From the grand Duomo di Milano cathedral to the more off-the-beaten-track attractions of the Italian lakes, here’s a guide to some of the city’s best things to do, must-see landmarks, and enchanting surrounding regions.
It’s easy to get intimidated while trying to plan a vacation to Italy since there are so many amazing places to see and you have to pick which ones to visit.
As a result, it is a common topic of discussion on a variety of travel blogs and websites, with many people wondering whether they should even bother going to Milan. And given the many incredible options available, Milan is frequently disregarded since it is only considered a gateway to other locations, a stopover on the route to someplace else, or a city that does not really fall among the cheapest places to visit in Italy.
But the city is more deserving than that; it is a fascinating and often misunderstood destination (even by Italians!).
Milan is very rich in cultural offerings, something that is way too easy to forget considering the current layout of the city. In fact, after WWII, all the factories that had been damaged by the bombings were rebuilt, and many factory workers moved here. Neighborhoods were built quickly, often at the expense of green space and with a focus on function rather than aesthetics.
Because of this, the city may seem drab and uninviting at first glance; unless you know where to look, you don’t get the same awe-inspiring vistas offered by the likes of Rome and Venice, the charming villages of Tuscany, Liguria, and Sicily, or the pristine wilderness areas of Sardinia and Calabria.
But here is the thing: Milan is stunning in a different and less obvious way.
Milan’s beauty is in the interiors of its buildings, the courtyards and gardens that surround them, and the facades of the structures that make up the city. But also in the opulence of the city’s hotels, bars, and restaurants. Then, of course, there’s fashion, or how people dress.
Milan is lovely in a manner that is less cliche and less touristic.
In this mini-guide, we’ll take you on a tour of Milan’s cobblestone streets, winding canals, and many works of art. We’ll also share insider tips, things to do, and places you can’t miss in this busy city—and those you should avoid instead.
- Things you can’t miss in Milan
- And what you can skip in Milan instead
- A weekend in Milan: a walking guide
- Best day and weekend trips from Milan
Things you can’t miss in Milan
The Duomo area: the Cathedral and the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery
The Duomo di Milano, or Milan Cathedral, is a must-see if you’re visiting Milan. It’s the largest cathedral in Italy and one of the biggest in the world. The construction of this Gothic-style church started in 1386, and it took nearly six centuries to complete, with the final details added in 1965.
The exterior of the Duomo is known for being elaborate and ornate. There are more than 3,400 statues and 135 spires on the outside. It’s decorated with intricate marble carvings and sculptures, including the famous copper and gold “Madonnina” statue at the top of the tallest spire.
Inside, the cathedral is just as impressive, with a huge and soaring interior that can hold up to 40,000 people. The main nave has stained glass windows and frescoes, and the cathedral also has a number of important artworks, like the impressive statue of Saint Bartholomew flayed.
One of the coolest things about the Duomo is its roof, which you can get to via a lift or stairs. From the roof, you can get great views of the city and see the intricate details of the cathedral’s architecture up close, with its carvings, statues of plants and flowers, and the famous gargoyles.
The Duomo is an important religious building, but it is also a popular tourist destination and a symbol of Milan. It’s visited by millions of people each year and is a big part of the city’s identity and heritage.
Looking at the Duomo from the square, on your left, you will see the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery.
This elegant, glass-roofed building was constructed in the 19th century, and it is known for its high-end boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. It is a popular destination for both locals and tourists.
The arcade was built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni and named after Vittorio Emanuele II, who was the first king of a united Italy. The building is made of iron and glass, and the interior is decorated with mosaics, marble, and frescoes.
Walking past the gallery, you will find yourself in Piazza della Scala, the square in front of the namesake opera house.
La Scala is one of the world’s most prestigious and well-known opera houses. It is known for its beautiful interior and performances.
The opera house was built in the 18th century. Some of the best musicians in the world, like Verdi, Pavarotti, and Maria Callas, have performed there.
The interior of La Scala is equally impressive, with a grand, ornate auditorium that can seat over 2,000 people. The theater is decorated with frescoes, marble, and gold leaf and features a number of important artworks.
Together, the Duomo, the Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, and La Scala are Milan’s most famous and iconic landmarks and must-sees for anyone visiting the city.
The Sforza Castle and its park, the Last Supper
The Sforza Castle is located a few blocks away from the Duomo. It was originally built as a fortress by Duke Francesco Sforza, but over the years it has been used as a residence for the ruling family, a military barracks, and a prison. Today, the castle is a major tourist attraction and houses a number of museums and art collections.
