14 must-do things to do in Milan

Milan

Visiting Milan: What are the best things to see and do in one of Italy’s most beautiful cities?

What can you do in Milan, a metropolis located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, if you want to discover this world capital of fashion in depth? Known as a major financial center and famous for its luxury boutiques, Milan is also home to some renowned landmarks: the famous Duomo of Milan, a splendid Gothic cathedral, or the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, whose world-famous fresco of The Last Supper was painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

As a European metropolis and Italy’s second-largest city, the city is a cultural mecca that is nonetheless open to the world and firmly rooted in the 21st century!

Wondering what to do in Milan during your stay? Here’s the answer with our selection of must-do activities in the Lombard capital.

1. Visit the Duomo, Milan’s cathedral

In Italian, it’s called Piazza del Duomo. In fact, it’s the historic heart of Milan, and one of its most emblematic places: indeed, it’s home to many of the city’s most famous monuments, such as the Royal Palace, a superb 18th-century building now used as an art exhibition center. The adjacent streets leading up to the square are well worth a visit, especially in the evening, with their majestic lights and typically Italian restaurants and cafés.

After admiring the colossal statue of King Victor Emmanuel, you can stroll across the darkened piazza to the Duomo: the Duomo of Milan, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, which, if you’re looking for something to do in Milan, will allow you to admire the city from the exceptional panoramic view that can be enjoyed from the cathedral’s roof.

2. The Victor-Emmanuel II Gallery

Opposite the Cathedral, in the Piazza del Duomo, the Galleria Victor-Emmanuel II is a must-see when you’re looking for something to do in Milan, and with good reason! This bright, ultra-aesthetic venue, with its Baroque and neoclassical architecture, is nicknamed « Milan’s living room », with its oversized arcades and glass-and-metal dome.

In fact, the area could be likened to a shopping mall, home to numerous luxury establishments -Louis Vuitton or Prada, for example- as well as trendy bars and top-of-the-range restaurants. Needless to say, if you want to make a few purchases, you’ll need to have a well-stocked bank account! But the place itself is worth a look, and a visit to Milan’s Piazza del Duomo would not be complete without a visit to this extraordinary work of architecture.

3. The Last Supper in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie

Santa Maria delle Grazie

Photo Credit: Flickr – Davide Oliva

Close to the Duomo of Milan, thechurch of Santa Maria delle Grazie is world-famous for housing one of the most fantastic works of art on the planet: Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper, depicting the last meal Jesus Christ had with the twelve apostles on the evening of Holy Thursday.

As long as you book your ticket a few months in advance of your visit to Milan, you’ll be able to admire this sublime fresco, which, like the church, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! We recommend that you don’t miss out on this must-see cultural excursion when you visit the city, as it’s undoubtedly one of the most rewarding activities to discover once you’re here.

4. Sforza Castle

Castello Sforzesco

Photo Credit: De saiko3p / Shutterstock.com

Milan’s castle, Castello Sforzesco, is close to the center of Milan, and unlike many castles you don’t have to climb a hill to get there.

Inside the castle are several museums, and even if you don’t want to visit a museum, the castle is a good place to take a walk, and the courtyard serves as a local park. You can see castle artifacts and architectural details. The art museum houses Michelangelo’s last (unfinished) sculpture, the Pietà Rondanini. The castle also boasts the Museum of Ancient Art, a collection of musical instruments, and the Egyptian and prehistoric sections of the Museum of Archaeology.

5. La Scala, Milan

La Scala

Photo Credit: Flickr – lars20070

Leaving the Piazza del Duomo and following the axis of the Galleria del Rey Victor Emmanuel II, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the Piazza della Scala, which, as you might imagine, owes its name to… La Scala, Milan’s opera house.

In fact, it’s one of the country’s three most prestigious opera houses, along with La Fenice in Venice and the San Carlo Theater in Naples! Here, you can admire the greatest theatrical works of Italian opera, some of which were created in this historic cultural space that is a must-see when visiting Milan.

