Milan is the second-largest city in Italy after Rome and has a population of over 3 million people. This city is a major tourist destination for its elegant buildings and architecture, but what should you expect to get up to? In this article, we’ll be looking at the 12 best things to do in Milan, Italy.
Milan was once home to one of the most famous Italian artists of all time, Leonardo DaVinci. Having lived through the Renaissance, creating masterpiece paintings for the Sforza family, as well as creating ground-breaking inventions that rocketed the progress of the modern world. A museum of his work can be found here in Milan, the ‘Leonardo3- The world of Leonardo.’ However, his works can also be found in the Sforza Castle, the famous Brera Picture Gallery, and of course, his most famous mural painting in the great Santa Maria Delle Grazie Renaissance church, of ‘The Last Supper.’
Milan is renowned for its fashion and trendy Metropolitan lifestyle, which you can enjoy in areas like the Brera district and down the ‘Naviligio Grande’ canals. Here the streets are bustling all day and night with young hipsters unwinding in one of the many chic bars and restaurants. It also has one of the oldest shopping malls in Europe, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II with a majestic architectural structure, which makes up its spectacular arcade.
If you visit the beautiful city of Milan you’ll not be short of things to do and places to see. Here are 12 of the best attractions for you to enjoy.
1. Milan Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo (Duomo Square)
You have not visited Milan till you have set foot on the Piazza del Duomo, the central hotspot of this metropolitan city. It is bustling with hundreds of people every day, especially tourists snapping away with their cameras at the enormous centerpiece of Gothic Italian architecture that is the Milan Cathedral.
It famously took 600 years to construct in its entirety and was finally completed in 1965, with an eclectic range of styles in its immense facade from different architects. However, it leans magnificently towards the Italian Gothic style, and it is the largest example of it’s kind.
The roof has a vast array of breath-taking spires with a bronze statue of the Madonna on the highest spire, which is the symbol of Milan. It can hold up to 40,000 people inside and houses some magnificent artwork within its ornate marble walls, including canonized remains of Italian saints displayed in glass cabinets. There are guided tours available, as well as an opportunity to ascend to the rooftop and watch over the wonderful cityscape from the spires.
2. Duomo Museum
Another highlight of the Duomo square, which is included in your ticket to the Milan Cathedral, is the Royal Palace, now the Duomo museum. A beautiful Baroque building, which tells the epic story of the vast construction scheme of the Milan Cathedral, known as ‘The Veneranda Fabbrica’.
It also houses over 200 paintings and statues gathered over the centuries that once adorned the interior of the cathedral. They were moved for a variety of reasons including a severe bombing, which hit it in World War II, destroying most of the city and the cathedral. It allows for more room to house the masses of tourists in the cathedral and saves any more damage from being done to the priceless artifacts. From the entrance, and on your way around, you can follow in chronological order the re-telling of a complex history.
3. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
This extravagant building inside and out is unique in design, a four-story double arcade shopping center housing numerous high-end fashion boutiques with an elegantly crafted iron glass roof and dome, which is shaped like a Latin cross.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II opened as Italy’s first mall in 1877 and is a classy location to shop away, with leading designer shops, such as Prada and Gucci, as well as Louis Vuitton.
Over the last few decades, the prestigious shopping arcade has become more accessible to everyone with more affordable shops opening up, as well as a McDonald’s. This monumental American fast-food company likes to raise controversial attention, and they have done so, as locals complain about the commercial stigma surrounding the brand, which is now located at the historical Italian landmark.
Despite this, it has attracted more people to the shopping Gallery, as you can now sit and enjoy this beautiful, bustling spot in high elegance whilst possibly eating your favorite, affordable burger meal.
4. Teatro alla Scala – La Scala Opera Theatre
Teatro Alla Scala is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. Lavishly adorned with red and gold in a breathtakingly extravagant tiered interior, which overlooks an immense stage.
It was once an old church called Santa Maria Della Scala but was converted into a theatre in the 17th century after it was damaged in a fire. After the renovation took place it paved the way for a proper inauguration in August 1778 to became one of the most famous opera houses of all time.
