Skip to Content

One Day in Milan: Best Things to do in Milan, Lombardy

Last Updated on 13th October 2022 by Sophie Nadeau

Known as a hive of industry in Northern Italy, here’s your guide to Milano and the very best things to do in Milan (even if you just book a trip for one day in Milan!)

As Milan is kind of famous for underwhelming visitors, we had no idea what to expect when we first booked our trip to Milan. After all, the city is a capital of fashion and design and is synonymous with Haute Couture, so it must be at least mildly interesting. Right?

We’d read that there was little in the way of great attractions, with the exception of the cathedral, and that most visitors to the region simply missed out on the city in favour of more iconic Italian towns.

However, a trip to Milan should not be missed on your Italian adventure, especially if you are planning to stay at least one week in Northern Italy… For more inspiration, be sure to check out our top Milan travel tips, how to plan a honeymoon in Italy, and how to spend 2 weeks in Italy.

Milan guide: best things to do in Milan in one day

What is Milan known for?

Milan is known as the fashion capital of Italy, and each year countless fashion shows take place in the city. The most important time in the fashion calendar is fashion week, which is held twice a year but unfortunately closed to the public. As well as this, Milan is the capital of the region of Lombardy, one of the biggest industrial areas in the boot-shaped country.

Suggested itinerary for one day in Milan

Start by visiting the Duomo di Milano

By far, the most famous attraction to visit in Milan is its grand and Gothic cathedral. Please note that you’ll have to pay to visit the interior of the cathedral, though its most iconic feature is probably its breathtaking façade.

Go onto the rooftop

After visiting the interior of Milan’s Cathedral, one of the best ways to get a bird’s eye view of the city is to go up onto its rooftop terrace. If you’re thinking of heading onto the rooftop as well as going into the cathedral, consider purchasing a combination ticket like this one.

Visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The most iconic covered arcade in all of Italy is undoubtedly the Vittorio Emanuele gallery. Constructed in the latter half of the 19th-century, this shopping gallery is free to visit and is located close to the cathedral. Inside, you’ll find plenty of upscale shops. Legend has it that if you spin on the bull in the centre of the mosaic flooring, you’ll be rewarded with a trip back to Milan.

Stroll around the Brera district

One of the more fun and interesting areas of Milan is the Brera district, which is best-known as being the design district and is particularly popular among fashion lovers. You can wander into independent boutiques and this is also a great place to grab lunch.

Castello Sforzesco

If you visit just one museum/ cultural institution during your time in Milano, make it Castello Sforzesco. This medieval fortification was built during the 15th-century on the remnants of a 14th-century castle. Today, the former fortress has been transformed into a museum with plenty of mini exhibits. Buy your ticket in advance here.

The Last Supper

Of course, one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous masterpieces is The Last Supper, which has now found a home in a special museum close to the Sforzesco Palace. There are a few ways to purchase tickets for The Last Supper, but undoubtedly one of the best is to book a guided tour like this one.

Go in search of hidden gems

Despite being one of the most famous cities in Italy, there is no shortage of amazing off the beaten path spots to discover. From visiting a church which houses a chapel containing an ossuary to visiting a mini vineyard in the heart of an urban area, there’s no shortage of fascinating places to visit.

Finish at the Navigli district

Cool, hip, and trendy, the Navigli were once navigable canals which were constructed to transport the Milanese around the city. Today, the waterways are no longer passable by boat but are a picturesque reminder of the city’s rich past. If you have a little more time in the city, then you may also want to embark on a Milan walking tour of the Navigli district.

Best things to do in Milan

Visit the interior, exterior and terraces of Milan Cathedral

(Duomo di Milano), Piazza del Duomo, 20122 Milano MI, Italy

Of course, the main attraction of Milano is its impressive Gothic Cathedral! If you’re spending just one day in Milan, then you should make sure to first head to the Duomo. Impressive, intricate and right in the heart of the city, most of Milan’s attractions are located in the vicinity of this grand structure.

Built over the course of almost six centuries, the ecclesiastical building is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity. There, you can admire the impressive façade; mythical beasts, church scenes, and even a dinosaur are carved into the marble exterior.

Please note that to enter inside the Duomo, visitors are expected to be moderately dressed, so don’t make the Milan mistake that I did and come prepared with clothing that covers both your knees and shoulders.

For a fee, you can also wander inside the Duomo (worshippers can still enter for free) and also ascend onto the cathedral’s magnificent terraces. For the best view of Milan from above, head up onto the Duomo’s magnificent rooftop terraces at sunset! Check here to book tickets in advance!

