What to do in Milan?
When we talk about Milan, the first image that comes to us is that of the capital of fashion and shopping.
The city is indeed famous for its fashion week and its many designer boutiques. And there you say, I understand better why my girlfriend wants to visit Milan! my wallet will suffer.
And not necessarily because Milan is not only that. The city has many assets and places of historical or cultural interest, starting with its most emblematic monument, the Duomo of Milan.
So that you can see more clearly, our guide of Milan proposes you the top activities to do and see, a selection of the best accommodations as well as suggestions of itineraries to visit Milan in 1, 2 or 3 days.
1. The Duomo of Milan
We start our top things to see in Milan, by the place of interest of the city: the Duomo of Milan, also called Cathedral of Milan. The symbol of the city is located on the Piazza del Duomo, which is the historical center and starting point of a stay in Milan.
Started in 1386, the construction of the dome of Milan took nearly 500 years. It was finished under the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte who absolutely wanted to be consecrated as king of Italy.
From the outside of the dome, you can admire its facade while jagged stones and chiselled to perfection, the 2,000 white marble statues and the 136 arrows that compose it earned him the nickname “marble hedgehog”.
The interior is also to be seen for its 5 sumptuous naves, its 52 columns each representing a week of the year, the sarcophagi and the tombs of several archbishops, and one of the most famous treasures: a crucifix made by the master Leonardo DeVinci.
But the highlight of the visit is undoubtedly the possibility to access the terrace of the Duomo. The view is impregnable on all Milan. Access to the terrace can be done either by stairs or by elevator. You will pay a little more expensive if you choose the second option: € 12 instead of € 7 for the first.
As the Milan Cathedral is the main attraction of the city, you will always have to wait in line (often for several hours) to get there. Personally, during our visit in July, we had never seen such a long queue for a monument.
Plan to be there at the opening time or half an hour before to limit the waiting time. You can also consider buying your tickets in advance online here or book a guided tour of the cathedral, certainly at a low cost but without waiting.
2. The Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery
Leaving the cathedral, on the Piazza del Duomo, you can access the Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, another place not to miss in Milan.
Baroque style neo-classical style, with its magnificent arcades and its superb cupola of glass and iron, the place is very photogenic and luminous. Nicknamed “The Milan Salon”, the gallery is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe so do not miss on a circuit in Italy.
It houses several boutiques of very big names in haute couture, including Vuitton and Prada, and many chic restaurants. As much to tell you to go there with a full wallet, if your darling (e) decided to do a little shopping!
3. The Scala of Milan
Starting from the Piazza del Duomo, and following the axis of the Vittorio Emanuele gallery, you will then fall directly on Piazza della Scala, where, as the name suggests, is the Scala, the famous building housing the opera house. Milan.
With the San Carlo Theater in Naples and the Fenice in Venice, it is one of the 3 most prestigious and renowned cinemas in Italy. Very great works of Italian opera have been created such as “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini or “Otello” by Verdi. One of the greatest singers in the world, Maria Callas, has even performed.
We did not have the opportunity to see the interior, but it is world famous for being sumptuous. In contrast to the exterior facade of La Scala which is quite simple.
On the left of the building you can visit the Museum of Scala and its collection of musical instruments, opera costumes and historical documents.
If you wish to attend an opera performance, a ballet or a concert at La Scala, you can buy your tickets directly on the official website.
And to enjoy a guided tour of the opera and access to the museum, take your tickets here.
4. The Sforza Castle
By taking Via Dante, you will come across the Sforza Castle, another of Milan’s emblematic monuments.
This very impressive castle is located in the very center of the city. Built in 1358 by the famous Italian family Visconzi, it was built to protect and defend the city against its enemy, Venice.
In the course of the years, it suffered several destructions and reconstructions but it is famous for having hosted the workshops of Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance period.
Today the castle is home to several museums:
- Museum of ancient art with frescoes of the Sforza family and many sculptures
- Museum of Prehistory that tells the story of Lombardy since the Neolithic
- Museum of Decorative Arts with the work of stonecutters, weavers and upholsterers
- Egyptian Museum and its collection of sarcophagi and mummies
- The Pinacotheque with more than 1500 works from the 13th to the 18th century
- Museum of musical instruments from around the world
- Furniture Museum
The vast inner courtyard of the castle is open to the public free of charge. It often hosts cultural events.
