Milan, a metropolis in Italy’s northern Lombardy region, is a global capital of fashion and design. Home to the national stock exchange, it’s a financial hub also known for its high-end restaurants and shops. The Gothic Duomo di Milano cathedral and the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, housing Leonardo da Vinci’s mural ‘The Last Supper,’ testify to centuries of art and culture.
Milan isn’t at the top of most tourist’s must-visit lists when they go to Italy, and few people include it in a first-time trip there, but though it lacks the big tourist hits that there are in, say, Rome or Florence, there are still plenty of great sights and activities in the city to keep you busy and happy.
Another major factor that would make me add Milan to any list of places to visit in Northern Italy is its central location. If you’re the kind of person who’d rather have one place to stay in a region and use it as a base from which to take day trips to other destinations, then Milan fits the bill perfectly. You can get a train to just about anywhere in the region from Milan, which is perfect if you are using a rail pass. Places like Lake Como, Turin, Verona, Venice, Cinque Terre and Florence can all be reached within 2 hours or less by train from Milan Centrale station. If you feel any of those destinations might require more than a single day for you to see what you want to see, and I would put Florence, Cinque Terre and perhaps Venice in that category, you can always put those destinations at the beginning or end of your time in Northern Italy and use them as your entry or exit points to the region before or after visiting Milan.
Rail Travel Times:
Paris to Milan: 10 hrs 39 mins
Zurich to Milan: 4 hours
Rome to Milan: 3 hours
Florence to Milan: 1 hour 40 mins
Munich to Milan: 7 hrs 17 mins
Plan and Book:
Milan: See and Do
As Milan’s Centrale station is the hub of rail transport to and from Milan, the area around the station is the logical place to book your accommodation. The centre of Milan is only 10 minutes away by the Metro underground railway, and the forecourt of the station is the terminus for buses servicing Malpensa Airport, Milan’s premier international airport. There are plenty of accommodation options within walking distance of the station from 5-star hotels to backpacker accommodation and everything in between. There are also around forty AirBNB properties in the area.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Quadrilatero d’Oro, or the Golden Rectangle, is the name given to Milan’s inner city boutique shopping district. It is lined with famous haute couture boutiques including Versace, Prada, and Armani. Taking centre stage is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is right next to the Duomo. Having opened in 1867, this glass vaulted shopping arcade is one of the oldest shopping centres in the world. Its range of couture outposts, including Gucci and Louis Vuitton give it enduring appeal. It also happens to host Prada’s flagship store.
In the centre of what is undoubtedly the world’s prettiest shopping mall is a tile image of a prancing bull which, if you look closely, is missing his private parts. In their place is a rather pronounced hole. The tile floor at the centre of the building bears the insignia of four prominent northern Italian cities. The bull represents nearby Turin, and for some reason the tradition developed that spinning on the bull’s private parts would give the spinner good luck. The practice persists to this day, and you can’t walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II without stopping for a spin.
Nearby, Via Torino and Via Tortona are laced with curious little shops and designer showrooms whilst the Navigli area is the place to experience Milanese street-style at its best. A walking tour of the fashion district is a great way to get an overview and even some insider tips.
With its main spire towering 109 metres above Milan’s central square, the cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. The cathedral’s roof, which can be accessed by an elevator or by ascending the stairs, features a forest of spires topped with statues and provides visitors with magnificent views of the surrounding city. The interior is adorned with artwork including paintings and sculptures such as Marco d’Agrate’s famous depiction of ‘Saint Bartholomew Flayed’ (1562) as well as 3 ornamental altars. The cathedral’s apse features stained glass windows created in the fifteenth century.
The Duomo’s crypt and treasury showcase further captivating works of art. The treasury contains, among other relics, the fifteenth century, ‘Madonna of the Idea’ . There is a entrance fee for the treasury but access to the crypt is free. Beneath the cathedral you can find the Battistero Paleocristiano, an old baptistery which dates back to the year 335. The entrance to these excavations is found near the back of the cathedral.
Guided tours of the Duomo are available for a five euro fee per person. On top of the admission charges there is a two euro Museo del Duomo ticket which provides access to the museum and the San Carlo College. It is wise to allow at least a couple of hours to explore Milan Cathedral during your stay. Visitors can take the yellow line on the metro from Milan Central Station to reach the cathedral.
