Our only reason for going to Milan was finally to get to witness an opera at the famous Teatro alla Scala. We were fortunate enough for my 50th birthday to coincide with an opera that I'd been aching to see for quite some time – "Candide" by Leonard Bernstein. But we recommend you make a whole day out of la Scala.
We started out our day by arriving at the Teatro alla Scala museum. This museum has several floors of opera memorabilia, including photos, paintings, instruments, original musical scores, letters, posters and even costumes and pieces of furniture and props used in their productions. There's so much to look at, you could spend hours – and we certainly did just that. When you finish wandering around that, if there's no rehearsal going on, you can get inside the theater to see what its like. There's a special section of the gallery cordoned off for just this, and you can get the full effect of the whole opera house from there.
Once you've finished your tour, you can go downstairs to the gift shop (and get a discount on any purchase with your ticket to the museum). This gift shop primarily sells CDs and DVDs of operas and classical music. The lower level has books, sheet music and opera scores as well as la Scala gifts (the usual things like coffee cups, umbrellas, notepaper, posters, and the like). Unfortunately, even with your discount from the museum, the prices aren't that cheap, but browsing is almost as fun.
By the time you've finished with the museum and gift shop, you'll probably be tired. We found a nice café for lunch nearby and then made our way back to our (distant) hotel for a well-deserved rest. Of course, we knew we'd not only need that rest, but also time to dress for the opera. La Scala has a strict dress code, and woe is anyone who shows up in casual dress there.
Of course, operas aren't short, and we figured (much like everyone else) that we'd be starving if we ate dinner after the performance, so we went to find somewhere for an early dinner. Now, just as you walk from the main piazza towards the theater, there's a partially covered shopping area. While the shops are all fancy designer clothes, they do have – of all things – a McDonald's! Well, it is food, and fast, so in we went. Imagine our surprise to find that we weren't the only customers there wearing suits and ties and in floor length gowns! Yes, apparently part of the whole la Scala experience is to eat at the McDonald's before the performance.
Afterwards, you're only steps away from the theater and ready to enjoy the rest of the evening – which is usually followed by making your way back to your hotel and going to sleep, basking in the glory of one of the most famous opera houses in the world.
So if you're an opera fan like we are, this is our tip for a visit to Milan.