Last Updated on 28th October 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
As one of the most beautiful, not to mention iconic, destinations in Northern Italy, Milan is a must-see when travelling through the boot-shaped country. Best explored over the course of several days (or even longer if you have the time), it’s worth noting that the city is known as ‘Milano’ locally. Here are the top Milan travel tips you must know before your first visit!
The second-largest city in Italy (second only to Rome) is simply a delight to visit! Between the world-famous Duomo (cathedral) and a fantastic foodie scene that’s easily one of the best in Europe, you can’t go wrong by booking the time to stay and discover the best things to do in Milan.
Italian is the local language in Milano
Although many people you’ll encounter will speak fantastic English, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language. I personally recommend beginning with at least the basics, i.e. ‘Please, Hello, Thank You, and Sorry’. Help yourself get by with Italian by purchasing a simple phrasebook like this one.
You need to book to visit the Last Supper in Advance
If you want to see the world-famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo da Vinci then you should know before you go that you’ll need to book tickets in advance. Currently, only a maximum of 1300 people a day are allowed to see the painting, and slots are timed for just fifteen-minutes long.
This is because rather than being a fresco, The Last Supper was actually painted onto drywall (frescoes are typically painted onto wet plaster). As such, the paint is deteriorating much faster than if it were painted in another way. To avoid disappointment, be sure to book your Last Supper tickets well in advance here.
The Duomo di Milano rooftop is a must-visit
If you’re looking for the best sunset spot in Milan, then you simply need to look no further: the Duomo di Milano rooftop terrace offers breathtaking views of the city and beyond. Set against the backdrop of one of the most impressive examples of Italian Renaissance architecture, the terraced areas are the perfect place to snap photos of the city and see another perspective of Milano. Purchase your Duomo & Duomo di Milano rooftop ticket here in advance.
You should bring a light rain jacket or umbrella
Due to its position to the North of Italy, Milan is well-known for the sheer amount of rain the city receives on an annual basis in comparison with many other major Italian destinations. As such, you’ll want to pack an umbrella or light rain jackets to bring along with you on your trip!
It couldn’t be easier to visit Milan!
Thanks to several international airports and fantastic train links to the rest of Europe, Milano makes for the perfect weekend break, or longer stint if you have more time on your hands and wish to use the city as a base to explore the wider Lombardia region.
Milan is home to an array of hidden gems
Did you know that there’s a secret vineyard in Milan? Or that there’s a chapel constructed from bones? Well, the capital city of Lombardia has all this to offer and more. Head to Milan’s city centre and simply stroll around, allowing your feet to guide you and you’re sure to stumble upon at least a hidden gem or two. Alternatively, for a more comprehensive guide, check out my guide to the best-kept secrets of Milan.
Be sure to visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Aside from the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), the other must-see major attraction of Milano is that of the ornate and covered Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Constructed in the 19th-century, the shopping arcade is the oldest of its kind in Italy and stands at a staggering four-storeys high.
Local legend has it that if you spin three times on the testicles of the bull mosaic then you’ll be blessed with good luck. However, as you might imagine from any such custom, the mosaic has since suffered serious damage due to the sheer number of tourists and locals alike opting to do this!
Be sure to bring a universal travel adapter with you
Whether you’re from North America, the UK, and many other destinations across the world, it’s worth noting that you’ll probably require an adapter so that you can keep your electronics charged on the go. Purchase a universal travel adapter like this one and you’ll be able to use it in multiple destinations, thus saving you precious suitcase space!
Don’t order a Latte unless you want a glass of hot milk
Yes, you read that correctly! Despite what you may be used to, a latté in Italy is simply a hot glass of milk. If you’re looking for a mix of coffee and milk, then you’d be better served by ordering a caffé latte as this will actually contain coffee! A simple coffee is simply ‘un caffé’.
Never order a cappuccino after lunchtime
And while we’re on the subject of coffee, be sure to never order a cappuccino after lunch! This is simply seen as a morning beverage and is not typically drunk later on in the day. Instead, simply go for ‘un caffé’. For more information about Italian coffee culture, check out my guide on how to order coffee in Italy.
Watch out for pickpockets
As with any major European city, Milan has its fair share of pickpockets, especially in more touristic areas such as near the Milano Cathedral and around Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. As such, be sure to keep an eye on your belongings at all times and be sure to bring along a bag that zips up fully. I personally own one like this one and love its versatility!
Tipping isn’t essential
If you’re going out for a meal, or even just a coffee, and are wondering about tipping culture in Italy, then you should know that gratuities or tips are not expected.
Sampling an aperitivo is a must!
Of all the Milan travel tips I could give you, it’s worth noting that the Lombardy capital is perhaps the Italian capital city of the aperitivo and is even widely regarded to be the birthplace of the heritage. This tradition is to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail which is typically served with complimentary nibbles. For the best aperitivo in the city, I highly recommend heading to the über cool Navigli neighbourhood, which is characterised by its twinkling night lights and many canals.
Milan is more expensive to visit than other Italian cities
Between accommodation costs, seeing major attractions, and eating out in the city, it’s fair to say that Milano is much more expensive than many other major Italian towns and cities I’ve visited over the years, including Bergamo and Turin. As such, budget accordingly and be sure to check restaurant prices before sitting down for any meals!
Be sure to book your place to stay well in advance!
Thanks to Milan’s year ’round popularity, there is never a shortage of places to stay both within the city confines and just outside. Though you might consider booking a place further from the city centre to minimise costs, consider the amount of time you actually have to see Milan as well as the extra amount of time you’ll end up spending travelling to see if it’s really worth the savings. Check the best accommodation prices in Milan here.
Plan the timing of your visit to Milan
While many people would assume that Italy is sunny and warm all year ’round, this is simply not the case when it comes to Northern Italy. Instead, though the summers are hot, the winters can be incredibly cold and you’ll need to wrap up warm with plenty of layers.
As such, if you’re looking for the best time to visit Italy, then you should consider what you want to get out of your trip! Typically, I recommend that people visit Europe during the shoulder seasons, i.e. fall and spring, and more specifically the end of spring and the beginning of fall. This way, it’s possible to enjoy the best of the weather with fewer crowds and lower prices to match!
Visit the top Milan museums for free
Like many major European cities, including Paris, on the first Sunday of every month, you can save a few euros by making the most of free museum days. Civic museums which are typically free on this day include Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Museo di Storia Naturale, Acquario Civico, Museo del Novecento, Palazzo Morando, and even The Last Supper (though reservations are hard to get hold of and are mandatory).
Milan is a great base from which to make day trips
For those who are looking to get a little bit more of a feel for Italy than simply its cosmopolitan vibe, Milano makes for a great location from which to take day trips to the rest of Italy and even further afield. From the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps on the Bernina Express to the medieval towns of Bologna and Pavia, there’s a day trip for even the most discerning of travellers. Fancy more Wanderlust inspiration? Check out this guide to the best day trips from Milan.