cova is not the place to go for a good espresso.
Before you leave Milan, stock up on Italian treats at Peck (www.peck.it; 00 39 02 802 3161), just behind the Duomo. This deli has ingredients from across northern Italy. Pick up some Gorgonzola, the city's most famous cheese, and panettone, a Milanese sweetbread made with candied orange and raisin and served with mascarpone. But the best-kept secret is its daily aperitivo buffet: buy a single drink and then help yourself to as much of the wonderful food as you can.
Etihad (www.etihad.com) flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Milan from Dh3,210 return including taxes. The flight takes six hours.