The castle is known for its imposing size and impressive architecture. It is surrounded by a moat and has massive walls and towers that were designed to protect the city from invaders. The interior of the castle is magnificent, with a number of grand, ornate rooms and halls that were used by the ruling family.
The castle’s outside courtyards are always free, but admission to the inside of the castle and the art collection it holds requires a fee.
Parco Sempione, a large and beautiful park located behind the castle, is a popular place for locals and visitors alike to spend time year-round thanks to Milan’s pleasant climate.
This lush green paradise is at its most beautiful in the spring when you can see turtles swimming in the pond at the park’s heart from the park’s charming bridge, which is adorned with sculptures of mermaids.
In the summertime, the beautiful grassy areas with views of the castle and the historic gate of Milan known as the “Arco della Pace” are popular sunbathing spots for locals and tourists alike. The lovely foliage of autumn and winter is also a sight not to miss.
Brera and the Fashion District
Nestled in the center of the city, just a stone’s throw from the Sforzesco Castle, Brera is the next must-visit destination in Milan.
This neighborhood is known for its narrow streets, cobbled squares, and colorful buildings. Despite Milan’s modernity, Brera is thought to be one of the city’s most authentically Italian neighborhoods.
At the heart of the district, you’ll find the Pinacoteca di Brera Art Gallery, which is home to some of the world’s most treasured paintings. But the neighborhood is much more than just a museum—it’s a hub of cultural and artistic activity, with galleries, theaters, and concert halls dotted throughout the area.
And when the sun goes down, Brera comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene, from trendy bars and clubs to upscale restaurants and bistrots to authentic taverne and osterie.
Not far from Brera is the Quadrilatero della Moda, the Fashion District of Milan.
This is a prestigious area of Milan known for its high-end fashion and luxury goods.
The district is home to almost all of the world’s most famous designer boutiques, such as Prada, Gucci, Valentino, Chanel, and more.
The elegant streets are lined with shops, and the area is a popular destination for fashion lovers from around the world.
Whether you’re in the market for a new luxury item or just want to admire the stylish designs and the sophisticated architecture, a visit to the Quadrilatero della Moda is a must during your trip to Milan.
Santa Maria delle Grazie is a famous church in Milan, best known for housing Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper.
The church itself is a beautiful Renaissance building with a stunning brick façade, and the interior is filled with artwork and frescoes. The Last Supper is located on one of the walls of the church’s refectory and is considered one of the greatest works of art in the world.
Despite its age, the painting is still in remarkably good condition, and visitors can see it up close as part of a guided tour. If you’re in Milan, a visit to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Last Supper is a must.
Due to their high demand, tickets sell out shortly after they go on sale, so plan months ahead.
A 15-minute walk from here will take you to the Navigli district. This is a cool and trendy neighborhood known for its lively nightlife.
The area is named after the Navigli, a series of canals that were once used for transportation and trade and are now a popular spot, in particular on weekends.
The narrow streets are filled with the trendiest bars, clubs, and restaurants of Milan, making it the perfect place to grab a drink, listen to live music and drink a spritz to experience the true spirit of Milan like a local.
And what you can skip in Milan instead
If you’re planning a trip to Milan, you’ll want to make the most of your time in the city.
But with so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming to decide where to start. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the things you should skip in Milan—so you can avoid the tourist traps and focus on the truly must-see attractions.
And if you’re looking for additional insider tips and advice about the city, check out nosbatti.com, a Milan city guide written by locals. This website offers a wealth of useful information and recommendations from people who know the city well and can offer unique insights and advice.
Touristy restaurants downtown
It can be tempting to choose the most easily accessible restaurants—those that are located in amazing central locations with great views and make eating out easier.
You know, the ones with the garish signs and Italian flags, photos on the menu, and huge “specials” boards.
With very few exceptions, it’s really uncommon for this kind of place to provide the most authentic and enjoyable Italian experience.
Most of the time, the food at these restaurants is watered down and lacks the rich flavors that make Italian food so popular. Moreover, they often don’t have a really “Italian” vibe.
Plus, prices are marked up compared to other places, and the service may be lackluster. All in all, it’s definitely best to go elsewhere for a real Italian dining experience.
Instead, try to find a local trattoria or ristorante, where the atmosphere is more authentic and the food is true to the Italian culinary tradition. Prices will be more reasonable, and the atmosphere will be much more authentic.
You don’t even have to leave downtown to find this type of food. The charming side alleys are full of hidden gems, and locals don’t usually hesitate to give you a tip on where to eat.
Let’s be clear: aperitivo (Italian for “happy hour”) is an absolute must-do while in Milan.