When it comes to opera houses, La Scala is perhaps the most iconic in the world. Most of Italy’s greatest operatic artists, and many of the finest singers from around the world, have appeared at La Scala during the past 200 years. The theatre is regarded as one of the leading opera and ballet theatres in the world and is home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet and La Scala Theatre Orchestra. La Scala hosted the prima (first production) of many famous operas, by the likes of Verdi, Puccini, Salieri and Mozart. If you’d like to taste a little opera but can’t get (or afford to get) tickets for a performance, a visit to La Scala’s Museum comes with a peek inside the theatre. Near the end of the self-guided museum tour you’ll be able to walk into one of the beautiful theatre boxes and look out over the stage provided there isn’t a performance or practice going on. You can pretend for a moment that you’re one of the Milan elite, fanning yourself as you listen to some splendid aria, peering at the singers through your ornately decorated opera glasses.
Address: Via Filodrammatici, 2, 20121 Milano, Italy. Ph: +39 02 88791. Nearest Metro station: Duomo M1.
The famous Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle) is one of the most frequented Milan attractions. It was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remains of a 14th-century fortification. Today, it houses ever-changing exhibitions, art collections and museums within its walls. Visitors will enjoy various fascinating collections on display, including well known artwork, artifacts and manuscripts by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and other great masters can be admired here.
There are many Milan museums to discover within its walls. Each has its own gated entrance and some charge admission fees. Marvel at its grand art collection, then the Milan Museum of Ancient Art for its armour displays and a special room for discovering ancient tapestries. Another notable museum is the Archaeological Museum of Milan, where you can study prehistoric findings.
If you are interested in Leonardo da Vinci’s writing, visit the Trivulziana Library to see some of his preserved manuscripts. In the Cabinet of Drawings, there are more prized da Vinci works plus art by Agnolo Gaddi and Agostino Busti.
Castello Sforzesco is about 10 minutes on foot from the Duomo Milano. Entering the Piazza Castello, visitors will spot the Torre della Corte to the north and the Torre del Tesoro on the western side. There are four entrances in total. The closest Metro station to Castello Sforzesco is Cairoli. The castle is a short walk from the station entrance.
The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogiois one of the most awe-inspiring structures in Milan. The Basicila was established by St. Ambrose, a firm supporter of Milan, becoming a Roman stronghold in the fourth century AD. St. Ambrose preached and constructed churches around Milan to support this cause. It was built between 379 and 386 AD, making it one of the oldest churches in Italy. It stands near the burial sites of numerous religious martyrs, persecuted for their beliefs by the Romans.
The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio and its museum certainly merit a visit. Particular artefacts to look out for include the 6th century Byzantine reliefs in the atrium and the golden Alter. Another detail worthy of mention is the 10th-century relief on the ciborium, where Christ is depicted handing a book to Paul and keys to Peter. A truly chilling sight at the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is the skeleton of St. Ambrogio himself, preserved in a clear glass case and adorned in bishop’s finery, dainty slippers included. At his side lie the third-century martyrs St. Gervasius and Protasius.
The quiet atmosphere of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio allows visitors time and space to move around at their leisure, although it is advisable to arrive early in the morning before too many tour groups show up. To reach the basilica, take the Green Line on the metro and alight at Sant’Ambrogio. The Museo Della Scienza e della Tecnologia and Sforza Castle are a short walk away.
Museo Della Scienza e della Tecnologia
First opened to the public in 1953 with the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, after whom the museum was named and inspired by, the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia (National Science and Technology Museum) is the largest museum of science and technology in Italy and one of the most important in the world. The main museum building with its beautiful cloisters dates back to the early 16th century when it served as a monastery for Olivetan monks.
Housing the largest collection in the world of car models made from drawings by Leonardo da Vinci it also includes reconstructions of his famous flying machine and many of his original drawings can also be viewed.
Collections are organised by the following departments: Materials, Transportation, Energy, Communication, Leonardo Arts and Science, New Frontiers and Science for Children. There is even a real submarine that you can visit (reservations to be made at the front desk – separate ticket is required) plus a number of old steam trains to climb aboard, aeroplanes and even a full-scale reconstruction of the ballroom and bridge of an ocean liner.
Address: Via San Vittore 21, Milan, Italy. Phone +39 02 485 551
The Columns of San Lorenzo
The Columns of San Lorenzo act as a striking living relic of Milan under the rule of the Ancient Roman Empire. Here you can take a peek into Milan’s eventful history and indulge in the sights and experiences of the surrounding area. Along the edge of an open plaza, sixteen Corinthian columns line up in a row like soldiers to form the San Lorenzo colonnade. Located in the bustling Porta Ticinese quarter, these columns are the most important remains of Mediolanum, capital of the Roman Empire of the West. It is speculated that the columns were shifted to their current location some time around the 4th century, lifted from either a 2nd century pagan temple, a public bath house or a decaying Roman residence. Today, the Columns of San Lorenzo serve to remind us of how the region appeared 1700 years ago.
