4 Days to Explore Milan
Updated: 5 days ago
Milan is often an overlooked Italian city by tourists, as it lacks much of the medieval or ancient charm of other popular destinations such as Rome, Florence, or Venice. Don't get me wrong, it's still one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, but it's a little down the list if we're looking solely at Italian cities. One of the city's major pulls is the Duomo and its surrounding landmarks. It's also, of course, a mecca for fashion. We spent 4 days in Milan and were pleasantly surprised with the amount of places to visit in the city, many of which were nowhere near as crowded as the Piazza del Duomo. A lot of the sites we went to were free to visit, with the most expensive ticket being the Duomo, and many of the smaller sites that have entry fees you don't necessarily need to go in to enjoy! We were told by countless people that over the past few years the food scene in Milan has exploded. And they weren't wrong! Yes, yes, there's some incredible pizza to try out, but there is so much more to sink your teeth into. Ever tried Parmesan gelato? Italian sushi? Yes those are real things, and you can try them right in the heart of Milan!
How To Get To Milan
Milan has three airports to choose from: Linate, Malpensa, and Bergamo. Linate is the closest to the city centre, but I ended up flying into Malpensa and leaving from Bergamo because of the flight times and prices. Malpensa is the largest international airport, and has direct links to the city centre either via train or bus. The prices are basically the same for both (around €14 each way), but you will save a little by buying a return ticket if you intend on departing from there as well. I'd recommend the train as it's quicker, it goes to terminal 1 and 2, and price wise isn't much different than the bus. Tickets can be purchased from the machines at the station and the airport, or there is a ticket desk as well if you would rather talk to someone for clarification. Bergamo has no train connecting it, so you will need to get a bus (although you can get a train to a nearby station and then hop on a bus to the airport, which I think is too much hassle). I bought
my ticket from the central train station for €7, and the journey took just over an hour.
How To Get Around Milan
Milan has a great metro network, that connects you to all parts of the city. If you'd rather see the city from above ground, they also have their famous tram lines, and if you're in the very centre you can treat yourself to a vintage tram ride. Tickets for all types of public transportation can be purchased from stations as well as many random shops throughout the city. I'd recommend getting the day pass, or three day pass depending how long you are there for, which gives you access to the metro, trams, trains, and buses!
Whether you're spending a weekend in Milan, are only in the city for one day, or even visiting Milan with kids, there are a lot of unique things to do. If you're in Milan for a week and fancy a day trip somewhere else, Turin is under 2 hours away and looks incredible (hint, hint).
The Best Things to See & Do in Milan
Piazza del Duomo is most likely where you're going to head to first. And why not? It's the absolute must see thing in Milan. In terms of the cathedral, your best bet is to purchase the Duomo Pass Lift which will give you access to the inside of the cathedral, the rooftop, the archaeological area under the cathedral, as well as a few other sites. During peak season, make sure you book in advance if you can and get the fast track ticket, because we were told it can take a very long time to get inside if you don't! The Royal Palace of Milan sits opposite the Duomo. It was once a seat of power but now houses a number of art exhibitions, which is worth a look at if you have time. To the left of the Duomo is La Rinacente, a high end department store, which is beautiful on the inside and definitely something you should take a walk around. If you're looking for places to shop in Milan, this spot is ideal. The top floor has some restaurants and a food hall selling luxury items, a great place to get some gifts!
The Duomo is one of the few cathedrals in Europe that allows you to walk on the rooftop rather than climb up a tower. So make sure you do this! The views are unbelievable and you can see a lot of the architecture in much more detail too. I'd highly recommend taking a "design your own" private tour with MilanoArte. Our guide, Giacomo, knew every little detail about the city, and let us choose which sites we wanted to see which was a nice change. He also has access to the fast track line at the Duomo - handy if there's a massive queue! If you're looking for walking tours in Milan, this is a great option. We booked our tickets through Like A Local which was an easy and quick process.
The Duomo is beautiful in the daytime, but maybe even more so lit up in the evening. So if you're not too busy stuffing your face with all the traditional food from Milan, head to the Duomo at night for a bit, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is an iconic location in Milan, and opens up into Piazza del Duomo. It's Italy's oldest active shopping mall, and is home to shops from some of the world's top fashion labels. The arcade itself is open 24/7, so if you want a shot without anyone in it, you'll need to wake up very early to get it! Visiting Milan on a budget? No problem. This is one of the many sites you can stroll around for free.
