I will always remember Milan. I remember when we went down for breakfast at the hotel and we were greeted with a Pavarotti style Buon Giorno! Slightly intimidated, it made me wonder if this was all on my account.
Little did I know that all the people in this city are all glittering and radiant of happiness. And it does put a smile on your face before you even had your first sip of a delicious cappuccino.
A unique blend which makes this city stand out from all the rest we visited. Read more below why we think Milan should definitely make an entry on your bucket list of destinations.
- Travel to and Around Milan
- Where to Stay in Milan
- Things to do in Milan
- 1. See the Famous Last Supper Painting
- 2. Visit Santa Maria delle Grazie Church
- 3. Sit down for a drink at Cathedral Square
- 4. Explore the Duomo di Milano
- 5. Learn about the Duomo’s history at Duomo Museum
- 6. Spin on the Bull at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
- 7. Check out the Columns of San Lorenzo
- 8. Say a Prayer at Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro
- 9. Immerse Yourself in History at Sforzesco Castle
- 10. Admire the Arch of Peace
- 11. Check out Bosco Verticale and Porta Nuova
- 12. Take a Day Trip to Lake Como
- 13. Other things to do in Milan
- Food and Drinks Highlights
- Final Thoughts
Milan’s history dates back to ancient times when it was founded by the Celts in the 4th century BC. Later, it became a key settlement for the Romans, known as Mediolanum. Under Roman rule, Milan thrived as an important administrative and trade centre.
During the Middle Ages, Milan saw a series of rulers, including the Visconti and Sforza families, who left a lasting impact on the city’s architecture and culture.
The iconic cathedral, the Duomo di Milano, began construction in the 14th century and stands as a testament to this era. The Renaissance further enriched Milan’s artistic and intellectual scene.
In the 16th century, Milan fell under Spanish control and later became part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire in the 18th century. This period saw the construction of the beautiful Royal Palace of Milan, which remains a significant historical site.
The 19th century brought political changes to Italy, leading to the unification of the country in 1861. Milan played a crucial role in this process and emerged as an industrial and economic powerhouse.
Milan faced challenges during the World Wars, suffering bombings and occupation. However, the post-war period witnessed remarkable reconstruction and economic growth, solidifying Milan’s status as an international business hub.
In recent decades, Milan has become synonymous with fashion, design, and innovation. It hosts prestigious events like Milan Fashion Week and the Salone del Mobile, attracting creatives and trendsetters from around the globe.
The city’s modern skyline is a blend of historic landmarks and contemporary architecture.
Nowadays, Milan is a dynamic metropolis that seamlessly blends its historical heritage with modern trends. Visitors can explore museums, such as the Pinacoteca di Brera and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, to delve into the city’s artistic legacy.
The picturesque Navigli district, the bustling Brera neighbourhood, and the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II offer glimpses into Milan’s diverse charm.
Whether strolling through ancient streets, admiring Renaissance art, or indulging in cutting-edge fashion, Milan offers a multifaceted experience that captivates travellers seeking a harmonious blend of history and modernity.
Travel to and Around Milan
The city itself is accessible by most means of transportation although flights to this destination tend to be fairly accessible especially out of season. On this occasion we travelled by train to Milan from Zurich as part of our summer 2023 Interrail trip.
Milan also has a main airport called Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) which has arrivals from many European destinations. However, Milan actually has 3 airports so plenty of options available.
We’ve often seen well priced flights from London. If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.
Milan has a well-developed and efficient public transport network which rivals London‘s that makes navigating the city and its surrounding areas a breeze. Here’s a brief overview of the key modes of public transportation in Milan:
- Metro: The Milan Metro is a rapid transit system that consists of four lines (M1, M2, M3, and M5). The metro connects key areas of the city, including the central station (Stazione Centrale), major neighbourhoods, and popular attractions. We found the metro to be very punctual and airconditioned which is a plus on a hot summer’s day.
- Trams: Milan has an extensive tram network that criss-crosses the city, providing a scenic and leisurely way to travel. However, unfortunately, like our experience in Lisbon trams, can take a while to come and aren’t as frequent.
- Buses: The bus network in Milan complements the metro and tram systems, covering areas that may not be reached by rail. The bus system is well-integrated into the overall public transport network.
