Best Places to Visit in Milan

Travel Milan

Milan is a glamorous city, but not quite in the same class as Rome, Florence, or Venice.  The city provides the tourist a number of delightful explorations that are tightly clustered in the vicinity of the Duomo, Milan’s ostentatious cathedral.  Widely known as a fashion center, Milan is a great place for shopping

  • Be sure to see the Duomo, La Scala, Castello Sforzesco and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

The Piazza del Duomo

The Piazza del Duomo

The Piazza del Duomo provides several famous sights, including the Duomo (Milan’s Cathedral), the Museum of the Duomo, the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II and the Palazzo Real. The Piazza is a great place for pictures, if you can clear a small area of the ever-present pigeons and  “doodad” hawkers who are trying to sell tourists anything Milanese (curiously, most of what they sell is made in China). On the western end of the Piazza, there are a number of neon signs that detract from the overall beauty of the square.

  • Duomo

    • The Duomo is an impressive site. The gothic cathedral’s architecture is decorated with numerous spires and more than three thousand statues.  Construction started in the fourteenth century and was completed only fifty years ago.  The massive cathedral is one of the largest in the world.
    • Cavernous is the word that comes to mind when one views the interior of the Duomo – it can hold over twenty-five thousand for services.
    • The Duomo does not have the sheer majesty that one would expect from a church of its size.  The interior statuary and decorations are interesting but not extraordinary.
      • The red light near the roof is a reliquary that holds what is believed to be a nail from the True Cross.
      • Examine the statue of St. Bartholomew from the side to see that he is posed carrying his own skin over his shoulder, a result of flaying during his martyrdom.
    • Be sure the visit the small but interesting Treasury for some beautiful examples of silversmithing.
    • Take the elevator to explore the roof of the cathedral.  The roof offers a great view of the gilded Madonna topping the Duomo, as well as a panorama of Central Milan.
    • Immodest dress (shorts, sleeveless tops, etc.) will disqualify you from entry to the Duomo.
    • This website  (most of the content is available only in Italiano), provides additional information on Milan’s Duomo
  • Museum of the Duomo

    Now reopened after a significant restoration, the Museo is well worth seeing.(Open 9:30 am to 12:30 pm and 3 pm to 6pm, seven days a week) (across from the Duomo in the Palazzo Real)

    • Most of the treasures once in the Duomo were removed for purposes of conservation and renovation. The Museum is arranged into approximately 20  rooms containing statutes, paintings, columns, metalwork and a variety of impressive original items from the Duomo.
        • During a visit to the museum, you can view all items up close and appreciate the amazing artistry that went into the construction  and decoration of the Duomo.
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

    • The Galleria, reputed as one of the finest shopping malls in Italy, is an extraordinary arcade that is as beautiful as it is impressive. The stores and restaurants are not of as high quality as one would expect, but the cross-shaped Galleria provides a great walk-thru and shortcuts to La Scala and the Duomo, depending on where you enter.
      • The well-known Savini restaurant is located in the Galleria, but there has been increased discussion as to whether the quality of its food still matches the steepness of its prices.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

  • Palazzo Reale

    • The Palazzo has had a checkered past having been altered by several conquerors (including the Spanish and the Austrians) and severely damaged in World War II.  The Palazzo currently houses the Museum of the Duomo and Milan’s Contemporary Art Museum.
  • Santa Maria delle Grazie

    • The convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie dates from the fifteenth century and is famous for its unique architecture and Leonardo da Vinci’s  The Last Supper, is a large mural of the Last Supper of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament.  This impressive, detailed mural is  approximately 15 by 30 feet in dimension and was painted on one of the convent’s walls over a four-year period.
    • The popularity daVinci’s The Last Suppereclipses that of the church. With the advent of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, the church and painting have become more popular than ever.
    • Viewing of the Last Supper is a very popular ticket.  Entry groups are limited in size and frequency, so prearrange tickets as described below.)
      • See the official website  for more information.  The site is available only in Italian, but Google Translator does a good job.  (The website  is available the majority of the time, but disappears intermittently for unknown reasons.)  While there is a trail to buying tickets on the website cited, it is a confusing path.
      • If you plan on seeing Leonardo’s The Last Supper, be sure to make reservations in advance by telephoning +39 02 92800360
        • If you are planning to see the Last Supper during high tourist season, you may need to reserve tickets several weeks in advance, if not longer, to guarantee admission during your trip to Milan.
        • If you are thinking about visiting during Easter, make reservations months ahead.
      • Tickets can also be reserved by contacting companies specializing in arranging museum tickets for travelers. (Use your search engine; enter “tickets + the Last Supper + Milan”).

