Would you like to capture the Milanese spirit but you have not so much time? Milan has much more to offer than classic “must see” places, so I tried to concentrate the best in the following itinerary that will let you discover what lies next to the most famous architectural masterpieces. There will be “extensions” by the way, just in case you advance a bit of time. 😉
TOP things to do and try in Milan
Walk on the rooftop of the Duomo Cathedral
Visit the most famous landmark of Milan: the Duomo Cathedral. This marvel dates back to the 14th century and took almost six centuries to complete, moreover, in terms of surface the Duomo Cathedral is the largest in Italy and the third in the world (the largest is the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Vatican State).
Its interior is a marvel, with the stained glass windows and the play of light, and still remains the largest Gothic building in the world where you can walk on the roof!
Enjoy an unmissable view of the city and the mountains, the perspective on the large square Piazza del Duomo and its beautiful pavement geometric decorations. I suggest to visit it in the early morning or around sunset time when its marble gets shaded in orange and pink.
I strongly recommend to buy the tickets in advance.
The climb to the terraces costs 15 euros on foot (reduced 7 euros) and 20 euros by elevator (reduced 9 euros), the ticket includes a visit to the Cathedral and its Museum.
You can also choose the option for rooftop access only: 10 euros on foot (reduced 5 euros) and 15 euros by elevator (reduced 7 euros).
Working hours: Everyday 9am-7pm
More things to do close to Duomo Cathedral
In Piazza Duomo, there is also the Museo del Novecento (Museum of the twentieth century) where you can visit an incredible collection of over four hundred works of art of the twentieth century arranged in chronological order. The route starts from the famous Quarto Stato (Fourth State) by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, through the Avant-garde, Futurism, Abstractionism, Pop Art, Arte Povera and Analytical Art. You will admire Picasso, Kandinsky, Modigliani, Boccioni, Balla and Giorgio de Chirico and more.
The ticket can be purchased at the ticket office or online and includes admission to the permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions.
Full price €10, reduced price €8.
“Fontana” room of the museum opens on the beauty of the gothic Duomo facade, one more popular spot where to take instagrammable shot. 😉
After the climb to the cathedral (on foot please!) you could have developed a bit of an appetite so I advice to pass by Milan’s most popular hotspot for over 125 years: Luini Panzerotti. It is a local grab-and-go shop, just few steps away from Duomo, very famous for its delicious fried pizza dough stuffed with sauces, tomato, mozzarella and named panzerotto.
Panzerotti Luini: Via Santa Radegonda, 16, 20121 Milano MI
If you want to have a drink with a gorgeus view Terrazza Aperol is the right place. This historic venue of the city is a perfect spot for an aperitif and the terrace opens directly on the cathedral. Book a table in advance.
Terrazza Aperol: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, 20121 Milano MI – Level 2
Visit Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
On the left side of the Duomo Cathedral opens the majestic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, defined as the “Drawing-room of Milan”, which connects the Piazza del Duomo with Piazza della Scala. It is Italy’s oldest active shopping mall decorated with mosaics, drawings and monuments on windows and balconies. There you find shops of the most luxurious brands, historic restaurants and legendary places such as Camparino, Caffè Biffi and Caffè Savini.
Inside the gallery most attention receives Turin’s symbol of the bull. It is said that spinning 3 times on the “bull’s balls” will bring you good luck. More precisely you will notice a queue of people and a hole developed on the place of the genitals of the bull. 😉
More info about the gallery can be found in this article: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and its uniqueness.
For a coffee and pastry pause in a pretty place with pistachio interiors, make a stop at Pasticceria Marchesi, one of Milan’s iconic cafes founded almost 200 years ago. Located on the mezzanine floor of the Prada store it offers a unique view on the gallery and its splendid frescoes and pavements.
More a museum than a pastry shop, so be aware that prices change if you consume standing or sitting.
Pasticceria Marchesi: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, 20121 Milano MI
La Scala Theater
Walking through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele you will reach Piazza Scala which houses one of the world’s most famous opera houses – Teatro alla Scala. Its stage hosted the greatest italian opera artists such as Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti and Rossini. Watch the performance at the La Scala Theatre is absolutely a unique emotion that will take you back in time. Tickets are often difficult to come by, so I advise you to plan the purchase online months in advance.
If you would like to visit the theater without attending a performance, you will still have the opportunity to discover the history and all the curiosities of this temple of music through its museum, located nearby the Theater. If there is not a rehearsal in progress, the museum offers the access to the opera house too. The Museo teatrale alla Scala boasts a collection of paintings, musical instruments and other material related to the opera world.