Best things to do in Milan, Italy: Duomo di Milano

Enjoy a drink at Bar Luce

Largo Isarco, 2, 20139 Milano MI, Italy (Wes Anderson’s Bar)

For fans of Wes Anderson films, a drink in the iconic Bar Luce is simply a must on any trip to the capital of Lombardy. Admirers of Anderson’s pastel aesthetics will rejoice in entering the interior of the Milanese Café, which is located just outside the city centre (and around a thirty-minute walk from the Duomo).

Designed by the film director himself, Bar Luce invokes the atmosphere of a Lombardian café in the 1950s or 1960s. Of the bar, Anderson said While I do think it would make a pretty good movie set, I think it would be an even better place to write a movie. I tried to make it a bar I would want to spend my own non-fictional afternoons in.

Wander around the Piazza del Duomo

The square (or ‘piazza’ in Italian) that the Duomo sits in is popular among tourists and locals alike in its own right. Filled with cafés, shops and other interesting pieces of architecture, you could easily sit here for hours, enjoying coffee among friends or simply snapping dozens of photos.

The birds, the tourists and the ever-changing pace of the city’s main square certainly make for some interesting scenery watching. Highlights of the Piazza del Duomo include covered arcades, the Royal Palace of Milan, and a monument dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel II.

Best things to do in Milan: Piazza del Duomo

Ride a vintage tram, anywhere in Milan!

Of all the best things to do in Milan, taking public transport is the one thing that you’ll need to do, rather than simply want to! And no, these quirky vintage and wooden trams are not just for the tourists or to draw further attention to the city. Instead, the trams date back to 1928 and are some of the oldest running public transportation in the world.

Vintage tram in Milan
Milan/ kavalenkava/ Shutterstock

Marvel at The Last Supper (housed in Santa Maria delle Grazie)

Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie, 20123 Milano MI, Italy

Impressive architecture aside, another great reason to visit Milano is that Da Vinci’s iconic masterpiece, the Last Supper is held here. In order to visit The Last Supper (perhaps Leonardo’s most famous artwork after that of the Mona Lisa), you’ll have to purchase your tickets in advance.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll only be allowed to admire the work for a fifteen-minute slot as only thirty people are allowed in the room at any time… But it’s totally worth a peek (and the €10+ fee) it if you love art enough! Check here to buy and book your tickets in advance.

The Last Supper

Attend the Opera at Teatro alla Scala

Via Filodrammatici, 2, 20121 Milano MI, Italy

If you don’t like the opera, then you can still admire the architecture of La Scala’s impressive façade when wandering around the city. First opened in 1778, many of Italy’s most iconic opera singers have performed here at some point or another.

Teatro alla Scala is widely regarded as one of the best opera and ballet houses in the world and so attending a performance here is a must if you’re a lover of the operatic arts…

teatro alla scala
Milan/ Claudio Divizia/ Shutterstock

Visit San Bernadino alle Ossa

Via Verziere, 2, 20122 Milano MI, Italy

Hiding in the shadows of Milan’s Cathedral (then again, what isn’t when it comes to Milan?), you’ll find a small chapel. If you already read a Romance language, then I’m sure you know that the word ‘ossa’ signifies ‘bones’. This chapel, which looks fairly ordinary on the outside, is decorated with numerous human skulls and bones to the interior.

The chapel was first constructed in the 12th-Century when a nearby cemetery started running out of space. After a fire in the 18th century, the chapel was renovated entirely and a large church built on an adjacent plot of land. Today, the San Bernadino alle Ossa chapel is one of the best hidden gems of Milano.

San Bernadino alle Ossa, Turin, Italy

Learn some history at Castello Sforzesco 

Piazza Castello, 20121 Milano MI, Italy

Right next to Milan’s largest park, Parco Sempione, you’ll find a castle that was once home to the First Duke of Milan. Constructed in the 15th-century on the remains of a 14th-Century fortification, today the castle complex includes a large variety of civic museums and other cultural hubs.

Highlights of visiting the Castello include the Egyptian Museum, the Museum of Ancient Arts, and the Museum of Musical Instruments. Purchase your Sforza Castle and Michelangelo’s Pietà Rondanini Tour here in advance.