Look out for the 17th-century wings that flank the entrance to San Lorenzo, designed to link the columns with the church and resemble an ancient atrium. The early Christian basilica has been reconstructed many times over the centuries in many architectural styles, such as Renaissance, Byzantine and Romanesque. Besides lovely paintings and frescoes, there are also ancient maps displayed inside the Basilica that show how much Milan has changed over the centuries. A central bronze statue depicting the Emperor Constantine acts as a poignant reminder of the Edict of Milan in AD 313, an official agreement throughout the Roman Empire to end the persecution of the Christian faith and treat Christians with equality and benevolence.
The ancient Columns of San Lorenzo are surrounded by bars and cafės teeming with local students, artists, hipsters and of course travellers. Stopping for authentic gelato from the nearby gelatarias is a must while visiting the area. During summer it’s like an open party, with bikers and skateboarders showing off their impressive stunts. The columns are easy to get to, being a 10 minute walk from the Duomo.
Alfa Romeo Museum
Museo Storico Alfa Romeo is Alfa Romeo’s official museum, located in Arese, and displaying a permanent collection of Alfa Romeo cars and engines. The Museum has been completely renovated and is even more prestigious. The historical site in Arese has a new look and will be open to public with a refined arrangement that reflects Alfa Romeo’s distinctive DNA. Six floors of history binding past, present and future and complimenting the achievements of an extraordinary brand, its vehicles, its technology and style.
Open: daily 10am – 6pm, closed Tuesdays. Phone: +39 02 4442 5511
Address: Viale Alfa Romeo, 20020 Arese. The Museum is just a few kilometres from the important Rho-Fiera railway junction. Rail connection is both by High Speed train and by regional train as well as by the Milan underground railway network.
Naviglio Grande: Milan’s historic canal
Tourists who make the short trip from the city centre to the Naviglio Grande will discover a picturesque canal brimming with life, history and a host of excellent bars, restaurants and shops.
Naviglio Grande translates into English as “big canal”. Established some 850 years ago, this major man-made river route has served important trade and transport purposes within the city. Historically associated with the city’Äôs artists and creative types, the Naviglio Grande now plays a social role in the city. Locals and tourists enjoy romantic strolls filled with stores, galleries, bars and markets aplenty, plus the opportunity for a memorable boat trip. Lying slightly off the beaten track, the thriving Naviglio Grande is right at the top of alternative lists of things to do in Milan.
The Naviglio Grande is easy to reach from the centre of Milan, taking around 20 minutes via public transport or 35 minutes on foot. Transport via bus or metro is regular, swift and inexpensive – certainly the easiest way to get to the Naviglio Grande. The best time to visit is from late afternoon onwards into the night. This is when the canal’s bars and restaurants come to life – with a famously electric atmosphere – and also when live music and other entertainment begins. However, don’t necessarily skip the Naviglio Grande if you can’t make it in the evening. The many brunch and lunch spots and flea markets mean it is brimming with activity around the clock.
Not everything around the Naviglio is connected with eating and drinking (though there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that!). A weekly market also brings plenty of visitors to the area. The Mercatone dell’Antiquariato takes place every last Sunday on the banks of the canal and features more than 350 stands selling a wide variety of items. You don’t just have to experience the Naviglio Grande from the streets, however. There are hour-long canal cruises available to take passengers past historic Milan buildings and up through the old docks.
The Naviglio Grande flows into La Darsena, the historic Milan docks which were built in the early 1600s. The docks were redeveloped as part of the Milan World Expo, which took place in 2015. Today, it is a relaxing space with wide, tree-lined pedestrian streets and bags of history from centuries past. It is also home to La Fiera di Sinigaglia, a year-round weekly market which sells everything from gifts and books to crafts, collectibles and much more.
Pinacoteca di brera
The ancient Accademia di Belle Arti of Milan is known as one of Italy’s most respected fine arts schools. Within these historic walls lies a fantastic permanent art collection, the Pinacoteca di brera.
Imagine stepping into a room and being surrounded by some of the greatest Renaissance masterpieces in art history. This is what a visit to the Pinacoteca di brera is like. Connected to the Brera school of fine arts, the collection includes the works of Raphael, Giovanni Bellini, Hayez and Rubens. Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (1606) and Ruben’s Last Supper (1630) are further outstanding attractions. It is worth taking plenty of time to walk through the many rooms showcasing some of the world’s finest art pieces, an almost religious experience. Many of the most well-remembered Renaissance paintings are here, such as Mantegna’s Christo Morto (Dead Christ), an emotionally charged and agonizing painting of the passion.
