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).
Whatever reason, I didn’t quite get Milan.
Until this trip.
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.
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.
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.
A few notes on my guide to Milan
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.
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.
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.
Why am I against churches? I’m not. I’ve just seen too many of them. Proof: Jesus himself pops up in my Google Photos as one of my Friends & Family. I’m not even kidding.
Museums in Milan: I LOVE museums. The German Girls don’t. So I still haven’t visited a single museum in Milan (is that the call of a 5th visit to the city I hear?). If you want to visit some museums, here’s a list of over 50 to choose from.
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.
40 Best Things to Do in Milan
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…
1. Eat Gelato at Chocolat Milano
If you have time to do only one thing in Milan, do this. Having spent an awful lot of time in Italy, and running a separate blog about the Prosecco region of Italy, you can safely assume I’ve done a lot of gelato eating. I therefore do not say these words lightly: the gelato at Chocolato Milan is by far some of the best gelato I have ever eaten. How good? On my last day in Milan my only goal for the day was returning to give this gelato one more taste.
How to do it:
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.
2. Get tickets for Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper
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.
How to get tickets for the Last Supper
Tickets at face value: I don’t know of any other attraction that is more difficult to get hold of tickets. Looking online at the official website, the earlier I could buy the Last Supper tickets was 2 years ahead. I currently don’t know where I’ll be living in 2 months so the chance of me planning a vacay that far in advance? Not going to happen. Most people won’t think about what to do in Milan until they get there so you might feel like you’ve missed out by not planning a couple of weeks ahead. You haven’t. Your chance of getting tickets at face value is pretty much 0.01%. Why? Two words – ticket touts.
Last minute tickets through a tour: if you want to see the Last Supper, you’re going to have to book a tour. I was loathe to do this but after 3 previous disappointments at not seeing the painting, I booked at tour and I didn’t regret it. Not only was I able to get last-minute tickets, the tour guide gave valuable information about the picture and I even got a Milan walking tour thrown in for free. Ok, not exactly free but it felt like a bonus (more on that below). As Milan tours go, booking one to see the Last Supper is all but essential.
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.
Tips for visiting Leonard Da Vinci’s Last Supper:
- there are free lockers if you’re visiting with a backpack (me).
- if you are going on a walking tour, take water with you – it’s expensive along the way and, you know, single use-plastic is evil.
- if you arrive by metro, Conciliazione is closest and there is no signposting. If you don’t have data for Google maps, download Maps.me app for Milan (while on wifi) and navigate using the GPS for free.
3. Visit Da Vinci’s Vineyard in the centre of Milan
If I told you that Leonardo Da Vinci once owned a vineyard and that it’s still within the centre of Milan, you might struggle to believe me. I wasn’t convinced either, but there it is. Admittedly it’s a small vineyard but it’s close to the Last Supper and is the place where the famous painter would retreat for a glass of wine after a day of working on the painting. La dolce vita, huh?
How to do it: You can read more about Leonardo Da Vinci’s vineyard here. You can check out visitor information here.
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.
4. Climb to the top of the Duomo di Milano
My favourite part about the Duomo is the ability to climb to the top of it. Milan isn’t the prettiest city you’ll see sprawling in front of you but fortunately getting up close to those intricate spires more than makes up for it. And that’s what makes this one of the top things to do in Milan.
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.
An easier Duomo ticket for just 10 cents more: if you book direct, you will need to print your ticket and there is a 4-point list on how to fold your ticket (also not a joke). If this sounds too stressful (the folding part made me particularly anxious) or not possible (AirBnb lacking a printer?), you can buy a ticket through Get Your Guide – this is the cheapest roof access ticket I found which is just €0.10 more than buying direct. And you get a scannable ticket on your phone. It’s probably also your best chance at a last-minute ticket.
Not feeling the steps? There is lift access – just make sure you pre-book the lift ticket.
Tips for climbing the Duomo in Milan:
- get the early morning tickets to avoid the queues. We strolled straight in and up with our 10 a.m. tickets, mid-August. If it was June or July, I would have opted for the 8 a.m. slot.
- there are very strict Cathedral Clothing Rules (more below) – fortunately, these don’t apply to the climb so strip down while you can…no, not that stripped down. You’re still in public.
- no backpacks allowed for this one.
5. Visit inside the Duomo di Milano (this is the only church on the list!)
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:
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?)
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.
Milan Duomo Clothing Rules:
- 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)
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.
6. Spot the original Statue of Liberty
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.
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.
7. Check out the crystal coffin in the Duomo crypt
If it’s included in my ticket price, I’m going to do it. And the crystal coffin tucked into the crypt of the Duomo di Milan got bonus points for being both morbid and creepy (IMO). The coffin contain a 16th century former Archbishop of Milan, Saint Carlo Borromeo.
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.
