How to do it: use your eyes or your zoom but check out the front of the Duomo. Don’t believe me? Read it from someone else on the Internet and feel free to scream #fakenews in the comments below.
Best Western Hotel Major – I stayed at this hotel and can highly recommend it. I got a great price on Booking.com and it was well connected, just a couple of Metro stops from the Duomo. Breakfast was a steal at €5.
How to do it: just to the left of the Duomo. If you’re not into shopping either, still poke your nose in and look skyward at the beautiful glass roof. Apparently it’s beautifully adorned at Christmas time with a Swarovski decorated Christmas tree. What else would you expect in Milan?
How to do it: you can find the Arco della Pace in Sempione Park. You can read more about the history of the arch here.
Tips for climbing the Duomo in Milan:
A few notes on my guide to Milan
I’ve run you ragged, you deserve a sit down. With cheese. A 5-10 minute walk from the Duomo, you’ll find Obica. Located in Brera (more on that below), this mozzarella bar is a cheese lover’s dream. And if cheese alone isn’t your thing, you can tuck into pizza or pasta instead. This is for you if you’re more interested in what to eat instead of what to see in Milan.
So, that’s my guide to 40 things to do in Milan (that aren’t churches). Got any questions or other tips to share, let me know in the comments below.
If it’s included in my ticket price…and this was the only way I was going to get the German Girls through the doors of a museum. The Duomo museum features a lot of the old artefacts from the church whether it’s gargoyles that have been replaced or bling from inside the church that needs to be protected from Indiana Jo Public. It’s definitely worth a quick whiz around. Extra bonus features – there are non-portaloo toilets inside as well as plenty of AC.
How to do it: You can find out more about Starbucks’ swishly named, Milano Roastery here. Do go in. Ordering coffee is optional. You can read more about Starbucks in Milan here.
40 Best Things to Do in Milan
You can find more details about Chocolat Milano here. If it’s hot, stay inside unless you fancy the stress of chasing melted gelato down your sweaty arm with your tongue.
1. Eat Gelato at Chocolat Milano
How to do it: You can enter the castle for free. There are frequent musical events and art exhibitions. Check the listings here.
Whether you support the sentiment or not, it makes for a shocking sight/hilarious photo, depending on your perspective on these things.
- go for modesty
- cover your shoulders
- cover your cleavage (boys too)
- cover your knees (probably only women because we’re only in the 21st century)
- no rules about shoes (both of my big toes were fully on display and I didn’t get a single complaint)
We visited this bakery and cafe on the guided walking tour and I thought it was one of those tourist stops likely to serve overpriced, over rubbery food but Van Bol & Feste was exactly the opposite. In fact, it’s so good, it’s stayed in business since 1890. If you’re on the move and want a quick lunch or snack, grab one of the delicious focaccia and head into Sempione Park.
6. Spot the original Statue of Liberty
Want to be assured a return to Milan? Step on this little guy’s face and spin around (on your heel) three times. I’ve not done it once and I’ve been to Milan four times so there is clearly an alternative way to ensure you go back (otherwise known as Ryanair). Still, it’s a bit of fun.
Tips: the crypt opened at 11 a.m. and by 11:15 a.m. the queues were already starting. Personally, I don’t think the crypt is worth queuing for. We waited about 5 minutes and that was fine for me. If you don’t want to queue, get there for 11 a.m. or pop back later – your church ticket is valid for 3 days (single access into each place) and it will give you another chance to wear your hospital-gown if you were forced to buy one.
How to do it: the cheapest way is to book tickets directly through the museum website here. Buy the Duomo Pass Stairs ticket for €13 (plus €1.65 fees). This allows you to get roof access via the stairs. There are 169 steps in total so it’s one of Italy’s easier duomo climbs. (Said confidently by the girl who hiked Florence’s 3 towers in one day). I saw people 8 times my age doing the climb including a couple of nun’s somehow not sweating under their habits.
7. Check out the crystal coffin in the Duomo crypt
I had a draft of this blog called: Milan – the city that never satisfies. Because until this trip (my 4th to Milan), that’s how I felt about the city. Perhaps it was because I’d only ever spent one day in Milan. Or it was because most of articles about things to do in Milan list a series of churches (not so high on my tourist list).
There is a theory that the statue on the left above the main entrance to the Milan Duomo provided the inspiration for Lady Liberty who was gifted to New York. The theory is based on the date the statue was added to the Duomo, which was apparently earlier than the birth of the Statue of Liberty. Coupled with the fact that the Statue of Liberty creator apparently studied in Milan, the theory was born.
