Italy’s financial heart and the home of the national stock exchange is also a global fashion capital...
... and the place where you’ll find Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, one of the world’s greatest cathedrals and many of its finest art collections. And then there’s football, making Milan a contender for the most multi-talented of modern cities.
Milan’s compact historic district is easy to explore in a few hours without feeling too rushed. Begin at the beginning with a visit to Duomo di Milano, the enormous Gothic cathedral at the heart of the city. Stump up the small charge to take a guided tour of the roof, forested with 135 ornately carved spires and offering stunning views across the city.
Book tickets in advance to gaze upon The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci’s mural, in Santa Maria delle Grazie just west of Duomo. All visitors have a strict 15-minute audience with the world’s most famous fresco, which leaves you a little time to look round the convent in which it was painted in 1497.
You can linger as long as you like over other Da Vincis in the Ambrosian Pinacoteca, although you may want to spare a few minutes for the rest of the art. Considered to be one of the finest in Europe, the collection of drawings here dates back to the late 16th century and contains works by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Borromeo and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Michelangelo’s last known work is in the Pietà Rondanini Museum on the edge of Parco Sempione. It makes for a fitting end to the morning, and a chance to see one of the city loveliest parks at the same time.
After spending hours immersed in Milan’s culture, turn your attention to the more down-to-earth matter of lunch. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a good choice for chic cafés and restaurants, and gives you an excuse to wander round one of Italy’s most extravagantly designed shopping arcades.
Alternatively, head north of Duomo towards Brera and join locals for classic Milanese cooking in one of the district’s traditional trattoria.
A morning of sightseeing in the city centre is a good start to the weekend. Climb to the roof of Duomo di Milano and you can see for miles. It’s good place to get your bearings before more in-depth, ground-level exploring.
Drop in on nearby Museo Poldi Pizzoli. The collection of Italian and Flemish Old Masters is one of the finest in Europe. The gallery itself began life as a private home, only joining the great Milanese tradition of ‘house museums’ in the early 1800s.
Milan’s Chinatown sits north of Duomo.The largest and oldest in Italy, packed with authentic restaurants, it’s a lively area for lunch, especially at the weekend.
When in Milan, it’s almost compulsory to shop, or at least browse. This afternoon, walk north of Piazza del Duomo, stroll through Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II and you’ll come to four of the world’s most fashionable streets: Via della Spiga, Via Montenapoleone, Corso Venezia and Via Sant’Andrea. Known collectively as the ‘fashion quadrangle’, they form the city’s heartland of designer shopping.
In the evening, make your way to Navigli, the canal-side district once known as the City on Water, now one Milan’s liveliest areas for restaurants, bars and clubs.
Spend a morning in Parco Sempione, one of the Milan’s many parks and gardens, and the one closest to the city centre. A great spot for an active start to the day, it’s known for the running trails round its monumental outdoor art collection.
If you still have an inclination to shop, the weekend is when locals descend on designer outlets circled around the city. The most popular, Serraville just over an hour's drive away, is also the largest in Europe. It’s home to more 300 brands, many of which have flagship stores in the centre of Milan.
Head to Corso Como this evening and spend some time in the city’s most glamorous district. It’s not the area to attempt on a budget, but several of Milan’s best restaurants and bars are here, and the people-watching alone is worth the price of a drink.
Dedicate at least one day entirely to art in Milan. The city has several world-class collections, many in or around Piazza del Duomo. Begin with Old Masters at Museo Poldi Pizzoli, then move on to the Accademia Ambrosiana for drawings by the likes of Da Vinci and Botticelli in the Pinacoteca. Visit La Trienale di Milano in Parco Sempo to see the very best in Italian design. And finish your grand tour just minutes away, with a look at Michelangelo’s last known work in the Pietà Rondanini Museum, on the edge of the park.
Take a break from culture and go shopping. Start with the elegantly hushed stores in Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II, minutes from Piazza del Duomo. Think about stopping for lunch in one of the arcade’s smart restaurants. Then wander northwards to the ‘quadrangle’ formed by Via della Spiga, Via Montenapoleone, Corso Venezia and Via Sant’Andrea. The signage here reads like an international Who’s Who of fashion design, and it’s one of the most expensive shopping districts in Italy, so you may want to stick with browsing.
Leave the city behind and drive north to the colourful little town of Bellagio on the edge of Lake Como. Have lunch in a waterfront restaurant and admire the spectacular alpine scenery, then catch an afternoon cruise and learn a little about the history of the lake.
Make today all about Milan’s most famous landmark, Duomo di Milano. One of the world’s largest Gothic cathedrals, it dates back to the 14th century but wasn’t considered completely finished until 1965. That curious tale is one of many surrounding this complex monument, so taking time out for a guided tour is always worthwhile, particularly if access to the roof is included in the cost.
Early-evening aperitivo is a lively affair on and around Piazza del Duomo, so make a point of taking part after you’ve discovered all there is to know about the cathedral.
Milan is well known for larger museums and galleries, but it’s also a city for specialist interests too. The fascinating Museo Teatrale alla Scala is an excellent example. Packed with theatrical memorabilia, historic costumes, dramatic artefacts and some very odd musical instruments, it can be seen as part of a tour of the opera house if you wish. By complete contrast, Milan-Inter Museum explores the city’s enduring passion for football in great detail at San Siro Stadium. Both are close to the historic centre, and easily doable in a day.
There are more than 50 parks and gardens scattered across Milan, some carefully manicured and others almost wild. Hire a BikeMi today and spend some time getting to know the city’s green spaces on two wheels.
You could fill a week and more shopping your way round the designer outlet villages encircling the outskirts of Milan. With only a day in hand, head to Serraville, where you’ll find more than 300 brand stores, along with restaurants and cafés. It’s just over an hour east of the city centre.