It has an enormous stage and over 3000 seats arranged in 6 magnificent tiers leading from the floor up to the gallery, or in the ‘loggione’ where the working-class audience would have to watch standing. Over the centuries, it has experienced serious damage and also experienced a large renovation effort after the Milanese bombings in WWII.
5. Santa Maria Delle Grazie and Da Vinci’s masterpiece ‘The Last Supper’
Another must-visit is Santa Maria Delle Grazie, which translates into ‘Holy Mary of Grace.’ A church, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and celebrates its focal exhibition, the mural painting of ‘The Last Supper’ by Renaissance painter Leonardo Da Vinci.
The Church is itself a masterpiece, originally constructed by Guiniforte Solari, it was modified, enlarged, and finally completed in 1482 by Bramante.
It is an amazing celebration of incredible Renaissance architecture with semi-circular apses, a majestic cupola, bordering colonnades and on the interior courtyards, arcades topped with Gothic capitals. The famous church houses a large library, Chapel, Chapter House, monastery, and refectory, where Leonardo Da Vinci’s legendary fresco encompasses the whole wall.
In this great building, there is plenty to feast your eyes on, helping you to understand how this became labeled as an Italian national landmark.
6. Leonardo3 Museum – The World of Leonardo
Leonardo da Vinci was a highly reputed court painter for the Sforza Royal family and created remarkable paintings, drawings, and scientific discoveries over his lifetime, most notably, the ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Last Supper’.
Leonardo3 Museum brings the amazing mind of this historical genius to life through interactive exhibitions, digital restorations, and 3D reconstructions of some of the artist’s best inventions, which he saved in manuscripts re-sketched over his 50-year career.
His research surrounding the human body and inventions set fire to a whole new modern vision and subsequent scientific discovery. His anatomical studies also allowed for his realistic, life-like portraits, which for centuries had been idealized in paintings.
Don’t forget if you book tickets online as you can skip the long queues at the entrance to the museum. Upon entering you can purchase guide books or audio guides, or even join a guided tour for a more complete experience of ‘The World of Leonardo’ exhibition, which is absolutely unmissable!
7. Sforza Castle
Sforza castle is an immense fortress, standing out in the elegant city of Milan. However, like most of the famous buildings, it has been reworked and reconstructed multiple times over the years.
The enormous square building flaunts a 70m tall tower called the ‘Torre del Filarete,’ located at the entrance of the castle. Originally, it was owned by the Visconti family until ownership passed over to the powerful Sforza Royal family in the late 15th century, where it was converted into a grand Ducal Palace.
The Sforzas reigned over the great art production period of the Italian Renaissance, where they collected and commissioned hundreds of famous works by leading artists, including DaVinci and Bramante. Both these artists worked on decorating the walls and ceilings of the interior palace facade which was transformed in the 16th century into an even larger structure, serving as one of Europe’s largest citadels and military complexes.
In the late 19th century, it was used as a barracks by the Italian army but in WWII it was badly hit with the rest of Milan and has undergone intense reconstruction.
Now a museum and art gallery open to the public displaying all the collections of artwork, which were collected over the centuries, as well as acting as a military monument. At night it is magnificently lit up, casting beautiful light over this masterpiece.
8. Parco Sempione
‘Parco Sempione’ located by the grand Sforza castle and appears to lead directly on from the castle gardens with expansive, lush grass and trees.
If you want to get away from the bustling streets of the city then take a stroll through Milan’s beautiful, central park. You can see the great castle and also turn to the panoramic view of the Arch of Peace.
It is believed that Emilio Alemagna, the architect of this wonderful organic spot had the two landmarks, as well as the Palazzo dell’Arte (“Palace of Art”) in mind for his design and created a perfect snapshot view of these two great structures.
It was once an early zoo instated by members of the house of Sforza, before Emilio started work on it in 1888, converting it into a public landmark for all of the people of Milan. It now houses attractions, like the Biblioteca del Parco Sempione in the old X Pavilion, Arena Civica, the public aquarium, and the Torre Branca tower. It covers an area of 38.6 hectares in total (95 acres).
