Milan Central Station: Safety Tips

Almost anywhere in the world, large railway stations are dangerous. Large crowds of travellers, many of them new to the place and a bit bewildered, offer tempting targets for pickpocketing and other crime.

Milan’s Central Station is no different, and, especially lately, is even worse. I have long been leery of the area outside the station, and would not ever walk there alone at night (on advice of long-time residents of Milan).


I do use the Central Station at night, quite often, but I arrive by metro, from whence I can walk directly into the main hall of the railway station, passing through well-lighted areas with plenty of people around. If you take a taxi to the station, they drop you off at one of the main entrances under the portico – again, well-lighted with lots of people around.

Note: If you take an airport bus to the Central Station, when you get off, walk forward (in the direction the buses are facing), along the side of the station. You will first come to a side entrance with stairs going up to the departure platforms. If you need the main hall (to buy tickets), keep going around the front of the building. (There is construction right now with barriers coming and going so this is hard to describe.) Taxis are available both on that side and in the front under the main portico.

The key is not to be caught anywhere around there alone. I have even been warned against taking very early trains into Milan and arriving when the station is still largely deserted. I did arrive once around 6 am (had to catch an early train for Rome), and the atmosphere was decidedly creepy – the few people around did not look like people I wanted to let get close to me. I went into the coffee bar til I could board my train.

The area outside the station is now the target of big crime clean-up plans by the city of Milan, in response to a spate of rapes and other problems originating there. One recent, egregious case was of two young French women, just arrived, who accepted a ride in a car from two young Tunisian men who, like themselves, spoke French. These men took them to an isolated house and raped them for hours.

<insert disclaimer about not blaming the victim> but… how dumb do you have to be? Why would any woman, anywhere, ever accept a ride from a stranger? If it really needs saying, okay, I’ll say it: DON’T ACCEPT RIDES FROM STRANGERS. No matter how nice they seem, or how well they speak your language. For that matter, don’t accept much of any kind of help, especially if it involves accompanying you somewhere or telling you how to get somewhere. If you’re lost, try not to look it, until you can seek help from someone reliable. There are lots of uniformed police around these days (especially in the station) – ask them.

One of the new safety measures under discussion for Milan is to require taxi and bus drivers who drive lone women home to wait until they see their passengers safely inside the front door. (I have noted – and appreciated – that my taxi driver friend Antonello already does this, though it hardly seems necessary outside my own gate in suburban Lecco! He spent many years in the US, and probably developed that instinct there.)

All of this is not to say that Milan is dangerous – it’s less so than most cities of comparable size. But, like any large city, it’s got more safe and less safe areas. Unfortunately for the tourists, one of the least safe, for now, is the area around the Central Station. So… be careful out there.

Jul 8, 2007 – This MSNBC video of pickpockets operating outside Milan’s Central Station may be too “good” to be true – can anyone really be that oblivious to the boy repeatedly dipping into her bag? But in any case it’s a lesson: it pays to be aware of what’s going on around you.

add your own Milan safety tips and comments below

13 thoughts on “Milan Central Station: Safety Tips

  1. Sarah

    Two years ago I had a train connection in Milan late at night on a train coming from Lyon in France on my way to the south of Italy. There was a suicide on the tracks somewhere in the Alps and my train arrived hours late (late even by Italian standards). There were no more trains that night so my fellow passengers and I were stranded in the station over night. Although it was a largely unpleasant experience that lead to my getting a violent cold, I didn´t feel particularly unsafe –maybe because of the presence of the other passengers — and there was a police station that was staffed all night. I can´t comment on how it was outside the station, but I´ve seen many train stations (like most of the ones I´ve been at in Sicily) that were far sketchier than Milan´s.

