One of the modern cities of Italy, Milan is a bustling capital of finance and fashion. Being a seat of power from the Middle Ages, one of the best things to do in Milan is to visit the various historical monuments of the city. Milan was a part of the lives of Napoleon Bonaparte, Leonardo da Vinci and many famous historical figures. There’s nothing more exciting than tracing the path of legends after hundreds of years.
That said, Milan is a perfect mix of modern and vintage. So, come join me, we can explore the best things to do in Milan together.
Best Things To Do In Milan
- Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
- La Scala Opera (Teatro Alla Scala)
- Piazza Della Scala
- Pinacoteca di Brera
- Castello Sforzesco
- Parco Sempione
- Cimitero Monumentale
- Santa Maria Delle Grazie
- Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio
- Piazza Mercanti
- Shopping in Milan
1. Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)
Duomo di Milano, the fifth largest church in the world, is the most impressive structure in the city of Milan. You won’t believe it until you see it, the church building sits over 1 lakh sq.ft area and is a towering 108 m high. While visiting this gothic-style church, one of the best things to do in Milan, you will be stunned by the elaborate carvings, statues, gargoyles and figures. The most famous among the statues is the statue of Lady Madonnina, a gold-coloured statue that decorates the highest spire. Milan Cathedral is also the longest constructed church; there is still restoration and maintenance work going on every day to keep the church as beautiful as it is.
Started in 1386, the church took the labour of thousands and over 600 years to complete. You can see the architecture and style of different generations in the cathedral. The interior is also very beautiful as the exterior, with stained glasses and artistic pillars. If you are interested in stories around the church, you can hire a guide and learn about the rich history of the place. This cathedral is the best monument to start the journey of exploring Milan.
Quick Tip: You cannot miss the view from the top of the cathedral. Yes, you heard me right, there are a stairway and an elevator to the top of the church. The view of Milan’s skyline through magnificent pillars of the church is a sight to behold and is one of the best things to do in Milan.
2. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
A major landmark in Milan, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a grand shopping arcade opened in 1877. With four storeys, the arcade is famous for its Latin cross-like structure and, the iron and glass rooftop. The Galleria resembles two streets intersecting like a cross, with shops on both sides and covered with a glass roof. The neo-classical architecture with patriotic statues and colourful mosaic floors brings in the charm of Italy. Dubbed as the living room of Milan, the arcade is a happening place for more than a hundred years.
Frequented by both tourists and locals, the mall houses luxurious fashion brands and legendary cafes. This magnificent structure was commissioned by the government to develop the historic space between Scala opera house and Milan cathedral. Designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni, the monument adds to the beauty of the historic city centre of Milan. The grandeur of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is best experienced by walking through its colourful walkways. Being one of the top Milan tourist attractions, apart from the architecture, the Galleria is best to shop, eat and buy beautiful souvenirs.
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Quick Tip: Try your Italian favourites at the prestigious Savini restaurant.
3. La Scala opera
La Scala opera is one of the few world’s renowned theatres that has hosted great artists for hundreds of years. La Scala opera was inaugurated in 1778 and has a successful history of hosting and introducing the best musicians to the world. With an opulent setting, the inside of the opera house is laden with red and gold-coloured decorations with a gleaming crystal chandelier. The seats are arranged in a semi-circle with 4 tiered balcony seating, forming a beautiful extension of the stage. This opera house has been the venue in Milan for great arts and performances.
You can watch famous singers, composers, directors or choreographers perform their art with such elegance at La Scala opera. With continuous maintenance and refurbishments, the opera looks gleaming both inside and out. If you are not so much into the art, you can enjoy the vibe and architecture of the place. There’s a museum inside and you can get a peek into the theatre if there are no shows running.
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Quick Tip: If you love operas, experience one at La Scala opera as no other place matches its vibe and setting.
4. Piazza Della Scala
Piazza Della Scala is the central pedestrian square of the historic Milan city. La Scala opera on one side and Palazzo Marino on the other, the pedestrian square connects La Scala opera and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. A central landmark that becomes quintessential to trace all the historic monuments of Milan, you keep coming back to Piazza Della Scala. The square has a large statue dedicated to the legendary artist Leonardo Da Vinci which attracts a lot of tourists. With comfortable garden chairs and magnificent historic buildings on all sides, you can spend a glorious evening at Piazza Della Scala. This central square is one of the must-see places in Milan if you are for the first time in the city.