8. Whip around the Duomo Museum
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: 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.
If you only have one day in Milan: I’ve put the duomo climb, church and crypt together as they make sense geographically. If you are trying to explore Milan in one day, I’d do the climb definitely but pop into the church and the crypt only if there are no queues. The Duomo museum, I’d skip if you’re short on time.
9. Stop by Milan’s Stock Exchange for a bit of a surprise
Wikipedia tells me that Borsa Italia is Italy’s only stock exchange. And the building is definitely worth a photo or two. However, it’s thanks to the next item on my list that this landmark building is getting so many tourists stopping by.
How to do it: You can find out more about Borsa Italia here. It’s not far from the Duomo.
10. Give the middle finger to finance
Slap bang in the centre of Piazalle Affari is a giant hand with its middle finger extended. What leaves you in no doubt abut the meaning of the statue is its location slap bang in front of Milan’s stock exchange, Borsa Italia. The statue was placed in 2010 and is called L.O.V.E, standing for Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità – Freedom, Hate, Vengeance, Eternity.
Whether you support the sentiment or not, it makes for a shocking sight/hilarious photo, depending on your perspective on these things.
How to do it: You can read more about the statue here.
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.
11. Take a walking tour of Milan
Chances are, if you’ve booked tickets to the Last Supper, you’ll get a ‘free’ walking tour of the city. The stops were pretty much the highlights of Milan that I’d seen on past visits (Duomo, La Scala, Galleria etc) but it was the insider info that made this so worthwhile. In fact, it was these few hours with the tour guide that opened up my mind to the idea of Milan’s hidden beauty and made me want to explore the city further (rather than spend my whole time inside a gelateria as per all my previous trips).
How to do it: if you book the same Last Supper tour I did, the walking tour will be included in your ticket price. Typically you see the Last Supper first and then walk the city for a couple of hours. People peeled off as the walk went on and the guide was fine with that. But I’d recommend staying until the end, if only so you can ask for restaurant recommendations.
If you haven’t booked Last Supper tickets which includes a walking tour, you can find a free walking tour (no Last Supper visit) here. (Free, though I hope your conscience reminds you that the guides only make a living if you give a tip).
Itinerary for One Day in Milan
If you only have one day in Milan, here’s what I’d do:
- 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…
It apparently took 47 years for Starbucks to infiltrate Italy (if you don’t appreciate how serious the Italians are about their coffee, read my article here). The first Italian Starbucks opened in Milan in 2018 and it’s right by the Duomo, not that you’d realise it. “There’s Starbucks,” the tour guide said. We stood for 5 minutes as she talked us through the negotiations that occurred for the coffee chain to open. Yet, I still couldn’t make out which building had Starbucks in it.
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.
What makes it stand out? Well, let’s start with a roastery, an aperitif bar, a liquid notrogen affogato station…do I need to go on?
13. Lunch at Obica in Brera
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.
How to do it: You can find out more about Obica here. We didn’t need to book at lunch time on a Friday so you’ll probably be ok. We sat outside on the ugly road. In hindsight, sitting inside and oggling the fresh ingredients in cool surroundings is the better option.
14. Go broke at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
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.
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?
15. Ensure a return to Milan (and other hocus-pocus)
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.
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).
16. Go up to the Galleria Highline
Not a lot of tourists know this but you can actually go up inside the Galleria. There are various options (with various price points attached). Ranging from a restaurant to a bar to a viewing area. I didn’t have great success on my try – the Galleria Highline was closed until 4 p.m. and I’m too much of a rule follower to break past the (non-barrier) and explore without permission. Can you do it and let me know whether it was worth it?
How to do it: The entrance is pretty incognito. Facing the Duomo, find the pharmacy (big, green illuminated cross) and search for the lift/elevator a few doors down. Take the lift and choose your viewing pleasure. You can find out more here.
with the peasants high street brands on Via Dante
Can’t afford Gucci? No, me either. But want to go home with some form of fashion purchase from Milan? Go shopping on Via Dante. There, you’ll find a selection of high street shops that us mere mortals can afford.
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.
18. Try to get your mitts on La Scala Opera tickets
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.
How to do it: check the theatre website and dodge the ticket touts (unless you do absolutely need to go and experience the opera at La Scala). I’ve only ever taken a picture of the building from the outside and can confirm that in my non-professional opinion, it’s not all that, even despite it’s age (built in 1778). If you want to see inside without spending on the opera, you can book a tour – you can find tickets here.
19. Sit in Sempione park
There’s not much greenery in Milan which can feel a bit like sensory deprivation. When you’re ready to see some green, get to Sempione park. There’s not a huge deal to do there but – grass, my friends, real, live grass amidst the concrete-church jungle.
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.
20. Get a park snack at Van Bol & Feste
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.