  2. i-jan01

    This isn’t Milan, but just happened to me in Florence last week, so I am hoping “publishing” it here will help others. I was on my way to the train station and got scammed. The consulate was busy with people replacing passports so don’t become one of them. The people at the consulate told me this one is on the rise in Italy, with several variations. A very well-dressed “Italian businessman” squirted some gunk (looked like baby cereal and of course I didn’t see who did it) on my luggage as I was wheeling to the train station. He offered tissue to clean it off after he pointed it out to me, and I should have just kept going, but he looked distinguished and respectable so I accepted his help. In the process of wiping the stuff off, his accomplice came up behind me and sneaked away with my purse which I had stupidly set down while cleaning the luggage. Maybe we should be thankful that much of the problems for tourists are not violent, but that is small consolation when you lose possessions. I think most of us know about taking precautions for our safety but KNOWING what to do is totally worthless if you don’t actually FOLLOW safety procedures. Yes, it can happen to you and it probably will if you aren’t careful.

  3. Christine

    Hi

    I am currently planning a 10 days trip to Florence and Milan from London. Will be traveling alone. My questions are as follows:

    * Would you consider winter a safer time for lone travellers in Milan and Florence?
    * Is it safer to fly into Florence from Pisa, rather than taking the train? Is it better to fly into Linate airport instead of Malpensa?
    * Given the safety issues around the main train stations in Milan and Florence, for traveling to/from the airport to hotel, what are your thoughts on private transfer/cab over train? Is there any private transfer company you would recommend?
    * Is there any other hotels that you would regard as safe in terms of location. My budget is around 250euro per night max and my preference is being able to walk to the church and museums and away from the areas near the main train station.
    * Is there any guided tour you would recommend for Milan?

    Many thanks for your help & best regards
    Chris

  4. R. Marino

    Dangerous incident occurred outside main train station in BOLOGNA, ITALY. July 2005.
    My wife and 2 small children arrived at the Bologna, Italy Airport at 11:30am from New Jersey, USA. We had car rental reservations made 2 months prior with Avis at the Airport in Bologna. Needless to say, our car was given to another party willing to pay a higher rate than what Avis confirmed in writing to us. We were told the only way to get this car or a similar one was to go to the center city of Bologna by taxi (a half hour ride at a 35 euros charge, our expense.) Once we arrived at the Avis rental office in the city of Bologna, it was 12:15pm. We were shocked to see a sign telling us the rental office was closed for lunch from 12pm to 2:30pm. At this point we proceeded to wait 2 plus hours with 3 large suitcases, 2 shoulder bags and 2 small children. I was vigilant and noticed 2 young men in their early 20’s looking at us and pointing our way from across the street. They were badly dressed and soiled as if they were living on the streets. As I observed them, 1 man had a cell phone and was talking to someone as the other man kept close eye contact with us. I told my wife something strange about the 2 men across the street was happening. The 2 men grew to 4, then 6 or more. They were all of the same type, small to thin build, age and nationality. They had long unkept hair with a dirty appearance. I later found out from a police officer that they were North Africans. They crossed over to our side of the street and walked past us several times, creating lots of confusion. It was apparent that this gang was planning in some way to attack us and rob us. Since my presence is 6′ ft 2″ inches tall, fit and over 200 lbs., this may of produced some doubts in whether thier attempt in robbing us would be successful. Nevertheless, they were outnumbering me at least 8 to one. The last time they past us, I told my wife we needed to leave this area quickly in the opposite direction from the way the group was traveling. My wife and I both grabbed our shouldbags and 3 large suitcases (thankfully on wheels) and proceeded away from the rail station and over where nearby shops were located. We were spotted by the group as we quickly walked away. Our 2 small children in front of us running in the direction we told them to go, with us right behind. As I turned to check the group they too started following us and got very excited and started shouting in another language unknown to us. As we proceeded under the arches to the shops, we noticed all the shops were closed for lunch, we continued quickly and luckily found a small pizza shop on our side of the street which we bolted into. I told the shopkeeper we were about to be assaulted by a large group of thugs. He acknowledged that they were undesirables that lurked in the subway and train station looking to rob tourists. As he went to dial the police, the group started throwing objects into the pizzeria, such as water bottles and other trash. I noticed one thug who acted as if he was not part of the crowd and entered the pizza shop. I knew his face from the crowd. He stared us down and ordered a slice of pizza, as we knew the shop keeper was calling the police. We were saved by simply moving in the direction of where local people had access to help. Do not stay in one isolated place waiting for a bank or shop to open! By the way, IMPORTANT!!! when in Italy dialing 112 or 113 is the equivalent of 911 in the U.S. I did not know this, if you have a GSM phone that operates in Europe, please remember these numbers. It helps to know Italian and to know your exact location. It may be a good idea to practice general phrases that would apply whether you were hurt in an auto accident, pedestrian accident, robbed or threatened. HELP translates to AIUTO, pronounced EYE-U-TOE.
    Other words are EMERGENZA translates to EMERGENCY.
    AMBULANZA is AMBULANCE.
    OSPEDALE IS HOSPITAL.
    POLIZIA is POLICE.
    LADRI translates to THIEVES.
    INCIDENTI means ACCIDENT.

