Milan is one of Italy’s most bustling cities, second only to the country’s capital, Rome. It has a very New-York-City-but-European vibe to it, but it still manages to hold many of the charms that tourist flock to Italy to see — museums, cathedrals, other fancy old buildings, delicious food, etc. After a few trips to Milan, I’ve honed in on a few of my personal favorite things to see and do to help future Milan travelers. Also, something to keep in mind, Milan has a wonderful and efficient subway train, the Milan Metro system. No need to worry about hailing taxis or bus stops when traveling, as this metro system goes all over Milan and is only 1.50 € for a 1-way ticket (valid for 90 minutes), and a 10-ride card costs 13.80 €.
What to do:
Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) — This is the number one thing to do on every Milan list for a reason. It is the third largest cathedral in the world, and each inch of its marble is decorated in breathtaking Rayonnant Gothic style. It gives the word marvelous a whole new meaning. You can even go inside and tour the equally magnificent interior of the cathedral and walk to the very top (or take an elevator) for some very Hunchback of Notre Dame-but-Italian feels. I suggest buying a ticket ahead of time because the lines can get long. You can buy the tickets here at the Cathedral’s website. Tickets range from approximately $4.00 to $16.00 for a Duomo Pass ticket.
Sempione Park (Parco Sempione), Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco), Arch of Peace (Arco della Pace), and the Brera Art Gallery (Pinoteca di Brera) — Sempione Park is the best place for nature lovers in Milan who grow weary of the bustling city. With 95 acres of land, it is a great place for a romantic stroll, a place for kids to run around and play, and also great for jogging and biking for the athletically inclined. It also offers panoramic views of the Arch of Peace and the 15th-century fortress Sforza Castle, two of Milan’s major monuments. For those who love museums, the Sforza Castle is now a history and art museum, and the Brera Art Gallery is another famous art gallery/museum right down the street. Perfect for a day trip!
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II — If the cathedral is the first on the list, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the second, not just because it is literally right next to the cathedral. The Galleria is like what Americans think of as a mall but made Italian — extremely ornate, high-class shops, and a fancier food court. Though I would not 100% recommend the food in here (like most tourist areas, it is quite overpriced), it’s a lot of fun to check out the shops and maybe stop for some wine, a dessert, and un caffe. Not tickets are required to go into the Galleria. Feel free to shop and peruse at your leisure!
Covenant of Santa Maria delle Grazie — This is a church known for the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting, The Last Supper. I included this because everyone always talks about how the Mona Lisa painting in The Louvre, but it’s a postage stamp compared to The Last Supper, which, on the other hand, is 15 feet tall and 29 feet wide. It’s especially important to keep in mind when viewing that Leonardo da Vinci actually invented the technique used to paint this piece and hoped to make it more luminous than the fresco paintings of that time. The Last Supper was completed in 1498, even surviving the World War II bombings, and has inspired numerous painters, writers, and conspiracy theorists in its (approximately) 500 years. Click here for more information on the museum and ticket costs (around € 10 depending on age and whether you want an audio guide).
Scala Theater Museum (Museo di Teatro alla Scala) and Ambrosia Library (Biblioteca Ambrosiana) — These are my two favorite museums in lovely Milan, and there are like a million to choose from. I am not an enormous history buff, so these are more artsy than archaeological. The Scala Theater (Teatro alla Scala) is a famous theater with an adjoined museum. Inside the theater, you can sometimes peek in on rehearsals of the ballet company from the boxes above the stage. The museum has numerous historical artifacts and paintings from opera’s glory days. The Ambrosia Library (Biblioteca Ambrosiana), specifically its art gallery (Pinoteca di Ambrosiana), is my favorite for housing Jan Brueghel the Elder’s gorgeous floral still life paintings, as well as some of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches from his personal sketchbook.
Where to eat:
Frijenno Magnanno — A more modern restaurant that actually has very good pizza. Milan is not known for its pizza, but this place actually does a good job because it is owned by Napolitani folks. They consistently serve various high-quality food with really good ingredients, so you can’t really go wrong with any of the dishes. However, I do recommend the pizza.
Osteria del Borgo Antico — An adorable little osteria that is on the fancier side but not ridiculously overpriced. My husband and I went here as our official Start of our Honeymoon dinner. It is a bit small so I would recommend a reservation if you are going during a busy season.
Obica — This is technically a mozzarella bar, which is very hip. Obica is actually a worldwide franchise, but I can forgive that because the food is quite good. Also, the one in Milan is on the top floor of a large shopping complex overlooking the Cathedral of Milan, offering a gorgeous view with its delicious food. Like most places, the menu changes by the season, but I always love starting out with a good piattino as an appetizer.
Il Massimo Gelato — This is the best ice cream that I had in all of Italy. You. Must. Go.
I was surprised to find that some people do not enjoy Milan. Perhaps its urban settings is overwhelming when compared to the relaxed rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside. Or maybe they write off Milan, the fashion capital of the world, because they are not interested in anything sartorial. However, Milan has an incredible amount to offer those with all sort of interests and tourist-y preferences. There’s great food, beautiful sights to see both man-made and natural, and great historical significance in Italy’s history with the museums and monuments to prove it.