Spanning a full week filled with events and exhibitions from April 9-14, Milan Design Week is the largest trade show of its kind in the world. Nearly half a million visitors descend on the city to attend Salone del Mobile –which occupies 200,000 square meters in the Rho Fiera fairgrounds just outside Milan– as well as countless other events associated with Fuorisalone.
The agenda can be overwhelming, so to help you make the most of it we spoke with some seasoned experts who offer insider tips on everything from transportation to entertainment. Javiera Del Río, general manager of Open Dark, a lighting company in Santiago, Chile, attends Milan Design Week every year, as does Francois Pellan, a designer for Arik Levy in Paris. Fulvio Fratti is a Vibia sales representative born and raised in Milan.
Best Areas to Stay
Del Rio recommends accommodations close to the subway’s red (M) or blue (S) lines as those routes go to the Fiera fairgrounds. Pellan prefers staying in Chinatown –“quiet and convenience”– while Fratti suggests considering nearby Como or Bergamo. “They are nice towns and not far from Milan,” he says.
Getting Around Milan
How you choose to move about the city is critical because of the large crowds. All of our experts advise public transportation or walking, and Fratti’s preferred order is 1) walking, 2) subway, and 3) bike sharing. He also suggests taking the historic tram. “The technical name of the old model is ‘Series 1500 Carrelli,’ some of which were built in 1928 and are still working well,” he says. “There is also a Carrelli that serves as a traveling restaurant where you can eat good food and drink great wine while touring the center of Milan by night.”
Purchasing subway tickets can mean long lines, so Del Rio buys one-day passes, while Fratti gets his during off-peak hours in the subway or at less-crowded newspaper kiosks.
Traveling to Salone
Our experts urge taking the subway to and from Rho Feira –or the train, if there is a subway strike. Del Rio and Pellan suggest arriving and leaving 30-40 minutes before opening and closing to beat the morning rush at the booths and to avoid the crush of subway passengers returning to Milan in the evening.
Wearing comfortable footwear is key, according to our team, as is dressing in layers. “The best option for your feet will always be sneakers,” says Del Rio. “And choose clothing you can take off and keep in a backpack, but nothing too heavy so it doesn’t become a load to carry during the day.”
When it comes to organizing her time, Del Rio makes sure her first few days are spent visiting the brands and booths she’s most interested in, plotting her route through the fair depending on where they are located. The last few days she uses to visit anything that happened to catch her eye early on. Pellan prioritizes his customers, then the big brands, and, lastly, the smaller brands with intriguing potential. Fratti’s tried and true method? “I rely on long, preliminary study of a map. Or my favorite way: Totally random.”
Rather than collecting catalogues –heavy and easy to lose, according to Pellan– they pick up business cards and use their iPhones for note taking and photos. “I put a brochure in my backpack if it really catches my attention,” says Del Rio, “but in general, I don’t grab anything that will make it difficult for me to visit as much as possible.”
As for food at the shows, Pellan opts for a sandwich on the go before 12:30 when the lines get long. Del Rio rents an apartment in Milan, where she eats a big breakfast, brings a snack for lunch, and cooks dinner at home. “And I do drink a lot of fluids during the day,” she says.
Salone del Mobile or Fuorisalone?
Del Rio spends much of the week at Euroluce, and visits Fuorisalone in her spare time. Fratti enjoys both, but his favorite places to experience Fuorisalone are Brera, Isola, Durini, Tortona, and Lambrate.
Aside from the many design parties taking place at night, the dining options are plentiful. Pellan starts the evening with an aperitivo in the Navigli neighborhood, followed by a traditional Neapolitan pizza, and capped off with ice cream as he strolls the city. “In Milan you can find anything you want,” says Fratti, who cites the multitude of Italian restaurants, as well as Korean, Japanese, Indian, and African options. “Eataly could be the best place to start.”