Milan is seen as a hub for commerce rather than romance or tourism. But is that really true? We found more than enough to do in this pretty little northern Italian city. Here’s our top 10.
Chic fashion, busy streets, boutiques and effortless style. That’s what I think of when I hear the name ‘Milano’. However, it seems strange that Milan doesn’t have the same historic, architectural or food-based predisposition the rest of Italy wears so well.
Perhaps it isn’t quite as obvious here as it is in other Italian cities, but Milan can pull out some amazing old buildings from its wardrobe when it wants to. And food? Don’t worry. Milan’s got that covered – and has the shoes to match!
Here are our top tips for things to do in Milan.
1. Duomo – Piazza del Duomo
Milan Cathedral is one of the most important pieces of medieval architecture in the world. It’s also bloody amazing. Its enormous white walls are covered with well over 1000 marble statues, and its 100 or so spires tell of a monument that took over three centuries to build.
Inside, you’ll find the dramatic pillars of one of the world’s largest gothic cathedrals, amazing reliefs and mozaics, but also grisly remains of some of the duomo’s saints in situ under their gowns and gold death masks.
2. Duomo roof
Italian duomos and their piazzas are well known as the centre of their town and are often the tallest historic buildings too. Milan’s cathedral is no exception, so it’s well worth the €7 to go up – it’s only another €5 wisely spent to take the elevator.
From the roof you get incredible vistas over the whole city. Milan’s quite flat too, so you get pretty comprehensive views. If it’s a clear day, you can even see the mountains.
If you don’t fancy the climb and would prefer to take in the sights of the duomo roof with a spritz Aperol in your hand, head to Terrazza Aperol, just across the way in the piazza.
3. Centro Storico
From the doors of the duomo north-west as far as the Castillo Sforzesco.
This whole neighbourhood is where Milan kicks off its Blahnik stilettos and slips into its Gucci slippers of yesteryear.
Still in keeping with that refined elegance but tempered with historic grandeur, Centro Storico shows off the city’s past through its buildings, its cobbled streets, and its elegant statues and fountains.
Start at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II – the magnificent shopping arcade adjacent to the duomo – and wander off.
4. Quadrilatero della Moda
If you want chic, this is the place to go. Quadrilatero della Moda is the big bucks shopping area of Milan. You’ll find all the top-end labels here, so get ready to either grip your wallet a bit tighter or let it fly like a bird released. There’s no middle ground!
5. Corso Buenos Aires
Heading north-east from the duomo and the city centre.
A bit like London’s Oxford Street, Corso Buenos Aires is alive with foot traffic and shops. The shopping here is much more approachable than Quadrilatero della Moda with a more high-street feel.
With the likes of H&M, Zara, Beneton and Fossil, you’re almost guaranteed to find a bargain. There’s also a good range of bars and enotecas along the way. And if you’re anything like me, when it comes to shopping, frequent drinks breaks are a must.
Along this street was the hotel we stayed in. It’s pretty good and our personal accommodation recommendation: here’s our review the Best Western Hotel Galles.
6. Castello Sforzesco
North-west of the duomo city centre.
This magnificent castle is definitely worth a look. Even if you’re short of time and can only fit in a quick walk through the grounds, it’s not to be missed.
Guarded by the impressive bronze statue of Garibaldi and headed up by a beautiful fountain, the castle is flanked by round towered bastions either side of its huge entrance way. You cross a dry moat to find yourself inside the castle grounds – a four-walled garden.
You can go inside the castello for a fee.
7. Sforza Park and Arch
The other side of Castello Sforzesco is the Sforza Park.
The park is huge and is perfect for a picnic (if you agree with such things) or for a romantic stroll. It’s popular with the more active Milanese, so watch out for joggers and cyclists as you explore the grounds.
On the far side of the park from the castle is the Arco della Pace. The Arco della Pace is much like other celebratory arches you’ll find around Europe. It’s covered with beautiful allegorical and historical statues.