    Do some simple preparation by pronouncing these phrases, it may very well save you grief, injury or worse.
    Cheers and travel safe.

  5. John M

    I just got robbed of my backpack at an internet cafe across the road from the station, 6:30 in the evening, an hour ago, so I thought I would search up a site like this and post, though it only contained 100 pounds sterling, two shirts, underwear and a couple of jeans, a couple of shirts and a couple of trousers. It is a load of my back (literally, not figuratively), and did not contain much due to water getting into it.

    I have never been robbed in my life, even after a month in Europe backpacking, and I had my bag next to me when this occurred, usually I am more careless with my belongings so this is strange as it occured while I am vigilant. A (nonblack) man pointed to his phone on the side opposite to my back while I was on the computer then said °ok, you do not speak italian° and left. At that moment my bag was missing. I had actually been warned about my bag when I sat down (though I assumed the man at the counter meant it was in the way of other people when he said to watch my bag). Just keep it tied to your leg, and like me keep your interail pass, wallet and passport on your person. This was no real cost to me, as I couldn’t take the luggage with me back to Australia from London due to my limit already going over. this has, in some ways, helped me. Hmmm, wonder if I have travel insurance for this….Be careful and keep your bag tied to you, in my case it did not matter in the long term of life, and has not effected my journey (I will purchase a different kind of backpack next time, a better model as that one could have been better with wheels on it). I still have the little bag that attaches to it, and my bum bag, and a jacket full of pockets, should be fine for the next few days. Happy travelling all. 😉

  6. webmaster

    I’m so sorry to hear it – what a way for Italy to say goodbye, eh? But glad it didn’t cost you much due to your wise precautions!

    I’m permanently paranoid since having my purse (with passport, office and house keys, etc.) stolen from under a table by my feet while I was demoing at a computer show years ago. Since then, I always put my foot or at least knee through the strap of whatever bag I have around.

  7. eimie

    do not under any circumstances go near this station. avoid if at all possible. got the overnight train with my boyfriend from here to rome and was never so scared in my life. i read about the family man there and thank god i did not come across that gang of guys although we did have many undesireables glaring and casing us out in the train station waiting room. they were walking up and down in front of us and also looking in through the glass from outside the room. thank god there were armed police that came in and escorted some of the dodgee characters out of there. needless to say do not get the overnight train at 1am like we had to. if i had known it was so dangerous i would changed our flight for a later one and avoided the whole experience.

  8. Ashley

    Ive lived in Milano for about a month and a half now, Im here until the end of July 2008 as an exchange student. Im a female, 21, Canadian, and I dont speak a word of Italian. I have for the most part had an amazing experience here, with no problems at all! Ive walked around Centrale before alone after dark (last night actually) and othertimes, and have never encountered any problems besides a few unwelcome stares and pickup lines.
    I’ve gotten lost at night as well, and wandered around in the dark, looking for my appartment when I first moved here, and again, never any problems.
    While nobody in Milano speaks English for the most part, people are always willing to try to help you find your way around… haha, especially guys, theyre generally a lot mroe helpful for the most part, especially as Im a lone girl looking for help… Probably not the best idea, but they honestly are more willing to help you out than there female counterparts.
    The only time Ive ever felt threatened in Milan was taking my night train from Cadorna I got followed twice so far taking trains after 10pm, and thats scary when you’re alone.
    Also, in Corso Como, leaving Hollywood at 530am you are bound to meet some… undesirables to say the least. Me and my roommate got followed and stared at waiting for the Metro to open, and we also got surrounded by a group of guys. We ran into a bar and the owner got rid of them. Italian Men wont bother you in this city as much as foreign men will, especially other tourists.
    All you have to do is play it smart. Try to not make prolonged eye contact at people, Dont smile at them, and for heavens sake if you feel uncomfortable, just get up and move. Its THE smartest thing you can do…
    All in all, Milano is the safest place Ive lived. And the largest. At home I would never think about wandering around streets at 4 or 5 am, but here I have no problem doing it… Just stay smart about it.