Santa Maria delle Grazie

  • Sforza Castle

    • The Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco) was built as fortified palace in the 14th century to provide protection for the Sforza family, noted patrons of Milan.  In later years, the Castle fell into disrepair before it was renovated at the beginning of the last century.  Today the Castle combines interesting architecture with lovely grounds.  The real attraction of the Castle, however, is the Museo d’Arte Antica, a museum within the castle that has many Gothic and Renaissance treasures, including rooms decorated by Leonardo da Vinci.
      • The most popular attraction here  is Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà, an unfinished piece that the artist was working on at the time of his death.
        • It is debatable whether there was enough marble remaining for Michelangelo to ever finish the Rondanini Pietà. What this work does provide, however, is insights on the techniques and methods used by Michelangelo.
      • If you are interested in ancient weapons, be sure to see the Armory in the Sala Verde (Room XIV).
      • (Hours of operation: The Castle is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. The Museo is closed on Mondays. See the official website for more details.
  • La Scala and

    Teatro alla Scala Museum
    Teatro alla Scala Museum
    • La Scala opened on  August 3, 1778 and hosted many of the world’s greatest opera stars until 2001 when it was closed for much needed renovations.  La Scala re-opened in 2004 and appears better than ever.
    • If you are an opera fan, there is little to match attending a performance at Teatro La Scala.
    • (Hours of operation for the Museum: Everyday from 9 am to 12:30 pm (last entrance at noon). Reopens at 1:30pm to 5:30 pm (last entrance 5 pm).  A guided tour program for visitors of the backstage areas of La Scala is offered on Tuesday and Thursday but costs 120€ for the non-Italian speaking tour.  See the Teatro La Scala website for details.
    • In front of La Scala is the Piazza della Scala that includes an impressive statue of Leonardo da Vinci.
    •  Around the corner on Via Omenoni is the House of Omenoni with its impressive statues.
  • Basilica Sant’ Ambrogio

    • The Basilica Sant’ Ambrogio was built on a site that has hosted a church for almost two thousand years.  Saint Ambrose dedicated a church here in the fourth century.
    • The present day Basilica, dating from the eleventh century is one of the oldest churches in Milan and considered  a fine example of Lombard-Romanesque architecture.
    • The Basilica has many interesting features in addition to its architecture.
      • Be sure to examine the central altar, which is sheathed in gold. It is considered one of the finest examples of tenth century gold-smithing in Italy.
      • The Basilica’s modest museum is worth a visit. It contains interesting artwork and decorations from the building’s early history. If interested, you can also see the tomb of St. Ambrose.
    • (Open Monday through Saturday early morning until noon, reopening from  2:30 until early evening.  Opens in mid-afternoon on Sunday. Closed on religious  holidays. The Basilica is an active church and services are held throughout the morning).
Basilica Sant' Ambrogio
Basilica Sant’ Ambrogio
  • Museo Poldi Pezzoli

      • Located just a few blocks north of the Piazza del Duomo, the Museo is filled with an idiosyncratic collection of interesting treasures.  You will find art, weapons, clocks, glassware, decorative arts and other fine arts scattered throughout this luxurious home turned museum.  Although it will not keep your attention for more than an hour or two, it has many worthwhile exhibits.
      • (Closed Mondays and some holidays.  Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 6 pm.  See the Museum’s official website for more details.The private collection of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli is well worth a visit.
  • Brera Art Museum (Pinacoteca di Brera)

    (Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30 am to 7:15 pm (last entrance 45 minutes before closing.)  See the museum’s official website for more details.

    • The Brera is Milan’s leading art museum.  It has its treasures from the Renaissance and limited number from modern masters.  If you like art, visit.  If you arrive at Milan after Florence or Rome, you might consider giving the Brera a pass, but it has some artistic treasures.

Additional Resources

The official tourism website for the city of Milan is Tourismo Milano.  The site includes additional information on our recommended best places to visit, as well as details on locations that did not make our list.

If your are looking for country facts and travel information on Italy  including passports, visas, consideration for driving, personal safety, health issues, etc., see the U.S. State Department Consular Affairs page on traveling in Italy for these details.

ourist Milan is a compact area, coinciding with the City Center, and  surrounds the Piazza del Duomo.  Milan is Italy’s largest city and once outside of the tourist area, you may find a lot not to like. Try to reserve a hotel towards the City Center but away from the area around the  Central Train Station.  Many travelers spend a couple of days in Milan and then head to the Lake Country for a restful vacation.

Shopping

We focus on the best places to visit in Milan.  However,  this city is a fashion capital and provides an incredible shopping experience. You may want to devote a day or more to …shopping.  If so, head east from the Duomo along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and you will find yourself in shopper heaven. The main streets and side streets overflow with glamorous shops.

  • If you are looking for high quality, fashionable clothes, this is the place. (Notice that we did not use the word “cheap” to describe the couture.)  There are a number of shops where you can find a bargain, and one favorite with most shoppers is Salvagente Di Generalcom at Via Bronzetti Fratellum 16 (20129 Milano), which offers designer clothes as a significant discount (Closed Sunday and in the morning on Monday)

Airport Access

If you will be returning home from your vacation in Milan via Malpensa Airport, the quickest, most economical transportation is the Malpensa Express.  The Express is a train that runs between the Milan Cadorna Train Station and Terminal 1 at Malpensa.

  • The trip takes 40 minutes (the airport is 28 miles outside of Milan) and the Express runs every 30 minutes.
  • Buy your ticket at the station and be sure to self-validate your ticket using one of the machines available for this purpose, before boarding the train.
  • For information on fares and schedule, click  for the official website of the Malpensa Express.  (Security note: Keep an eye on your luggage and watch out for pickpockets in the station and on the train.)
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