8. The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Last Supper
West of the duomo and the city centre.
The masterpiece of the Last Supper by Leonardo Di Vinci is in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a UNESCO World Heritage Listed building and a work of art in its own right.
You’ll need to book a ticket to get in and you’ll need to be there at the time on your ticket. There are guided tours, but they’re extremely expensive.
Apart from this church and the Di Vinci within, the Duomo, and the Castella Sforzesco, there are lots of other great museums scattered around Milan.
9. Game at the San Siro Stadium
If you’re lucky enough to be in town when AC Milan are playing at home, definitely get a ticket to a game. The atmosphere in the stadium is incredible – and that’s coming from someone who was brought up with English Premiership football.
Ask the concierge at your hotel for details – they should even be able to book you some tickets. Just make sure you find out the best way to get to and from the stadium. We got a bit lost getting home!
10. Aperitivo Hour Milano style
The Milanese pride themselves on this strange pre-dinner custom but it means it is possible to eat dinner for free in Milan. For the cost of a drink, you get access to an amazing array of food at the bar of most enotecas in town.
It’s supposed to be a pre-dinner meal (only in Italy, right?!) but there’s so much food there, and no judgments! This ‘aperitivo hour’ – similar to our happy hour only food based – usually goes from 6 or 7pm until about 9pm. Or until people stop eating.
Bonus: Lake Como
If you’ve had enough of the big city, why not take a day trip out to Lake Como, arguably one of the most spectacular places to visit in the whole country – if not Europe!
Surrounded by mountains, popular with the rich and famous (yes, George Clooney does have a house here), and only an hour out of Milan by train, it’s no wonder why the Milanese head here for their weekend breaks.
Here’s our quick guide to Como and also how to get to Como from Milan by train.
Have you ever been to Milan? What did you get up to? Where would your favourite part of Italy be? Tell us in the comments!
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Great list! My favorite thing to do in Milan is walk through the gorgeous monumental cemetery.
Thanks, Stephen. Milan’s a lovely little city, isn’t it? We didn’t find the cemetery last time, but we’ll definitely check it out the next time we’re there – hopefully won’t be too long! Some of those old cemeteries in Europe are incredible, aren’t they? So full of history and mystery.
Thanks for sharing your tip.
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
You guys make me want to jump on a plane there! I’m hopefully headed to Italy this year so I’ll keep these tips in mind 🙂
Oh, so lucky, Lorraine! Wish we were heading back to Italy too. So good for food, scenery, history, shopping…
Milan a nice LITTLE city, humbug!!
Ha ha! Humbug indeed! Thanks Bill – you’re right of course, Milan is a bloody great BIG city. But it feels a lot smaller than that when you’re there – in the best possible way I mean. We discovered how big it was when we got completely lost coming back from the AC Milan match.
Thanks for stopping by.
Definitely using this list on my September trip (I also had inquiries under Lake Como) Do you have any favorite restaurants and/or bars with an especially good aperitivo? There’s so many eateries, it’s a little overwhelming. Any information is much appreciated!
Hi Alison! Good to hear from you again. There are so many places in Milan to grab a great bite to eat. As a general rule, avoid eating or drinking in the piazza where the duomo. It’s massively overpriced there. However, if you want an afternoon spritz Aperol with the best view of the duomo, you’ve got to check out the Terrezza Aperol. It overlooks the duomo and is an Aperol bar! Here’s our post on it: https://mrandmrsromance.com/2013/09/where-to-drink-in-milan-terrazza-aperol.html.
For excellent aperitivi – and Milan does this better than most Italian towns – we really love Pandenus. Here are more details: https://mrandmrsromance.com/2014/04/aperitivo-hour-a-sneaky-way-to-eat-for-free-in-italy.html.
And for a late-night negroni, I couldn’t stop going back to a crappy little al fresco bar on Corso Buenos Aires. It doesn’t have a name but it’s under the Hotel Teco near the corner of Via Giuseppe Broggi.