8. Whip around the Duomo Museum
Many of Milan’s iconic sights become magical at night, lit up against a dark city sky making a stroll around the city at night one of the best things to do in Milan in Milan at night.
9. Stop by Milan’s Stock Exchange for a bit of a surprise
In you’re racing to get around around Milan’s main attractions, it’s easy to miss the often hidden sights like the myriad courtyards tucked away behind building facades.
10. Give the middle finger to finance
Order of the activities: I’ve started with the top Milan tourist attractions and then included other things to do in Milan that are reasonably close and can sensibly be visited together. Skip the ‘nearby’ attractions if you’re short on time.
Seeing as I had the combination ticket (climb, church and museum), I thought I’d make good use of my purchase and pop inside the church. Also, I don’t want Google Photos to think I’ve fallen out with my mate, Jesus. Even church-jaded me could appreciate how spectacular the church is. The stained glass windows and the gigantic pipe organ are the most striking features.
How to do it: You can read more about the statue here.
You can buy a combination ticket online (church, climb and museum) or if you just want the church, the price is €8. You can buy tickets direct here.
11. Take a walking tour of Milan
One day in Milan? It’s pretty quick to swing by the statue from the Duomo if you want a photo opp. Otherwise, skip it.
How to do it: keep an eye out especially around the Duomo. My two Santa spotting moments were near La Scala and Sempione Park. I would advise against bothering Santa. I waved at him in the park and got a not so friendly scowl in return. This particular Santa wants to live in peace, which is absolutely fair enough and I’m going to be putting a big fat apology for my intrusion on my letter to Santa this year.
Itinerary for One Day in Milan
- Take the 8 a.m. climb up the Duomo
- Scoot over to see the Last Supper at 10 a.m. (having bought your tickets in advance here)
- Take the walking tour included with your ticket which will take you to Sforza Castle, the Galleria and La Scala.
- Sit down lunch in Brera (walkable from Duomo) or al fresco picnic lunch in Sempione Park (grab a Focaccia from Van Bol & Feste – see below)
- You then have an afternoon free to fill with any of the other activities below that tickle your fancy.
- Don’t miss one of the gelato stops mid-afternoon.
- Head to Navigli canal for sunset and possibly dinner
- Have a stroll through the city at night to see the Duomo and Sforza Castle all lit up.
12. Go to Starbucks – here’s why…
Churches in Milan: I only visited the Duomo in Milan. I know it shouldn’t officially be on a list about things to do in Milan that are not churches but you’ll forgive me for adding the biggest Milan attraction? If you do want to visit more churches, here is a list of 49 you can work through in your own time.
13. Lunch at Obica in Brera
How to do it: I always like to have a snack or gelato to keep me company when I visit a park so start there (suggestion below). Then take a meander past the lake – make sure you stop to spot the family of turtles paddling away. Great for kids…or 43 year old women like me. Whatever.
14. Go broke at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
How to do it: unlike the Burj Khalifa, you can’t see the building from every point in the city but you will find it close to Bosco Verticale, below. You can read more about Italy’s tallest buildings here.
15. Ensure a return to Milan (and other hocus-pocus)
You’ll have to gloss over this one if you don’t like our furry four-legged friends. If you do, make sure to do some cat-spotting at Sforza Castle.
16. Go up to the Galleria Highline
How to do it: Bosco Verticale is in the Porta Nuova area of Milan. Take the Metro to Isola or Garibaldi F.S.. You can find out more here. Not got time? Check out the drone footage above.
with the peasants high street brands on Via Dante
How to do it: You can find a map of Milan’s vedovelle here. If you want one that’s been tried and tested by me (promise I didn’t get sick), use the one is Sforza Castle.
How to do it: as with most things in Italy, it’s not so well sign posted. Ask the Duomo staff to point you in the right direction. The museum is included in your ticket price.
18. Try to get your mitts on La Scala Opera tickets
How to do it: enter the galleria and you’ll find the tile to the left of the centre. You’ll know it when you see it – deeply worn and probably with some tourist spinning around on it like they’re hoping J.K. Rowling will appear (that’s more likely in Porto).
Just got one day in Milan? I’ve included Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vineyard so high up the list because it’s close to the Last Supper. If you’re pressed for time, skip it. I still haven’t visited.
19. Sit in Sempione park
How to do it: keep your eyes peeled as you wander the city. Free gelato for the first person to spot one (you have to agree this game in advance with your travel companions).
How to do it: you can find out more and book here.
20. Get a park snack at Van Bol & Feste
This is the Last Supper tour I booked and can highly recommend it. I picked it because it had the highest reviews at a good price and, best of all, had good availability.