- Suburban Railway (S-Lines): The Suburban Railway (S-Lines) system connects Milan with its surrounding suburbs, providing convenient transportation for commuters and those exploring the outskirts of the city.
Milan’s public transport system operates on a unified ticketing system. Travelers can purchase single-ride tickets or multiple-day passes, providing unlimited access to buses, trams, and the metro during the validity period.
There are also integrated cards like the MilanoCard, offering not only transport but also discounts on museums, attractions, and restaurants. Alternatively, we found it very useful the usage of contactless payment by simply using your bank card or phone.
With its comprehensive public transport network and various options to choose from, getting around Milan is hassle-free, allowing you to make the most of your visit and explore the city’s many attractions with ease.
Where to Stay in Milan
In general, there are plenty of hotels and accommodation options, however, we would recommend staying somewhere as close as you can to the main peninsula. During our stay we stood at Hotel Windsor and would recommend it to others. Read more about our review of Hotel Windsor in Milan.
The hotel was just next to a few tram stops leading to the main attractions and the main station which made it very convenient for our trip to Lake Como.
We would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. Use the widget below to find the best accommodation in Milan for your specific dates.
Sure, like we say in our article on how to plan a holiday, do account for the overall cost as you have to factor in breakfast.
Things to do in Milan
Milan is a major attraction on the tourist map. We suggest you allocate at least 3 nights here to see most of the city’s attractions. Similar to Rome, it has many Roman ruins and buildings making the city feel at times like an open air museum.
We suggest you do consider using public transport as the city isn’t small and covering large distances by foot might not be feasible.
Most attractions do tend to be in the centre however, we suggest looking the opening times and ticket availability as some restrictions can apply. As an example is the “Last Supper” Museum where tickets are released with weeks in advance and go like fresh baked bread.
Overall, our time in Milan was amazing and we managed to see many things and experience northern Italian vibe and cuisine. You can also check this 48 hours in Milan itinerary for more inspirations.
1. See the Famous Last Supper Painting
One of the main things when visiting Milan is the Last Supper Painting. A visit to “The Last Supper” provides a rare opportunity to witness one of the world’s most famous artworks in its original setting, offering a profound and memorable experience for art enthusiasts and tourists alike.
It is not located in a traditional museum setting but rather in its original location at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
To protect the delicate artwork, entry to see “The Last Supper” is strictly regulated. Visitors are required to book timed tickets in advance, and only a limited number of people are allowed into the viewing area at a time. This ensures a more intimate and contemplative experience with the painting.
Tickets can be bought as individual tickets or guided tours. As you’d imagine, guided tours are more expensive but there is more availability. If you are after individual tickets we suggest you regularly check the official website for when they release tickets for your dates.
Tickets go very fast especially during peak season so we suggest this is the first thing you consider when planning to come to Milan. Visitors are typically given a specific time slot for their viewing, and it’s essential to arrive on time to fully enjoy the experience.
Leonardo da Vinci painted “The Last Supper” between 1495 and 1498 as a mural for the Dominican monastery’s dining hall. The painting depicts the moment when Jesus announces that one of his disciples will betray him.
The artwork is renowned for its innovative composition, use of perspective, and the emotional depth of the characters.
2. Visit Santa Maria delle Grazie Church
The construction of Santa Maria delle Grazie began in 1466 and was commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza. The church was designed by architect Guiniforte Solari in a Gothic style with some Renaissance elements.
The church was intended to be a Dominican monastery and a mausoleum for the Sforza family. The name “Santa Maria delle Grazie” translates to “Holy Mary of Grace.”
Santa Maria delle Grazie stands not only as a place of worship but also as a cultural and artistic landmark, attracting visitors from around the world who come to witness the masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci within its hallowed walls.
3. Sit down for a drink at Cathedral Square
Cathedral square or Piazza del Duomo is another major attraction in Milan. There is a metro stop leading right there and once you go out the metro station you will be welcomed with the astonishing view of the Dome itself.
A great way to enjoy this square is to sit down at one of the nearby cafes or bars and enjoy a nice refreshing glass of Aperol Spritz.
