If you fancy a spot of Architecture Appreciation of an early Milan morning, might I suggest you head straight to Centrale Station where you should grab a punchy espresso to kick start your day (we loved the traditional cafe with its long bar and chandelier! Pay for your coffee at the till, give the barista your receipt, and wait for your coffee!) before being completely wowed by the rest of a building that could honestly rival the majesty of New York’s Central Station. It really is that stunning. Be prepared with your “scusas” as you walk in to countless people just taking it all in!
Whilst you are there you might as well get on a train don’t you think? If you are using Milan as a base for a few days you have plenty of locations to choose from including Verona, Venice, Padua, Mantova, Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Pavia or Rome or Florence if you fancy a slightly further destination!
We decided on Pavia, as it was easy to get to at just over 30 minutes from Milan, and cost the princely sum of €10 return first class. Are you listening English Train companies??
The journey there took us past countless rice fields with drainage ditches carving up the pancake flat agricultural landscape. It wasn’t long until we passed the breathtaking beauty of the Certosa di Pavia, probably Italy’s most noteworthy Renaissance monastery – some 7km North of the City. Mention Pavia, and this is probably what most people go and see, but the city itself is well worth a day’s exploration, and is stuffed full of history.
Pavia was known as the city of 100 towers once upon a time, not because they really needed that many towers, but because they were the status symbol between powerful Pavian families back in medieval times (apparently they loved to topple a rivals tower should they be ousted at any point!). Nowadays there are probably only 60 left, with many having been incorporated into other buildings. There are actually just 6 left intact.
To me, the medieval part of Pavia was the jewel of the crown, which, having initially taken the wrong turn out of the station and wondered briefly how on earth we were going to spend a day amongst the garages and white good shops, I was mightily relieved about. Once we were back on the right track, Pavia was a joy to explore.
Our wanderings took us through various cobbled squares and narrow alleys, down towards the covered bridge that Pavia is also famous for. Built in the 14th century, it was destroyed during the war and painstakingly rebuilt in the 1950’s. It’s famous for both that and the University of Pavia, the largest in Italy with its many colleges (a little like somewhere else I know), and also thought to be one of the oldest in Europe. There’s a University History Museum too if you want to find out more.
We happened to stumble across Piazza Della Vittoria behind the Duomo just as the sun was beginning to creep from behind the clouds, so what better excuse to sit and study the views of the third largest dome in Italy over a Spritz in the sunshine? Having hoovered up most of the accompanying aperitivi dishes, the Small People were more than happy to investigate the entire contents of Tiger (a favourite Danish shop of theirs) a few steps away, and we were able to appreciate the scenery for half an hour with the toddler happily pigeon following.
Then on to Castello Visconti. Built in 1360 as a private residence rather than a fortress, like Milan’s citadel, today it’s also home to the city’s art museums, but the grounds are worth exploring alone if you don’t fancy going in. Our brood were more than happy parrot and lizard spotting, and the tiniest of our group was completely enraptured by the tiny traditional amusement park full of local families enjoying the weather near the Castle’s entrance.
I had planned on visiting the Pasticceria Vigoni (open since 1878 and quite the building) to try one of its famous Easter Lamb cakes, but sadly we were a day or two after Easter too late. Instead we joined the throng outside the Gelateria Romano – a crowd outside an ice cream parlour is usually a good sign, and that reckoning didn’t let us down this time either. It is definitely worth a detour on the way back to the station to catch your train back to Milan… Given 100% approval by the Toddler and demolished in minutes…
Pavia was a wonderful excursion from Milan. These cities are the reason that we will never get bored of Italy…
This is the first time I am hearing about Pavia and your post blew my mind, Emma! This city is astonishing and definitely worth a visit. Is a day trip enough time to explore the place and see the main attractions?
Thanks Lydia. I think a day trip would probably be long enough to see most of the sites to be honest, but maybe two days if you want to visit the monastery up the road, and the museums here! :)
Zena's Suitcase says
What a great place to visit. I’m really impressed with the ticket price too, Europe just has a better handle on public transport doesn’t it.
It’s ridiculous in the UK. So much could be done to improve our rail travel! :D x
Nayna Kanabar says
The architecture is so beautiful, I could easily roam around all day just looking at it.
Thanks Nayna! (:
Such a shame there are only 6 towers left but what a treat to see them. Milan looks stunning and it looks like someone earned that gelato treat
Thanks so much Kara! :)
Bella at Dear Mummy Blog says
The medieval part looks the best and we’d love to do a twin city break in Pavia and Milan. My daddy has been many times before x
Thank you! Yes, the medieval part is really interesting! :)
Laura Dove says
Wow what a gorgeous place to visit! We are desperate to visit Italy, it looks stunning and all of that architecture is right up our street. Perfect for photography too!