As the end of the workday approaches, as well as on weekends, many people want to unwind with friends and colleagues during aperitivo hour, which typically takes place between 7 and 9 p.m.
Drinks are accompanied with a light snack or a few small plates of food, such as olives, cheese, cured meats, focaccia, or pizza. During aperitivo, the most popular cocktail is an Aperol spritz, which consists of Aperol, prosecco, and soda water.
Before the pandemic, it was much more common to serve the aperitivo in the form of a big buffet with many different options, often at a low price that was tempting.
Unfortunately, this also implies that the meal is of low quality, the place will be crowded, and it will not leave a positive impression nor be relaxing!
Some places still serve aperitivo this way, but it’s best to avoid them.
Instead, choose a high-quality restaurant or bar where you’ll have a range of small plates served to you directly at your table. After all, aperitivo is meant to be a little snack enjoyed before a drink, not a replacement for dinner. Quality over quantity!
Hop on – hop off tours
If you are pressed for time and want to make the most of your visit to Milan, hop-on, hop-off tourist buses seem like a great idea. These double-decker buses allow you to get around quickly, seeing the main sights in a short amount of time.
While this can be true for very large cities like Rome or Paris, in a place like Milan, where there are fewer distances to cover, it’s not really necessary.
In fact, by taking one of these tours, you miss out on a lot of the city’s hidden treasures because the tour simply doesn’t go off the beaten track.
If you are unable to or do not enjoy walking, you can still enjoy the city’s highlights by taking advantage of the public transportation system, which is extremely efficient and covers every corner of Milano almost 24 hours per day—for cheap.
A weekend in Milan: a walking guide
Milan is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway.
To make the most of your time in Milan, why not take a walking tour to experience all the best parts of this incredible city? Here’s a guide to planning your perfect weekend in Milan.
Start your first day with breakfast at one of Brera’s charming historical cafes, and then head to the Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery to see the latest exhibitions. After soaking up some culture, grab lunch at one of Brera’s traditional restaurants.
In the afternoon, make your way to the Quadrilatero della Moda, Milan’s famous fashion district. Starting from Via Montenapoleone, you can shop at high-end boutiques, enjoy a coffee at one of the elegant boutique cafes, or simply admire the beautiful architecture.
As the day comes to an end, make your way to Piazza del Duomo, home to the city’s iconic cathedral.
Admire the beautiful façade, and if the weather is nice, consider a visit to the rooftop for stunning 360° views of the city (but remember to book your tickets in advance).
Finish the day with an aperitivo at one of the famous rooftop bars overlooking the square, but only after a visit to the regal Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, which is even more majestic when lit up at night.
On the second day of your trip to Milan, you will begin by walking from the Duomo up to the castle through the beautiful via Mercanti and via Dante.
Take a moment to admire the beautiful medieval square that used to be the center of the city (Piazza dei Mercanti) and the place where the market took place.
At the end of Via Dante, you will find yourself in Piazza Castello. You can wander through the courtyards of the castle for free or buy a ticket to visit the inside of the castle and the art galleries it hosts.
If the day is nice, take a stroll through Parco Sempione or take a break and enjoy the beautiful nature and the weather.
It’s time to leave the park and head south, towards the Magenta district, which is one of the richest residential areas of Milan and is full of gorgeous Liberty-style buildings.
In this neighborhood, you’ll find many restaurants where you can enjoy some authentic Italian food.
In the afternoon, you can visit the Last Supper, but make sure you have planned this ahead of time, as mentioned before.
Alternatively, if you haven’t been able to book in time, a visit to the church and monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie is worth your while.
While you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out the “Vigna di Leonardo,” a vineyard the Duke of Milan gave to Leonardo da Vinci in 1498 while he was working on the painting of the last supper.
In the evening, take a short and pleasurable walk to the Navigli, where you’ll find hundreds of bars and restaurants that are cool and trendy. You’re sure to have a great time spending your second evening there.
Best day and weekend trips from Milan
Once you are done with the city highlights and tourist attractions, and if you have more time to spend there, it’s time to plan some day or weekend trips from Milan. Hiking lovers and urbanites will definitely enjoy the following places in Milan’s surrounding areas.
10 Great hiking spots near Milan
On the other hand, the proximity to the Alps and Dolomites makes Milan a perfect launching pad for hiking. A few interesting hiking spots easily accessible from Milan are:
- Lake Como: This stunning glacier-created lake is one of the most beautiful places to go hiking in the area. Take the train to Como San Giovanni and start tackling one of its many trails.