4. Explore the Duomo di Milano
The Duomo di Milano, or Milan Cathedral, is a magnificent Gothic cathedral located in the heart of Milan. This is the main landmark and a symbol of the city.
Construction of the cathedral began in 1386 under Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo, and it took several centuries to complete. The last details of the cathedral were finished in the 19th century.
The Duomo is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, characterized by its pointed arches, flying buttresses, and intricate details.
The exterior of the cathedral is adorned with numerous spires, statues, and marble reliefs. The most notable feature is the forest of spires that crown the building, creating a breath-taking skyline.
Visitors can climb to the rooftop for panoramic views of Milan.
One of the unique features of the Duomo is the ability for visitors to access the rooftop terraces. From here, one can enjoy panoramic views of Milan and see the intricate details of the cathedral up close.
When buying tickets you will be presented with a few options such as going up by stairs or taking the lift. However, do note that either options mean you have to go down by stairs.
We chose the going up the stairs option as it was a bit cheaper and we didn’t mind the extra cardio. Having said that do not overestimate the exercise level as it is intense depending on your fitness level.
As you come from the upstairs terrace you will enter the main Cathedral itself. The interior is equally impressive, featuring a vast nave with intricate stained glass windows, ornate altars, and numerous sculptures.
It does pay tribute to the greatness of the city and impressive craftsmanship.
5. Learn about the Duomo’s history at Duomo Museum
The museum is located near the Milan Cathedral, allowing visitors to seamlessly explore both the museum and the cathedral in the same vicinity.
It houses a rich collection of art, sculptures, and artifacts that span the history of the Milan Cathedral. Visitors can admire works from different periods, including the Gothic and Renaissance eras.
The museum serves as a complement to a visit to the Milan Cathedral, offering a more comprehensive understanding of its historical and artistic significance.
Tickets for the Duomo Museum may be separate or combined with tickets for the Milan Cathedral and other attractions. We advise to check for combination ticket options.
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6. Spin on the Bull at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a historic shopping gallery and a prominent landmark in Milan. Named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy, the Galleria was designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni and constructed between 1865 and 1877.
The Galleria was conceived as a grand shopping and meeting place, reflecting the prosperity and modernity of Milan during the 19th century. It is shaped like a cross, with four arms of arcades housing high-end shops, cafes, restaurants, and luxury boutiques. The floors are paved with elegant mosaics.
In the centre of the Galleria’s floor, there is a mosaic of a bull. Tradition has it that spinning on the bull’s genitals brings good luck. This act, known as the “Bull of Turin,” has become a ritual for visitors.
One explanation for this is because Milan and Turin have always been rivals. And one way to poke fun at your rival’s mascot is by stepping on it’s private parts! Seems fair.
Overall, your visits to the Galleries will leave you pleasantly impressed and wanting to come back.
7. Check out the Columns of San Lorenzo
The Columns of San Lorenzo are a set of ancient Roman columns located in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Milan. These columns were originally part of a Roman bathhouse, and their exact origin dates back to the 2nd century.
The Columns are located in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, an early Christian basilica that has undergone various renovations over the centuries. The basilica and the columns collectively contribute to the historical and cultural ambiance of the area.
The area around the Columns of San Lorenzo has become a popular gathering spot, especially in the evenings. It is frequented by locals and visitors alike, creating a vibrant atmosphere with cafes, bars, and street performers.
Just as we sat towards the end of our day in the area we saw many street performers and youngsters simply listening in to the guitar songs almost creating a serene atmosphere.
Whilst the venue itself isn’t something particularly to write home about the neighbourhood and the surrounding cafes and restaurants are something worth exploring.
8. Say a Prayer at Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro
The church’s origins date back to the 9th century when it was built near the ancient Roman forum. It underwent several reconstructions and renovations over the centuries.
One of the most remarkable features of the Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro is the apse. Despite the church’s limited space, the Renaissance architect Donato Bramante created an illusionary apse that appears much deeper than it actually is.
This optical illusion, achieved through perspective techniques and a shallow physical depth, is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. If you are interested in art, architecture, and historical churches will find the Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro to be a captivating and unique destination.