Quick Tip: While you walk a lot around the historic sites, rest a bit at Piazza Della Scala in between and observe the beauty of the historic Milan.
5. Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera art gallery)
Go live your artsy dreams by witnessing masterpieces from legendary artists at Brera art gallery, It would be an understatement if I say it is one of the best things to do in Milan. Located in the beautiful neighbourhood of Brera, the gallery is one of the best art museums in Italy. Pinacoteca di Brera is in a palazzo built by the Jesuits as a convent and then converted into a neo-classical style building to function as a fine arts academy. This museum is one of the rarest museums in Italy that has a collection of paintings by art academy, thus not a museum formed by private collections. There are more than 400 works of renowned artists from the 14th to 20th century. The works are displayed in chronological order through various halls and are mostly religious Italian paintings.
The Palazzo Brera houses various cultural institutions like an art gallery, an art academy, library, observatory, research centre and a botanical garden. You can visit the palazzo free of cost, but to enter the art gallery you have to buy a ticket. The Brera district is the most romantic part of Milan with cobbled streets and quaint cafes. You can see various art galleries and studios around the museum.
Quick Tip: Visit the place for its old-world charm and have a relaxed meal at the quaint cafes.
6. Castello Sforzesco
Just 10 minutes on foot from Duomo di Milano lies Castello Sforzesco an oasis of art and culture. Castello Sforzesco was first a fortress in the 14th century and then rebuilt by the Sforzesco as a residential palace. With time and new invasions, the palace was subjected to destruction and later restored by the Italian administration by 1905. The castle looks majestic in a quadrangular shape and adorned with circular keep towers. You can witness the glory of the castle from a bird’s eye view, and there are four entrances to the monument.
The castle, one of the most frequented Milan tourist attractions is the headquarters of Milan’s civic museums and houses several interesting museums. You can witness a grand collection of ancient art, musical instruments, and antique sculptures and furniture. There’s also an archaeological museum that features prehistoric findings. That’s not it, you can also find preserved manuscripts of da Vinci in the library. You can get an entrance ticket that allows access to all the museums. If you want to just see the central courtyard, its free to visit and you can witness the whole monument from the garden.
Quick Tip: You can enter the museums for free from 4:30 to 5:30 pm except on Mondays.
7. Parco Sempione
Parco Sempione is a large city park situated in the centre of Milan. The area was first the hunting grounds of Sforzesco dukes, then when Napoleon captured Milan, he landscaped the large area into a lush green garden. Parco Sempione is beautiful space just next to the Castello Sforzesco and extends for many acres. The park is a happening place where locals and tourists enjoy the windy paths and relaxed evenings. If you are on a relaxing vacation, visiting Parco Sempione and spending a relaxed day there is one of the top things to do in Milan.
Parco Sempione has an unending list of attractions inside it. With stunning edifices or manmade lakes, let me introduce you to the world inside the vast park. Arena Civica is an Amphitheatre that can hold up to 10,000 people, first inaugurated by the legendary Napoleon. Arena Civica is open to the public daily, you can visit the insides or watch a rugby game in the historic amphitheatre. Acquario Civico is a stunning aquarium with tanks displaying over 100 species, and also rare mediterranean sea creatures. Arco Della Pace(arch of peace), Palazzo dell’Arte (palace of the arts) and Torre Branca(108 m high tower) are other monumental edifices in Parco Sempione. The lake inside the park hosts a lot of birds, attracting bird watchers.
Quick Tip: Torre Branca being the city’s highest building, it offers great views of Milan’s cityscape. Take the elevator to the top and enjoy mesmerizing views until midnight.
8. Cimitero Monumentale
Cimitero Monumentale is a cemetery dedicated to the wealthy and aristocratic people of Milan, who made the city great. The cemetery was laid out in an idea to consolidate the cemeteries present all over the city, and then the rich people decided to build extraordinary tombs for themselves resulting in an oasis of sculptures. More than a cemetery, this monument resembles an outdoor museum with great works of art by various renowned artists.
With intricate sculptures and statues, you can find a great variety of architecture from neo-gothic, neo-Roman or Egyptian to Modern art nouveau styles. Though it is a cemetery, the place is not sad but remains silent and pleasant. With an overwhelming number of arts, you will find yourself lost in a world that has grieved death so artistically. Taking a walking tour in the cemetery is one of the best things to do in Milan if you love to take the off-beaten path.
