A few days in Milan thanks to AI

Is AI changing the way we travel? It's a question on many people’s lips, and is particularly an issue for travel agents. But as JENNY PIPER shares, the robots are only going to get smarter, so why not use them?

LET me tell you about my recent trip to Milan. I had the chance to have a few days in this famous Italian city before a work commitment in Venice. Usually when I travel to a new place I do a bit of research about the destination. A Google search of ‘What to see in Milan’ for example will bring up things like Tripadvisor or Getyourguide – all of which are sponsored of course, and wanting to sell me a tour of some sort. I have a bit of a system when travelling to a new city in particular, which has done me well. The first thing I do is take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I find this is a great way to orient yourself to a new place. You can just stay on for a general overview and then come back for further exploration, or hop off at particular spots that take your interest. 

This visit to Milan was different. I thought I’d give AI a go. So – I went to ChatGPT and asked what to do in Milan for three days, and got a great suggested itinerary based on the touristy things. So thanks to AI here are a few great things to visit and a few tips I have picked up.

A must is to go to the Duomo, which is ranked as the city’s top tourist destination. Definitely well worth a visit, the Cathedral is the largest church in Italy (apparently St Peters in Rome is larger, but doesn’t count as it is in the state of Vatican City). The cathedral began its construction in 1386, and has an amazing history. You have to buy tickets to enter. 

Tip number 1. Don’t be afraid to buy a ‘skip the line’ tour from vendors outside. Although it feels a bit dodgy they are generally approved at most sites to offer tours. It will cost you more than just a ticket to enter, but in my experience it is well worth the extra cost. For the Duomo we did this rather than buying a tour online or just getting a ticket at the counter. It included a guided tour of the cathedral, entry to the museum (which was fascinating) and visiting the rooftop (with over 200 steps to get there – but with absolutely amazing views).

Next on ChatGPT’s list was a visit to the Galleria shops located adjacent to the Cathedral. A magnificent glass vaulted arcade with a variety of shops, it is quite spectacular. For the afternoon, a visit to Castello Sforzesco, a medieval fortress with museums and art by da Vinci and Michelangelo was recommended. Also spend some time wandering through the adjacent gardens – Parco Sempione, 40 hectares of greenery with extensive pathways through meadows, playgrounds and ponds.

The evening suggestion is a visit to the Brera neighbourhood with its many restaurants and bars. We enjoyed both breakfast here one morning and ‘aperitivos’ one evening. Sitting and watching the passers-by with a glass of prosecco and snacks provided – and not just chips and olives as most restaurants give you in Italy, but a decent appetiser as well. You hardly need dinner afterwards.

Day 2 – AI offered another array of places to visit. Art galleries, museums, historic sites and neighbourhoods worth exploring. We opted to do our own thing. Something I regularly do to explore a city is use the city bikes to get around. On this occasion we went to the Navigli district (recommended by ChatGPT), which has a system of interconnected canals dating back to the middle ages. Many of the canals have been filled in over the years to allow for roads but two remain. The area also has an eclectic mix of vintage stores, galleries and loads of cafes and restaurants – a great place to visit at night in particular. Also on our itinerary was some shopping of course – you can’t visit Milan without checking out the shopping – from high end designers in the Quadrilatero d’Oro (just near the Duomo) to the Buenos Aires district with the likes of H&M, Zara and more.

One of the highly recommended tourist attractions in Milan is seeing da Vincis’ ‘The Last Supper’ fresco located adjacent to the church – Santa Maria dell Grazie, where da Vinci originally painted the masterpiece.

Tip number 2: if you want to see this you need to book several weeks in advance. Tickets are limited to 25 visitors at a time in 15 minute slots. Even booking a tour via one of the tour operators requires pre-planning.

And finally the day trip that Chat GPT recommended – a visit to lake Como. Located about two hours by train from Milan, I would highly recommend making time to do this. Now here is where you just can’t beat advice from a real human. There are many towns to visit on Lake Como and choosing which one for a day trip could be a challenge. Talking to friends and family who had recently visited was invaluable in making the most of the day. 

We took the train from Milan to the lakeside town of Varenna and spent some time exploring this pretty place, walking along the lakeside pathway to Villa Monastero – an old villa with extensive gardens to enjoy. We had a coffee at their café and just sat under the tress watching the activity of the lake, but there are plenty of restaurants and cafes along the lake path looking out at the lake for that relaxing experience.

Next was a ferry across to Bellagio. Known as one of the most glamorous and romantic destinations in Lombardy, there are loads of lovely boutiques and stores, as well as plenty of restaurants and cafes to enjoy that obligatory Aperol Spritz. We also made a visit to Villa Melzi, with its magnificent parklands. The property has remained in the same family since being built by one of Napoleon’s advisors in 1810. Definitely one of the best things to do in Bellagio. Allow plenty of time for this day trip as there is so much to see and do just in Varenna and Bellagio.

So what’s my opinion of using AI to help plan your travels?

I think it’s a great place to start your planning, BUT it is really just a starting place – do your own research based on its recommendations.

It does save a lot of time as most Google searches are feeding us sponsored content, and to really get more recommendations requires a bit of digging. I wouldn’t use it for planning accommodation or flights – I would always use a travel agent with their expertise for these parts of my travels – but I can see that there is a helpful place for AI in itinerary planning. And scarily the robots are only going to get better, so I say why not use them!

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