9. Immerse Yourself in History at Sforzesco Castle
The castle’s origins can be traced back to the 14th century when it was built by the Visconti family. Over the centuries, it underwent expansions and renovations under various rulers, including the powerful Sforza family.
The castle houses several museums, making it a cultural treasure trove. Notable museums include the Pinacoteca di Brera, showcasing an impressive collection of art, and the Museum of Ancient Art (Museo d’Arte Antica), displaying artifacts from various periods.
Among the art treasures is Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture, Pieta Rondanini, located in the castle’s Michelangelo Room.
We also suggest going up the ramparts of the walls where you can get an impressive view of the castle grounds and the city in the far. We managed to get an impressive short and do a time lapse with our camera.
We found that tickets can often be purchased for specific museums or as a combined ticket for access to multiple attractions. We would suggest you allow at least 3-4 hours to fully visit the Castle and its museums.
Moreover, do make use of the museum lockers for luggage as you may be here for longer than you may think.
10. Admire the Arch of Peace
The Arch of Peace was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century to celebrate his victories and mark the peace established after the Treaty of Paris in 1815.
The Arch of Peace is a fine example of neoclassical architecture, drawing inspiration from ancient Roman triumphal arches. It features Corinthian columns, sculptures, and bas-reliefs.
It is easily accessible by foot, located near the Brera district and the Sforza Castle. It makes sense to visit it after your visit Sforza Castle as they are in nearby vicinity. You can combine a visit to the Arch of Peace with a stroll through Parco Sempione.
11. Check out Bosco Verticale and Porta Nuova
Although Bosco Verticale buildings feature in most photos of Milan, you will not as you explore the city that actually most building have an interior garden on their balconies.
The primary feature of Bosco Verticale is its two residential towers (Torre Garibaldi (81 meters) and Torre E (112 meters)), characterized by the inclusion of a vast number of trees and plants on the balconies of each apartment.
This “vertical forest” concept aims to contribute to environmental sustainability and enhance the quality of urban life. The towers house over 900 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 11,000 floral plants.
The complex is situated in the Porta Nuova district, one of Milan’s modern and dynamic areas. Whilst in the area we do suggest to visit this area as it host multiple shops and cafes set in a modern glass budlings.
12. Take a Day Trip to Lake Como
Lake Como or “Lago di Como” in Italian, is one of Italy’s most breath-taking and famous lakes. Nestled in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, it’s renowned for its stunning natural beauty, charming lakeside towns, and a rich cultural heritage.
Due to it’s proximity to the city of Milan, Lake Como is a popular day trip destination from Milan.
Lake Como is the third-largest lake in Italy and one of the deepest in Europe, surrounded by towering alpine mountains and lush green hills. The lake is dotted with a series of charming towns and villages, each with its own unique character and appeal.
Visiting Lake Como was part of our Interrail trip around Europe in 2023, so it only made sense that we travel by train to the lake. After some research, we made up our mind and decided to travel by train from Milano Centrale. We really enjoyed our time there and truly recommend it to everyone.
If you prefer a guided experience and don’t want to worry about transportation logistics, you can book a guided tour from Milan to Lake Como.
13. Other things to do in Milan
Here are a few other suggestions about things to do in Milan.
Food and Drinks Highlights
Milanese cuisine is a delightful blend of Lombard and Italian culinary traditions, offering a diverse array of dishes that reflect the city’s rich history and cultural influences.
Here’s a short overview of Milanese cuisine to help you taste a bit of Milan:
- Risotto alla Milanese: Milan is renowned for its Risotto alla Milanese, a creamy saffron-infused risotto. This dish often includes bone marrow, onions, white wine, and Parmesan cheese, creating a rich and flavourful experience.
- Cuttlefish Ink Risotto: Milan’s proximity to the sea influences its cuisine, and Risotto al Nero di Seppia is a prime example. This unique dish features cuttlefish ink, providing a bold flavour and distinctive black colour.
- Braised Veal Shanks: Ossobuco is a classic Milanese dish featuring slow-cooked veal shanks in a savoury broth. It is often served with a gremolata, a zesty condiment made with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.
- Breaded and Fried Veal Cutlet (Cotoletta alla Milanese): This iconic Milanese dish involves a breaded and fried veal cutlet, typically served with lemon wedges. It’s a simple yet delicious representation of Milanese culinary traditions.