If I’d done more planning/had more time/both, I would have preferred to take a boat trip along the Navigli canal instead of the disappointing bar hopping I did.
21. Mistake the Arco della Pace for the Arch de Triomphe
How to do it: Bars and restaurants seemed over-priced with poor service, which you can easily predict just by looking at how popular the area is. I therefore can’t recommend any of the bars I tried. I did, however, strike lucky with a restaurant for dinner – Cartoccio.
22. Admire the size of Sforza Castle
How to do it: You can book a boat trip for just €12 with the local canal cruise company here.
I typically wear a below the knee dress and either a light cardigan or throw a scarf around my shoulders. If you get caught out (turning up in your bum-skimming denims and spaghetti strap top), you will be offered the opportunity to buy (cost: around 3 gelatos) a hospital-like gown that you will never, ever wear again. Available in a choice of nun-esque white or blue.
23. Drink from Milan’s water fountains
Excelsior Hotel Gallia – would be my choice for a good, luxury hotel in a top location if the Grand Hotel is beyond budget.
I visited for the 4th time under duress. It was the annual congregation of me and ‘the German Girls’ (two lovely ladies I met in Mexico…then Colombia…then Greece, Madrid and Liverpool). And we – more specifically, they – chose a weekend trip to Milan because it was one of the cheapest places we could all get to from our home towns.
24. Do some cat spotting at the castle
How to do it: the cats tend to chill out in the moat (now empty and grassed) inside the castle. If you have cat lady aspirations, check out the (tourist) video above of one of the official cat ladies feeding the cats. Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, I imagine there’s a long waiting list for the job.
Some works of art are over-hyped and consequently under-whelming in real life (Mona Lisa, anyone?) The Last Supper was not one of them. I attribute this to the fact that you are designated a 15 minute slot to visit Leonardo Da Vinci’s 15th century painting inside the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Group sizes are limited (23 in my group) and one group is ushered out before the next group is allowed in. This has the result that when you walk into the room, it is empty and silent, with the mural waiting for you at the end of the room. Far more impactful than having to jump (5ft tall person here) to catch a glimpse of Mona Lisa’s (not) smile above the sea of phones and cameras. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Milan.
25. Consider the Needle, Thread & Knot open air modern art work…thing
Grand Hotel – this is the place I’d be staying if I was in the shopping at Gucci and Verdi at La Scala price range. It’s in the Leading Hotels of The World collection for a reason.
I really did not explore Milan all those previous trips if I didn’t know that Milan used to be just like Venice – a canal city. And it’s every bit as beautiful as Venice (check out my Alternative Guide to Venice if you’re on a trip through Italy). Surrounded by bars, restaurants and art galleries, it’s a lovely place to take a sunset stroll and is definitely one of the best things to see in Milan.
26. Get an extravagant coffee (or another gelato) at Venchi cafe
If you want to have a really local experience in Milan, you’ll skip the expensive bottled water (or free hotel bathroom water) and use the city’s hundreds of drinking fountains. Pumping out a continual flow of fresh, highly drinkable water from the Alps and Milan’s lakes, the fountains are called vedovelle, young widows, because they don’t stop crying.
Whatever reason, I didn’t quite get Milan.
27. Take the Milan City Sightseeing Bus
It’s been a while since I mentioned gelato so here’s another highly rated option to try in the city. Gelato Libre came to me as a recommendation from more than one source, so I was excited to try it. Gelato Libre is know for adding a touch of near-alchemy to it’s gelato and the menu read a bit like a science experiment. And, for me, tasted like one too. Which is to say, it was not my favourite gelato in the city. But don’t let that stop you trying it. It’s highly recommended by people with more sophisticated tastebuds than me.
Cheap, it turned out, because it was the two weeks in August when everybody else has fled the city thanks to the heat. (Don’t visit mid-August, was another lesson learned). But this fourth visit taught me something else. There is actually a lot of things to do in Milan. You just need to unpick the good bits from the concrete jungle they exist within.
28. Rickshaw around Milan
If you only have one day in Milan, here’s what I’d do:
Later, with the German Girls, I returned. After a bit more looking, we spotted it, and, curious we went inside…where my mind was promptly blow. I’m not a coffee chain fan. I will use them for convenience (free wifi and loos) but give me an indie cafe any day. I was consequently a bit annoyed at how impressed I was with this coffee wonderland that I wouldn’t otherwise have attached to the Starbucks brand.
29. Scan the skyline for Torre Unicredit – the tallest building in Italy
How to do it: wander Isola and have your camera ready. Read more about street art in Milan including where to find it here.
