Looking for the Best Things To Do in Milan? you’re at the right place!
Milan, the capital city of the region of Lombardy in northern Italy, stands out as one of the world’s leading financial centers excelling in fields of arts, design, entertainment, fashion, healthcare, media, and tourism.
Known as the mecca for fashionistas, Milan is the place to visit if you plan to shop in some of the top fashion houses of the world. With a population of 1.4 million, it is the largest metropolitan area in Italy. It is also one of the biggest attractions of tourism in Italy. Always bustling with life, it is visited by nearly 8 million tourists every year who are attracted to its numerous museums and art galleries that are home to priceless collections from around the world.
Milan is not only about monumental art galleries but is also a cultural hotspot for a plethora of museums that dive into the varied worlds of science and industry, antiquities, and art.
Here are some of the Best Things To Do In Milan:
The second-largest cathedral of Europe and the fourth largest in the world, the Duomo or Milan Cathedral is the perfect exemplar of Gothic architecture. Claimed to be the largest in all of Italy, it took nearly six centuries to complete. This colossal structure, the pride of Milan, sits in the center of the city, which is flanked by an equally grand city center called Piazza del Duomo. You need to explore It inside-out as well as top-down to get totally immersed in its grandeur.
The central front facade has the most intricate works in the cathedral, bursting with living beauties, birds, animals, and insects, magnificently carved out. Every statue inside the cathedral along with its 40 different pillars are a beauty of its own, a work of ingenious art. Its most famous statue – the Saint Bartholomew Flayed – is located to the left of the main altar. A small, red light bulb in the dome area, is the spot where one of the Holy Nails – claimed from the crucifixion of Christ – has been placed. The rooftop is open to tourists for a fee and is a must-visit. While presenting a panoramic view of the city, it also houses around 800 intricately carved marble statues and sculptures of bishops, saints, prophets. It is renowned as the forest of openwork for its approximately 135 grand spires and exquisite pinnacles set upon delicate buttresses. You also get to have the best view of the statue of the golden Madonna built on the top of the cathedral.
2. Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
On the opposite side of Milan, away from the Duomo, lies the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. While its exterior cannot be compared to the Duomo, the church, considered a UNESCO world heritage site, houses the most famous mural masterpiece of all times – the Last Supper by world-renowned artist, Leonardo da Vinci. Besides appreciating this enigmatic piece of work by the Renaissance master, you can also admire Giovanni Donato’s Crucifixion on the wall opposite to the Last Supper, while gazing at the dome of the Church created by Bramante.
3. Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
When in Milan, do what the Milanese do! If you want to indulge in a bit of Prada, Versace and Luis Vuitton, head to the Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Named after the first king of the Italian Kingdom, this grand shopping arcade was completed in the late 1870s by Giuseppe Mengoni, making it Italy’s oldest active shopping mall. The cross-shaped shopping mall, spread over four stories, looks opulent with its ornate paneling and intricate artwork. Like hundreds of other tourists, you would be forgiven to mistake this edifice as an opera house or even, a palace!
4. Castello Sforzesco
The Sforza Castle was built in the 15th century AD by the then Duke of Milan. Renovated and enlarged over the next few centuries, it was one of the largest castles in all of Europe at the peak of its history. Today it houses several of Milan’s museums and art galleries and is renowned globally for the richness of its collections. There are museums dedicated to ancient arts, musical instruments, Egyptian riches, archaeological treasures, antique furniture, and wooden sculptures. However, its most prized collection is the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, where you can see masterpieces by Mantegna, Canaletto, Foppa, Titian, and Tintoretto among other masters. Another must-see museum is the Museum of Rondanini Pietà that houses Michelangelo’s last masterpiece sculpture – the Rondanini Pietà, depicting the Virgin Mary mourning over Christ.
5. Pinacoteca di Brera
Located very close to the Sforza Castle and the Duomo Plaza, the Pinacoteca di Brera or the Brera Art Gallery is the most important public gallery for paintings in Milan. It used to serve as a convent and a library in earlier times until it was converted to a museum in the 19th century. Today it houses treasures from the pre-Renaissance and Renaissance eras including Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin, Bellini’s pieta, Rubens’ version of the Last Supper, Correggio’s Adoration of the Magi, Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ among many others. For an art connoisseur, this is yet another of Milan’s must-sees.
6. Sant’Ambrogio Basilica
The Basilica of Sant Ambrogio is one of the oldest standing structures in Milan, built in 379 AD by St. Ambrose. Designed in the Romanesque style, the basilica houses the remains of saints such as Ambrose, Garvasus, and even Emperor Louis II. It was originally built outside the main city until the city itself grew and ensconced this church. While it was badly damaged by bombings in the Second World War, it has been heavily restored as it stands magnificently with its twin towers framing the front façade. Inside the Church, do check the ceiling of the Oratory of San Vittore and the Mosaic of Christ, both renowned mosaic artworks dating from as early as the 4th century with later day restorations.
7. Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology
The largest science and technology museum in Italy, the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum was inaugurated in 1953, dedicated to the great Renaissance master, and established at the ancient monastery of San Vittore al Corpo. While da Vinci is renowned for his paintings, he was also an extraordinary man of science and technology which justifies the naming of this grand museum after him. Walk into the many galleries of the museum, explore replicas of da Vinci’s scientific designs in particular, and get overwhelmed by the prescience of this thinker as you go through designs of flying machines, tanks, parachutes and spinning machines devised by da Vinci way back in the 16th century.
