Milan combines all the advantages of a big city with the comfort of a small historic center. The Duomo, La Scala, the Castle and Leonardo Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' are some of its great attractions. Here's what to do in Milan:
1. Admire the Duomo, the Cathedral of Milan.
It is the must-see in this city. Without the Duomo, Milan would not be Milan. This impressive Gothic cathedral, the fifth largest in the world, is located in the square of the same name, the Piazza del Duomo, in the heart of the city.
It took almost six centuries to build and stands out for the beauty of its pinkish-white marble façade, its countless pinnacles and towers crowned by statues, a splendid rooftop that offers the best views of the city (and which you can and should climb) and a Renaissance-style altar inside that apparently houses one of the nails of the Cross of Christ.
The Duomo is the most visited place in Milan. Getting a fast-track ticket to avoid long lines or taking one of the tours that will enrich your visit is a great option to get to know it. I tell you everything in my articles about Milan Duomo Tickets and Tours. Its hours are: every day from 8.00 to 19.00 (the terrace opens at 9.00).
2. Contemplate Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' at the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church.
About 20 minutes walk from Piazza del Duomo hides, since 1497, another of Milan's treasures. On the wall of the dining room of a former convent of the Dominicans, the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, you can admire up close a masterpiece: 'The Last Supper' by Leonardo Da Vinci.
This fresco, which has been maintained for centuries after defying bombardments and inclement weather, is key in the history of art for its mastery and original representation of one of the most dramatic moments of the New Testament. In recent times it has gained great popularity for serving as the plot of the best seller 'The Da Vinci Code', taken to the big screen and that delves into that second reading of the symbology that the Renaissance master seems to have bequeathed us in his creation.
To visit 'The Last Supper' it is necessary to book your ticket well in advance or hire a guided tour. In this article on Da Vinci’s The Last Supper Tickets and Tours you will find all the information about it. Opening hours of Santa Maria delle Grazie: Tuesday to Sunday from 8:15 am to 6:45 pm.
3. Lose yourself in the museums of the imposing Sforzesco Castle.
This imposing castle, built on the site of a 14th century fortress, is another of Milan's major points of interest. In 1801 it was demolished by Napoleon, but was rebuilt a century later with the appearance it had during the time of the Sforza, the family that had long ago fought to make it one of the most majestic courts in Italy and to whom it owes its name.
Today, the Sforza Castle houses dozens of museums, some of them very interesting, such as its Pinacoteca, with more than 1,500 works, the Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Furniture, among others. Located about a 20-minute walk from Piazza del Duomo, you can visit the castle on your own, aboard a tourist bus or as part of one of the great tours that run through the city. (link to products).
Opening hours of the Sforzesco Castle: daily from 7:00 am to 7:30 pm with free admission.
4. Cross the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery
Another of Milan's landmarks is the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the first shopping center in Italy and one of the first in the world. Built in the 19th century, it stands out for the mosaics that decorate its floors and walls and for a large glass dome that connects Piazza La Scala with Piazza del Duomo.
Today it continues to be a commercial passage where some of the most luxurious boutiques of the city, historic cafes, such as the Biffi, and restaurants with lively terraces are concentrated. The entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is free access, but you can visit it with a guided tour that will explain all its history and curiosities.
5. Dream at the Teatro alla Scala
La Scala Theater is one of the most famous and oldest opera houses in the world, a must-see whether you are an opera enthusiast or not. Its interiors date back to the 18th century and have an antique beauty that permeates its foyer, its auditorium and its interesting museum.
You will see props and instruments of composers such as Chopin, Verdi, Puccini or Mozart. Some of the greatest works in history, such as Otello or Madame Butterfly, and singers such as Maria Callas, Pavarotti or Placido Domingo, have passed through its stages. The most complete way to visit the Teatro alla Scala is with a guided tour to learn about its rich history, anecdotes and access in the fastest way.
Opening hours of the Teatro alla Scala: daily from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm.
6. Visit the Monumental Cemetery of Milan
The Cemetery of Milan is one of the most recommended and surprising visits of the city. Far from being gloomy, this 19th century cemetery is an authentic open-air museum of 250,000 square meters dotted with tombs of great artistic value, obelisks, sculptures, Greek temples, a small replica of the Trajan's Column and even a pyramid, all properties of notable Milanese families.
It also has the so-called 'Hall of Fame', which concentrates the tombs of some of the most important personages of the country. In order not to miss anything in the Monumental Cemetery, purchase a guided tour of this and other major points of interest in Milan.
Monumental Cemetery opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with free admission.
7. Tour the city by tour bus
Milan is one of those cities that you feel like walking and touring without haste to discover each of its corners. But the tourist bus is undoubtedly a great option to move comfortably between the main points of interest, as it allows you to get on and off it every time you want to walk around a particular area.
The Milan tourist bus also has three different routes that you can take indistinctly to make sure you don't miss anything. And while you move around the city, you will not have to give up the wonderful views offered by its streets. I invite you to read my article about Hop on Hop off Bus Tours to learn more about its advantages and how to use it.
8. Stroll through Piazza Mercanti
Piazza Mercanti is a medieval corner in the center of Milan and one of the most beautiful squares in the city. During the Middle Ages it was the commercial and governmental center of Milan so it preserves some of its most remarkable and curious buildings.
There you can see the Palazzo della Ragione, dating from 1233 and housing the Courts of Justice; the Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine, the most prestigious high school in Milan during the Middle Ages; the beautiful Casa dei Panigarola, in Gothic style, or the Loggia degli Osii, decorated with statues and coats of arms and which housed the offices of the judges.
9. Relax in Sempione Park
As a great city that Milan is, with so much to see and do, you may need a break to relax during your discovery. That place is the Sempione Park, located next to the Sforzesco Castle and where you can stroll around a spectacular English style garden, among nature, an artificial lake and monuments such as the Arco della Pace, commemorating Napoleon's victories, and even an amphitheater, the Arena Civica.
Visiting hours: every day from 6:30 am to 9 pm.
10. Discover the bohemian district of Brera
To get to know a city you should not only visit its monuments. A walk through some of its most characteristic neighborhoods is the best way to discover its culture and way of life. In Milan, one of these neighborhoods is Brera. Brera is in the historic center, on cobblestone streets and among cafes and original stores that live with eighteenth-century buildings, such as the Palazzo Brera, one of the most renowned museums in the world.
There you will also visit 4 important churches, the Basilica San Simpliciano, the Chiesa di San Marco, the Chiesa di Sant'Angelo and the Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine, the Botanical Garden and the Astronomical Observatory. A real discovery.
11. Explore other cities in the north and around Milan on an excursion.
Milan's location, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, makes it a perfect starting point for exploring other nearby areas that are truly worthwhile.
From Milan and in one day you can visit other cities such as the 'Serenissima' Venice and the romantic Verona; the wonderful region of Cinque Terre, declared World Heritage Site; the beautiful Lake Como and Garda and even the charming town of St. Mortiz, at the foot of the Swiss Alps and which can be reached by a historic train that crosses the Bernina Strait. In this guide on Milan Tours I tell you the best options.
If you have several days in your trip to Milan do not think about it. You can organize your own visits or get to know these places in a very practical and comfortable way, making the most of your time with one of the many organized excursions that take you from Milan in the same day.