30. Try to spot the U.S. Safety Rooms
Four trips in the making, here’s my guide to things to do in Milan. And I’m going to kick off this list with what is by far the best thing to do in Milan…
If you want to listen to a performance of Verdi and are looking at tickets a few weeks in advance, be prepared to open your wallet and let a couple of hundred euros fly out (per ticket). It’s no surprise given it’s considered to be one of the leading opera theatres in the world. But if you have patience and luck and planning skills (and also don’t need to listen to Verdi), you can bag pretty cheap seats at La Scala.
31. Escape the (bulk of the) traffic in Brera
How to do it:
32. Pretend you’re in Venice at Milan’s Navigli canal
Ostello Bello – this is my favourite hostel in the city. Walking distance to the Duomo, free welcome drink on arrival and nightly happy hour (cheap drinks and free food) tick a lot of budget boxes.
- it was created to transport the marble to build the Duomo
- it was shut down under Mussolini because of the stench
- many of the canals still exist but are underground
I mentioned that there were no museums on this list so if you need an art fix, check out the installation in Piazzale Cardona, outside Cardona Station. I thought Ago, Filo e Nodo was some sort of olympic reference due to the colours or at least something more symbolic than being the colour of the metro lines in Milan, but that’s modern art for you.
33. Take a (not-gondola) boat trip on Navigli canal
Want your tour of the city to have an alternative edge, hire one of the city rickshaws to give you a tour. I didn’t have time to do this so can’t tell you how it is but it sure looked fun when I saw other tourists whizzing around in them.
34. Visit Milan’s Vertical Forest – Bosca Vertigo
Until this trip.
How to do it: You can find out more about Borsa Italia here. It’s not far from the Duomo.
Fourth time lucky, here’s my list of Milan’s highlights. Some of them will be on every list of things to do in Milan but others will hopefully be alternative things to do in Milan.
35. Try experimental gelato at Gelato Libre
Not feeling the steps? There is lift access – just make sure you pre-book the lift ticket.
Oh, and if you are planning a trip to New York, here’s my guide to how to see the New York version of the Statue of Liberty.
36. Spot Milan’s hidden courtyards
How to do it: You can see what’s on offer on Gelato Libre’s Facebook page here.
How to do it: See my map below. Via Dante is very close to the Duomo and is easy for a quick look if you don’t want to spend your entire time shopping. If you are in Milan to shop, City Life Shopping District is apparently the place to be – a place that I will probably never see.
37. Take a pasta break in Milan’s Chinatown
There’s little other reason to visit this suburban side of Milan beyond the forest building that towers into Milan’s skyline. Still, it’s definitely worth the trip. Just ask Instagram – it’s one of the top things to do in Milan.
38. Snap some street art in Isola
An itinerary for how to spend one day in Milan: If you only have one day in Milan,I’ve included a suggested morning to evening itinerary for how to make the most of your one day in Milan.
39. Keep an ear out for Santa Clause all year round
A long read but lots of tips: I wanted to share all of my tips for visiting Milan so you can get the best experience and value for money. It’s turned out to be a long read. But there are 3 gelato recommendations for your reading efforts.
Milan Duomo Clothing Rules:
40. Don’t miss Milan at night
If you hear the tinkle of bells in Milan, there’s every chance you’ll spot a local man riding a bike dressed in a Santa Clause suit. I don’t know much more about the man and the reason he bikes the city dressed as Santa but I know that he is a local feature.
Getting around Milan
At risk of rousing the Internet trolls, I could take or leave street art but in the interests of research, I wandered the streets around Isola and snapped some pretty nice works of art.
How to do it: You can read more about Leonardo Da Vinci’s vineyard here. You can check out visitor information here.
The Duomo di Milano is one of the few churches in Italy where you have to pay to enter (look at the building around the back and you’ll see it’s also one of the only churches that has been monetised with paid advertising hung on it – who said the church wasn’t a modern organisation, huh?)
Where to stay in Milan
How to do it: The art is hard to miss, outside the station. You can read more about it here. Not impressed? Go treat yourself to another Chocolat Milano gelato – it’s a short stroll away.
How to do it: beautifully illuminated, the Duomo, Sforza Castle, the Galleria and Navigli Canal are my favourite sights after dark.
Metro: the Metro is very simple to use. Download Citymapper before you travel. The tickets are a bit harder to figure out. Do your research on zones and days in the city before you get to the ticket machines.
You won’t find much on this site about shopping, let alone shopping of the high-end, designer variety. I don’t know…I’d much rather have a trip to Tahiti than a bit of leather to put my snacks and passport in. But I accept that some people like this pastime so if Gucci is on your list of things to do in Milan, I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting to shop until the bank cuts off your credit cards.
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