In Italy/ Like a Local

What Your Guidebook Won’t Tell You! 10 Unusual attractions & Secret Spots in Milan

Girl on the Duomo di Milano rooftop terrace overlooking the city of Milan, Northern Italy at sunset
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As Capital of the Lombardy region, Milan is a bustling, busy, and modern city where it’s often hard to find a moment of calm. Home to a multitude of must-see sights such as the Duomo and the colourful Brera district, there’s also a hidden Milan that few people ever get to know about. Here’s what your guidebook won’t tell you in ten unusual attractions and secret spots in Milan that you won’t want to miss!

10 secret spots in Milan you should know about for any Italian adventure to the capital of the Lombardy region, Italy. Quirky attractions, offbeat places, and unusual things to do in Milan.

#1 Duomo di Milano rooftop terrace, the best secret spot in Milano

Though everyone, of course, has heard of the Duomo di Milano (Milan’s Cathedral). One of the largest cathedrals in the world, second only to St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Duomo is one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture to be found anywhere in Europe.

Of all the hidden gems in Milan, the Duomo’s rooftop terrace is, hands down, my all-time favourite. And so, if you want to enjoy the best of this secret spot, be sure to head to the terrace during sunset (i.e. golden hour) as this is when the lighting is at its best and you’ll be able to capture the most beautiful photos.

Built over the course of six centuries, what you may well not know is that aside from stepping inside the vast ecclesiastical building, you can also climb onto its rooftop for an extra fee. From the top, you’ll soon be rewarded with unrivalled views over Milano and beyond. Check here to purchase your Duomo di Milano rooftop tickets in advance.

Best things to do in Milan, Italy: Duomo di MilanoLooking for the best view in Milan? Here’s how to visit the Duomo di Milano rooftop terrace (Milan’s Cathedral). As one of the Lombardy capital’s must see attractions, this guide will tell you the best time to go, what you can expect to see, and a little history of the cathedral

#2 San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore

Often referred to as Milan’s answer to the Sistine Chapel, one wander into the stunning 16th-century frescoed interior of the San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore and it will quickly become clear how the church gained its nickname.

Once attached to an important female convent of the Benedictine Order, the former monastery has since been transformed into an archaeological museum. The church itself remains free to visit and services are held every Sunday.

#3 San Bernadino alle Ossa

Nestled in the shadows of the Duomo di Milano, the San Bernadino alle Ossa is the kind of chapel you definitely wouldn’t expect to find in a busy modern city. For, the interior walls are decorated with countless human skulls and bones, reportedly the victims of the plague.

The story goes that in the 13th-century, an adjacent cemetery ran out of space and so a chapel was constructed to hold bones. The church has morbidly stood in the centre of the city ever since. Today, the ossuary is free to visit, though there is a donation box for the upkeep of the chapel.

Quirky and unusual things to do in Milan. Hidden and secret spots in Milan: San Bernadino alle OssaSan Bernadino alle Ossa, Turin, Italy

#4 Leonardo’s Vineyard (Vigna di Leonardo in the Casa Degli Atellani)

First gifted to the grandmaster himself almost five hundred years ago, a trip to sip on an aperitivo in the grounds of Leonardo’s Vineyard is one of the quirkiest and most unusual things to do in Milan. Records suggest that when Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Last Supper, just across the road from the vineyard, he would spend his breaks among the grapes, soaking up the calm atmosphere.

Although the vineyard was badly damaged during WWII, it has since been restored to its former glory and is open to visitors once more. If you want to visit this Milan hidden gem for yourself, then you should know that you have to pay for entry (though it’s totally worth it!) Purchase your Vigna di Leonardo ticket here in advance.

#5 Cloisters & Palazzos of Università degli Studi di Milano

Italy is home to some of the oldest universities in the world and Milan is no exception. Although Università degli Studi di Milano was only established in the 1920s, the buildings in which it was opened date back much earlier. Head just a ten minute walk away from the Duomo di Milano and you’ll be able to explore the countless cloisters and numerous palazzos that form Milan’s University.

Quirky and unusual things to do in Milan. Hidden and secret spots in Milan: Milan university cloistersOne week in Northern Italy Travel Itinerary you should follow: 7 day trip highlights include Turin, Pavia, Milan and Bergamo! (Most beautiful monastery in Europe, alpine towns and local cuisine!)

#6 Brera Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico di Brera)

Located in the hip, trendy, and cool district of Brera (i.e. where all the locals hang out!), the Botanical Gardens are open from Monday through to Saturday and are just one part of a larger complex located around the Brera Palace. Although the Gardens are just 5000 square metres in size, they’re a perfectly secluded oasis of green, perfect for hanging out with friends and escaping the crowds of Milan.

