We only had one day to go to Expo 2015 in Milan and we wanted to make the most of it. I don’t like waiting in line at the best of times, and certainly not in hot, crowded, rushed situations. I’d heard so much about the long lines at Expo that they almost kept me away, but my husband insisted that if our country is holding a world’s fair, we have to go just once. I can say that it was an overall positive experience that I do recommend it you’re in Italy. Here are some of my tips and impressions on how to get through Expo 2015 “fast and cheap”.
The first impact you have arriving at Expo is the crowded train and the crowded train station that funnel you to the long lines at the entrance. This was the worst, most sunny and longest line I stood in all day – and that was with “skip the line” tickets purchased through one of the authorized agencies. In the end it is for our own good because the slowness is due to having to go through airport-like security. Arriving just before 10am it took us half an hour to get in. In order to help things along they’ve started opening up the gates at the 2 lateral entrances where people arrive by bus or car at 9am, so if you can enter there, this might be your chance to not wait long, and then run over to the most popular pavilion of your choice before the line forms.
Based on my desire to not wait in line, I aimed for countries with short or no line up. Two pavilions have visits upon reservation: Switzerland (accessed in small groups via elevator) and Uruguay (which has an interactive experience with video mapping and an educational video section).
The pavilions with the longest lineups are Italy, Brazil and Japan. The lineup for the latter on the August Sunday that I visited was 3 hours and 20 minutes. Padiglione Zero at the start of Expo is also very crowded. What are the reasons for these lines? In some cases, it is a question of popularity – my guess is that with a high percentage of visitors from Italy, Japan is probably the foreign country they love most. In other cases the crowd is due to word getting around about some cool feature, like Brazil’s jungle-gym (you walk on a suspended net of cords). Most of the setups are funnel like, forcing you through one room to the next, causing small line ups that tend to move quickly as long as the first room doesn’t contain a long film.
Free Activities at Expo
One way to break up the day is to participate in some of the free activities and workshops. Switzerland has a daily free chocolate making workshop that takes one hour – to participate you need to claim your spot in person half an hour before. There are free cooking schools organized by Identità Golose most days. In the biodiversity park at the far end of the fair, Natura Sì supermarkets sponsor a pizza making workshop with resident pizzeria Berberè that is a true show worth seeing if not participating in hands-on!
Best pavilions at Expo
Best smelling pavilion: Marocco
After a short wait in a rather sunny line, you are ushered into a series of large spaces whose sights, smells and temperatures echo the country’s main features and areas. I could have done without the blasting heat of the Saharan desert but it smelled SO good, while the underwater area was fresh and relaxing.
Most convincing tourism promotion pavilion: I Feel Slovenia
This neighbour of Italy has reinforced its presence at Expo with a clever tourism promotion campaign that uses the word Love in their name and promotes their vast green spaces and wellness spas. They have us convinced.
Best looking hosts and hostesses: Korea
It seems everyone in Korea is a pop star. As for the display, they spent millions to tell us that kimchi is good for you, though admittedly it is dazzlingly technological.
Best use of a hashtag: Poland
Just so you don’t forget it, the Poland pavilion appears to be called “Hashtag Poland”. (This one’s dedicated to my friend Marco Badiani, who loves hashtags).
Craziest music party: Vietnam
Their lotus-themed pavilion is some of the coolest architecture at the fair, but inside there really isn’t much to do. However, a central stage hosts beautiful musicians playing some pretty crazy vietnamese rock!
Most positive atmosphere: USA
Count on the good ol U S of A to have an ongoing square dance party and uplifting fun music and a general ‘we can do it’ feeling. Their vertical garden growing vegetables and grains is interesting. If you come here expecting traditional American air-conditioning levels, you will be disappointed – it’s open to the elements and it was hotter than the saharan desert.
Best use of technology: Azerbaijan
Their app uses smart beacon technology and gamification to take you through the display, learn about the country’s main food production and more. A very cool part about visiting Baku is a first person virtual reality experience that allows you to pick the type of travel (foot, boat or helicopter) and what you want to see, and then walks you through it on the screen. I kinda want to go to Baku.
