Discover why you don’t want to miss visiting Milan!
After three trips to the Fashion Capitol of the World and speaking with native Italians to find hidden gems, I’ve listed some things to do that will pack your itinerary to the brim.
Things to Do While Visiting Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital of the northern province of Lombardy. If you are wondering if Milan is worth a visit, the answer is yes!
Piazza del Duomo
If a picture is worth a thousand words, The Duomo weighs in at a million terms and expressions. It is one of the most visited places in Milan. So, when visiting Milan, you will want to explore this treasure.
The cathedral is stunning and if you only have time to do one thing in Milan, a trip to Piazza del Duomo should be it! The price of entry starts at just €5 and increases with add-ons.
You can get a ticket to enter the Duomo only. However, we bought a ticket that included access to the archeological exhibit, the museum, and the rooftop.
The Duomo’s rooftop can be reached by stairs or elevator. We took our time and climbed the stairs to the roof top to the majestic terraces for sweeping views of the city. It was worth the effort.
- This is a place of workshop so appropriate dress is advised. Men should avoid shorts (during summer).
- It is advisable for women to consider wearing clothing that covers their arms.
- If you walk to the top of the cathedral, some paths are for single passage. Be patient with oncoming traffic.
- Don’t miss the Madonna standing atop the highest spire! Facing the entrance of the cathedral, the Duomo Museum and its collections are to the right.
This is an interesting self-guided tour that tells the history of the Duomo through the centuries and reveals paintings, statues, tapestries, stained-glass windows, and architectural models.
Access may be purchased separately or as a package, but we recommend the package if you love history and architecture. If you allow two hours at the Duomo and another two at the museum, you will be able to see both in under 5 hours at a leisurely pace.
When we went, we didn’t have to use the museum ticket in the same day. We returned the following day to finish the tour.
If you are visiting Milan during the Christmas season, you will enjoy one of the best holiday markets from around the world in the piazza.
To get to Piazza del Duomo, take the metro (lines M1 Red, or M3 Yellow) to the Duomo stop.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The magnificent structure next to the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, named after the first king of Italy.
In the middle of the piazza, a statue of the leader on a horse dominates the square in tribute to the victory of independence for Italy.
Constructed in 1870, the Galleria is the oldest shopping area known as the “living room” to the Milanese.
Today, it is occupied by business offices, historic cafes, restaurants, and retail stores. The mosaic floors in the panoramic walkway are quite impressive.
According to custom, if you spin three times on the testicles of the Bull of Turin coat of arms using the heel of your foot, it will bring good luck.
Depending on your activities — museums, shopping, eating — you could easily spend the entire day at the piazza. This also means you may not need to take a trip back to enjoy the evening views!
The mall is open 24/7. The retail stores are typically open from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. The restaurants and bars are typically open from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Entry to the mall is free.
When I think about visiting Milan, images of fashion come to mind. And you can find plenty in the Quadrilatero d’Oro, or Golden Quadrilateral, which is a luxury fashion district.
The area is home to the most well-known luxury brands like Armani, Balenciaga, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Versace. Peek inside the fashion houses for a glimpse of the latest high-end fashion trends and designs.
To get there, walk to the rear of the Duomo on the left side (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II). Turn left at via S. Pietro lAll’Orto. Turn right at Corso Giacomo Metteotti and walk 1 block, then turn left onto the main street, Via Montenapoleone. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy all the upscale designer fashion boutiques while visiting Milan.
The quadrilateral is bordered by Via Manzoni (NW), Via della Spiga (NE), and Corso Venezia (SE). Some price tags may be out of reach, but people watching, and window shopping are always free (map)!
📍Piazza del Duomo
If you are visiting Milan to get some great European brands, Rinascente is the place for fabulous and it’s located directly across from the Duomo. The building is dressed in awnings and offers a wide range of fashion items under one roof.
Food & restaurants are featured in the 7th floor food market which is brimming with delicious dishes. It also offers multiple bars and restaurant choices designed to satisfy every palate.