While the exterior of the building may appear a little austere, the interior is quite simply sumptuous, and well worth a stay in the city. To the left of the building, you’ll find La Scala’s adjoining museum, featuring a collection of centuries-old musical instruments, opera costumes and many other treasures of Italian heritage.

6. The Fashion Quadrilateral

Milan

Photo Credit: Flickr – uggboy

Le Quadrilatère de la Mode? But what is it? In fact, it’s the four streets in Milan – one of the world’s fashion capitals – that house the boutiques of the most famous fashion houses: Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Manzoni are home to the big names in couture, luxury jewelry and designers such as Louis Vuitton, Versace, Hermès, Valentino, Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Yves Saint Laurent!

If, when visiting Milan, you don’t have the budget for shopping, you can still enjoy a visit to this legendary place and window-shop while enjoying an ice cream… another of the city’s specialties! The Quadrilatero della Moda is indeed a mythical place and well worth a visit when you’re not sure what to do in Milan.

7. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology

Leonardo da Vinci has a strong presence in the city, and this will not escape the attention of tourists visiting Milan! In fact, the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnica « Leonardo da Vinci« , housed in a monastery built in the 16th century, is dedicated to Leonardo, and displays some 30 models showcasing all the ingenuity of the great Italian master, from impressive military machines to measuring instruments.

You can also take advantage of this gigantic museum to discover many other collections, not necessarily related to Leonardo da Vinci: in no particular order, let’s mention the levels attributed to aeronautical sciences, naval, railway or automotive engineering, as well as telecommunications sciences… and many other scientific and technical fields.

Given the museum’s large size, we recommend you allow half a day to explore it in its entirety when you’re wondering what to do in Milan!

8. Take a cultural break at the Pinacoteca di Brera

Cortile di Brera

Photo Credit: Flickr – renagrisa

The Pinacoteca – the name given to a museum displaying mainly pictorial works – in Brera, located in the district of the same name, offers visitors the chance to admire one of Italy’s most important art collections. It is housed in the Palazzo de Brera, a Baroque palace built on the site of a former monastery. It was the monks who turned it into a cultural center, including a school, library and even an astronomical observation center!

Today, the collections to be discovered there mainly comprise paintings typical of the various Italian schools: Lombard, Venetian, Ferrarese, Bolonese…

These works, exhibited in over forty different rooms, are arranged in chronological order according to the schools from which they originate. You’ll have the chance to observe the majestic style of Rubens, Raphael, Federico Barocci, Giovanni Bellini, Amedeo Modigliani, Umberto Boccioni… don’t miss Raphael’s « The Marriage of the Virgin », or Caravaggio’s « The Last Supper at Emmaus » when you visit Milan and pass through the Pinacoteca di Brera!

9. The narrow streets of Milan’s centro storico

Milan

Photo Credit: De s74 / Shutterstock.com

From the gates of the Duomo to the Castillo Sforzesco… the whole of this district is where Milan’s boutiques have gradually settled. In keeping with this refined elegance, but tempered by historical grandeur, the Centro Storico reveals the city’s past through its buildings, cobbled streets and charming statues and fountains.

Take the opportunity to explore the historic center at random, wandering through the narrow streets. Grab an espresso, a gelato (and try the panzerotti at Luini, via Santa Radegonda), or take a cooking class in town to bring a little piece of Italy home.

10. Milan’s Navigli

Milan

Photo Credit: De kavalenkava / Shutterstock.com

A network of canals, partly designed by Leonardo da Vinci, once stretched all over Milan, but today the Navigli are limited to two long canals: Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, in the south of the city. A charming alternative to the fashion-obsessed center, the canals have a more bohemian feel and are lined with cafés, vintage boutiques and ephemeral galleries. A popular flea market is held on the Naviglio Grande on the last Sunday of every month. Of course, it’s a long way from the canals of Venice or Amsterdam, but these two are well worth a stroll.