Best guilt trip: Switzerland
Visits to the swiss pavilion with its 4 silos storage areas is upon free online reservation, and 15 minute entry times are strictly respected… kudos to the swiss. Each tower is a storage area for one of four products, stocked with boxes full of single portions of them. Visitors are invited to take what they want or need, depleting the stock and lowering the ground platform as the period of expo goes by. A simple message even kids can understand, but boy did I feel bad for wanting to take that package of free dried apple snacks.
Most relaxing rooftop garden: Estonia
This country also wins for “best use of Skype”, which was apparently invented in Estonia! I love this very relaxing pavilion that lets you move through its little nooks and personal spaces at your own pace. On the top level is a shady rooftop garden with bird noises (birds relax me so much!), and nooks with comfy swings that are part of Estonian tradition.
Best swimming pool: Czech Republic
Yes, this pavilion has a swimming pool out front, used primarily by children, though technically there seems no ban to adult use :) I have no idea what this has to do with the theme of food and sustainability.
Tickets must be purchased online and the entry date booked in advance. If you are arriving by car, you must purchase parking and reserve a spot in advance. Adult tickets cost €39 euros – Musement offers a 10€ gift card on their site if you purchase expo tickets through them, which you can then use on any tour or museum during your Milan trip or anywhere else in the world!
Asking for information
The official website is www.expo2015.org. There are dedicated Twitter accounts like @askexpo for questions from 9am to 8pm local time, and @expo2015events for events listings and concerns.
How to get there
The Expo site has its own train and subway station called Rho Fiera Expo 2015.
Nice to know
The Expo site and all its pavilions are wheelchair and stroller accessible, and both categories skip the line at any pavilion. Free strollers can be booked in advance and picked up at the Chicco courtesy point.
Free cold water stations are placed around the site, so bring your own bottle! There are also cold water misting “showers” available. Numerous bathrooms dot the exhibition center and they are all clean and air conditioned. The central walkway is shaded from the sun. All in all, I found that organizers have done the most possible to make the visit comfortable, considering you are walking huge distances in extreme temperatures. The day we visited, we did 8 hours at Expo and it was 35 degrees outside, and the app tells us we visited 12 pavilions and walked 9 kilometers. I thought I would suffer more, but it wasn’t bad!
Where to eat in Expo
We did a lot of research on social media before our visit in order to locate the best food in Expo. Finding a shady and quiet place to eat was a priority as well. I followed the advice of 2 articles on the San Pellegrino’s Fine Dining Lovers blog (in Italian): where to eat if you’re vegetarian and where to eat for under 15 euros. Most of the food from the Asian countries looked a little too much like fast food for my liking, so we opted for the organic vegetarian restaurant by Alce Nero Berberè (a chain that is also in Milan and Florence). The vegetarian box containing assorted pasta, rice and vegetables costs only €10, as does the pizza of the month, which was truly divine. Another place we considered was the American Food Truck Nation, which had some nice fish options, but their seating area wasn’t particularly attractive.
If you’re dying for healthy snacks at the right price, there are two supermarkets on site (from the sponsors). There’s a Coop in the center, with normal Coop prices, and a Natura Sì organic supermarket at the far end in the Biodiversity Park.
Where to stay for cheap
Many hotels in Milan offer Expo packages including, usually, one night, 2 entry tickets and sometimes a meal in their restaurant. Starhotels has one starting at 200 euros per night, while others run around 650 euros per night! Hotels have been very full – Milan deals with tons of trade shows and fashion events on top of the influx of tourism from the Expo – so if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, try finding an inexpensive apartment on one of the private rental platforms. We got a cute place just 15 minutes by train away from the Expo site for about 70 euros per night on Flipkey called “Expo Sisters House”. At the end of a long day, it was a relief to be so close to Expo and to have a cozy place to eat take-out pizza.