  9. France

    I’ll suggest to take the direct train from Pisa to Florence…is right at the exit of Pisa Airport, and you come directly to the Santa Maria Novella train station (few meters from the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, in the heart of Florence historical center…)

  10. SACRAMENTO

    WHO EVER DID THIS TO US WAS’T ITALIAN..PAHAPS ROMANIAN OR ALBANIAN GIPSY..BROKE THE WINDOW OF A MINI VAN AND STOLE 3 NEW COMPUTERS DELL BY THE WAY…MILAN IS NOT A SAFE PLACE.. BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU PARK THE CAR! !DO NOT LEAVE ANY THINGS VISIBLE IN THE CAR!!! PARK THE CAR AT THE PAYD PARKING WITH SECURITY !!! I FEEL THE PAIN OF GETING ROBED AND A HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE WITH ITALIAN POLICE UNWILLING TO DO ANYTHING FOR TOURISTS…HAVE A SAFE TRIP..GOD BLESS!

  11. John

    My comment of Bologna is similar to some of those above. I went on holiday from Ireland to Venice fantastic, but while there my girlfriend suggested to take a trip to Verona. We bought the correct tickets but we got on the wrong train it was heading to Bologna. Look these things happen so we said we would make the most of it to us it was still a day trip. As soon as we got off the train in Bologna we saw a MCdonalds right beside the station being robbed, there were no police at all in sight. This was at 2pm in the day. We stepped aside and straight away I just didn’t like what I saw, right outside of the train station was a little park full of prostitutes and drug addicts. My girlfriend suggested we go for a stroll I replied no way like no way straight accross the road there were 2 local women in there thirties fighting and pulling each others hair with gangs of there friends looking and cheering them on. At the same time all of this was going on there was a group of 5 guys from across the road staring us out of it. I would be very street wise and in my opinion we did not stand out with cameras around us or money belts etc…. of course my girlfriend had a handbag don’t most women. Well these guys had there eyes lit up and came straight accross the road in our direction. At this point I said to her hold my hand and headed back toward s the train station. I had seen enough of Bologna and wasn’t going to be a statistic. I have been all around the world and Ive never been robbed, attacked or had a problem. I had never felt so vulnerable or unsafe on holiday. except maybe MADRID which was similar to bologna only MADRID had it s troubles at night. In MADRID at least there was a large police presence. I don’t buy it when people say ah they were roman gypsies or north Africans or whatever, as far as Im concerned they live in those cities or countries and are citizens and its up to the police of those countries to police them properly. The guys coming towards us were definitely local Italians. Not a police car in sight shame on that city is all i can say. As for drug addicts I kinda feel sorry for them but at the same time where else do they get the money for there habbits only off tourists. Ill end on that note and just to advise anyone against going to Bologna.

  12. Susie rivers

    Never stay or go to milan central station! Just left there and never been so scared in my life! Thieves, Lurkers and gangs of men everywhere waiting for tired tourists to Arrive so they can rob someone! Not enough cops and these scammers n thieves come at every angle with every tricks up there sleeves and stare u down and waiting for a good moment to streal! Did not feel safe day or night in milan. thought I could shop in milan for a three night stay than go to Rome bug mistake! Stayed in hotel afraid if train station n leaving hotel! Do not stay or go to milan worst an scariest place ever! I cried! Thank god my husban and I made it to Rome! Rome was no better just more cop patrol!

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