Moving away from Galleria Vittorio Emanuele you should discover Brera. It’s a beautiful area famous for its bohemian atmosphere where you can have a walk through cobbled streets with historical buildings, bars, restaurants and a large number of souvenir and artisan’s workshops.
Stroll along Via Brera, via Fiori Chiari, Via Fiori Oscuri, Piazza del Carmine with its Catholic Church Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine, dating back to 1446. The Brera area is also called “the SoHo of Milan”.
Stop by Pinacoteca di Brera, where you can admire the masterpieces by Raffaello, Caravaggio, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Piero della Francesca, Canaletto and many others.
Most visitors miss Brera’s secret garden: the Orto Botanico di Brera, a charming garden in Pinacoteca’s inner courtyard, which hides exotic trees and flower.
To enjoy a glass of quality wine stop in the historic winery N’ombra de Vin, dating back to the XV, where you will find a collection of exclusive wines. The place is a chic meeting spot where Milan citizens like to go to observe and be observed.
N’ombra de Vin: Via Solferino, 27.
If you ask me to suggest where to have dinner in the center and avoid tourist traps, I will highly recommend Convivium or Nabucco restaurants. Both of these places have elegant atmosphere and offer a quality kitchen.
Sforzesco Castle and Sempione Park
From Brera, taking via Fiori Chiari and then via Tivoli, you will find yourself in the vicinity of Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle). The imposing building that gives its name to the square was built by Francesco Sforza in the fifteenth century on the remains of an ancient fortification and subsequently underwent further changes.
Today the Castle houses a series of museums among which are the Egyptian museum, the museum of prehistory, the museum Pietà Rodanini and the Castle Art Gallery, which preserves important paintings by Andrea Mantegna, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Antonello da Messina.
Having left Castello Sforzesco on the opposite side of the main entrance, you’ll find yourself in Sempione Park – the Central Park of Milano, considered the most beautiful park of the city. This lovely place houses such attractions as a Bridge of Mermaids (Ponte delle Sirenette), made out of cast iron, an old amphitheatre, the Civic Aquarium and a very tall iron tower.
💡 good to know
Yes, Milan also has its own Eiffel Tower!
Located inside the Sempione Park near the Triennale, Torre Branca is a slender metal structure 108 meters high. The lift allows you to reach the top in about 90 seconds to enjoy the main monuments of the city: Arco della Pace, Sforzesco Castle and Duomo Cathedral. On clear days it is possible to see even the Alps and the Apennines.
Arco della Pace
Proceeding with a walk through Parco Sempione you’ll reach the Arco della Pace – one of the most important neoclassical monuments in Milan. Besides being a place of great historical value, the Arco della Pace in Corso Sempione is one of the meeting points of the Milanese nightlife.
💡 good to know
The main oddity concerns the horses that draw the Chariot of Peace located above the arch. Their position, in fact, has been modified by the Hapsburgs. To mock the French after the fall of Napoleon, the horses have been turned 180 degrees in order to have their lower back oriented towards France.
Navigli district – experience a piece of Venice in Milan
It is mandatory to complete the sightseeing tour of Milan visiting one of the most picturesque and romantic area of the city – Navigli – which consists of an ancient system of canals originally made to irrigate the fields and to connect Milan to the lakes and rivers of Lombardy. Thanks to the presence of many clubs and restaurants that attract thousands of young people every day, Navigli has become a main spot for nightlife and entertainment.
Skyscrapers of Milan and the new City Centre
Few steps away from the popular streets such as Corso Garibaldi and Corso Como there are the futurist district Quartiere Isola and the contemporary area Porta Nuova. Recently Isola has gained immense popularity due to the abundance of bars, restaurants, vintage stores, atmospheric streets with walls covered of street art.
Porta Nuova literally popped up in a very short time with its hi-tech stores, arcades, bookstores, bars, pizzerias and night clubs. The heart is represented by the square Gae Aulenti that features a futuristic “walking island” lined with artificial fountains. From here you can enjoy a view of the skyline of the new city: the impressive residential building Bosco Verticale (“Vertical Forest” awarded as the most innovative skyscraper in the world in 2014), the Diamond Tower, Solaria, Unicredit Tower,Palazzo Lombardia and Palazzo Pirelli designed by Giò Ponti.
Read more about in the article Isola and Porta Nuova: the future of Milan between street art, tradition and modernity“.
This place is very popolar among young italians for its lively atmosphere, excellent drinks and dècor in a vintage-hipster style. Especially in summer it is a favourite spot for an evening drink in a courtyard. Locals like to come here for its vintage boutique and for a tasty aperitivo.
Frida: Via Pollaiuolo 3, Milano Italia
Enjoy your time in Milan! 😉