Milan has been growing in altitude in preparation for Expo 2015 world's fair opening next Friday with the construction of a dozen new skyscrapers in recent years.

City leaders hope a successful world's fair, expected to attract 20 million visitors over the six-month run, will help Italy's fashion and banking capital grow in international stature as well. The most optimistic see the event as a stimulus to help boost Italy out of economic doldrums.

The city in recent months has been emerging from a cocoon of scaffolding and construction barriers, revealing an upgraded and modernized profile. Besides the new skyline — dwarfing the spires of the Duomo cathedral, the city's most iconic symbol and once its highest point — the famed canals have been spiffed up with a new waterfront, more bike paths have been built and the grandiose Fascist-era train station has been renovated with shops and restaurants.

Even the city's famed coffee bars have shed their stuffy last-century decor in favor of a more sleek, modernistic atmosphere. They've also turned their emphasis from a morning coffee and brioche to the evening Apertivo, the Milan happy hour during which for the price of a drink customers enjoy a bar-full of complimentary hors d'oeuvres, a meal in their own right.

The epicenter of Milan's urban redevelopment is the Porta Nuova business district, a vast swath of new retail, office and residential space, most reaching upward, that also features a pedestrian zone, bike paths and a large public park. A scant 1.5 kilometers (mile) from the Gothic-style Duomo, it represents a leap into the future for Milan.