During our visit, we celebrated the return of the Game Of Throne series with a central stage that broadcasted the full episodes, the reconstruction of the iron throne and the transformation of the fountain at the entrance with ice stalactites, Winter is coming!
If you cross it, you will arrive directly to the Sempione Park of which I speak to you below.
5. Sempione Park
Just behind the Sforza Castle is the green lung of the city. The Sempione Park is the largest park in Milan and the ideal place to enjoy the greenery and a stroll.
Some buildings are also to be seen inside while strolling:
- The Acquario Civico, the aquarium of Milan with a hundred different species
- The Triennale, which highlights the arts and Italian architecture
- Arena Civica, the stadium where athletics competitions are held
- The Arco della Pace, the triumphal arch of Milan, built to celebrate peace
6. The Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan
Without doubt the most famous church in Milan, the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is known to house one of the most beautiful masterpieces ever made, the painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.
It is in the refectory of the monastery of the church, now called “Cenacolo”, in reference to the work, that Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper, which represents the last meal of Jesus Christ. Thousands of tourists flock there every year to admire it.
Remember to book your tickets in advance just here, the visit is only by reservation and in small groups of twenty people every 15 minutes.
7. Leonardo da Vinci Science and Technology Museum
Since we are talking about Leonardo da Vinci, know that the city of Milan has dedicated a huge museum: the museum of science and technology Leonardo da Vinci.
Housed in a former 16th century monastery, the museum exhibits more than thirty models of Leonardo da Vinci’s bold inventions, ranging from war machines to measuring instruments.
But the exhibition dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci is only a tiny part of this gigantic museum which, on several levels, will take you in turn, to discover aviation, rail, automobile and naval transport, space, communications and other world goods.
To get your admission tickets directly to the museum and avoid the queue with your children, it’s here!
The Science Museum of Milan is ideal for a family visit but beware it is a maze, plan about half a full day to visit. Even going fast and not necessarily reading everything, we spent nearly 3 hours there.
Do not go there an hour before closing time. If you visit with your children, you can bring a snack, a room has been specially arranged for meals.
8. St. Ambrose Basilica
Very close to the science museum of Milan, we advise you to take a tour to admire the Basilica of St. Ambrose.
Named after the patron saint of the city, a first church was built on the site in 386. The current basilica, which is one of the oldest churches in the city, was completed in 1099.
The exterior of the church, with its two brick towers of different heights and atrium is unusual and gives the opportunity to make beautiful shots.
To see inside, the sarcophagus of Stilicon and the crypt where are exposed the remains of Saint Ambroise, Saint Gervais and Saint Protais.
9. Visit the monumental cemetery of Milan
Here is an unusual visit to Milan: the monumental cemetery. I assure you, even if we like zombies, we do not pay into esotericism and walks in the cemeteries after dark are not too much our thing.
On the other hand, the monumental cemetery of Milan is really worth seeing because it is really special!
More than a cemetery, it is a huge open-air museum with many artistic tombs that you can discover.
At the main entrance are the graves of the most important citizens of the country. Among the unmissable, we can note a pyramid, a white tower, a marble canopy-shaped tomb.
The wealthy families of Milan have competed with daring and invention to stand out, using and abusing sculptures of angels or statues.
Do not forget to bring the map of the cemetery at the entrance to miss anything of this unusual visit. Also be careful because it is closed on Mondays.
10. The Pinacoteca de Brera
The Pinacoteca Brera presents one of the most important art collections in Italy.
It is located in the Palazzo Brera, built on a former monastery. It was the monks who first made it a cultural center with a school, an astronomical observatory and a library.
Since the collection of the Pinacoteca has continued to grow. Today, the works are exhibited in about forty rooms and are arranged in chronological order, according to the school from which they come.
You can admire Raphael’s “The Marriage of the Virgin” or Caravaggio’s “Last Supper to Emmaus”.
