Milan has a fascinating history with a strong direction towards modernity. Often called Italy’s city of the future, it’s a bustling metropolis, unlike any other in Italy. While it doesn’t deny that it’s strongly rooted in history, it is not afraid to move forward, and that drive is visible around every corner. The cultural legacy of Milan can be admired and explored in dozens of museums all around the city – with the history of being ruled by Caesar, Napoléon, the Austro-Hungarians and Mussolini, Milan certainly has a lot to say. The sights of Milan are no less impressive than the museums, with the famous Duomo being the most iconic of them. Art connoisseurs from all over the world come to Milan to admire The Last Supper, and food buffs can’t get enough of the cucina povera, poor man’s cuisine, with cotoletta and saffron risotto being its most iconic examples. After a tiresome day spent exploring the museums, admiring the art and visiting the sights, one can’t wait to unwind in one of the many pubs and clubs, which can easily compete with those in other European metropolises.
Top 10 Things to See and Do in Milan
Swiss Alps Bernina Express
While visiting Milan, you might as well get to see the Swiss Alps, which are close-by. This tour will take you along a UNESCO-listed Bernina Express route, as you will be able to see some gorgeous views of Northern Italy and the Swiss Alps. You will return through a different route to see even more sights.
Lake Como Day Trip
This day trip will show you Lake Como and its surroundings, showcasing some of the highlights of the local landscape. You will be able to enjoy some free time at the lake, after a tour provided by a local guide. Afterwards, you will be able to visit Bellagio or Brunate, depending on the season.
Milan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour
A tour which cramps up most of the highlights of Milan in just half a day, as you get skip-the-line admission to many of the attractions of the city. The most famous of them is Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and you will be able to take a look yourself at the masterpiece while a guide tells you its cultural significance.
Skip the Line Small Group Milan Walking Tour
Along with the access to The Last Supper by Da Vinci, you will also be taken along the most prominent attraction of the city within a few hours of the walking tour. You will be able to get personal attention as the tour is limited to twenty-five people, allowing the guide to pay personal attention to your every question.
Historic Milan Tour
This three-hour walking tour of Milan will focus on the rich history of the city and the region of Lombardy. A knowledgeable guide will take you through such landmarks like Sforza Castle, Piazza della Scala, and the famous Via Dante, as well as the original The Last Supper by Da Vinci.
Skip the Line Essential Milan Tour
If you only have a couple of hours to spend on sightseeing, this tour will show you the essential spots of Milan in only three hours. A guide will take you to Duomo, one of the largest cathedrals in the world, as well as to the birthplace of classic Italian opera – the Scala Theatre.
Full-Day Milan tour
Providing excellent value for the money, cramping up many attractions in one day with skip-the-line tickets to all of them, this trip is a great informative trip for first-timers. A professional and friendly guide will take you along such sights as Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà, and the Church of San Maurizio, among others.
Duomo - Milan Super Saver Rooftop Tour
After you explore the massive cathedral of Duomo and its artwork, you will be taken to its roof terraces. Not only will you be able to enjoy one of the best views on Milan, but you will also surely notice the beautiful sculptures adorning the rooftops and terraces of the cathedral.
Italy and Switzerland in One Day
This tour will take a whole day to show you some of the most beautiful sights of the Lombardy region and Switzerland. You will be taken on a cruise on Lake Como, as well as through the lakeside towns of the region. All of the transportation is provided and departs from the city centre of Milan for your convenience.
Cinque Terre Day Trip
See the gorgeous landscape of the Cinque Terre coastal region of Italy. You will be able to discover five of the cliff-side villages and their scenery, as the whole region is UNESCO-listed. A boat will be provided for you as you cruise from Monterosso to La Spezia, admiring the seaside of the region.
Other Things to See and Do
While getting inside of the Acquario will require you to get a ticket (which is not that expensive by the way), you can still admire the Acquario from the outside. You can see its gorgeous architecture, with sculptures adorning its walls, as well as the famous hippo fountain and fish-like carvings.
While Milan does not have as many parks as cities like London, it has a few that are gorgeous and worth visiting. One of them is the Parco Sempione, which is located in the centre near the Acquario, and it extends north from the back of Castello Sforzesco and is a perfect spot for a picnic.
While not exactly a tourist attraction but a normal means of public transport, the old-fashioned trams of Milan are an experience in itself. Try to stick to the trams when you are traversing the city, as they are some of the oldest transport vehicles in the world, serving non-stop since 1928.