- Val d’Intelvi: Take a short train ride to Tresivio and explore the lush Val d’Intelvi Valley. This valley’s terrain is ideal for leisurely strolls, more demanding hikes, and even a few mountain biking trails.
- Valtellina Valley: This valley is located even more north and provides numerous hiking trails of varying difficulty. From the vineyards in the Valtellina Valley to the amazing views of the Alps, this area is a favorite among Milanese hikers, skiers, and rock climbers.
- Val di Mello: In the Stelvio National Park, Val di Mello is another great place to explore and go hiking. Take the train to Tirano and then hike up to this magical spot. Along the way, there are plenty of gorgeous views and streams to enjoy.
- Montevecchia: Near Milan, this is an easy day trip from the city. Take the train to Barzanò and start at the base of the mountain.
- Lakes Maggiore and Garda: These two Italian lakes may not be as close to Milan as Lake Como, but they are definitely worth the longer trip. Both lakes offer plenty of beautiful scenery and challenging hikes.
- Grignetta: The Grignetta is a mountain located right beside Milan. Take the train to Covale and start your hike.
- Swiss Alps: The fast train to Switzerland can take you to Interlaken in 3 hours. Once there, spend the day exploring the majestic Swiss Alps.
- Fellaria glacier: A great spot for challenging day hikes and overnight camping weather permitting. You can get there by taking a train to Valtournenche, then a cable car up to the glacier.
- Valle d’Aosta: The most mountainous region in Italy offers some of the best hiking in the country and is just a few hours’ drive from Milan. Add it to your itinerary!
15 Awesome Towns and Cities a short trip away from Milan
There are numerous incredibly gorgeous towns and cities that can be easily reached in no more than two or three hours, as a day or weekend trip from Milan. Here are some Milan day trip destinations you should consider:
- Bellagio: Situated in the idyllic Como lake, Bellagio is just a cheap one-hour train ride away from Milan and offers stunning landscapes and activities such as kayaking and boat rides on the lake. For hundreds of years, celebrities and aristocrats have flocked to this Italian lake scape. From the breathtaking scenery to the interesting towns and historic sites along the lake’s shores, you won’t find a better day trip from Milan.
- Parma: The charming city of Parma is an hour and a half drive from Milan and is home to the renowned Parma ham and cheese along with some of the best museums and churches in the region.
- Bergamo: Gorgeous cobblestone streets, palazzos, and churches await 50 km away from Milan.
- Verona: A two-hour drive from Milan, the delightful city of Verona offers some of the best-preserved Roman ruins and the imposing Arena of Verona.
- Sirmione: This charming village is situated at the tip of the Sirmio peninsular and is just a one-hour drive from Milan. Here you will find the ruins of a medieval castle and hot springs from Roman baths.
- Lake Garda: What if we told you that the largest lake in Italy is just a 1.5-hour drive from Milan? Garda lake is an excellent spot for leisurely strolls and boat rides. Families with children and amusement park lovers can also put Gardaland, one of the most popular theme parks in Italy located in the lake Garda region, on their itinerary.
- Genoa: This vibrant port city can be reached in just two hours by train from Milan and is home to a lively old town with winding streets lined with bars and restaurants.
- Turin: Known for its impressive palazzos, piazzas, and gardens, this city is just a one-and-a-half-hour drive away from Milan.
- Brescia: An hour and a half drive from Milan, Brescia is a historical town home to some wonderful museums and art galleries.
- Liguria: Home to the beautiful Italian Riviera and the charming towns of Portofino and Sanremo, this coastal region can be reached in just two hours by car from Milan.
- Venice: The iconic city of Venice is just a two-hour drive from Milan and, as surely you know, is a must-visit destination in Italy.
- Chianti: Famous for its wine and rolling hills dotted with vineyards and olive groves, you can get to Chianti from Milan in 90 minutes.
- Stresa: Located on the picturesque shores of Lake Maggiore, Stresa offers stunning views, great shopping, and interesting historical sites. The Borromean Islands are just offshore and are also a must-see destination.
- Bologna: This vibrant university city is just a one-hour train ride away from Milan and offers a delightful mix of Renaissance-era architecture and the bustling atmosphere of a modern metropolis.
- Cinque Terre: This charming coastal area is three hours away from Milan and is home to some stunning hiking trails along with a string of picturesque villages.
nosbatti.com is a city guide to Milan made by locals. It gives insider tips and advice on the best spots to eat, drink, and explore; whether you’re planning a trip, a move, or just want to learn more about Milan, it will help you avoid the typical tourist traps and experience the city like a local.
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