#7 Bull of Vittorio Emanuele II

Of course, you’re probably thinking that the oldest shopping mall in Italy, and one of Milano’s must-see attractions, has no place in being on a list of hidden Milan attractions! So ornate and sumptuous is this walkway, that it’s often referred to as the “il salotto di Milano”(Milan’s Drawing Room).

Head into the covered passage and look down at the mosaics beneath your feet (hard, I know, when the shop façades and overhead glass panelling is so stunning!). In the very heart of the mall, you’ll spot the Turin Bull of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Legend has it that if one spins around on the bull’s private parts, then they’ll be granted good luck!

Vittorio Emanuele II PassagewayBull of Vittorio Emanuele II

#8 Bar Luce

Okay, so perhaps you’ve heard of this secret spot in Milan… But on the off chance that you haven’t, I’ve decided to add it to this list of secret spots in Milan! Designed by cult film director Wes Anderson, Bar Luce is inspired by the Milanese coffee shops of the 1950s and ’60s.

All pastel shades and with a vintage ambience, it’s well worth stopping by, if only to enjoy an Italian coffee! Featuring both indoor and outdoor seating and ever so ‘Instagrammable’, the exact address for Bar Luce is: Largo Isarco, 2, 20139 Milano. Highlights of the menu include old fashioned cocktails and authentic coffee options.

#9 Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore

Many of the oldest buildings to be found in Milan are those of churches, chapels, and former monasteries. While many of these ecclesiastical spaces have since been transformed into concert halls and quirky museums, the Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore remains a church to this day.

Located right next to the ossuary chapel, the basilica was first established in the 5th-century. Although much of the original church was destroyed by a fire in the 11th-century, the current building on site is well over a thousand years old.

Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore interior

#10 Bike around the Navigli

One of the best ways to explore Milan (especially if you’re a little short on time and want to see as much as possible), it to cycle around the many Navigli (canals) which criss-cross the city. And no, you’ve not stumbled into Venice, although it definitely feels like it at times!

Instead, 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.

#11 Cimitero Monumentale

If you’re looking for offbeat destinations in Milan, then you simply must head to the Monumental Cemetery, a graveyard first established in the mid-19th-century. The cemetery is well-known for its number of artistic monuments and tombs, and plenty of well-known people are interred there.

Funerary shrines and sculptures in the cemetery include a depiction of a pyramid, a representation of the Last Supper on a family tomb, and various other interesting sculptures. Located a little way out of the city centre, many of the tombs themselves are the creations of famous architects.

#12 Take a side day trip to Bergamo

One of the best day trips from Milan is that which can be taken to the nearby city of Bergamo. Just under an hour away via public transport, this hidden gem of Northern Italy is set over two levels; an upper and lower town. And while the lower town is a beautiful example of 18th-century architecture, it’s in the upper town where the true treasures of Bergamo lie.

The medieval streets to be found there are studded with ancient chapels, centuries-old buildings, and a feel of stepping back in time. Particular highlights include the central square where enjoying a coffee is oh-so pleasant and several art museums where you can easily lose yourself for hours.

Best things to do in Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy: view of Bergamo

Things to know before visiting Milan

Even if you’re only planning on spending one day in Milan, you’ll soon discover that there are plenty of hidden gems and unusual attractions to pique your interest. For those staying a little longer in the Lombardian capital, there are also some amazing day trips from Milan that are totally worth taking.

Otherwise, there are a few simple things you should know before you go. For example, while almost everyone in the tourism industry speaks English, it’s only polite to learn a little Italian before you go. I recommend learning ‘hello,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘sorry’ at a minimum. To help you, consider investing in a simple Italian phrasebook like this one.

Finally, thanks to an increasing surge of popularity over the past few years, interest in Milan has really increased and shows no signs of slowing down. As a result, the best hotels and B&Bs often sell out fast, particularly during the high seasons such as school holidays and during the summer. To avoid disappointment, be sure to book your place to stay well in advance. Check here for Milano accommodation prices.

Best things to do in Milan: Piazza del Duomo

Enjoyed reading about the best quirky, unusual and secret spots in Milan? Pin it now, read it again later:

Secrets of Milan: Unique, Historical & Unusual Things to do in Milan, capital of Lombardy, Northern Italy. Where you should stay, what you need to visit and best attractions in Milan, Italy!

10 secret spots in Milan you should know about for any Italian adventure to Lombardy, Italy. Quirky attractions and unusual things to do in Milan.

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Denise Booth
    18th April 2018 at 12:06 am

    Thanks for a couple of suggestions I didn’t have. I have Bar Luce on my list and will make time to get to the Brrra district. Heading there next week. My first time in Milan and looks like the weather is just starting to warm up.

  • Reply
    Azaria
    29th March 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Where was the thumbnail taken? I’m going to Milan for my birthday next weekend and would love to know!!

    • Reply
      Sophie Nadeau
      29th March 2018 at 2:02 pm

      At the very top of the Duomo roof terraces in the middle of Milan! I hope you have an amazing Birthday weekend 🙂

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