- Festive Sweet Bread (Panettone): While not exclusive to Milan, Panettone is a popular Christmas treat in the city. This sweet bread is studded with candied fruits and raisins, and it’s often enjoyed with a cup of coffee or sweet wine.
Below is a selection of places we would recommend when visiting the city:
Eat on the go at Zia Esterina Sorbillo
Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina serves fried pizza. This pizzeria is set right next to the Galleries and offers a very simple yet delicious menu. If you’ve ever seen a Calzone then imagine a fried Calzone. Oh yes!
The filling was sumptuous and delicious and the dough was light and not greasy what so ever. The price was more than acceptable considering the location making it one of the best finds in central Milan.
Try an authentic Pizza at Gino Sorbillo – Pizza Gourmand
Gino Sorbillo – Pizza Gourmand offers a classic take on the iconic Italian staple. Good prices and fresh ingredients make this place a wonderful experience for anyone looking to try an authentic pizza when coming to Italy.
I had the the Pizza Diavola which was a classic spicy Italian Pizza and Hristina got the Four Cheeses Pizza. Both were very good however, whilst I don’t mind, the base is a bit soggy, so if that’s not your thing you might not enjoy it.
Enjoy Milanese Food at La Locanda del Gatto Rosso
La Locanda del Gatto Rosso is a typical Milanese restaurant set in the iconic Emanualle Galleries. It’s absolutely packed with tourists all wanting to enjoy local cuisine.
The restaurant is good and offers a good selection of menu items. However, prices can be quite spicy given the setting of the place. Overall the food was good, not great but offered a glimpse into Milanese cuisine.
I had the Veal Cutlet and Hristina tried the typical Milanese Risotto. Both meals were great and the ambience was simply 10/10.
Normally this wouldn’t be a place we would go to as it does have the makings of tourist trap (given the high service charge) however, all Milanese restaurants were closed in August leaving us with a few choices only.
Nonetheless, a good place to consider when in Milan. We also suggest booking your table ahead of time as we had to wait a good 30 minutes before being seated.
Enjoy a Delicious Cup of Coffee at Starbucks Reserve Roastery
The Starbucks Reserve Roastery is situated in a historic post office building in Piazza Cordusio, a central square in Milan. The location is steeped in history, adding to the charm of the coffee experience.
Unlike typical Starbucks stores, the Reserve Roastery concept aims to offer a more premium and immersive coffee experience. It’s a showcase for Starbucks’ premium Reserve coffee beans.
Inside you will be able to see the roasting process everything from bean to cup. On their menu you will also note aside from the typical Starbucks items some unique items only available at that store. Even if you aren’t much of a coffee drinker it’s still worth the trip we think.
Treat Yourself to a Sweet Pastry at Princi
Princi is a chain of artisanal bakeries offering all sorts of traditional and pan-European treats and pastries. The pastries look flaky and delightful whilst the sandwiches are mouth-watering.
One other thing to note, Princi are the official supplier of baked good for the Starbucks Reserve Store further reassuring you of their quality.
I tried one of their apricot tarts with a cappuccino – what can I say – it was worth every penny.
Enjoy a Drink with a View at Camparino in Galleria
Camparino in Galleria is a wonderful bar serving the nation’s favourite appetiser – Campari. They offer a plethora of cocktails and long drinks all based on Campari. Aside from this, they serve plenty of finger food but also bistro style eats served in a stylish manner.
Service is also another thing worth noting, whilst we were there the staff were very polite and kind.
Hristina had the Campari Spritz and I had the Negroni Campari. They were accompanied with roasted nuts, salted polenta chips and olives.
Overall, the ambience, the amazing view of the Duomo and the square make it one of the better places to have a drink, ever.
Milan is that wonderful city that leaves you wanting to come back. A city that is a wonderful treat to any visitor. The people make Milan the amazing city it is today.
Milan is a safe and modern city with many excellent dining options. It offers great architecture and amazing historical sights to explore. It combines the modern and the past in a unique blend only found in this city.
We think visiting the North of Italy is a must and therefore we think you should start with this great city.
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