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Milan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Looking for the best things to do in Milan, Italy? This travel guide covers some of the best parts of Milan. Discover the city’s most popular attractions to more off-the-beaten-path spots, so you can have an unforgettable experience in Italy’s most fashionable city.

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Intro to Milan, Italy

Milan once served as the capital of the Western Roman Empire and is now home to 1.3 million people, making it the most populated metropolitan area in Italy – and a super fashionable one, at that!

Archaeological finds in this area date back to 222 BCE, but that doesn’t mean the city has stayed in its antiquity. Although there is a ton of history in this enormous city, there are also plenty of quirky, cool things to do in Milan.

When to Travel to Milan

There’s no wrong time to visit a city like Milan. However, if you want to avoid the crowds and the summer heat, the best times to visit are April to May, or September to October. It’s also a great time if fashion is your thing: the Milan Design Week takes place each April and Milan Fashion Week in September.

The weather in Milan is hot and humid during the summer, with temperatures averaging 31 °C. Winters can be foggy and grey, with the average high temperature only 7 °C in December.

view of dome from below inside Milan Cathedral
Milan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Top Things to Do in Milan

Milan is filled with fascinating history, fashion and design. To help you plan your Milan vacation, we have a trip planner where you can find the best things to do in Milan, but here are our picks.

Admire breathtaking city views from Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) cannot be missed – quite literally. It is located in the centre of Milan, in the Piazza del Duomo. Expect tons of tourists (and pigeons), as well as having your eyes feast on the immense Italian Gothic cathedral. This Milan landmark took over 600 years to complete, with multiple renovations over time.

The Duomo’s impressive interior contains 3,400 statues, 55 stained glass windows, and religious works of art. It also houses the largest pipe organ in Italy, originally commissioned by Mussolini. For a spectacular view of Milan, head to the cathedral rooftop terrace. Go through the innumerable marble spires and pinnacles that adorn the rooftop. From here, you’ll also see the gold-coloured Madonnina (Little Madonna) statue on the highest spire. If you want to skip the line ups, guided tours with fast-track entry are also available.

Shop at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

You don’t need to be a shopaholic to step inside Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Known locally as il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room), this neoclassical building was constructed between 1865 and 1877. As one of the oldest shopping malls in the world, its interior is as luxurious as the boutiques it houses.

Dominated by a fifty metres high iron and glass dome, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is home to the original Prada store, along with other luxurious stores and restaurants, including the historic Biffi Caffè. After you’re done window shopping at Versace, Luisa Spagnoli and Armani, take part in a curious custom that’s said to bring good luck. Spin your right heel on the balls of the mosaic of a bull, which is located on the floor under the central dome.

View di Vinci’s The Last Supper

Don’t leave Milan without seeing the The Last Supper by Leonardo di Vinci, located inside the refectory of the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Milan’s most famous mural is tucked away on a wall of the refectory. Da Vinci’s iconic renaissance painting depicts the feast chronicled in the New Testament and the moment Christ reveals to his disciples he will be betrayed.

Book in advance for this Milan attraction, as tickets are timed (15-minute slots) and numbers are kept small to help prevent the painting from further deterioration. English-language guided tours take place at 9.30 am and 3.30 pm for a cost of €3.50 on top of the regular ticket price.

Watch curators at work at the Pinacoteca di Brera

What was originally a 14th-century monastery, the Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) is one home of the main collections of Renaissance art in Italy. Their collection of over 400 works, from the 14th century to contemporary art, includes notable paintings by Rubens, Titian, Bellini, Goya, Tintoretto and Raphael. At the centre of the court is a statue of Napoleon as Mars the peacemaker.

Another highlight is the Restoration Laboratory, a transparent workshop in the heart of Pinacoteca di Brera, where visitors can watch the conservation process. Audio guides are available in English, and light meals and wine is available at the elegant Caffè Fernanda, inside the museum.

Sforza Castle exterior in Milan
Milan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Explore a 14th century Milan fortress

Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle) was built as a fortress during the 14th century and is one of the most famous landmarks in Milan. It was home to the Sforza dynasty, who ruled during the Renaissance and transformed the fortress into one of Italy’s grandest residences. In 1880, Napoleon ordered that the castle be demolished and later the towers were destroyed and the moat drained. Castello Sforzesco suffered further damage during World War II.

Today, it has been reconstruction and transformed into a castle filled with art. It now houses seven specialized museums, including a museum of musical instruments, The Egyptian Museum and a museum of antique furniture and wooden sculptures. There is also art by Michelangelo and da Vinci. If you don’t want to pay to visit the museums, you can explore Castello Sforzesco’s central courtyard, which is open to the public.

Experience a night at the opera

Teatro alla Scala is one of the most celebrated opera houses in Europe. The gold and crimson 2800-seat theatre was inaugurated in 1778, replacing a previous theatre that was burned in a fire. The theatre is home to the famous La Scala di Milano opera company, but also puts on symphony concerts, recitals and ballet performances. If you can’t score tickets to a performance, you can at least glimpse the sumptuous interior when visiting the theatre’s museum.

The Museo Teatrale alla Scala is attached to the theatre, and displays an impressive collection of theatrical memorabilia, with displays relating to commedia dell’arte, Giuseppe Verdi and period instruments. An audio guide can also be downloaded to your smartphone.

Unwind in an historic spa surrounded by Roman ruins

QC Termemilano is a spa unlike any other. How often can you indulge in a sauna treatment inside a tram, or recline in a spa pool, surrounded by Roman ruins? This historic spa is housed in a converted tram depot, situated in the heart of Milan. Upon entry, you’ll receive a robe, towel and slippers. The spa’s “wellness pathway” includes a mix of Hydro massages tubs and hydro jets, waterfalls, sauna and steam bath, and even a salt room! The hydro treatments, including a large pool with underwater lounge chairs, are spread throughout the immaculately kept gardens, surrounded by 16th-century walls.