11. The Royal Palace of Milan
As the seat of the Milanese government for many years, the Royal Palace of Milan has become an important cultural center of the city. Several exhibitions are organized every year, whether modern or contemporary art, or fashion and design.
The Royal Palace is also home to over 7,000 square meters, and is home to many paintings by some of the most prestigious museums in the world.
You can also visit the palace museum, which presents its history but also that of the city of Milan and its inhabitants.
Divided into 4 parts, the museum allows you to explore the Neoclassical, Napoleonic, Restoration periods ending with the unification of Italy, a very important period in the history of Milan.
Do not forget to walk in the courtyard of the palace, to enjoy a unique view of the Duomo of Milan, very little known to tourists.
The Navigli district, crossed by canals, is the most picturesque of Milan.
Originally, this system of canals connected the Po to the lakes of the region. They were used to transport goods and to supply water to Milan.
The system of dam and locks used was invented by Leonardo da Vinci (still him!). The marble used for the construction of the dome of Milan has even been transported by these channels.
We come today in the Navigli district to walk quietly along the canals and enjoy a drink or a meal on one of the restaurant terraces.
To see at the end of the day with the light of the setting sun, it is a very romantic neighborhood that transforms from the evening and is very lively with its many bars.
13. Go shopping in Milan
How not to integrate in our top, a small paragraph devoted to shopping in Milan, a city recognized worldwide as the capital of fashion and design.
For shopaholics, we advise you to go to the quadrilateral of fashion composed of the following 4 streets: Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Manzoni.
If you have a budget enough, you will find everything you need in the shops of great Italian designers like Versace and Gucci. This is also where the Milan Fashion Week takes place.
And for those who do not want to ruin themselves, go to The Highline Outlet, located in the heart of Milan. You will find brands at discounted prices.
If you still have not found your happiness after that, there is always the solution of the T-shirt “I love Milan”, a timeless!
14. The place of business
If you have time during your stay in Milan, join a small detour via the business square to admire a monument that you will not see anywhere else.
Located in front of the Milan Stock Exchange headquarters in Piazza Affari, you will find a magnificent 11-meter marble statue representing a giant finger of honor.
Baptized LOVE (liberty, hatred, vendetta and eternity), the statue of the Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan clearly aims to taunt the financial institution.
It was criticized and had to be removed after a few months, but for now, installed since 2010, it is still in place.
15. The Chinatown of Milan
Few people know it but there is a Chinatown in Milan. Do not expect a Chinatown the size of New York or even Montreal, this one is quite small
However, you will find lots of shops selling jewelry at unbeatable prices. And if you want to bring Chinese pasta (in addition to Italian pasta of course!) Or Asian groceries, this is also where you will find your happiness.
What to do around Milan
Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore
All between 1h and 1h30 from Milan, Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda are a good idea for day trips, if you want to get away from the city.
You can find things to see around the lakes in our article: What to do in Italy?
At 60 kilometers from Milan, you can visit the city of Bergamo. It is a pretty walled city, ideal for a day getaway. To see especially the upper part of the city which corresponds to the medieval city.
If you want to take advantage of it to see Turin during your getaway, it’s a great idea because the city is only 1 hour by express train from Milan. Find all our tips to visit Turin in our article we have dedicated to him: Visit Turin: the ultimate guide.
Visit Milan in 1 day
If you have a day to visit Milan, here is a good way to discover the city ‘s best attractions.
- Start by visiting the Milan Dome in the morning, trying to be there 15 to 30 minutes before the opening.
- Then, take a tour in the Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, a luxury temple located just next to the cathedral.
- On the other side of the gallery, you can see the opera of Milan: La Scala
- Lunch break
- After the meal, head for Sforza Castle, its museums and Sempione Park, about 10-15 minutes walk from Milan Cathedral.
- You can also drive to Milan’s Chinatown, north of Arco della Pace
And if not, you always have the solution of the bus with multiple stops to miss nothing places of interests! Book your place now!
Visit Milan in 2 days
In 2 days in Milan, in addition to the previous itinerary, you will be able to visit:
- The monumental cemetery in the morning. Count between 1h and 1h30 of visit.
