Milan is the capital of fashion and design but not only that. Milan is also where Leonardo da Vinci started his craft. Milanese food is also excellent, and the city offers plenty of things to see, do and experience.
Where is Milan?
Milan is in the north of Italy in the Lombardy region. Milan international airport (Malpensa Airport) is at little less than one hour away by train. Alternatively, the journey to the city centre is quicker by taxi but more expensive.
What to do in Milan?
1. Duomo Cathedral
The Duomo Cathedral is one of the best places to go when you are visiting Milan. The Duomo Cathedral has a stunning gothic façade and is the second largest cathedral in the world after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One of the best things to do is to buy a ticket and climb to the roof terrace.
Is the Duomo free to visit? Yes, it is free to enter the cathedral, but you need to pay to access the Dome, Bell Tower and Crypt.
The Piazza del Duomo is the main square of Milan and is an open space where you can admire the cathedral. In contrast, the best view of the Piazza Del Duomo is from the roof of the cathedral. The Piazza is situated next to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
2. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was the first shopping mall built in Italy. In my opinion, it is charming. Inside you will find Milan’s most exclusive shops. If you can’t afford to shop at Prada, don’t worry! You can still go and have a coffee in Biffi opened in 1867 or, if you prefer, McDonald’s! This McDonald’s is very posh with golden decorations.
La pièce de résistance is the magnificent dome with its mosaic which represents the world. If you see people spin over the bull it is normal. Legend says that if you close your eyes and successfully spin 360 degrees with your right foot on the bull, you will be lucky.
3. Brera District
The best way to discover the Brera District is to have no plan, just wander around and you will stumble on museums, art galleries and charming streets … This area starts after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It is a vibrant area where you may even spot some celebrities. If you are tired, you can stop for a coffee in an authentic coffee shop. This area is loved by the locals. While you are in this area, you can also go to Pinacoteca di Brera.
4. Pinacoteca di Brera
The Pinacoteca di Brera is an art museum. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, but it is the biggest museum in Italy with more than 400 pieces of art. The museum hosts some of the most prestigious masterpieces of ancient and modern art. It is considered to have one of the best collections in Italy. So, this is an art lover’s paradise!
5. The Sforza Castle
The Sforza Castle is found right in the middle of the city and was built in the 15th century. The castle has undergone various renovations and expansions and now houses an exhibition. Access to the castle is free, but you need to pay if you want to see the exhibition which is worth a visit.
6. Santa Maria delle Grazie
The Santa Maria delle Grazie Church is in heart of Milan. Its splendid architecture and its connection with Leonardo Da Vinci made this church one of my favourite places to visit. The church was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous and instantly recognisable fresco, “The Last Supper” is found in this church.
7. Stade San Siro
The Giuseppe Meazza Stadium (know as San Siro) is the home of AC Milan and Internazionale. If you are a football fan, the stadium tour is well worth a visit. Amongst other things, you can visit the changing rooms and learn how the stadium works. There is also a shop at the end of the visit where you will find everything a fan could possibly desire.
8. La Scala
Teatro alla Scala is an opera house and the name, Scala, is known everywhere in the world. This famous opera house hosts the most prestigious operas. The interior of the opera house is impressive, and it is interesting to visit such a historic building. If you want to visit, you need to either book to see a performance or buy a ticket to visit the museum. You can’t just turn up and visit the opera house.
9. Leonardo da Vinci Museum
The National Museum of Science and Technology is the biggest science museum in Italy. It is over 40.000 square meters, so you have plenty of things to see inside and it is a great place to go with kids. You will find a large collection from Leonardo da Vinci including models and artefacts. Don’t miss his aerial screw model which was the predecessor to the helicopter.
10. Walk Along the Naviglio Grande
When we talk about canals in Italy, we always tend to think about Venice as we discuss in our article about whether Venice is worth visiting. However, Milan also has canals (naviglio in Italian). Both the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese are great for walks. You will find plenty of bars, shops and restaurants along the way where you can relax. Take time to look around you because the canals are also lined with historical buildings. Originally, the canals were built to transport goods from the nearby lakes but they are not used in this way anymore.
11. What Food Specialities Should I Try in Milan?
If you are a food lover, you will love Milan. There are so many delicious dishes and Milanese food is well known for great specialities like:
- Risotto alla Milanese
This is the most well-known dish, but also one of the best. To be honest, I love all Milanese food, but this is a creamy rice with a pinch of saffron and cooked slowly. Saffron is a very expensive spice, so don’t try a cheap Risotto or you will be served a yellow rice made with food colourants.
- Veal Milanese
Veal Milanese is a piece of veal cased in breadcrumbs. To prepare this dish, veal is placed in flour, then into eggs and, after that, rolled in breadcrumbs. The meat is then cooked.
- Osso Buco
This dish is veal shanks slow cooked with wine and spices, tomatoes, celery and onions. However, it was originally cooked with cinnamon, bay leaf and gremolata. This dish is very good in wintertime, and usually this dish is served with saffron rice.
12. Street Art
Unlike Brussels, Milan isn’t particularly known for its Street Art. (You can read more about Brussels Street Art in our article about whether Brussels is worth visiting.) However, Milan does have great Street Art artists. If you wander around the city, you will come across Street Art. If you want to see something amazing, you need to go to via Conchetta and via Predil where you will find Street Art from Blu. He was concerned about Milan transport, so he expressed himself by painting a bike over a car. Nothing special, I can hear you say until you realise that this painting is 300 meters long. There are plenty of other great artists working in Milan like Leoncavallo or Mr Blob.
13. Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio
The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio was the first church to be built in 387 AD in a Lombard Romanesque Style and become a model for later buildings. You will notice the originality of the building. For instance, there are 2 bell towers, one smaller than the other one. Inside, you will discover plenty of sculptures, a crypt and a very impressive atrium.
14. Canal Boat Ride
To see the city from water is very relaxing and in Milan you can easily do this by taking a canal boat ride. I love to be on the water, perhaps because I sailed for more than two years. You will see the city from a different perspective and navigate under old bridges. You need to be on the water long enough to enjoy it but not too long, so I advise you to consider this 50-minute tour. If you book using the link below, you will jump the queue and have peace of mind because you already have your ticket.
15. Things to do in Milan at Night
Milan is the perfect place to have a great evening. First, you can start it with an Aperitivo. Some bars serve Aperitivo. This is basically pre-dinner snacks or a small selection of nibbles which is free when you order a drink. Some Aperitivo selections are good-quality and very generous. For example, you might have pizza, ham, vegetables, pasta and olives.
If you are visiting Milan in the summer season, a lovely thing to do is to eat on the terrace of a restaurant. Take your time and enjoy the evening.
To have the best view of the city at night, climb the Torre Branca at sunset. This metallic tower is open almost every day until midnight. You can stand and enjoy the view from the viewing platform which is 100 meters high. In fact, the Torre Branca is the highest building in Milan.
Alternatively, grab a cocktail at the Nottingham Forest Cocktail Bar, which is known as being one of the best cocktail bars in the world.
Milan is the capital of fashion and is therefore a paradise for shopaholics! The most popular places to shop in Milan are:
–Via della Spiga for high-end boutiques. This street is closed to cars so it is also a nice place to walk and window shop.
– Corso Buenos Aires is where you will find shops like H&M or Zara and plenty of other retail outlets. Once again, it is an attractive street to walk along and admire the 19th 20th century style buildings.
– Via Dante is the best place to buy some souvenirs. You will also find high street chain stores here as well.
17. Piazza del Mercanto
The Piazza del Mercanto is a historic square which was originally home to small artisan shops and market areas. At one time, this square was used to impose the death sentence. Today, the fountain marks the place where this happened in the past. This square also played an important role during the revolt of Masaniello as this is where it started.
The piazza is a good place to visit. Although it isn’t the most beautiful square in the world, it is full of history. Interestingly, the shape of the piazza isn’t square or rectangular but is irregular. There are also many different churches. If you are in Milan for Christmas, the square has plenty of interesting small shops which are worth a visit.
18. China Town
Milan’s China Town or the Quartiere Cinese is the oldest and biggest in Italy so is worth a visit. The main street of China Town is considered to be the via Paolo Sarpi but it stretches out to via Bramante, via Aleardi and via Niccolini. Milan’s China Town is a unique city within another city. It’s a great place for a quiet walk or to browse the many traditional products which are on sale in over 150 stores. Of course, you can find authentic Chinese food here as well, especially Zhejiang cuisine.
19. Ride a Bike
One way of seeing the sights of Milan and is by bike. Exploring a city by bike is environmentally friendly, fun and keeps you fit! The BikeMi system is Milan’s bike sharing rental system. You can discover the city at your leisure and drop off the bike at a convenient Bike Sharing Stations which are dotted across the city. If you are feeling less confident about finding your way in the city or you want the company of others, you could consider a guided tour like this one.
20. Milan Archaeology Museum
If you are interested in history, the Milan Archaeology Museum is located in the former Maurizio convent which dates back to the 8th and 9th century. Inside you will find archaeological finds from key historical periods including the Romans, Greeks, Etruscans and Egyptians.
21. Parco Sempione
The Parco Sempione offers locals and tourists green space away from the bustle of the city. This large park (approximately 116 acres) is found in the north-west of Milan and is the perfect place to walk, run or have a picnic. In addition to the landscaping, the park is also full of attractions which are suitable for all the family.
One of the popular places to visit in the park, which is sure to please the kids, is the aquarium (Acquario Civico). The building itself is impressive and features a large statue of Neptune. Inside you will discover over 100 different varieties of fish. What’s more, the aquarium is free and is open every day except Mondays.
Within the park, you will also find a sports stadium (Arena Civica) which dates back to 1807. The arena can hold 10,000 people and is now used for football/rugby matches and international concerts. If you don’t want to attend a sporting or musical event, you can still go inside the stadium and run around the track.
Other attractions within the Parco Sempione, include the Napoleonic arch or Arch of Peace (Arco della Pace). This marble arch features impressive statues of horses and was built in tribute to Napoleon’s victories. Milan’s medieval castle (the Castle Sforzesco or Sforza Castle) is also located in this park (see point 5 above), as is the steel tower (Torre Branca) mentioned in point 15.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also art in the park! The Palazzo dell’Arte houses an international exhibition of decorative arts which change periodically. Exhibitions include contemporary art, architecture, design and sculpture.
Is Milan Worth Visiting?
Milan is a busy and vibrant city which has plenty of things to do and see which will entertain solo travellers, couples or families over a long weekend. You can rely on eating great food in this Italian city and soak up the history and culture which it has to offer.