We stopped here on a Friday evening around 7pm for an aperitivo and enjoy some of the best views in town! It was a bit crowded, but the wait was worth it.
We were seated in about 20 minutes of our wait for dining opposite the Duomo. We could clearly see the architectural details, spires, and flying buttresses.
There is another rooftop section for socializing with an aperitif.
Museo del Novecento
📍Piazza del Duomo
The Museo del Novecento is located in the center of Milan near Piazza del Duomo. Inside the Palazzo dell’Arengario, you’ll find a spacious building with many floors that showcase the work of Italian artists.
The grand spiral staircase inside the building is perhaps the museum’s most impressive architectural feature very similar to the one at the Guggenheim in NYC. It connects several floors from the subway to a panoramic terrace overlooking the Duomo.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 AM to 7:30 PM. It also has a rooftop bar overlooking the Duomo. Admission fee is 3 to5 €. Free admission and reduced fees are available to qualified visitors.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
📍Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie
The painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (Cenacolo Vinciano) is undoubtedly one of the most recognized artworks in the world. I stood in awe when I visited this museum. It seemed so surreal.
It is displayed in the Museo Cenacolo Vinciano, a state museum at Santa Maria delle Grazie (a basilica and sanctuary of the Dominican friars). The entrance to Santa Maria delle Grazie is free, but there is a fee to the museum and tickets must be booked online.
It is interesting to note that the church is also one of 58 World Heritage sites in Italy. To get there, take the metro, M1 (red), and exit at the Conciliazione stop. Head east on Via Giovanni Boccaccio and turn right on Via Fratelli Ruffini. The walk is about 10 minutes from the metro stop. Another major stop is Cadorna (metro lines FN M1, M2).
Whichever route you choose, go for the masterpiece, but stay for the architectural gems and one of the true symbols of Milan and its history.
Be forewarned, the visit to Cenacolo Vinciano lasts only 15 minutes and there is a maximum of 30 people per group, so it is important to book months in advance. A skip-line-tour lasts about 45 minutes.
On one of my return trips to Milan was solo . I explored the historic cobblestone streets in this neighborhood and it was quite enjoyable. I love walking and feeling the local vibes while visiting Milan.
The Brera neighborhood should be on your itinerary if you love the arts. After exploring for a couple of days and speaking to my friend Claudio, who lives near Rome, I have a few picks that you may enjoy.
Pinacoteca di Brera
📍Via Brera, 28
Pinacoteca di Brera (the Brera Picture Gallery) is an art gallery with an extensive collection of Italian masterpieces. There is a great tour that covers the Brera district and the art gallery.
Just imagine exploring quaint streets and cobbled pavements where trendy restaurants and bars line the neighborhood. After the art gallery, you can return to a spot that piqued your interest for lunch or an aperitif.
Accademia di Belle Arti
📍Via Luigi Cagnola, 17
Visiting Milan to see the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) gives you a chance to appreciate the art scene and masterpieces at the Brera Art Gallery.
The gallery has art pieces by Italian masters like Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian.
Orto Botanico di Brera
📍Via Brera, 28 | Cost: Free
What makes Orto Botanico di Brera (Brera Botanical Gardens) special is the variety of rare and exotic plants it houses, including a Gingko Biloba tree planted in the 1700s, a large collection of redwood trees, and multiple kinds of orchids.
The garden also contains many medicinal plants, which were historically used for research and teaching purposes.
Looking for a hidden gem or a great neighborhood to explore while visiting Milan? Add Brera to your list.
My friend Claudio, who lives near Rome, raves about these spots and highly recommends them. So if you are touring Italy, getting to Milan from Rome is fairly easy by train.
Teatro alla Scala
📍Via Filodrammatici, 2
As the world’s top opera houses, Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Opera House) is one of the most prestigious and has been graced by great Italian opera legends like Caruso, Corelli, and di Stefano.