- If you are motivated to walk a little (about 40 minutes), you can walk down to the Leonardo da Vinci Science and Technology Museum, passing through the Arco della Pace. Otherwise, take the subway or the bus!
- Lunch break
- Visit of the science museum (3-4h visit)
- After visiting the museum, take a walk to St. Ambrose Basilica, which is just 5 minutes away, and do not miss the original architecture of Castello Cova, located next door.
- In the evening, heading to the Navigli area, very nice at dusk.
If you have decided to spend 2 days in Milan, I recommend you to take the Milan Pass (buy it here). It gives you access to all the attractions of the city including the Dome and Scala without queuing, and you also have free public transport and many discounts for 48 hours.
Visit Milan in 3 days
3 days in Milan will allow you to discover a little more the city, or to make a small getaway in one of the many places of interests around Milan.
If you plan to stay in the city, you can take the opportunity to visit one or two other museums such as the Pinacoteca or the Royal Palace of Milan. And of course, do some shopping! You are in the fashion capital after all.
Another option is to go for a day trip to Lake Como, about 1 hour from Milan by train or car.
The city of Bergamo, less than an hour away, and I speak to you in the top is also worth a look!
If you have 3 days in Milan, I advise you to buy the Milano Card here. Free public transport, access to free monuments without waiting, discounts for shops, restaurants + 1 free race with a private driver, the benefits of the Milano Card are many!
Accommodation in Milan
- Hostel Colors : Hostel, located in the Citta Studi district, 5 minutes walk from a metro station. Bed in dormitory from 20 €, breakfast included. Goodies: quiet, clean, reception open 24/24.
- Da Vinci Hotel : Located away from the city center but only 10 minutes walk from a metro station. Huge double room with modern and bright decoration from 54 € per night, breakfast included. Most: quiet, spacious rooms, free parking, breakfast buffet very rich. Our favorite for his report performance / price.
- 43 Station Hotel : 2 steps from Milan Central Station. Modern and spacious room from 89 € per night, breakfast at 8 €. Goodies: Brand new and well equipped hotel, hearty breakfast, great location.
Where to eat in Milan
Above all else, you are strongly advised against tourist areas like those around Piazza del Duomo if you want to eat properly. While doing our little tour of identification we noticed (and it is a culmination for an Italian city) that the pizzas served left straight of the freezer!
Impression confirmed by the waiter of our restaurant who explained us that the majority of the tourist restaurants did not even have pizzaiolo.
- Rizzocomeacasa : Superb little Italian bistro. Fresh products, homemade, hearty dishes for a very reasonable price. Delicious desserts. Our favorite for its quality / price ratio.
- Pizzium : Excellent pizzeria located near the monumental cemetery and Chinatown. Between 7 and 13 € the pizza with fresh products. The desserts are also to taste. Service at the top, very welcoming and smiling. Go early to be sure of having a place.
- Nerino Dieci Trattoria : Located in a street close to the Brera Art Gallery. Excellent cuisine, careful presentation, succulent dishes and all at reasonable prices. We have not tested it but apparently the trio of tiramisu is worth seeing. Attention reservation highly recommended.
My impressions of Milan
The reputation of the beauty of the Duomo of Milan is not overrated, I was really impressed by the fineness of the details of the exterior facade. The same goes for the Vittorio Emanuel II gallery, whose architecture exudes a sense of grandeur and power.
By cons, we did not think there would be so many people, the city is really very touristy. The piazza del Duomo is constantly invaded by a gigantic crowd. Besides, you will find yourself quickly assaulted by the sellers of selfie poles or other bracelets and scarves, a very common practice in Milan, that the insistence of salesmen, although nice, make it somewhat annoying.
However, it is a fault that is quickly forgiven for the city of Milan, which is worth seeing if only to see at least once in his life the gallery Vittorio Emanuel II and the Dome of Milan.
And you, what did you plan to visit in Milan?
Are you going to Italy? Read also
- Check out all our articles on Italy: All our articles about Italy are listed here.
- Where to stay in Milan The best accommodation guide for all budgets
- Rome: The 25 things to do and see in the Italian capital
- Turin Itinerary: Top 20 things to do absolutely