Castello Sforzesco 
Castello Sforzesco / Olena Z/ Shutterstock

Be amazed by Il Cavallo Dello Sforza Statue

Statues, much like throughout the rest of Europe, can be found abundantly throughout Italy. For example, the small university town of Pavia to the West of Milan is iconic for its Minerva and Horse statues, one of which was said to have been influenced by Leonardo da Vinci.

Well, the Horse Statue was five hundred years in the making and was commissioned in the 1900s after da Vinci’s ‘lost notebooks’ revealed sketches for the plans of a well-balanced horse statue. The horse was installed in Milan in 1999 after casting and has been enjoyed by the public ever since!

Il Cavallo Dello Sforza Statue
Study for an equestrian monument (recto), Leonardo da Vinci, c.1485 – c.1490

Enjoy some culture the Pinacoteca di Brera

Via Brera, 28, 20121 Milano MI, Italy

Once used by Napoleon, this impressive building contains an even more astounding collection of artworks. Also known as the ‘Brera Art Gallery’, the Pinacoteca holds one of the most impressive art collections in Lombardy, if not all of Italy.

First established in 1776, today you can visit the impressive works for a fee. Highlights of Brera’s masterpieces include works by acclaimed artists Bellini, Raphael, and Piero della Francesa. Purchase your Brera District & Pinacoteca Guided Experience here in advance.

Pinacoteca di Brera
Pinacoteca di Brera/ Paolo Gallo/ Shutterstock

Snap some photos in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Piazza del Duomo, 20123 Milano MI, Italy

Italy’s oldest shopping mall is just metres away from the Duomo di Milano and is a must-see Milan attraction for any first time visitor to the city. Opened to the public in 1877, today it is filled with the haute couture fashion houses that are so synonymous with Milan. As a result of the abundance of shops and cafés to be found inside the gallery’s covered passageways, it’s often referred to as il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room).

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy

Stroll around the Brera District

This is Milan’s must-see district once you’ve visited the must-see Duomo and Last Supper! Hip, trendy, and cool, the Brera district encompasses everything about modern Milan that makes the city worth a visit.

Head to one of the areas many cafés, or simply stroll down the streets and soak up the atmosphere. Otherwise, for a quiet and calming activity, be sure to head to Brera Botanical Gardens, which date all the way back to the 18th-century and is opened on weekdays free of charge.

Brera Botanical Garden

Take a day trip to Certosa di Pavia

Via del Monumento, 4, 27012 Certosa di Pavia PV, Italy

Milan is well situated in the very heart of Lombardy with plenty of transport links. This means that it’s incredibly easy to take day trips from Milan, including to the nearby typically Italian towns of Bergamo and Pavia University Town.

But one of the very best day trips from Milan is to the nearby monastery of Certosa di Pavia, thought by many to be the most beautiful monastery in Italy, if not all of Europe.

Certosa di Pavia Monastery and Church, Lombary, Italy: Is this the most beautiful monastery in Europe, and a look at amazing Italian Renaissance architecture.

Where to stay in Milan

As Milano is such a thriving and vibrant capital city, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to selecting accommodation in the Lombardy capital. From cosy getaways to (more) budget finds- there’s no getting away from the fact that the city is expensive, here’s your complete mini-guide on where to stay in Milan:

Budget Accommodation in Milan

Ostello Bello: One of the best-rated in hostels in all of Italy can be found in Milano in the form of Ostello Bello. Located just a ten-minute walk from the Duomo, this hostel was voted Best Hostel in Italy 2017 by Hostelworld and comes with free breakfast and free WiFi. Check prices and availability here.

Luxury Accommodation in Milan

Sina the Gray: Situated just steps away from the iconic Duomo di Milano, this luxurious hotel comes from with all the amenities you would expect to find in a 5-star hotel; a city view, flatscreen TV, Wi-Fi, etc. Check prices and availability here.

Townhouse Galleria: If you love your accommodation served with a side of history, then you simply must stay in the TownHouse Galleria. Literally located within the Milan Galleria and overlooking the Duomo square, this 5-star hotel is incredibly luxurious. Check prices and availability here.

Did you enjoy reading about the best things to do in Milan? Pin it now, read it again later!

How to spend one day in Milan; a travel guide and itinerary for the best things to do in the capital of Lombardy (Lombardia), Milan, Northern Italy. When to go, where to visit, and where to stay!
Milan city guide, Capital of the Lombardy region in Northern Italy. How to spend one day in Milan, a 24 hour guide and the very best things to do in the city!
Milan Travel Guide: Best things to do in Milan, complete itinerary and ideas for a Milano visit, Lombardy, Italy!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.