9. Torre Branca – Observation Tower
This great Tower is located in the center of ‘Sempione Park,’ surrounded by tall trees. It stands at 108m high and is the perfect attraction on a clear day to climb and enjoy the vast views over Milan from the top with the magnificent Alps in the background.
It was designed by Futuristic architect Gio Ponti and opened in 1933, originally called ‘Torre Littoria’ after the Fascist era, but renamed after WWII as ‘Torre del Parco’– Park Tower.
In 2002 it was restored by the Branca liquor company and renamed ‘Torre Branca’ and opened up again to the public at the end of 2002.
10. Brera Picture Gallery
It is known by the natives as The Pinacoteca di Brera, ‘Brera Art Gallery’, situated next to the Brera Art Academy, ‘La Accamademia di Bella Arte’ on the Palazzo Brera.
The word ‘Brera’ derives from the word “Braida”, which is Latin for vulgar because the location once had negative connotations for being an ancient convent. It is now especially artistic with trendy streets leading off, bustling with young people enjoying the bars and shopping boho.
There is also the Braidense National Library, the Observatory of Brera, the Botanical Gardens, the Academy of Fine Arts, and the Lombard Institute of Sciences and Arts to visit as well, all located nearby.
However, let’s focus our attention on the highly esteemed Picture Gallery of Brera, for its prestigious contents of priceless masterpieces created by Italy’s most talented painters. It started as a storage unit for famous paintings, as well as art history books, which were stored in the National Gallery.
In 1809, it was established as the first museum to be opened in Milan housing the remarkable works of acclaimed Italian artists, such as Mantegna, Bellini, Raphael, Caravaggio, Tiepolo and more.
It’s perfectly situated besides many Art Academies for students to access some of the most influential works housed in Milan easily.
11. Naviglio Grande – The route of ancient canals
This beautiful man-made canal dates back 850 years and translates directly into English as a “big canal”. True to its name, ‘Naviligio Grande,’ covers a large expanse of land, which connects the Ticino River in Lombardy, Northern Italy to the Porta dock and passes elegantly through the dazzling city of Milan.
For centuries it was used for trading and transport and stands as one of the largest medieval engineering projects in history. It is now a popular spot for nightlife and famous Milanese cuisine in the many bars and restaurants that line the banks of the canals.
You can find the Brera district leading off so that trendy, artistic vibe seems to extend down the canals with beautiful decorative murals on the walls, as well as sensational views of the historical city’s backdrop.
Explore Milan through the picturesque “Naviligi” canals or take an hour-long cruise and guided tour to enjoy the cityscape more in a more relaxed way.
A quirky district of pretty canals, this is the place to go to unwind, but if you want to catch it in its real authentic, modern essence then make sure to visit at night. 😉
12. San Siro Stadium or Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
It won’t be an article about Milan without touching on the impressive footballing history of this great city.
Home to two of Italy’s favorite football teams AC Milan & Internazionale, the San Siro is the largest football stadium in Italy and one of the largest in Europe.
It has a seating capacity of over 75,000, and in 1934 hosted 3 games of the World Cup, with Italy bringing home the trophy with a 1-0 win against Austria. Again in 1990, it hosted 6 games of the World Cup, this time however, they did not manage to bring home the cup.
It has seen countless victories for both Milanese teams and the walls display the commemorative plaques celebrating the sportings successes.
Its architectural design is unique and appears in a typical English in style, with no running track around the field. This was specified by the direction of the founder and President of AC Milan at the time, Piero Pirelli. He preferred the immense open structures of English football clubs, which focus completely on the experience of the game. Initially, AC Milan were the only tenants of the stadium, but in 1947, Internazionale “moved in”.
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These best things to do in Milan are only a few of the incredible things to do and places to see in this lavish and bustling city. So the question really is, when are you going to be making your first/next stop in Milan? 😉
Did we miss any awesome places, or is there somewhere that should be considered one of the best places to visit or things to do in Milan, not on the list? Let us know in the comments & if you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it. 🙂
David & Maike
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