Top things to do in Milan: 9 beautiful sights to see [+ map]
The fashion capital of Milan is known not only as a fashion hotspot but also for world-famous buildings like the Milan Cathedral. Thanks to thousands of years of diverse history, Milan has a lot to offer.
The metropolis was founded by Celtic settlers, then flourished under the Roman Empire, and was later influenced by German, French and Austrian emperors. As a result, in addition to historic buildings and numerous churches - including a World Heritage Site - you can also admire important art treasures and testimonies of various cultures in Milan today.
I would like to take you on a tour through Milan and show you what is to do there. I’ll introduce you to the most beautiful places and sights, as well as additional attractions and activities, insider tips, and recommendations.
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The top 9 attractions at a glance
Here’s a list of the top 9 sights to see in Milan. If you pick your favorites, you should be able to check off a lot in a day trip. However, if you want to visit as many attractions as possible and possibly additional destinations from this article, I would recommend more like 2 to 3 days.
- Milan Cathedral
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
- Teatro alla Scala
- Santa Maria delle Grazie and The Last Supper
- Simplon Park with Castello Sforzesco & Arco della Pace
- Quadrilatero della Moda
1. Milan Cathedral
Let’s start with the absolute highlight and landmark of the city – and a place you definitely must see. The impressive Milan Cathedral, or Duomo di Milano, is one of the largest churches in the world in terms of area. Its construction was begun as early as 1386 in the Gothic style, which is very unusual in Italian architecture. However, the cathedral was not completed for the final consecration in 1572, but only under Napoleon.
Therefore, the current facade of the famous landmark is a mixture of the neo-Gothic and Baroque styles. The detailed decorations are particularly spectacular: more than 2000 sculptures and 135 turrets adorn Milan Cathedral. Incidentally, the site of the Roman Catholic church was previously occupied by a temple from Roman times, as well as an early Christian church and a Roman basilica from the fourth century.
In addition to the magnificent interior of the cathedral, including the crypt and the cathedral treasure, the walkable roof of the church is an absolute highlight. Not only do you have a breathtaking panoramic view of Milan from here, but on clear days you can even see as far as the Alps.
Piazza del Duomo (Google Maps)
Daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., special opening hours for crypt or roof
Regular from 8 euros, reduced from 4 euros
Tip: If you stand on the imposing Cathedral Square, which, by the way, was not designed until the 19th- century, and look toward the cathedral, the Royal Palace is to your right. The city palace was once the seat of government and is now a popular cultural center with changing art exhibitions.
2. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Also, right in Piazza del Duomo, you’ll find Milan’s next top sight. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, or Victor Emanuel Passage, is a world-famous 19th-century shopping gallery.
It was named after the king of Italy and forerunner of the unified nation-state, to whom, incidentally, a famous sight in Rome has also been dedicated: the typewriter. Today, the magnificent, ornate arcade with its glass roof is mainly home to luxury stores and first-class restaurants.
There are two other excellent tips in the immediate vicinity: At Luini (Google Maps), for example, you can get the delicious panzerotti, which are stuffed pastries that have become a signature dish in the city. And from the Terrazza Aperol (Google Maps) you have a spectacular view of Piazza Duomo and the Duomo di Milano. It’s to the right of the main entrance to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and prices are also said to be surprisingly reasonable.
3. Teatro alla Scala
At the opposite end of the shopping, you will find Piazza della Scala. There you will find another outstanding thing to do in Milan. The world-famous Teatro alla Scala.
The opera house has three stages and seats more than 2000 spectators. By the way, according to La Scala itself, the best seats are in box 19.
After a renovation, Milan’s Scala was reopened in 2004 with L’Europa riconosciuta conducted by Riccardo Muti. A ticket of the highest price category cost a whopping 2400 euros for this performance. Don’t panic, today you don’t have to pay quite that much, but a visit to this attraction is still not a bargain.
However, there is a great trick: at the ticket office, you can usually sign up for a list in the morning, which allows you to have up to two cheap tickets for the performance on the same evening. You can find more information about this on the theater page. Otherwise, it’s best to buy tickets directly from La Scala’s website, as you’re often ripped off by other vendors.
⭐ The best travel guides for your city trip to Milan
With these great travel guides, you can deepen your knowledge of Milan’s sights and be well prepared for your trip to the Italian fashion metropolis. You have to get Lonely Planet Pocket Milan (Travel Guide) (get it here*). You should also take a look at Rick Steves Snapshot Milan & the Italian Lakes District (Rick Steves Travel Guide) (get it here*).
The next place of interest is located in the south of the city. There are still some remains of an ancient canal system that connected Milan with important rivers and lakes. These canals, or Navigli as they are called in Italian, were an essential transportation route in a time when the roadway was a slow and arduous one.