Hope this all helps. Enjoy Milan – especially in September during Fashion Week. The whole town goes crazy!
Thank you very much for all the helpful suggestions. Your website is invaluable, and I’ll report back once vacation is (sadly) over!
My absolute pleasure, Alison. Hope you have the best time – and please do let us know how you get on. Would love to hear all your stories!
Im Planning on proposing to my GF on our Milan trip, you have any recommendations for a good location?
Hi John. Lovely idea. It’s definitely a romantic place to pop the question. There are a couple of good spots I’d recommend. In Milan, up the top of the Duomo is the best spot of all. Amazing views out over the city. You can just turn up or you can book tickets to go up. Check it out here: http://www.duomomilano.it/en/
Alternatively, you could take a day trip out to Lake Como. Absolutely stunning and a fun thing to do to get out of the city. You can go by train, which only takes an hour. We’ve written a couple of stories about it – here’s one with lots of pictures to give you an idea of how pretty it is: https://mrandmrsromance.com/2013/10/lake-como-italy-the-place-of-romance-and-dreams.html
Here’s how you get from Milan to Lake Como by train: https://mrandmrsromance.com/2013/10/how-to-get-to-lake-como-from-milan-by-train.html
Good luck and please let me know how you get on. Happy to help with any other advice you might need. Just shoot me an email or comment back here.
Cheers – Jim
Amazing post! Thank you so much for sharing, my friend and I will be visiting for the first time in October for four days and we cannot wait to explore this beautiful city! Definitely bookmarking all of this! 🙂
Hi Aysh. Thank you so much for your kind words. Really glad our post’s helped you and got you even more excited about your trip. Enjoy your time in Italy – we love it there so much! Happy travels – Jim
Thank you so much for your tips. We are travelling to Milan on Tuesday and had thought about a trip to Lake Como. Have just followed your advice and booked train tickets to Vareeno-Esino. Really looking forward to our trip!
Hi Michelle. That’s awesome! Thank you so much for letting us know. Totally made our day! Have an awesome time in Italy and enjoy Lake Como. It’s so beautiful.
Cheers – Jim
This is a great list. Thank you! Going to Milan in June and am very excited. Lake Como day trip looked AMAZING. Wondering why you didn’t stay the night? Do you recommend to stay the night if possible?
Thank you again for all the tips!
Hi Alina. Thank you for your kind words. Really glad you enjoyed our list. It might sound funny, but if you do anything while you’re in Milan, make sure you get to Lake Como! It’s absolutely stunning. The reason we didn’t stay the night at Varena – although we really wanted to – was because we were supposed to be working! Oops! Plus we already had a hotel room waiting for us in Milan.
I would definitely recommend staying the night at Lake Como – and more than one night if you can. You can get around quite a lot of the lake just on the ferry, and I think it’d be lovely to explore more. There seem to be quite a few hotels around the area, but they also look quite expensive. I’d look into AirBnB if you can. It’s often more affordable and you get a better experience too. Good luck and hope this all helps. Cheers – Jim
Thanks guys, I found your post really helpful and informative. Heading to Milan in March and cannot wait to see Lake Como
Hey Mary! Hope you have the best time there. It’s sooo beautiful on Lake Como and Milan’s a fun city too. Thanks for the feedback – made our day. 🙂
Jim & Christina xx
Great post, really helpful. We are heading to Milan next month and will go to Lake Como via train for a day. How many days would you recommend in Milan keeping in mind 1 day is for Lake Como. Look forward to hearing from you. Thank you Natasha
Hi Natasha. Sounds like you’ve got a good trip planned – and I’m glad you found our story helpful. 🙂 You could probably see the best bits of Milan in a couple of days really. The duomo and the parks are great, and the beautiful designer boutiques of course. But if you have other places on your itinerary and you’re short on time, give them more than Milan. It’s an interesting city to see, but nothing on places like Tuscany or Rome. Let me know if you have other questions on Italy. Happy to help. Cheers – Jim
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