Milan has never attracted tourists in the same numbers as Rome, Florence or Venice. Yet it is the fashion capital of Italy, with smart shops, cutting-edge design, and stylish bars and restaurants. It also has history, art and grand buildings. Whether you visit for a day or a week there is plenty to keep you occupied: here are some of the best things to do in Milan.
1. Explore The Cathedral
(Contributed by Victoria of Guide Your Travel)
The Milan Cathedral (or Duomo) is a beautiful example of several architectural styles, and should be at the top of your must-see list when you’re visiting Milan. Located in the heart of the city it is easily combined with seeing other famous locations around town.
Construction of the Cathedral began in the 14th century and it took almost 600 years to be completed. Today, it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan and a popular tourist attraction. The Cathedral is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, and the last entry is at 6:00 pm. Visitors can also walk on the rooftop which has amazing sculptures and magnificent views. Access to the rooftop is available from Mondays to Fridays.
A regular ticket for the cathedral and attached museum is €10 per person. Access to the rooftop is an extra €10 via the lift, or €5 if you use the stairs. The Cathedral, and the rooftop, make a fantastic photo spot so be sure to pack your camera.
2. Admire Da Vinci’s Last Supper
(Contributed by Roxanne of Faraway Worlds)
While you are in Milan don’t miss the opportunity to see Leonardo da Vinci’s famous artwork, perhaps the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lombardy. Created towards the end of the 15th Century, Il Cenacolo (“The Last Supper”) is painted on a wall in the Dominican convent of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The scene shows the disciples’ reactions after Jesus has announced that one of them will betray him, and is a work that has been widely admired and analysed over the centuries.
At 4.6m high and 8.8m wide, the painting is an impressive sight and it has been referenced many times in popular culture. However, while Da Vinci’s technique of painting onto a dry wall was innovative at the time, the picture has gradually degraded. Now, it is kept in temperature-controlled conditions, with only 25 people able to view it at a time.
It is possible to book online or to go with a private guide and visit the adjoining Church of Santa Maria della Grazie at the same time. Built in the mid-1400s, the entire complex is worth exploring and the overall experience makes a wonderful addition to any Northern Italy itinerary.
3. People Watch At The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is much more than just a shopping centre. The oldest purpose-built arcade in Italy, it is a magnificent work of architecture, a neo-classical feast of iron and steel topped by a glass dome. For the Milanese it is a fashionable place to shop, meet friends and – of course – to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat.
Read more about The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II: Milan’s Drawing Room.
4. Discover The Navigli District
(Contributed by Michela of She Goes The Distance)
Outside the grand city centre of Milan, you will discover the local gem of the Navigli neighbourhood. Navigli is Milan’s eclectic and lively quarter, situated between a web of canals. This is the grungy soul of the otherwise chic and proper city of Milan, and the favourite hang-out of the Milanese for its unique bars, restaurants, and bustling atmosphere.
By the time 5 o’clock hits, nearly every table is occupied along the channel. The streets may be crowded – but that’s also why Navigli possesses the vibrant energy that it does. Head to Naviglio Grande in the evening for an aperitivo at one of its many restaurants, like Mag Café, which also hosts the smallest bar in the world. Just make sure to reserve a spot ahead of time to get a table. For dinner, stop at La Tradizionale for authentic wood-fired pizza made with a pillowy soft dough. End your evening with a stroll to the Darsena reservoir to take in the views of the city.
The luxurious city centre is only a few steps away from this bohemian escape, so you can walk or take the metro to Porta Genova, steps away from the Naviglio Grande. It’s exciting to get off-the-beaten-path from the tourist attractions of Milan and to escape into the world of the locals, even just for a day, so Navigli should be at the top of your must-dos in Milan.
5. Eat Risotto Alla Milanese
(Contributed by Denise at Chef Denise)
When in Milan, you must eat its signature dish, Risotto alla Milanese. Flavoured with saffron, white wine, shallots, butter, cheese, and bone marrow, this Milanese speciality is rich, creamy and delicious. It sounds simple, but making authentic Italian risotto is a slow process and takes patience.
Risotto alla Milanese dates back to the 1500’s. Legend has it the painter Zafferano, who used saffron to colour his paints, snuck it into the risotto as a joke at a wedding. However, the dish was a hit, and the colour was said to symbolise prosperity. Today, over 500 years later, it is still one of the most beloved Milanese recipes in Italy.
You will find Risotto alla Milanese at almost every trattoria and restaurant in Milan. Italians typically serve risotto as a primo before the main course. But Risotto alla Milanese can also double as a side dish, most often with another traditional Milan dish, Osso Bucco. Enjoy this Milanese duo at Risoelatte, a tiny casual restaurant with sixties music on Via Camperio. Or try the traditional Antica Trattoria Al Materel on Corso Garibaldi Giuseppe. You can’t go wrong with either!
6. Ride The Hop On Hop Off Bus
(Contributed by Utkarsh of Journeys From Heart)
Milan is known as the fashion capital of the world and one of the best ways of exploring is to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus. This helps you to explore the important landmarks of the city hassle-free and to get a taste of its culture. There are two different routes to choose from.
The best part of the ride is the flexibility to hop off at any designated stop and to hop back in within a span of 24 hours or 48 hours (depending which ticket you buy). Start early in the day and enjoy the top deck views from the open top bus along with some entertaining audio commentary in a choice of languages.
The bus takes you around amazing landmarks, including the Duomo, Teatro alla Scala and Sempione Park. If you love shopping you could easily drop off at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II or Quadrilatero della Moda. If you want to visit a sacred place your stop should be Santa Maria delle Grazie, a famous church which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For history lovers there are Arco della Pace and the 14th century Sforzesco Castle. For soccer lovers San Siro Stadium is the stop: it is home to AC Milan and one of the largest stadiums in Europe.
7. Take A Guided Tour
One way to get the most from the city is to enjoy a personalised tour with a local guide. WithLocals offers a whole range of experiences including Highlights and Hidden Gems of Milan and a Home Dinner Experience. It is even possible to customise your own tour – have a look at their website for inspiration.
If you are keen to see the Last Supper without the queues, another possibility is to take a small group, beat-the-line tour with LivItaly. These tours are led by excellent and knowledgeable guides – try their Express Last Supper or Walking Tour with Last Supper. And remember that readers of this website can get a 5% discount on LivItaly tours using the code BEWITCHEDBYITALY.
8. Go On A Day Trip
Finally, if you are staying in Milan for more than a few days why not take the opportunity to explore the countryside, lakes or cities of northern Italy? With excellent transport connections, there are lots of options for day trips from Milan.