Top 5 sights for first-timers
Duomo di Milano
Milan’s magnificent Duomo is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. With 135 spires and 3,200 statues on the roof alone, it took over 500 years to complete. Climb the stairs (or take the lift) to the roof for superb views of the Renaissance Piazza del Duomo below.
Via Arcivescovado 1
The Last Supper
Along with the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper (1495) is arguably the most famous of all Leonardo da Vinci’s works. Commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, the tempura mural covers an entire wall of the dining room in the UNESCO-listed 15th-century Santa Maria delle Grazie convent.
Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2
La Scala Opera House and Museum
The spectacular neoclassical La Scala is one of Italy’s oldest opera houses and comes with what has to be one of the world’s most unusual museums. Whether or not you’re an opera fan, you can’t fail to be enchanted by the antique musical instruments – ranging from the beautiful to the utterly bizarre – on display.
Via Filodrammatici 2
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
It might be cathedral-sized but the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is anchored in earthier pursuits, namely shopping. Built in the 18th century, the four-storey arcade boasts a glass roof and an intricate mosaic floor depicting the insignia of four northern cities: the bull of Turin, the wolf of Rome, the lily of Florence and the red cross of Milan.
The former residence of the Dukes of Milan, the Castello Sforzesco is a mighty medieval pile that now plays host to an ever-changing roster of art exhibitions. Once one of the biggest citadels in Europe, its outer fortifications were demolished during Napoleon’s reign and it suffered extensive damage – now repaired – during WWII.
Top 5 sights for old hands
Pinacoteca di Brera
A real treat for art fans, the Pinacoteca di Brera is a little gem of a gallery that is home to works by some of Italy’s most important artists. Housed in a 17th-century former Jesuit college, paintings include Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ, Piero della Francesca’s magnificent Madonna and Child with Saints, and many more from names such as Titian, Tintoretto and Caravaggio.
Via Brera 28
Milan’s central man-made lake has an interesting history, having begun life as a watery landing strip for Mussolini, who was a firm believer in the sea plane. Today it is part of three square kilometres of grassy parkland and forest, and boasts an array of beach clubs as well as two open-air swimming pools.
San Lorenzo Maggiore
One of the first basilica churches ever built, San Lorenzo has a unique place in the history of art. Originally built in the fourth century, it was all but destroyed by fires in the 11th and 12th centuries but was rebuilt in the 15th and 17th centuries. Outside the church stand 16 Corinthian columns; all that remains of the pagan temple that once occupied the site.
Corso di Porta Ticinese 35
Often overlooked in favour of the nearby Piazza Duomo, the Piazzi Mercanti boasts no fewer than four different palaces of varying antiquity and a 16th-century pit flanked by two columns. These were used to humiliate miscreants, who were chained to them with their bottoms exposed.
Connecting Piazza Cordusio with Largo Cairoli, Via Dante is the Oxford Street of Italy: a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare enlivened by some wonderful architecture and thronged with street artists. Along with plentiful shops, the street is also home to the charming Piccolo Teatro (tiny theatre).