Teatro alla Scala is a famous theatre in Milan, best known for its opera performances. Tickets to the opera can cost you quite a bit, and are difficult to come by if you don't book well in advance. But if you're travelling solo and are looking for things to do alone in Milan, this is the perfect way to treat yourself.
Piazza Mercanti is one of many popular squares in the city. In the middle ages, it was the heart of Milan, and isn't too far from the Duomo. That being said, it gives off more of a locals vibe since it isn't swarming with tourists. If you're visiting Milan in winter, you'll probably find it pretty empty, which is perfect for photos.
Trams are a great way to get around the city if you don't fancy using the metro. In the very centre you'll be treated to some vintage trams which I'd recommend going on at least once.
Peck is an historical deli located just around the corner from the Duomo. It sells pretty much every type of Italian food you could ask for, and is another great place to grab some gifts (or treat yourself).
This one's just for fun. If you're taking a stroll through Piazza degli Affari, you'll come across this sculpture facing the stock exchange! One of many unique things to do in Milan.
Yes, those are thousands of real, human skulls and bones in the walls. San Bernardino alle Ossa is a little creepy to walk around. A side room in the church opens up into a room full of bones. In the 13th century, the cemetery ran out of space for the new bodies, so they decided to dig up all of the bones and place them in a small room. The church was later added to the side of it. This is probably one of the best secret things to do in Milan.
Santa Maria delle Grazie is home to Leonardo da Vinci's famous masterpiece: The Last Supper. The city of Milan is famous for being the home of this historic piece of art. If you want to get inside, plan months ahead. Tickets are pretty much impossible to get last minute, unless you book a guided tour which includes entry. We weren't able to go inside, but the area has quite a few interesting landmarks in it so we decided to visit the outside anyways.
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio is an absolute must. It's one of the oldest churches in Milan, and completely free to walk around! The architecture is amazing, and when we visited there were hardly any people, which was ideal. If you only have one day in Milan and want to see something a little more unique and less crowded, go here.
Have you ever seen anything like this before? Me neither! The Vertical Forest is another free thing to see in Milan - yay!
A short walk from the Vertical Forest is Eataly! If you love food, this is where you need to go. There are three floors of restaurants, cafes, and Italian goods to explore here. If you're staying in the area, it's a good spot for breakfast too. Add this to your list, even if you're only got a two day itinerary of Milan planned.
If there's a castle, I will find it! The architecture of Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco) is stunning, and best of all you can walk around the grounds for free. Who said you can't do Milan on a budget? There are several exhibitions inside the castle that include works from da Vinci and Michelangelo which you need to purchase tickets for. As the name suggests, it was home to the famous Sforza family, and the defences were actually designed by da Vinci himself! There's a fun bit of Milan history for you. Behind the castle sits Parco Sempione, which is home to one of the oldest aquariums in Europe and is a beautiful park to walk around.
If you want to experience true Milanese fashion, make your way to what is known as the "Golden Square". Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, and Via Montenapoleone are the main streets that make up this area, and is where the best designer shops in the city can be found. If the reason you're travelling to Milan is mostly for fashion related purposes, you can't go wrong walking around this area. Even if you aren't into fashion, I would recommend heading here if you have time.
Basilica di San Lorenzo is also one of the oldest churches in Milan and sits near the city's ring of canals. Opposite it sits Colonne di San Lorenzo, a row of 16 ancient Roman columns. There are loads of restaurants and bars in this area, so it's always buzzing with people! This is a thriving area and probably one of the best places to stay in Milan for tourists.
Porta Ticinese is one of the few remaining ancient gates in the city, and was once part of the Spanish walls. It sits just down the road from the Navigli canal area too.
Navigli is an up and coming area along the canal filled with restaurants and shops. Yes shops. It's another good area to head to if you're looking to do some shopping in Milan, though these shops are more artisan than high end. It's similar to the canal area in Copenhagen, but much less crowded. I'm sure it looks incredible in the sunshine rather than the fog, but we take what we can get! If you're looking for things to do in Milan at night, this district is very pretty to walk through with the lights reflecting off of the canal.
