What's it really like?
Many people come to Italy for its past and its traditions: Roman ruins, grand cathedrals, sleepy cliffside villages that feel frozen in time. Milan, however, is the Italy of the future. Bold, modern architecture and avant-garde fashion sets this city apart from more historic cities like Florence and Rome, but don’t worry: classic Italian elegance can still be found in grand villas, cathedrals, and galleries throughout the city.
All of Italy’s most cutting-edge high culture can be found in Milan, from international fashion houses to world-class opera. This polished feel extends to the city’s gay nightlife, which is expansive and sophisticated. Classy cocktail bars, high-concept cruise clubs, and large parties with world-class production values are all staples of the gay scene, with a generous sprinkling of more casual, low-key, and kitschy venues thrown in for fun.
Unsurprisingly for a city famed for its sense of fun and style, gay Milan is Italy’s biggest gay hub. The city’s gay life is centered around the Porta Venezia neighborhood, specifically down Via Lecco. This street houses some of the city’s most popular gay bars, like LeccoMilano, Red Cafe, and MONO, and is also the central hub of Milan’s Pride Week. During the summer, when most of the city’s big gay parties are closed, nearby Giardini Indro Montanelli Park houses a gay pop-up bar that’s one of the city’s hottest meeting points.
Other gay venues can be found spread across the city, especially saunas and large clubs. Several clubs are grouped to the south of town, including Patchouli Cafe, Wonder, Glitter Club, and Club Plastic. In the Northeast, close to Milano Centrale station, you’ll find gay clubbing institutions like TRACK (home to the biggest gay parties in town) and La Boum (a popular Friday night option), as well as most of the city’s saunas and cruise clubs. The latter tend to focus on the hardcore fetish side of things, but there are also some more laid-back options.
Milan’s metro network is efficient and has good coverage, so it’s pretty easy to explore the full range of the local gay scene. We recommend staying close to Porta Venezia to make the most of the gay Milan village, while remaining under a 20-minute metro ride to most tourist destinations and more remote gay venues. Porto Venezia also happens to be the best neighborhood in town for shopping, with Corso Buenos Aires – the longest shopping street in the city – a short walk away.
Milan is perhaps Italy’s most refined and sophisticated city, home of high fashion, cutting-edge design, and impressive architecture. It is also the largest business hub in the country, and these factors can lead to steep rates, especially during peak tourism season and when major conventions are in town.
Most gay travelers book hotels in the Northeast of the city center, where most of gay Milan converges – specifically, the Old Town and the area surrounding Porta Venezia. The focal point of this neighborhood is Corso Buenos Aires, a shopper’s paradise containing the highest concentration of clothing stores in Europe. If you’re in town to shop and party, this has to be where you stay in Milan.
Italy is relatively progressive in terms of its attitude to LGBT rights, but it does lag behind other Western countries in certain areas. Gay marriage is not yet legal in the country, and neither is same-sex adoption. The laws regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity are also less developed than in many other European countries.
However, there is some evidence that public opinion is ahead of legislation in this area. The country ranked 8th in the world in a 2013 poll in terms of acceptance of homosexuality and data shows that this is continuously improving.
Milan is probably Italy’s most modern and liberal city – as such, gay couples here can be more at ease than they would be in some other more conservative tourist destinations. This is especially the case in Porta Venezia, where gay displays of affection are fairly common and unlikely to draw any attention.
Getting an HIV test in Milan is fairly straightforward. The easiest place to go is Amb. Malattie a Trasmissione Sessuale (ATS) near Lancetti station, which is under 20 minutes by Metro from Porta Venezia. Testing is free and confidential for everyone. If you’re worried about the language barrier, MedinAction offers a house call service with English-speaking staff.
HIV incidence in Italy is comparatively low, even for European standards. Nonetheless, you should be careful and practice safe sex in all your encounters in Milan.
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