Venture underground, where historic stone rooms house foot baths, a steam room, hammam, dry sauna, and scrub room. If you really want to indulge, be there for QC Termemilano’s evening aperitif hour (actually, two hours: from 7 to 9 p.m.) where sparkling wine and bite-sized eats are included free of charge with your entrance fee. 

navigli neighbourhood and canal in Milan, Italy
Milan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Where to Shop in Milan

Milan is synonymous with fashion. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to designer labels, there’s plenty of opportunity in this city for window shopping. Lovers of luxury should make a beeline to the area known locally as Quadrilatero d’Oro, or golden triangle. The area, encompassing Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Montenapoleone, is relatively small. But it’s crammed with designer stores, including Prada, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Fendi, Gucci and Versace.

The neighbourhood of Navigli, outside the centre of Milan, is the city’s answer to Portobello Road in London. Boarded by canals, the Naviglio Grande Antiques Market is an ideal place to shop in Milan if you’re looking for some vintage fashion, antiques and records. If you’re in the mood for a Milan shopping experience a little more off the grid, Cavalli e Nastri has three vintage boutiques across the city. Their funky boutique in the Brera district focuses on women’s fashion, and another store near Colonne di San Lorenzo specializes in men’s vintage clothing.

exterior of the Duomo Milan Cathedral
Milan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Eating and Drinking in Milan

This is Italy, so you know food will be plentiful – and delicious. There’s no shortage of variety in Milan, from traditional trattorias to Michelin-star restaurants to pizza places.

Indulge your sweet tooth at Pasticceria Marchesi, Milan’s oldest and finest pastry shop. As well as chocolates and fondant, they serve croissants and delicate petit fours in their stylish jade green café.

There are a couple of outposts of Berberé in Milan, where you’ll find delicious, artisan pizzas, with a choice of doughs and classic Italian toppings: Trentino Speck, gorgonzola, Acacia honey and walnuts, or baked eggplant, smoked ricotta and basil. While you’re waiting for your pizza, start with green olives from Cerignola, or crostini with anchovies, butter and lemon zest.

Family-run for three generations, Dongiò is an old-fashioned trattoria often packed with locals in the popular Milan attraction of Porta Romana. The restaurant specializes in traditional Calabrian dishes and house-made pasta at great value for money.

Built in place of a 16th Century Agostinian Friar, N’Ombra de Vin sits next to the Basilica of San Marco. The grand wine cellar features stone walls and vaulted ceilings, where you can sip on a glass of Italian red and rub shoulders with the locals. The historic establishment has been transformed into a chic hangout with a bistro serving tapas, live music and DJs. The area of Navigli in Milan is also a lively area to explore for cocktails and some of the city’s best bars – including Rita & Cocktails and Il Barcone, with views of the canal.

For more suggestions on where to eat and drink in Milan, visit Skyscanner’s pick of Milan restaurants.

tram on the streets of Milan, Italy
Milan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

How to Get Around Milan

Milan is relatively easy to get around. Most attractions are located in the historic centre and are walkable. But if you’re trying to fit in the with locals and want to give those heels a rest, the city also has a great public transit system, the ATM. A single ride urban ticket costs €1.50 and is valid for 90 minutes on the Metro, buses and trams.

Milan’s Metro system, known locally as the MM, operates three lines, with bus and tram connections. You’ll recognize Metro stations by their ‘MM’ placards. If you’ll be doing a lot of travel while you’re in Milan, you can also purchase a carnet of 10 standard tickets for €13.80.

Where to Stay in Milan

Although Milan has a reputation as a chic city, that doesn’t mean there isn’t budget accommodation available. One of the best hostels in Italy, Ostello Bello is ideally located in Milan’s Duomo area. Entrance is through its lively bar-café, where you’re welcomed and beds are available in bright dorms or private rooms. The hostel has a kitchen, terrace with hammocks, and lounge with foosball, as well as the evening tradition of aperitivo. Shared mixed dorms start at around $60 CAD a night.

For a boutique stay in Milan, why not spend the night in the very same 15th-century palazzo where Leonardo slept while working on The Last Supper? Atellani Apartments is comprised of six boutique apartments, featuring contemporary design, kitchen area, living room and views of the Santa Maria Delle Grazie church. Guests can also visit Leonardo’s Vineyard Museum, which is located in the same building. Rates start at around $300 CAD per night.

Bulgari Milano is still one of Milan’s best high-end, designer hotels where you can truly treat yourself. Located on a private street in the heart of the Quadrilatero della Moda, the five-star hotel has 47 rooms and 11 luxurious suites. Apart from champagne bar and spa with golden lap pool, the hotel offers services such as a personal shopper, unpacking service and luxury car hire. With that kind of service, you can expect a price tag to match. A king suite is priced around $1475 CAD per night.

house front with yellow walls and turquoise window sills and balcony in Milan
Milan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Flying to Milan

Most international flights will arrive at Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP), located 50 km from downtown Milan. Air Canada offers non-stop service between Canada and Milan and recently Air Italy launched nonstop flights four times a week from Toronto to Milan. However, it’s possible to book on other airlines with a connection in another European airport.

MXP has two terminals, with the majority of flights arriving at Terminal 1. Taxis from the airport to downtown are expensive and the fixed fare is €90 to Milan city centre. It’s cheaper to take the Malpensa Express train, which leaves regularly from both airport terminals, and takes about half an hour to reach downtown Milan. Trains stop at three main train stations — Milano Centrale, Cadorna and Milano Porta Garibaldi. Shuttle buses also depart regularly, but take around 50 minutes to an hour to journey into Milan.

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