Unfortunately, much of the Navigli was filled in during the 19th and 20th centuries, so today only some peripheral sections of the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese remain, as well as the dock called Darsena. Especially in the evening, the area is now popular for strolling, dining, and admiring the sunset. Afterwards, the neighborhood around the old waterways transforms into one of the city’s most famous nightlife areas.
⭐ The Navigli are also one of the best places to go at Christmas time: the Darsena Christmas Village, a kind of Christmas village otherwise known from New York, for example, is then created at the harbor basin.
Address: Navigli (Google Maps)
As mentioned earlier, there are countless churches in Milan. I’ll introduce you to the two most important ones next to the Duomo. The first of the two is Sant’Ambrogio, an early Christian church in the southwest of the city center. Like many other places in Milan, it’s dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Ambrose, who was also buried there.
Sant’Ambrogio was built in the 4th century on the site of an old Roman cemetery. You can also see the remains of various funerary chapels and memorials here. A particularly popular photo motif is the atrium, a courtyard lined with arcades.
Another interesting feature of this sight is the two bell towers from the 9th and 12th centuries. They date back to a dispute between monks and canons, at the end of which both parties got their own bell tower.
Piazza Sant’Ambrogio (Google Maps)
Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
6. Santa Maria delle Grazie and The Last Supper
The third important church in Milan – besides the Duomo and Sant’Ambrogio – is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the Dominican Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, completed in 1490.
What’s to see in the Santa Maria delle Grazie? This sightseeing is famous mainly for the fact that it houses a world-famous painting. Namely, on the north wall of the former dining room is Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century secco painting The Last Supper. During World War II, it barely survived a bombing raid that destroyed the south wall of the same hall.
The Last Supper is an extremely popular attraction, which is why a maximum of 25 people are allowed to the painting every 15 minutes. You should therefore take care of the tickets online early, but at least one week before! By the way, to see the artwork, you need to take the entrance to the left of the church.
Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Google Maps)
Tuesday to Sunday from 8:15 am to 6:45 pm, closed Monday
Regular 15 euros, reduced 4 euros
7. Simplon Park with Castello Sforzesco & Arco della Pace
Less than a 10-minute walk away, you’ll find the next top sight you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Milan. Castello Sforzesco was built in 1450 by Francesco I Sforza, the founder of the Sforza dynasty, from whom it takes its name. However, renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci also collaborated in the design of the impressive complex. Today, the castle is open to the public free of charge, while the various museums it houses charge an entrance fee.
The castle is located in Simplon Park or Parco Sempione, at the opposite end of which you’ll find the Arco della Pace triumphal arch. An arena opened under Napoleon, as well as numerous statues, monuments, and green areas are also located in the park. This makes it the perfect place for a short break and a relaxing walk.
⭐ By the way, the area around the Arco della Pace was recommended to me for the typical Italian aperitivo, i.e. a small snack and a mostly alcoholic drink before dinner. Here you can find the best restaurants around Arco della Pace for that.
Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Google Maps)
Monday to Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 5:30 pm, the last admission at 5 pm. Closed on Monday
Regular 10 euros, every first Sunday of the month 5 euros. Every first and third Tuesday of the month from 2 pm free of charge
Adjacent to Simplon Park and Castello Sforzesco to the east is the elegant Brera district. It’s an amazing thing to do in Milan and is part of the historic center of Milan. In addition to fashion boutiques and other stores, it’s home to stylish cafes and mostly upscale restaurants.
Particularly popular is the picturesque Piazza del Carmine with its 15th-century church of Santa Maria del Carmine (Google Maps). In the evening, the neighborhood comes alive with its many bars. In addition, Brera has always been popular with artists, which is why you can marvel at the numerous cultural highlights there today.
The Baroque Palazzo di Brera, a large complex of buildings on Via Brera (Google Maps), houses, for example, the old Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera with an astronomy museum, the impressive National Library Braidense, the Academy of Fine Arts, and the famous Pinacoteca di Brera. The Pinacoteca is one of the most important art museums in Italy and houses mainly upper Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings, but also paintings from other eras and countries.
Afterwards, you can take a detour to the Botanical Garden, located right next to the sprawling Palazzo di Brera (Google Maps). The Orto Botanico di Brera is relatively small and free to enter, but it offers a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. It also tends to be overlooked and is, therefore, a little secret place to visit in Milan!
9. Quadrilatero della Moda
As I told you at the very beginning, Milan is the fashion capital of Italy and one of the best places for fashion lovers. That’s why a trip to the Quadrilatero della Moda fashion district, where you’ll find famous brands like Valentino, Tiffany’s, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, and Prada, is a must-do in any city trip.
