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While Milan may not be the first city that comes to mind when planning a trip to Italy, it’s one of the most fashionable cities in the country. It’s lovely, well-organized, and packed with museums and attractions.
Despite its workaholic reputation as Italy’s financial and business center, it’s a fascinating city filled with a mix of old and modern architecture.
Some of the world’s most famous works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” are on display in Milan.
It’s the location of the renowned Milan Fashion Week, as well as dozens of other lavish events such as fashion shows and private functions. Milan Design Week, which showcases the work of many independent designers, is also held in the city.
Visiting Milan is a great way to see a side of Italy that many people don’t see: the more modern and vibrant side of the country.
If you only have a few days in Milan and want to capture the essence of the city, don’t miss this list of the best places to visit in Milan.
Need to know: If you plan on visiting Milan as a layover between two flights on the same day, keep in mind that Milan has two major airports: Linate, which is close to the city center, and Malpensa, which is quite far away.
If you need to connect to Malpensa, you can take the train from Milano Centrale, but be aware that the journey will take about an hour. So, when planning your trip, keep this travel time in mind, and consider that you will only have a half day there, not a full day, because transportation will take up a significant amount of your time.
If you’re only in Milan for one day and have luggage, you can leave it at Stazione Centrale, which has luggage storage downstairs in the Commercial Gallery, well indicated by the signs, you will find the KiPoint luggage deposit.
Visit Piazza del Duomo
Let’s begin our list of the best places to visit in Milan with Piazza del Duomo, the city’s historical center and the best starting point for exploring the city. It has been Milan’s main square for over 700 years and it hosts the city’s largest outdoor events.
The Square is overlooked by the Royal Palace and the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, as well as an equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in the center.
On the sides, there are several buildings from various eras, including the Arengario Palace and the Carminati Palace. This square is one of the largest in Italy and is well-known throughout the world.
Visit Milan’s Duomo (Cathedral)
The square also houses Milan’s Duomo, the city’s most important monument.
The Duomo is the city’s symbol and the world’s third largest Catholic church, after St. Peter’s in the Vatican and Seville Cathedral. It took over 500 years to complete, from 1386 to the end of the nineteenth century.
Its imposing but slender late Gothic facade, the beautiful stained glass windows, as well as the 2,000 white marble statues and 136 spires add to the overall awe-inspiring experience.
The interior is also worth seeing, with its 5 sumptuous naves and 52 columns, each representing a week of the year. Inside, you can also see the famous treasure of the Duomo, the archaeological site, the church of San Gottardo, and any temporary exhibitions.
My favorite part of the visit is the climb to its magnificent panoramic terrace for a closer look at the spires and pinnacles, as well as the famous Madonnina, which rises 108.5 meters and dominates the city.
The presence of a lift makes the climb to the top easier, and it is not too frightening, even for those who are afraid of heights. You can also get there by stairwell, which is less expensive: 10€ rather than 14€.
If you can’t climb to the Duomo’s terrace but still want a good view, I recommend going to the top of La Rinascente, the department store right across the street. It has a cafe on the terrace from which you can get a great view of the Duomo’s side from above. Plus, unless you sit down for a meal or a drink, it’s free.
It is strongly recommended to buy tickets online to avoid crowds.
Walk along Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Leaving the Duomo behind you, the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II will be on your right. It was built in the second half of the nineteenth century to connect Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Scala. It is known as the “Milan social gathering” (il salotto di Milano) because it serves as a gathering place for the Milanese bourgeoisie, who come to shop at major fashion brands’ boutiques, eat at restaurants, and visit historic cafes.
Inside, you’ll find some of the world’s most famous designer stores, including Vuitton and Prada, as well as some high-end restaurants.
It is the most photographed spot in the city because of its magnificent arcades and the magnificent dome made of glass and iron. Every galleria visitor can help but look up and take photos of it.
There are also details and artistic elements within the gallery that are used to recall cultures and other Italian cities. For example, the octagon in the gallery’s center houses paintings depicting four continents: Europe, America, Asia, and Africa.
The bull, which is depicted in a beautiful and sumptuous mosaic on the octagon’s floor, represents Turin. There is also a fun superstitious rite associated with this bull that has attracted Milanese and tourists from all over the world for years: three turns on themselves with the heel of the right foot planted in correspondence with the bull’s genitals.
Some see this as a good omen for the coming year, while others see it as a sign that they will return to Milan. It is just a superstitious ritual that serves no purpose other than to wear out the image of the bull, which must be restored on a regular basis.
See Teatro alla Scala
From Piazza del Duomo, after passing through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, you will arrive at Piazza della Scala. This is the location of La Scala Theater, Milan’s famous opera house.
It is one of the three most prestigious opera houses in Italy, along with Teatro San Carlo in Naples and La Fenice in Venice.
Because of its architectural beauty and historical events, this world-famous theater is one of Milan’s most authoritative cultural symbols. Its stage has seen Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, and Rossini all perform on it.
