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? 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!)
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…
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.
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 terraces at sunset! Check here to book tickets in advance!
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, 20122 Milano MI, Italy
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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. Further details about the museums available, as well as their opening times, can be found on the Castello Sforzesco website.
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!
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. For further opening times and ticket prices, check the Pinacoteca di Brera’s official website.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.