It really is a photographer’s dream! Thanks Laura! (: x
Bryanna Skye says
I’d love to go to anywhere in Italy as I’ve never been yet, but Pavia looks so interesting!! Will add to my list of cities to visit
I think it’s probably one of my favourite countries now! Thanks Bryanna! (:
Chloe: Picture Taker Memory Maker says
I do love the incredible buildings in Italy. And just 10euros return first class for the train ticket?! That’s insane!
Me too. Thanks Chloe! (: x
When I visited Milan I focused more on visiting Venice for the day and did not consider other places like Pavia. What an incredible place and that price is Princely indeed
Thanks so much Anosa! I can understand that. Living in Munich for as long as we did, we have been lucky enough to visit Venice plenty of times though, so Pavia was a new one for us! :)
What a stunning place to explore. The train fare is so cheap too!
Thanks so much Jenni! (:
Linda Hobbis says
What an amazing place. I would love to visit Pavia. In fact I would love to visit Germany. I studied German in university up to my second year and still haven’t been!
Oh you must go Linda, it’s a really special place! (:
I’d love to go to Milan, and I didn’t realise you could get to some many different places for such a good price from there. I’d definitely have to stop at the Gelataria Romano, that’s one very happy toddler
You really can travel all over the place for relatively little money in Europe… Thanks Tanya! (:
Jenny - TraveLynn Family says
Such gorgeous photos! I’d not heard of Pavia – I need to go! Looks like a wonderful place to explore.
Thanks so much Jenny! (:
Ali - We Made This Life says
Such beautiful buildings! I think hopping on a train somewhere is such a lovely idea.
It’s much less stressful than driving at times! :D Thanks Ali!
Ting at MTM says
€10 for a return train ticket!? So ridiculous isn’t it here! Pavia looks so pretty, I love the medieval architecture and winding streets
Thanks Ting. It really is shameful how trains can be more expensive than flying somewhere in this country! :/
Pavia looks absolutely beautiful! Your photos are always amazing- and that ice cream looks like it went down a treat too:)
That’s really kind of you, thank you! :) x
Carrie - Flying With A Baby ( Family Travel) says
I loved the history of the towers when we were in Tuscany- such a huge status symbol. So many lopped with the changes of power. The castello and the gelato sound like must dos!
Can you imagine if we did that today? Thanks Carrie! (: x
This looks amazing. I have never heard of it before but I am definitely putting it on my bucket list.
Thanks so much Dannii!
Sam | North East Family Fun Travel Blog says
Gorgeous photos – I adore the cobbled streets and architecture x
Thanks Sam! Me too! :) x
Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me) says
Pavia wasn’t on my radar before, and I’m not sure why, because it looks stunning, and just the sort of historic place we like. That ice cream looks pretty tempting, too!
I can confirm both Pavia and the icecream were worth it! :D Thanks Nell x
Pavia looks amazing! Totally with you on train fares. In CA we took the train from San Jose to SF, and it cost 10 US Dollars (a similar trip/distance in the UK costs me £29!!!!).
I remember booking tickets to Manchester to London and it was cheaper to fly! Thanks Susanna! (:
Rhian westbury says
Milan is definitely on my to travel list, this looks so pretty x
Thanks Rhian! x
What a beautiful city and even better if you can see it while eating gelato!
Definitely! Thanks Leona! (:
Tanja/the Red Phone Box Travels says
Great day trip from Milano:) you’ve put Pavia on my to visit list:) I’ve been to a lot of Italian cities but since it is a big country there are still many places I’d like to explore
I have travelled Italy quite extensively, but I still have stacks more to see! :D Thanks Tanja!
Sarah Bailey says
Oh wow what an absolutely beautiful city. It seems like you had an amazing time getting to explore it as a family and that it has something to keep you all occupied!
Thanks so much Sarah! x
Hannah Swancott says
Beautiful, so many pretty spots! Milan station is so pretty isnt it, we have passed through so many times but I managed to explore properly in September, Its such a stunning building!
It is so beautiful. Thanks Hannah! :)
Life in Lilac says
I’ve never considered visiting Pavia but it looks beautiful and those towers are amazing. What was your favourite bit to explore?
Probably the medieval part! Thanks Micaela! :)
Cathy (Mummytravels) says
What a lovely place to explore – I hadn’t come across Pavia before, but for 10 Euro return, it’s much more tempting to take a day trip and explore (I wish British trains weren’t so fiendishly expensive compared to the rest of Europe). Old town towers, ice cream, history – sounds perfect.
Thanks Cathy! Me too! :) x