The Museo teatrale alla Scala, located near the theater, houses a collection of paintings, musical instruments, and other items related to the world of opera.
Attending a show is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and tickets can be purchased through the official website.
You can also book a guided tour of the Opera and the museum.
Again, making a reservation ahead of time is the best way to save time.
Even if you don’t like opera or don’t have much time, I recommend paying a visit to Piazza della Scala. Even if you don’t take the inside tour of the Theater, the square is very nice, and there’s a beautiful statue of Leonardo da Vinci in the center, surrounded by trees.
Pro tip: behind the monument and in front of Palazzo Marino, the official seat of the City Council, is the first of Milan’s historic fountains, designed by Luca Beltrami in the nineteenth century. The fountains that serve as free water fountains in Milan are known as “vedovelle,” and they are a symbol of the city that can be found in many squares throughout the city, from the center to the suburbs.
Visit Quadrilatero della moda
And, of course, in this list of best places to visit in Milan I couldn’t avoid including a brief paragraph about shopping in Milan! After all, the city is known around the world as the fashion and design capital.
If you’re a fashionista, I recommend visiting the Fashion Quadrilateral, which is formed by the four streets: Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, and Via Manzoni. This is Milan Fashion Week’s most luxurious area and undisputed star and is located just a few steps from the Duomo of Milan and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
If you have enough budget, the boutiques of great Italian designers such as Versace and Gucci will have everything you need.
For those of you who want to shop without breaking the bank, you can go to The Highline Outlet, which is located in the heart of Milan right behind the Duomo on Corso Vittorio Emanuele and there are many brands available at reduced prices.
Visit Brera district and the Pinacoteca di Brera
Brera is one of Milan’s most beautiful neighborhoods, and I recommend getting lost in its unique streets. There are quiet cobblestone streets, hidden courtyards, and churches here, all wrapped in Milan’s unmistakable rich and fashionable atmosphere.
Begin at Piazza Cordusio and make your way to Piazza Carmine, where you’ll feel as if you’re passing from a big city to a small village.
The entire neighborhood revolves around the square, and the Pinacoteca di Brera is also worth a visit if you have time.
The Pinacoteca di Brera is home to one of Italy’s most important art collections.
It is housed in Palazzo Brera, which was built on the site of a former monastery. The monks were the first to turn it into a cultural center, complete with a school, an astronomical observatory, and a library.
Since then, the Art Gallery’s collection has grown steadily. Today, the works are displayed in approximately forty rooms and are arranged chronologically according to the artistic technique used.
Among the most famous masterpieces are Raphael’s “The Marriage of the Virgin” and Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus.”
Castello Sforzesco and Parco Sempione
Castello Sforzesco (The Sforza Castle), which was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza and has been at the heart of Milan’s history for centuries, is another city symbol that shouldn’t be missed in this list of best places to visit in Milan. It was initially used as a defensive castle, then as a house, and finally as a military citadel.
It is famous for having hosted Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshops during the Renaissance period.
It now houses the Civic Museums as well as one of the city’s most important artistic collections.
If you have the time and love art, I recommend taking a guided tour of the castle; there are always interesting temporary exhibitions inside. (Tickets and tour information are available here.)
You can, however, simply stroll through the Castle’s courtyard and the Parco del Sempione, which surrounds the mighty walls of the castle and serves as the city’s green lung, as well as being a significant cultural and architectural attraction.
Both the courtyard and the park (Parco Sempione) are free to visit.
Arco della Pace
From the Sforzesco Castle, crossing the famous Sempione Park, you will reach the Arco della Pace (the Arch of Peace). It was built in 1815 to seal the peace reached by European nations at the Congress of Vienna, and it is one of Milan’s most important neoclassical monuments.
At the top of the monument is a group of bronze statues depicting the sestiga of peace, accompanied by four victories on horseback.
The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Continue to Piazza Cadorna and take Via Magenta until you arrive in front of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, one of the most distinctive Renaissance structures.
Santa Maria delle Grazie is without any doubt Milan’s most famous church, and it is home to one of the most beautiful masterpieces ever created, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper.
The Last Supper, completed at the end of the fifteenth century, is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most important masterpieces and one of the most famous works of the Italian Renaissance. The painting depicts the Last Supper, during which Jesus announces that he will be betrayed by one of his apostles, and winds around the figure of Christ positioned in the center of the apostles, who react to his words in groups of three with expressions of disbelief, fear, and emotion.
Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper in the monastery’s refectory, which is now known as “Cenacolo” in honor of the masterpiece. Every year, thousands of tourists come to admire this painting, and because of the high number of tourists, you should plan your visit well in advance. Book your tickets here.
Another place to visit in Milan is the Navigli district, which is crossed by canals. It’s one of the most beautiful and fascinating places in Milan!
Originally, this network of canals connected the Po River to the lakes of the region. They were also used to transport goods and water to and from Milan. Even the marble used in the construction of the Milan Cathedral was transported via these canals. The dam and lock system were designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
The Navigli has been transformed from a peripheral and degraded area into a hub of nightlife and evening entertainment as a result of recent redevelopment work. Every day, thousands of young people flock to the many clubs and restaurants.