What To Eat In Milan
Did somebody say gelato?! Obviously no trip to Italy is complete without having one. Pro-tip: Those massive colourful mounds of gelato you see being sold? Skip them. They are full of artificial flavouring. Real gelato is presented either flat or in large tubs that reach down under the counter.
Mhmm, arancini. If you haven't heard of them or tried them, do it. Do it now. I'm slightly obsessed with them to be completely honest. They're stuffed rice balls with a ragu centre (other options available), covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried, and they are delicious.
Grab yourself a colourful vegan burger at Flower Burger! Even if you aren't a vegan, these burgers taste amazing. And anyways how can you say no to all these naturally coloured buns?
Cannoli's are great and everything, but have you tried a cannoncini? These Italian horns are filled with a variety of different creams, similar to a cannoli, but are just that little bit of extra deliciousness.
Potafiori is one of those unique restaurants in Milan that you need to try. It's only a short metro ride from the Duomo area, and has some of the best pasta in Milan in my opinion. It's a mixture of a restaurant and a flower shop, since you're surrounded by beautiful plants. We went for lunch and found it to be great value. I'd recommend trying out their freshly made ravioli.
Now this is something interesting to do in Milan. Italians are very fond of having an aperitif before their evening meal, but if you want to try a crazy twist on it though, head over to Terra Gelato where you're served gelato paired with wine! Now this isn't just any regular gelato though, that would be too mainstream. We sampled three different Gelatos, each with their own cheesy flavour! I'm being serious. Can you really resist the temptation of Parmesan or Gorgonzola gelato, with a side of a honey based wine? I don't think so! Definitely the best place for Gelato in Milan.
You didn't think you were making it all the way through this blog post without a pizza recommendation did you? I love pizza, so that definitely wasn't happening. LUX Gourmet Social Club is in the northern part of the city, and if you're looking for some uniquely delicious pizzas then I couldn't recommend them enough! They have the more standard, everyday pizzas if you aren't feeling adventurous, but they also have some "luxurious" ones too. For example, the pizza you see at the bottom of this photo. Truffle. Truffle. And more truffle! It's a TRUFFLE based pizza! With truffle salt and hazelnuts on top. Best. Combination. Ever. Probably the best pizza in Milan as well.
And since I love food so much, it wouldn't be a proper trip unless we went on a food tour! Walking Palates offers both day and evening tours, but we joined them in the evening for the food and wine tour. We went to a number of incredible spots in the Porta Romana district and the surrounding area. Each dish was perfect and gave a great insight into the food culture of the city. And yes, wine is included too. Our guide even gave us some cooking tips, so hopefully now my risotto won't be such a soggy mess!
Where To Stay in Milan
Accommodation in Milan can be a little pricey, so it's important to do your research beforehand and pick what area you want to stay in. We stayed at Un posto a Milano for 2 nights during our stay and absolutely loved it. It's a very unique type of accommodation, set in a converted farmhouse right in the middle of the city. The building itself used to be on the edge of Milan, but as the city expanded more buildings appeared around it and it was left abandoned. Now it's a hub of activity though, with a very popular bar and restaurant in it, a garden, and a number of meeting spaces. We stayed in the north accommodation which had an en-suite bathroom in it, and specially designed beds which were extremely comfortable. There is a kitchen and dining area that everyone is free to use too. Breakfast is available from the bar as well which is handy. The rustic design of the complex was a really unique feature you won't find in regular hotels, so if you want to try something new this is the best place to stay in Milan. You could even add them to your Milan itinerary as there's always lots of events happening (check their website beforehand).
Price range: €70 +
Looking for a hostel? If you're wondering where to stay in Milan and you're on a budget, check out Meininger Milano Lambrate which is across the road from one of the main train stations, and only a short walk from the truffle pizza! Double rooms are extremely affordable and come with an en-suite as well.
Please get in touch if you have any questions about Milan that I haven't covered, I'd love to hear from you! Check out my Instagram page for more great photos from Milan.
Wanting to explore more cities in Italy? Here are 10 Stunningly Beautiful Cities To Visit In Italy to help you plan your dream trip. If you're planning a trip to Naples in the near future and need some travel inspiration, check out my post covering things to do here, and if you need some advice on accommodation in Naples this is my recommendation. OR if you want a really unique place to visit in Italy, click here to find out more.