While there are many who want you to believe that Duomo requires a guided tour to enter, trying to sell you their offer, you can, in fact, enter the Duomo for free. While there is a charge of €3 for general tourists, worshippers can enter for free, so make sure to come during mass if you want to avoid paying admission.
Duomo from the outside
If you do not want to spend money on entering the Duomo and you do not want to attend the mass, you can still enjoy the gorgeous façade of the Duomo from the outside. There are hundreds of statues adorning the walls of the cathedral, presenting saints, monsters, and gargoyles alike.
San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
Filled with gorgeous frescoes that are comparable with those of the Sistine Chapel, the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is definitely worthy of visiting. It used to be the most important all-female chapel of the city, under the supervision of Benedictines, and it has been rebuilt during the 16th century.
Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio
Being one of the most ancient churches in Milan, the Basilica was built during the 4th century by St Ambrose. The Basilica is located in an area which used to be where martyrs of the Roman persecutions were buried. While the Allied bombings damaged the basilica, it has been reconstructed and is still available to see for free.
San Bernardino alle Ossa
Best known for its unique ossuary, the church dates back to 1145, and acted as a hospital and a cemetery built in front of the basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore. The morbid chamber of the cemetery, for which the church is famous, houses bones and skulls which you can see for yourself.
If you want to see some street art for free, head on to the Isola district, which is close to the Garibaldi station. The Isola district of Milan is famous for its vibrant street art, but you may also spot some works along the Corso di Porta Ticinese and the Colonne di San Lorenza – all of that for free.
Milan is a very bike-friendly city, and as such has many cosy spots which are perfect for an afternoon ride. One of them is the Navigli, which is a network of artificial canals in Milan. Not only is the Navigli a unique place to visit with a bike, but it is also free to traverse at all times.
A good way to spend an evening in Milan is to get out on the streets and participate in, or at least watch, one of the many street dance performances. The dance performers started dancing in the streets as a protest to the pricey club scene of Milan. While the locations are kept secret, they are most often at Piazza Affari or at Palazzo della Regione.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Take a trip to the stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where you will be able to see the famous graphic of a bull on the ground. There is a legend among the locals that good fortune will come into your life because of the bull. All you have to do is… spin around on the nether regions of the bull graphic.
Take a hike to the famous cemetery of Milan, which is unique in itself. The Cimitero Monumentale is often referred to as the “city of the dead”, and contains a number of interesting places for you to visit. It also rests graves and monuments of some of the great persons who contributed to the history of Milan.
Being the first multicultural district of Milan, Chinatown is worth a visit if you want to see some unusual sights. There is a large number of Chinese restaurants, where you can taste some of the foreign cuisine, as well as shops with ceramics and other hand-crafted souvenirs made by the local population.
In contrast to some of the more antique attractions of Milan, lies Porta Nuova, which is a new district of the city, located near Garibaldi station. The district hosts some of the modern steel and glass skyscrapers of the city and is definitely a place to go if you want to admire some contemporary architecture.
Also known more widely by the locals as Ca Granda, the building is five centuries old and is a part of the historic State University of Milan. It used to be a hospital of the city, as it was made by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, and nowadays it hosts a few pieces of original art and architecture from the region.
Take a hike to the streets of Brera, one of the distinct districts of Milan. Bera feels as if it was a detached town right in the middle of Milan, with numerous narrow alleyways, small-time clubs, and traditional architecture, creating an alluring atmosphere. The place is also filled with a lot of attractions if you look closely.
Pinacoteca di Brera
If you are an art enthusiast, make sure to step into the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of the famous art galleries of the Bera district. The gallery houses some of the masterpieces by Piero della Francesca, Raphael, and Caravaggio, and while there is normally a fee to enter, the gallery is free on the first Sunday of the month.
Vicolo dei Lavandai
A great way to spend an afternoon in Milan is to take a walk through one of the many old alleys of the city. One of such valleys, the Alley of Lavandai, dates back to the 18th century. The alley served as a popular site to do laundry for the local population, and you can still see some of the devices people used back then.
Piazza dei Mercanti
Considered by many as the most beautiful square in the city, the Piazza dei Mercanti presents a unique, medieval style. The architecture of the square remained mostly intact from its middle age state, and you can even experience a unique phenomenon – you can whisper into a column with someone listening on the other side, and he will be able to hear it.