11. Visit the San Siro stadium and see a match

San Siro

Photo Credit: De Paolo Bona / Shutterstock.com

If you’re lucky enough to be in town when AC Milan play their home games, make sure you get your tickets! The atmosphere in the stadium is incredible, and you’ll get to see one of Europe’s most successful and legendary teams play, no less. If AC Milan are playing away, you can go and see Inter Milan, who are also a great team.

Ask your hotel for details of how to buy tickets and how to get into the stadium. You can also visit the San Siro stadium during the day.

12. Basilica Sant’Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose Basilica)

Basilica Sant'Ambrogio

Photo Credit: De sergiopazzano / Shutterstock.com

The Basilica Sant’Ambrogio, one of the oldest churches in Milan, is an 11th-century church built on the site of a fourth-century church. Sant’Ambrogio is the patron saint of Milan, and you can see him in a crypt with two third-century martyrs.

The church is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture and the interior is filled with many interesting relics, sculptures and mosaics. Don’t miss the golden altar. There’s also a small museum associated with the church.

13. An excursion to Lake Como

Milan is a large city in a privileged natural setting: for example, when you visit Milan, you can hire a car to take you to the magnificent city of Bergamo. This fortified city is of reasonable size and can be visited in a single day: it’s one of Italy’s most beautiful medieval towns!

If it’s hot and you’d like to cool off, as the sea is a long way from the Milanese metropolis, you can still go to Lake Como, Lake Garda orLake Maggiore, just an hour’s drive away, for a fantastic excursion with family or friends. Even if you’re visiting Milan on a short break, this could be the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy some time in the heart of the Lombardy countryside. We highly recommend it!

14. Other ideas for things to do in and around Milan

Villa Necchi Campiglio, Milan

So far you’ve been given a list of ideas for things to do in Milan for a first visit, for example, but if you’re visiting Milan for the second/third time or staying for more than a weekend, here are some other ideas that might interest you:

  • Visit 10 Corso Como
  • Visit Villa Necchi Campiglio
  • Take the old city streetcar
  • Visit the town of Lodi
  • An excursion to visit the city of Monza
  • Chiaravalle Abbey

How to get to Milan

The city of Milan has its own airport, Milan Malpensa International Airport, 45 km north of Milan in the province of Varese, which provides the metropolis with regular flights to destinations all over the world. Once you’ve landed, there’s no problem: shuttle buses take you to the center of Milan in less than an hour.

If you’re coming from far away, the best way to get there is by air; in fact, the Ulysse flight comparator will help you find a flight at the best price.

If you’re coming from France and want to visit Milan, you can get there by bus, or even by car using the motorway network, which is quite well developed in northern Italy; for example, the city is less than 500 kilometers from Lyon or Marseille. If you choose the second option, take advantage of carpooling to cut costs!

You can also take the train to Milan-Centrale station, on Piazza Duca d’Aosta: Italy’s second-largest station! Public transport is particularly well established in this metropolis, which is why we advise you to do without your car, to avoid the endless search for an expensive parking space…

Where to stay in Milan

It’s no surprise that when you’re thinking about what to do in Milan, you need to think about accommodation. In fact, you’ll find several types of accommodation to choose from, depending on your desires and your budget. As Milan is a metropolis with hundreds of hotels, it’s obviously the easiest and most flexible solution for the occasional traveller looking to visit Milan. To find your ideal establishment, check out the offers on this hotel comparator. The most accessible hotels are located around the Central Station.

What’s more, in this large city with its splendid historic heart, and divided into urban sectors featuring historic buildings as well as modern ones, it’s also worth checking out the offers for apartments for rent on Airbnb, for example, or other rental platforms! These offers can be adapted to your budget, allowing you to choose between a loft with terrace or a small, more affordable studio, so you can feel right at home.

Now you know how to explore Milan at your leisure and take advantage of the best activities on offer in this world capital of fashion. But it’s up to you to decide which ones to choose!

Map of hotels and accommodation – Milan,it