By the way, the name of the district means square of fashion – it is sometimes called Quadrilatero d’Oro, meaning golden square. This has its origin in the fact that it is bordered by four important shopping miles.
One of them is the 470-meter-long Via Monte Napoleone (Google Maps), one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. It takes its name from the time of the Napoleonic siege when it was already a well-visited meeting place. In the 1950s, it finally rose to its current status as one of the most important shopping miles in the world.
⭐ If you’re a fashion lover, don’t miss the exhibition at Palazzo Morando, also located in the Quadrilatero della Moda, and the Armani/Silos in the southwest of the city, which tells the life story of fashion designer Giorgio Armani.
Additional places of interest
If you haven’t had enough of Milan after these main attractions, there are other exciting options. For example, how about a detour to Piazza dei Mercanti (Google Maps)? Where to visit it? It’s less than 300 meters from Piazza Duomo. The “merchants’ square” used to be a central trading place for bakers, knife sharpeners, hair cutters, or goldsmiths and is lined with magnificent buildings like the Palace of Justice.
Via Torino (Google Maps) also branches off from Piazza Duomo and is another shopping street. A real insider tip that tends to be overlooked is the church complex Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Google Maps) located there. The highlight is the Renaissance church added around 1480: its choir room behind the altar is actually only 90 centimeters deep, but looks like a long gallery thanks to a spectacular ceiling painting by Donato Bramante.
Just outside north of the city center is the impressive Cimitero Monumentale central cemetery (Google Maps). Here, for example, Albert Einstein’s father and the founder of Campari are buried. Not far away, you’ll find the famous Bosco Verticale (Google Maps), two completely planted high-rise towers.
In the west of the city, on the other hand, is a must-do for soccer fans, the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium (Google Maps), called San Siro, of Milan’s two soccer clubs, AC Milan and Inter Milan. It’s a fun thing to do!
Soccer fans should be quick: The imposing Giuseppe Meazza Stadium is to be demolished and replaced by a new super arena. Due to Olympia it won’t be demolished before 2026)
If you’re more into museum visits and old buildings, don’t miss Villa Necchi Campiglio (Google Maps). This is a villa from the 1930s whose interiors and garden can be visited today.
⭐ Milan’s historic streetcar is also an eye-catcher. While it looks great in photos, however, most reviews advise against taking the TraMilano hop-on-hop-off tour by streetcar.
La Milano Romana
For history buffs, the following tour should also be exciting. In fact, in Milan, there are a total of 18 places where you can discover remains from ancient Rome. One of them is the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, which I already told you about in the top sights.
La Milano Romana – Roman Milan. This is the name of the tour, for which, however, there is no uniform official route. Stops include, for example, Terme Erculee (Google Maps), Colonne di San Lorenzo (Google Maps), Roman Forum (Google Maps), and the remains of Emperor Maximian’s palace (Google Maps).
If you want to learn more about Mediolanum, as Milan was called in Roman times, you can read exciting information about some of the stops in German here and in Italian here. You can book a guided tour to the locations here, for example.
Where to stay in Milan – the best tips
If you want to stay luxuriously and centrally, you should check out the Grand Hotel et de Milan (check prices here*). Located right between the Botanical Gardens and the Fashion Quadrangle, this 5-star hotel is one of Milan’s oldest hotels and served as home to the famous composer Giuseppe Verdi for 27 years. Similar in name but quite different is the Grand Hostel Coconut (check rates here*) near the main train station. Here you can stay for much less in a double room or dormitory with a private bathroom and garden.
Just a few streets away is the three-star 43 Station Hotel (check rates here*), which offers modern facilities and a delicious breakfast. The three-star Hotel Gran Duca Di York (check rates here*) has more traditional decor, but is also housed in a historic 18th-century palace. It’s also just a short walk from the cathedral!
The Blue sky apartment (check prices here*) also scores with warm hosts, good transport links, and excellent reviews. Finally, the Duomo Luxury Apartment (check prices here*) stands out, is located in the middle of the city center, and is also rated very well.
Facts and figures
- Milan is the capital of the Italian region of Lombardy
- Milan is the second largest city in Italy after Rome
- Milan has about 1.4 million inhabitants
- In August you will meet almost no locals in Milan – at the height of summer many escape to the countryside or the sea
- On December 7, Sant’Ambrogio, the patron saint of Milan, is celebrated – this is also the day that La Scala spectacularly opens its season each year
- A day trip to Milan can be made from Lake Como. Of course, you can also drive from Milan to Lake Como in about 1.5 hours by car.
- Lake Garda is also less than two hours away, as is Verona, which is just beyond.
- Milan’s twin cities include Chicago, Frankfurt am Main, and Toronto, among others