Quick Tip: You can follow the map of the cemetery, which helps you navigate through interesting details of various artworks and there’s a placard before the works to give you more information. It will also help you locate the tomb of famous Italians taking you on a journey of gratitude.
9. Santa Maria delle Grazie
Santa Maria delle Grazie is a traditional catholic church with outstanding architecture. The church was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980 and is regarded as an important monument from the Renaissance times. The church is famous for the preserved fresco of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper in its refectory. The masterpiece was painted from 1495 to 1497 and is a unique artistic achievement of all time. Though Anglo-American bombers destroyed the church during World War II, the wall with The Last Supper fresco stood undamaged. The church itself was restored and renovated after wars and is now preserved with regular maintenance.
Santa Maria della Grazie church with The Last Supper is one of the must-see places in Milan. So, make sure you book tickets to see the painting beforehand as the entry is strictly regulated. You can visit the church anytime, especially during the night the church glows. The terracotta and brick architecture, with great works of art on the walls and roofs, you will be mesmerized by the beauty of the church. Revered by Catholics, this magnificent church is one of the most popular Milan tourist attractions.
Quick Tip: Book your ticket in advance to see da Vinci’s praised masterpiece.
10. Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio
One of the historic basilicas of Milan, Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is a wonderful monument with unique architecture. With Romanesque style architecture, the church was built with bricks commissioned by saint Ambrogio first in the 4th century. The church went through many restorations and particularly during World War. You can see stunning works of art inside the church and there is also a museum in the basilica. The inside of the church is elegant with high arches and domes. You can find a golden altar, decorated with intricate carvings, below which the remains of three saints of that time were buried. The church is of high religious value, and the history of it starts from the 4th century. To go to a place first constructed on the martyrs of Roman times, so early in history is fascinating. Visiting this artistic basilica is one of the best things to do in Milan.
11. Piazza Mercanti (Merchants Square)
Like Piazza della Scala, Piazza Mercanti is not frequented by tourists but is an offbeat gem in the city. Once the famed city centre of Milan is now a city square filled with events and activities. Buildings from various times of history surround this city square. Though renovated regularly, one can witness the charm of all historic architectures at one place. Located a short distance from the Duomo, Piazza Mercanti is a charming reminder of the city’s olden times. With an important structure like Palazzo della Ragione(Broletto), the square also has many statues and monuments. Strolling through the city’s charming historic monument is one of the best things to do in Milan.
There are many famous squares in Milan, that lead to the important places of the city. You can experience little gems in these squares which are often adorned with statues or situated before a stunning monument.
Quick Tip: the charming place is famous for open-air exhibitions or concerts, so check before you go.
12. Shopping in Milan
Milan is the exciting capital of fashion and design in Italy. With legendary brands like Versace, Prada, Armani, Trussardi, Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari, quadrilatero della Moda remains the golden circle for upscale fashion shopping. If you purchase designer goods, you would be spoilt for choices in this shopping area. The latest creations of all famous fashion designers are displayed through the shops of this old worldly buildings. If you don’t have the budget, you can still walk through the streets of upscale fashion and admire the marvellous Milanese boutiques. Milan is the fashion destination in Italy, so you can spot many celebrities in these streets.
Shopping is one of the best things to do, as you cannot go wrong in the most modern city of Italy. If you are looking for markets, Milan boasts a set of open-air markets and fairs that sell clothing, jewellery, accessories to niche items like Vinyl records, old books or vintage clothing. There are separate markets for all things antique. Assoziazione del Naviglio Grande is famous for its fairs and markets organized monthly. Fiera di Senigallia is one of the oldest markets, that puts up fairs and events regularly. From these flea markets, you can find the most fashionable items to vintage gems, and with good bargaining skills, you would definitely take home something beautiful of your choice. If you are looking for a cultural experience, going to the local markets is one of the top things to do in Milan.
If you are staying for more than two days, you can plan a trip to the Italian Lakes, the famed five lakes of Italy. Milan is an exciting place with many historical monuments, while you admire them, make sure you visit the modern part of Milan too. With stunning skyscrapers and futuristic buildings, you will also love the modern part of Milan.