Romantics visiting these art galleries will want to see Francesco Hayez’s painting The Kiss, which depicts a moment of rapturous love between a couple in medieval dress. The painting was created to symbolize the wish for a free and unified Italy. It is the unwavering quality of this collection that excites viewers. Bringing together the best of Italy’s art from the XIII to the XX century, the works on display are moving and emotional.
After visiting the Pinacoteca di brera, a leisurely rest and walk in the old botanical gardens is recommended. The gardens are adjacent to the museum and comprise herb and vegetable patches, as well as beautiful tree specimens.
The Last Supper
The enduring fascination with Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, Cenacolo Vinciano (The Ladt Supper) is understandable, as controversy and intrigue have long surrounded it – make sure to get a close look at the disciple to the right of Christ. Is it perhaps Mary Magdalene?
Leonardo da Vinci challenged the status quo with this great work when instead of adhering to the more common art of fresco painting, he used the plaster wall of a monk’s refectory as his canvas. In The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci depicts the last moments Christ spent with his disciples before one of them would ultimately betray him. The disciples are arranged on either side of the dinner table, whilst Christ is situated in the middle. Years of painstaking work has gone into restoring The Last Supper – a worthwhile pursuit, as the painting is undoubtedly one of Milan’s best historical attractions and a testament to da Vinci’s genius.
Today the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site not just for its own beauty but also due to its connection to one of the world’s most revered masterpieces.
Buying tickets online before arriving is a good idea and it is also worth taking a tour to help you unravel the many mysteries behind this painting that has inspired writers, directors and artists for centuries. Note that you are allowed to view the painting for 15 minutes. There are not many works of art in the world as complex and fascinating as this one, so while in Milan, be sure to pay it a visit.
How To Get To Santa Maria delle Grazie From Milano Centrale: From Milano Central FS, take the Metro, five stops, to Cadorna. From Cadorna, Santa Maria delle Grazie is a mere ten minute walk away. Exit the train station onto Via Carducci, walk for five minutes before turning right onto Corso Magenta. Walk for another five minutes and you will arrive at Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Parks and Gardens
Fashion capital Milan is famous for its history, art, architecture, banking and opera among other things. But it would be a mistake to bypass the tranquility offered by Milan’s wonderful green spaces. There are plenty of parks and gardens right in the centre of Milan. A bit further out, easily accessible by pulic transport, further oases await. The larger parks are often venues for carnivals and festivals.
The green spaces in Milan comprise both parks and open vegetation areas that bring a welcome piece of nature into the city. Apart from nature’s own beauty, there are also fine buildings, monuments and sculptures of historical importance to be found within the grounds of the green spaces of Milan. The Forlanini Park has some picturesque heritage buildings within its premises, including the remains of a Siglo XIV church and a Siglo XVII farmhouse.
Vittorio Formentano Park is another place where you can get a sense of history through the Liberty Villa, which used to be part of the fruit and vegetable market in Milan in the early 1900s. There is also a monument dedicated to WWII soldiers. And tree lovers will find their due with beautiful specimens of elm, magnolia and maple decorating the grounds.
For a harmonious combination of scenic landscape and fabulous architecture, head out to the Park of Pope Giovanni Paolo, which stretches from the Byzantine Basilica of St Lawrence to the Romanesque Basilica of St Eustorgius.
If you want to see how beautifully artificial lakes can replace former quarries, go to to the Parco delle Cave. This park is also the favourite picnic spot for city dwellers looking for green spaces in Milan.
Sempione Park is a good place to spend a laidback day in Milan with the kids. Start by climbing the Branca Tower in order to enjoy a splendid panoramic view of the city. Children will be especially delighted with the park’s aquarium which showcases a fine array of colourful fish and other marine species. The Siglo XIX Arch of Peace on the outskirts of the park is an impressive edifice that makes a nice backdrop for a family photo. While you are here, you can also check the Triennale di Milano design and art museum for art exhibitions and expos. If you want to get more physical, this park provides wide avenues for athletic family pursuits such as in-line skating or cycling. The go-karting rinks, vast playgrounds and amusement rides ensure plenty of fun for the whole day. There is even free WiFi for workaholic parents and internet addicted teenagers to email and chat.
The Lambro Park is another good choice if you want to enjoy a day out picnicking. It is the perfect spot to appreciate the alluring scenery of Lombardy. Walking amidst massive and ancient oak trees in the park makes for a deeply rejuvenating and almost mystical experience. The sports fields and skateboard area add some excitement to this restful atmosphere.