I always add a bit of unique European experience when I travel. Adding a classical performance to the itinerary makes it memorable.
To add, this museum has one of the most important collections in the world and has preserved the artifacts of great musicians, unforgettable singers, and dancers.
The opera house is open for tours from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The tour takes about 1.5 hours and gives insight into what is going on behind the scenes, set designs, costumes, the history of the theater.
The Castello Sforzesco is one of the oldest castles in Europe and was originally built by the Lombard king, Aistulf, in 752 AD.
Simply known by the Milanese as Il Castello, the castle was once as a fortress, prison, and military barracks throughout its history.
We sat in the courtyard which is a gathering place for locals. On one side of the exterior walls, we found the Parco Sempione and walked around for a bit. On the other side, we sat near the large water fountain. Vendors were nearby on the outskirts of the property offering sweet treats.
TIP: When visiting Milan, take advantage of the savings and get the Tourist Museum card for €12. It gives access to all civic museums for 3 days.
If you have time to only go to one portion of the castle museum, the pinacoteca (art gallery) is must-see. The building itself is worth the full price ticket of €5.
The self-guided tour of the castle with entry to Leonardo di Vinci’s Vineyard was a fascinating experience. Imagine as you stroll through the vineyard that Leonardo da Vinci himself once harvested and sipped the wine from these grapevines.
The castle museums are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM. There is free museum entry every first and third Tuesday from 2:00 PM and every first Sunday. Reduced admissions are also available. The castle grounds are free.
While visiting Milan last year, one of my friends took me to City Life. It was my first time seeing this part of the city.
It is a modern shopping district where the Milanese spend their leisure time. There is a nearby park for relaxing in the grass or watching kids play. The modern residential buildings compliment the area nicely.
As Antonio, a Milanese who serves the armed forces, stated, “There are very modern architectural elements that have been built in the last 20 years, particularly in the City Life area which features a cinema complex, fashionable shops, and global restaurants. Large investments have given Milan the international appearance that it has. It is perhaps the only true city with a European dimension in Italy.”
To get there by metro, the closest stops are Amendola, Portello, and Domodossola.
While visiting Milan with my family we went to this neighborhood and walked the streets. It was as dead as a doorknob.
We arrived between 5 and 6 PM, had dinner at a restaurant, peeked inside a few stores and called it a day. I don’t think we stayed in the area more than 3 hours.
However, when I returned with my friend Lisa, Chinatown was livelier than I ever could have imagined. It was closer to 9 or 10 PM and I soon learned that Italians don’t start dinner before 8PM.
It’s funny how our American traditions make us stand out as tourists.
To get there by metro, the closest stops are Gerusalemme and Monumentale. We got there by a tram that was a 5-minute walk from our hotel, which is another good way to get to this neighborhood.
Navigli is a network of water canals was perfected by Leonardo da Vinci and is currently one of the main epicenters of the Milanese “movida” (nightlife).
If you are interested in visiting Milan from a different perspective, the Navigli Milanese cruise with an aperitif is our favorite way to tour the area. The cruise along the canal is about an hour and there is an audio guide.
The district is lined with artisan workshops and painter’s studios. It reminded me of those found on the left bank of Paris.
Porta Garibaldi Neighborhood
Getting off the tourist track while visiting Milan showed me just how interesting the city is. Not only is Milan known internationally as a powerhouse of fashion, but it has also made indelible impressions in design, most notably for furniture and architecture.
📍 Via Gaetano de Castillia, 11
If you are a fan of architecture, a trip to the Bosco Verticale (The Vertical Forest) will be a treat. The residential highrise celebrates sustainability and incorporates arbored nature on every floor.
The buildings are not on the main tourist routes of Milan and getting there via public transportation is doable with an extra 10 minutes of walking.
📍Via Giuseppe Ferrari, 18
Torre Arcobaleno (Rainbow Tower) is artistically covered with ceramic tiles. The structure was recast from an ordinary water tower to a beautiful presentation of originality.