Make sure to visit the Darsena, the city’s ancient port where the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese met. To get there, walk through Porta Ticinese until you reach Piazza XXIV Maggio.
It is best to visit at the end of the day for a long aperitivo or dinner. It’s a romantic area, especially at night, when the lights reflect on the canals and local life begins in the numerous bars and restaurants.
If you have time during your visit to Milan, go to the square where Milan’s business operates to see a rather unique monument.
A magnificent 11-meter marble statue depicts a hand with all limbs eroded except the middle finger. It was created by Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan and can be found in Piazza Affari, directly in front of the Milan Stock Exchange headquarters.
This work, whose acronym is “Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità” (freedom, hate, revenge, eternity), has been located in front of the Milan Stock Exchange building since 2010 and provocatively addresses the architecture of Palazzo Mezzanotte’s twenty-year fascist period as well as the world of finance.
It was heavily criticized and was supposed to be removed only a few weeks later, but it has remained in place since 2010.
Milan Royal Palace
If you have enough time in Milan, I recommend visiting the Royal Palace of Milan. It is located right next to the Duomo and is little known by tourists.
For many years, the Royal Palace of Milan served as the seat of the Milanese government and has since evolved into an important cultural center for the city. Every year, a series of exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, fashion, and design are organized.
The Royal Palace is over 7,000 square meters wide and houses many paintings on loan from some of the world’s most prestigious museums.
The palace museum is also open to the public. It depicts both its own history as well as the history of Milan and its people.
The museum is divided into four sections that allow you to explore the Neoclassical, Napoleonic, and Risorgimento periods before concluding with the unification of Italy, a pivotal period in Milan’s history.
Even if you don’t like museums, a stroll through the palace’s courtyard will provide you with a unique view of Milan’s Duomo.
Piazza Gae Aulenti and Bosco Verticale
Even if you don’t have much time in the city, here’s a hidden gem in Milan that you shouldn’t miss if you want to see the city from a more modern and futuristic perspective: the very modern Piazza Gae Aulenti.
The square, which was inaugurated in 2012, is unique in that it is suspended 6 meters above the ground. The square is circular in shape and large, with a pedestrian walkway to allow for easy movement.
Some of the world’s largest corporations, such as Unicredit, have their headquarters here. Its tall tower and modern architecture set it apart from the old charm of downtown Milan.
The Bosco Verticale, Milan’s greenest skyscraper with over 2000 suspended trees, can also be seen from this square.
Next to Piazza Gae Aulenti is a historic and important street of Milan, Corso Como, which is a quiet city street during the day but becomes the center of nightlife in the evening, with discos and cocktail bars.
The most important jewel on this street can be found at number 10: 10 Corso Como is one of Milan’s hidden gems that add to the city’s charm and beauty.
Many people walk through the streets of Milan’s nightlife, unaware that they are passing next to a multifunctional space that rises within a valuable courtyard of “case di ringhiera” (railing houses).
The “case di ringhiera,” a unique architectural jewel of Milan, date from the early twentieth century and were originally dormitories for workers from nearby factories.
They are characterized by balconies with ringhiere (railings), but have been readapted over time and are architectural gems that require high rents.
You’ll also find a well-known cafe here, where you can take a break in its beautiful garden surrounded by the beauty of the balconies. However, be aware that the prices reflect the location.
Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio
Last but not least, I recommend that you visit the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, which is unquestionably one of the best places to visit in Milan.
This is named after the patron saint of the city and is one of Milan’s oldest churches. It was built between 379 and 386 at the request of Bishop Ambrose of Milan, in early Christian style. The current basilica was finished in 1099.
It contains numerous finds and works of great artistic and cultural value. Inside, you can see Stilicone’s sarcophagus and the crypt, which contains the relics of Sts. Ambrose, Gervasius, and Protasius.
The church’s exterior is quite unique, with two brick towers of varying heights and a lovely atrium. This tourist attraction in Milan is not well known, but it is well worth a visit.
Where to eat in Milan
The places where you can refresh after a long day of walking had to be included in this list of the best places to visit in Milan. Here are some dining options in Milan:
La dogana del buon gusto: This authentic Milanese restaurant is hidden away near Colonne Di San Lorenzo. Excellent service, excellent decor and ambience, and excellent wine and food.
L’Antico Vinaio is ideal for a quick snack. Excellent Tuscan schiacciata with high-quality ingredients, freshly sliced cold cuts, and delicious filling at a reasonable price.
Nerino Dieci Trattoria: this restaurant is close to the Duomo, within easy walking distance. I recommend making a reservation because it is small. The spaghetti with fresh tomatoes creamed in a parmesan cheese wheel is incredible.
I hope you enjoyed my recommendations and suggestions for the best places to visit in Milan. Have a safe journey!