8. Piazza dei Mercanti
The Piazza dei Mercanti or the Merchant’s Plaza is another interesting city square, located between the Duomo Plaza and the Cordusio Plaza, all within walking distance of each other. It used to hold merchant trades and trading activities in the Middle Ages. Walk along this square leisurely to discover its many antique statues, some preserved since Roman times, while also admiring the Gothic and Baroque buildings flanking this plaza.
9. Milan Archaeology Museum
The Museum of Archaeology is located in the erstwhile convent of the Monastero Maggiore and is dedicated to the origins and roots of ancient Milan. It will give you a thorough understanding of the city’s establishment in the fourth century BC, later to be annexed within the Roman Empire in 222 BC. Collections relevant to prehistoric times and related to the Egyptian civilizations have been moved to the museums in Sforza castle – nonetheless, there is a lot to see here. Specific sections will take you through artifacts discovered during the Middle Ages, from Etruscan and Greek archaeological sites, while special displays provide insights to ancient Gandhara in Central Asia, that was conquered by Alexander. Rich artifacts, musical instruments, and weapons from the Roman times are a key attraction here.
10. Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo or the Duomo Plaza inevitably becomes the starting point for most tourist trails in Milan. The Milan Cathedral is within walking distance, along with many other star attractions. The square is also flanked by the gorgeous Royal Palace while the center of the Square displays the statue of Italy’s first king – Vittorio Emmanuel. Besides historical and architectural wonders, the Duomo Plaza is an amazingly active area, filled with busy cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. If you end your day here, do not hesitate to dine and wine at the Square while enjoying the atmosphere of Milan’s most celebrated plaza.
11. La Scala Opera
Established in 1778, the Scala Opera House in Milan is one of Italy’s most important theatres and has hosted some of the greatest artists and singers from all over the world. Located just north of the Duomo and east of Castle Sforza, the building itself is a fine example of architectural opulence. Inside the main auditorium lies 6 grand tiers of seating arrangement in a plush semi-circle, with the entire theatre draped in overwhelming velvets in gold and red. An evening of music here is often rated highly in the bucket list of music aficionados. If you cannot attend a musical soiree, do take a guided tour to revel in the extravaganza of Italy’s finest Opera House.
12. San Siro Stadium
After your doses of music, art, history, culture comes the world of sports. Home to two of Europe’s most coveted soccer clubs – AC Milan and Inter Milan, the San Siro Stadium is a must-see if you are a soccer fan. With a seating capacity of 76,000, it is Italy’s largest stadium and has hosted games in the FIFA World Cup Editions of 1934 and 1990. Officially named Stadio Giuseppe Meazza after Meazza, the two-time World Cup winner who played for Milan, the San Siro Stadium, along with its museum, is worth a tour to admire its distinct circular towers, its enormous seating capacity, and its rich history in hosting the two celebrated Italian clubs.
13. Parco Sempione
The Parco Sempione or the Simpon Park is located in the historic center of Milan and is a large recreational park set up across 95 acres. It was originally established in 1888 and houses the Arch of Peace – another of Milan’s popular edifices that is renowned for its bas reliefs. The park is located close to Castle Sforza and is full of walking and biking trails and is highly recommended by locals to get a bit of peace and greenery in the midst of Milan’s hustle and bustle. There is also a museum housed inside the Park along with the Torre Branca, a huge watch tower that provides amazing views of the city’s skyline.
14. Brera district
Brera is perhaps the most stylish and exuberant of Milan’s suburbs. Housing the Academy of Fine Arts, the Brera Art Gallery, Milan’s Botanical gardens as well as an Observatory, many consider Brera to be Milan’s Montmartre. Bustling with pubs, cafes, restaurants, trendy boutiques and art shops and studios, a walk-through Brera is indulging in Milan’s most stylish and fashionable suburb.
15. Naviglio Grande
Constructed as one of the largest medieval engineering projects, the Naviglio Grande was one of the most important, widely used navigable canals of Italy. It is a lovely area to explore and enjoy a canal-side dinner with your loved ones. You can take an easy morning or evening stroll too in its peaceful environs. Along the canal, you will get a mix of quaint souvenir shops, street vendors, chic restaurants, cafes, and bars to chill and soak in the evening air. It is quite a pleasant place to be, if you want to escape from the humdrum of the busy city.
16. Basilica di San Lorenzo
One of the oldest churches in Milan, the Basilica di San Lorenzo is located near the city park (named Basilica’s Park). Built between the 4th and 5th century AD, as a tribute to San Lorenzo, the martyr, this church is worth paying a visit, just to admire its beautifully decorated facade and architectural grandeur. In front of the Basilica, stands the statue of Emperor Constantine I the great, amidst a row of Roman columns. You can also step inside to see the quaint octagonal chapel of Saint Aquilino with stunning paintings and artwork, and some beautiful mosaic decorations in the vaults and arches that dates back to the 4th century.
17. Torre Branca
This huge observation tower, located near the Peace Arch in the Simpon Park, is close to the centre of Milan. Considered the sixth highest structure in Milan, it has an excellent view of the Duomo amongst other key cityscapes. Originally named Torre Littoria, this structure was closed to the public for restoration, only to be opened after 30 years and renamed as Torre Branca. It is the place to go if you want to have a spectacular panoramic birds eye view of the city of Milan. On clear sunny days, you might even catch a glimpse of the Alps, the Apennines far beyond and even parts of the Po Valley. Open only on certain days, do check the timetable before turning up.