It is approximately a 10-minute walk from the Porta Garibaldi station and it is accessible from several public transportation stops. Or you can take a peek at this video.
📍Piazza Venticinque Aprile, 10
The first Eataly opened in Alba, Italy. Founded in 2010, it now has over 35 locations around the world. Eataly is the gateway to gastronomic eating through the regions of Italy, all under one roof!
Whether you are shopping for ingredients for your inner Giada De Laurentiis or stopping at one of a dozen different eateries, this is the best place to experience a locally sourced food emporium.
After I checked into my hotel, I walked here and picked up some ready-made food items to store in the refrigerator. It was a nice convenience.
📍 Piazza Velasca
Torre Valesca (Valesca Tower) was built in the 1950s and is a symbol of a more modern city emerging from the medieval ages. This closest metro stop is Missori but no tours are available.
However, there are good views from the rooftop of the Duomo. Needless to say, its design aroused public interest and opinions.
Starbucks Roastery Reserve
📍 Piazza Cordusio, 3
There are only six Starbucks Roastery Reserve locations across the globe, so if you are in Milan, carve out an hour or two of your time to sip a cup in coffee heaven. The other stores are in New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Shanghai.
Starbucks Reserves Milano has multiple levels and plenty of seating. You will see the on-site equipment used to roast the coffee beans and try hand-crafted hot or cold coffee beverages.
If you’ve ordered at Starbucks before, then you know not to forget your wallet and to look the other way when you get the bill.
They churn espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes like there is no tomorrow. The Starbucks brand is American. However, they have partnered with Italian businesses, like Princi.
Visit this beautiful location to start your day with a traditional sweet Italian breakfast or enjoy some unique blends while relaxing.
The Best Time for Visiting Milan
The best time of the year to visit Milan is from April to May, or from September to October. To me, the temperatures during this season were quite comfortable (not too hot, not too cold) and the touristy traffic was less substantial.
Are you craving the latest in furniture styles and designer wear? Milan Fashion Week takes place in September-October for summer wear and February-March for winter wear. The Milan Furniture Fair, which features the best of global design, is held in April.
Summer in Italy is the best time of the year to visit if you want to enjoy the sea. In winter, we recommend a visit to enjoy the Christmas season if you’d enjoy seeing cities like Rome and Naples full of festive decorations. Visiting Italy is always a wonderful idea!
FAQ about Visiting Milan
Is Milan a city worth visiting?
Quick answer: Yes.
How many days should you visit Milan?
Quick answer: 3 or 4.
Is Milan friendly to tourists?
Quick answer: Yes.
Which is better Rome or Milan?
Quick answer: Visit Rome for art, history, and regional food. Milan shows a more modern lifestyle with hip and trendy neighborhoods.
Final Thoughts on Things to do in Milan
As my friend, Antonio, who is a resident of Milan, stated “Brera is a classic neighborhood. It still breathes the atmosphere of the Milan of the 70s, which was called the ‘Milan to drink'”. This is how the aperitif, considered a small dinner that is made in the late afternoon drinking alcohol, is a very common habit throughout northern Italy, and was born in Milan in the 70s.
I enjoyed visiting Milan, spending time in the various neighborhoods, and learning about the city from native residents who are now my friends.
Visiting Milan should be at the top of your travel bucket list. There are so many things to do in Brera. Of course, day trips to Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Florence, and other cities are great options.
Brera has a unique atmosphere, blending history, art, and social scene. The neighborhood is also known for its picturesque streets, charming cafes, and boutique shops. Beyond the tourism sites, you should explore these recommendations for cocktails and dining in that neighborhood!
I look forward to visiting Milan and seeing my friends again. It will be fun building an itinerary that is unique with experiences that are off the beaten track.
By the way, if you are looking for general ideas on how to build a list of things to do, we have some suggestions here on the blog that you can use in any destination.