Located in Lombardy in northwest Italy, this fashionable, elegant city is like no other in Italy. It is a city of contradictions, where modern innovation and the latest fashion trends blend seamlessly with the city’s well established cultural traditions and classic styles. It is a city you either love or you hate, where the streets are a frantic restless rhythm of people never in a hurry to get anywhere. It’s a city where you can find some of the world’s most prestigious museums and art masterpieces sat alongside some of the world’s most exclusive modern designer fashion labels, boutique shops and luxury hotels. This is a city that is by far the most self-assured and sophisticated in all of Italy.
Top Attractions in Milan
The Duomo of Milan is the city’s much loved iconic building and is one of the most exuberant examples of Gothic architecture in Italy. Located in Milan’s main square, this rather large and elaborate Gothic cathedral is one of the most famous in Europe as well as being the largest Gothic cathedral and the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Taking almost five centuries to complete its construction the magnificent cathedral is adorned with 135 elongated gothic spires and 3200 statues. The highlight of visiting is the fantastic view of Milan from the roof. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Italian Alps and during the summer you can find large groups of teenagers sitting on the roof enjoying their lunch in the Italian sun.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Known as Milan’s living room, the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Prepare to spend some serious money in this most elegant covered arcade, home to some of the most luxurious fashion brands including Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Built in the 1870’s this grand mall was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni and it is famous for its glass ceiling marble mosaic tiles and paintings. Visit for luxurious shopping, historic cafes and take part in one of Milan’s oldest and strangest traditions. Sadly its designing Mengoni plummeted to his death just weeks before the completion of the galleria, so to avoid a similar bad luck, visitors head for the mosaic of the dancing bull (said to be where Mengoni fell) to grind their feet firmly into its testicles and turn backwards three times.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
While most visitors in the area will head straight past this church to pay respects to Leonardo Di Vinci Last Super masterpiece, those that stay and take time to go inside Santa Maria dell Grazie will be pleasantly surprised. Built in 1490 in Gothic and Romanesque styles, the church is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and is home to famous mural of The Last Supper. Visit the seven chapels inside the church dedicated to the Virgin of Graces and its beautiful Gothic nave.
Leonardo di Vinci’s Last Super
Most visitors to Milan make a bee line for this most recognised and appreciated artistic masterpiece’s in the world. Painted by Leonardo di Vinci in the 15th Century this fresco is one of the last of its kind and is arguably one of the most studied and scrutinized piece of art in the world. Made even more famous in Dan Browns novel this famous wall painting covers much of the wall in the refectory next to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Representing the moment when Jesus predicts that one of his apostles will betray him, this painting has been the target for much speculation by writers and historians for hundreds of year, all centered on understanding the hidden messages within the painting. In fact the painting is very lucky to of survived. In 1943 during the Second World War the convent and refectory was bombed and razed to the ground. Miraculously the wall with the painting on survived and remains still today as one of the most visited art pieces in history. You need to book quite far ahead to see The Last Supper so allow 4 or 5 days to confirm your booking, or take a tour.
Situated on the western edge of Milan’s city centre, Castello Sforzesco is another of the city’s main attractions, an imposing pile of red-brick masonry dating back to 15th Century. Built by the early Visconti dynasty the castle has been a defence fortress, a residence, military barracks and the presently the site of 12 mini museums and cultural institutions. Here you can visit sculptures by Michelangelo in the Museum of Ancient Art and rich collections of painting by the like of Bellini and Titian.
Opera fans and lovers of theatre, this is the perfect Milanese activity for you to experience. As the world’s most famous opera house, La Scala is Milan’s most treasured theatre and has played hosts to some extraordinary well-loved operas including works by Puccini, Rossini and Italy’s beloved Verdi. With a capacity of more than 3000 spectators, this magnificent opera house is an impressive sight from the inside, its walls are adorned with gold and the boxes are lined with the highest quality red velvet. La Scala is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in opera or not. TIP – La Scala’s opera season isn’t year round so if you want to watch a performance it is worth checking its schedule first, although it is open all year round for visitors who just want a peek inside.
Located next to Milan’s canals, Navigli is one of the most romantic and historical neighbourhoods in the city, famous for its stylish and trendy bars that line the lengths of the canals. This charming district is a great place to head to for an enjoyable aperitivo or a pleasant walk during the summer.
Located north of the Duomo this pretty little district is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods and also the most charming. Its maze of narrow cobblestoned streets and imposing facades of antique and noble buildings make it the ideal place to spend time wandering around and discovering its many boutiques and cafes. Aside from a walk around the neighbourhood, the main attraction is the Pinacoteca di Brera, a great art museum which houses masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian and Rembrandt.
If you aren’t feeling too shopped out from visiting Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II then head to Via Montenapoleone, Milan’s most elegant street and one of the most sophisticated in all of Europe. Famous for its ready to wear fashion and jewellery shops, this street is also home to some of the most well-known fashion designers high end boutiques and it’s also the go to place to find some of Italy’s most exclusive shoemaker boutiques.
Best time to visit
Tourists visit Milan from May to September
Due to its locality in northern Italy, Milan can be an all year round destination. While the city is affected very little by low and high travel seasons some events such as fashion week can bring hotel prices and flight prices to rocket.
The weather in Milan during the winter is not wonderful; expect huge amounts of fog and snow. However the city turns into a winter wonderland at Christmas and can be perfectly combined with a trip to the Alps or a weekend on the ski slopes. Typically the best time to visit is during the spring when the weather is warm but not as stiflingly hot or humid as in the summer months of June, July and August. The city is often brimming in June with the opening of Milano d’Estate, a three month series of concerts and various cultural events with a whole bunch of music, cinema and dance thrown in for good measure. Autumn can also be a very pleasant time of year to visit if you’re a sport lover. You can easily combine a weekend in the city with one of the various Premier League Football matches that kick off in September or even a Formula One race in the neighbouring town of Monza, located 15km north of Milan.
Milan is one of the best connected cities in all of Italy, served by three airports, a grand central station and excellent motorway connections to all the major cities in the country. Most international airlines will serve Malpensa Airport while European flights and budget airlines tend to serve both Linate and Bergamo airports. Malpensa is very well connected to the city with regular buses and a main train service that gets you into the city centre in half an hour. Linate airport is the closest airport to the city and it is very well connected with bus services that run every ten minutes. Bergamo Airport is located much further out and therefore bus services and trains take over an hour to reach the city centre.
Milan has an amazing integrated transport system with an underground metro, trams, buses and trains as well as plenty of (expensive) taxis. Most of the historic city centre is a pedestrian zone so walking is one of the best options here. It’s also a great way of stumbling across some of the city’s hidden gems.
TIP: The same tickets for public transport can be used on buses, trams, the metro and some urban railway lines. A standard ticket valid for 75 minutes after validation costs 1 euro. Alternatively a one day pass costs 3 Euro and can sometimes work out much cheaper if you plan on using public transport to get around. Tickets can be purchased in Metro stations and at kiosks and tabac stores. If you plan on using public transport you will need to buy a separate luggage ticket (1 euro) if you have a suitcase with you.