The Guastalla Gardens are a good place to retreat if you are looking for peace and quiet and want to take a quick breather from the fast pace of urban life. Originally laid out as a garden in Siglo XVI, the park is worthy of a postcard with its perfect combination of a neoclassical building, pond and tulip trees.
To see some cute and furry friends, take a walk in Nord Milano Park. A bit wilder, there are good chances of hearing the scurrying feet of hedgehogs and hares in the underbrush. You may even spot a fox or two. The pretty fountains and ponds add to the natural charm of this park.
The Monte Stella Park, located on an artificial hill, is a great place to gain an appreciation of Milans’s layout from a vantage position. From here, you can observe the hustle and bustle of the city from amidst calm surroundings.
The combination of multi-recreational avenues, with cultural and historical attractions, makes Porta Nuova popular with residents and holidaymakers alike. There are a bevy of interesting places to visit here.
The district was named after Porta Nuova, the Napoleonic gate of Milan. Therefore, if you are on a sightseeing mission in the business district, this gate is the perfect place to start. The Porta Garibaldi is another beautiful landmark in this area, constructed in the neoclassical style. The arch, which was named after Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi, frames the bustling shopping complex of Corso Como.
The Corso Como in the Porta Nuova district is the quintessential Milanese shopping complex that comprises boutique stores, designer cafės, and artsy bars. A great nightlife also awaits you here, as the streets are lined with some truly rocking nightclubs. Corso Como is also very aesthetically appealing: on one side you can admire the modern skyscrapers of Zona Porta Nuova, and on the other side lies the historical district of Porta Garibaldi. It literally feels as if you are standing between the past and the future.
The Via Vincenzo Capelli with its fashion boutiques is another place that you can head to for a bout of shopping.
Piazza Gae Aulenti is a new kind of Italian Piazza that makes a strong impression with its futuristic skyscrapers, waterways and sculptures, all of which play with the reflection of natural light. The solar tree at the centre of the Piazza is a sight to behold. This sculptural lamp provides shade and gathers solar energy during the day, and then lights up the piazza at night. A further sculpture by Alberto Garutti which enables people to hear underground sounds through its 23 apertures also deserves a special mention.
Eataly is the perfect place for a leisurely stopover in Porta Nuova. The place is a haven for epicurians, and it has every type of eatery from market stalls to fine dining spots. You can sit down and have an elaborate meal or pick up a quick take-away sandwich. It comes as no surprise that at night time the whole of Piazza Gae Aulenti looks like it is having a party, with glittering lights and the buzz of people milling around.
Porta Nuova is the modern face of Milan that provides the perfect balance to the city’s historic character. The beautiful array of attractions here stand their own ground next to the hitherto more famous La Scala Theatre, Montenapoleone fashion district or Duomo building.
The Piazza Alvar Aalto is another modern piazza that is gaining attention in Porta Nuova. The Unicredit Pavillion Auditorium is particularly admired for the flair of its architecture. The wood and glass structure has a marine flair, and is given as a prime example of sustainable architecture. After appreciating the towering skyline of Porta Nuova, you can take a laidback break at Wheatfield park, which provides a rural touch to the ultra modern area. The brainchild of Agnes Denes, a land artist, Wheatfield is essentially exactly what its name indicates, a carefully designed field of wheat covering approximately 12 acres of land between the Milan skyscrapers.
Corso Buenos Aires
Once known for little shops selling traditional Milanese bric-a-brac, the Corso Buenos Aires has since become synonymous with modern fashion and is home to over 350 designer shops and boutiques. Corso Buenos Aires is the most popular destination in Milan for high street shopping. The best time to shop at Corso Buenos Aires is after Christmas and during summer when attractive ‘sale’ tags spring up all along the street. Throwaway prices for designer labels are hard to refuse as witnessed by the frenetic activity along the avenue. During Christmas, Corso Buenos Aires resembles a fairyland of sorts, as shop windows are dressed up in twinkling lights, boughs of holly and models of reindeer and Santa Claus. Step off the beaten track and into the side streets for an eclectic variety of restaurants, Turkish baths, gelato bars and shisha cafės.
Corso Buenos Aires is a pivotal artery which connects the city centre with the business and industrial districts in the north of Milan. It’s easy to locate as it runs close to the central square and the city’s famous cathedral. Line 1 of the metro has three stops along Corso Buenos Aires, Porta Venezia, Piazza Lima and Piazzale Loreto. As Corso Buenos Aires is a short walk from Milan Centrale station and the Airport bus terminal visitors often stop by for some last minute shopping and reasonably priced souvenirs on their way to the airport.
Tip: Shoppers are advised to dress smartly as shop assistants tend to assess customers based on their appearance.
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