How to do it: a short walk from the park, skip the restaurant seating (and service charge) and take your focaccia (or gelato) al fresco. I can highly recommend the mortadella and the tomato focaccia. You can ogle the bakery in advance here.
21. Mistake the Arco della Pace for the Arch de Triomphe
If you’ve visited more than a handful of cities you’ll have seen more than a handful of triumph arches and Milan has one of its own located in Sempione Park. These triumph arches seems to have undergone a PR campaign over the centuries – what were once called triumphant arches to celebrate the warriors of great wars have been rebranded as peace arches. Seems to have worked, what with there being no more wars in the world…oh, wait…
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.
22. Admire the size of Sforza Castle
How the flipperty-heck I’d been to Milan so many times and never spotted Sforza Castle is beyond me, especially when every Internet search will tell you it’s one of the best places to visit in Milan. While it’s not the most elaborate castle, it wins a vote for its imposing size with extra credit for allowing free entry to the grounds.
How to do it: You can enter the castle for free. There are frequent musical events and art exhibitions. Check the listings here.
23. Drink from Milan’s water fountains
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.
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.
24. Do some cat spotting at the castle
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.
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.
25. Consider the Needle, Thread & Knot open air modern art work…thing
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.
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.
26. Get an extravagant coffee (or another gelato) at Venchi cafe
Speaking of gelato…check out Venchi cafe. This was a recommendation of the guide from my walking tour and it was an excellent suggestion. The only problem was, I’d just had a disappointing gelato and didn’t have enough stomach space to fit in another. I did, however, manage to squeeze in an elaborate coffee that was half caffeine, half desert. One of the German Girls confirmed that the gelato was divine.
How to do it: there are a few Venchi branches around the city. You can find a list of shops on their website. If you really get stuck for time, there is one at Malpense airport.
27. Take the Milan City Sightseeing Bus
If you think you can see the city’s sights in a couple of hour’s walking tour, you’ll be dead wrong. I walked 25k in one day, used the metro to cut down on some distances and still I didn’t cover even a fraction of Milan. Enter: the City Sightseeing Bus. I’ve come to love these buses as a way of getting to know the layout of a city. Usually complete with fun facts and groovy music, the hop-on-hop-off buses are definitely one of the best ways to get around the sights. Confession: I have yet to take this one in Milan but I’ve no doubt it’s as good as the others I’ve used around the world by the same company.
How to do it: You can book tickets here with Get Your Guide – it’s exactly the same price as booking direct but you get the handy mobile ticket. Also, the City Sightseeing website shows tickets priced from €10 which must be for unicorns because they don’t have normal adult tickets at that price. That falls into my sneaky marketing tactics basket, for me. Anyway, tickets cost €22 for one day or €25 for 2 days or €28 for 3 days.
28. Rickshaw around Milan
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.
How to do it: you can find out more and book here.
29. Scan the skyline for Torre Unicredit – the tallest building in Italy
Having been up the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, I wasn’t too quick to attach the word ‘tallest’ to the Unicredit building in Milan. It sits a mere 231 metres high but nevertheless it is not just Milan’s tallest skyscraper, it’s the tallest building in Italy.
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.
30. Try to spot the U.S. Safety Rooms
Admittedly, I thought the signs for the U.S Safety rooms were a quirk of modern graffiti making some sort of anti-Trump political statement. Turns out these signs are far less modern and have nothing to do with the USA. U.S. stands for uscita sicura, meaning secure exit. They were bunkers during the war and the signs have been repainted as a reminder to never repeat the past.
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).
31. Escape the (bulk of the) traffic in Brera
Milan is a city so it can’t be blamed for having streets thick with traffic. The good news is there is an escape very near the Duomo, called Brera. Characterised by narrow streets, it’s got a much quieter feel. Littered with bars and restaurants, this is the area to go if you want a fume-free al fresco lunch.
How to do it: Ridiculously, I ate lunch at a restaurant (Obica, above) that was on the periphery of Brera meaning we were next to a road. Good pizza, though, so no complaints. Here’s another place to try that was recommended to me – Brera Nabucco.
32. Pretend you’re in Venice at Milan’s Navigli canal
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.
Fun facts about Milan’s canal system:
- 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
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.
33. Take a (not-gondola) boat trip on Navigli canal
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.
34. Visit Milan’s Vertical Forest – Bosca Vertigo
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.
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.
35. Try experimental gelato at Gelato Libre
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.
36. Spot Milan’s hidden courtyards
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.
How to do it: I poked my nose into a few but I have to admit that I didn’t make a very conscientious note of where they were. HInstead, here’s someone else’s list of 5 courtyards in the city.
37. Take a pasta break in Milan’s Chinatown
What? Don’t eat pasta in Italy? Am I genuinely insane? Possibly but variety is reputed to be the spice of life and even if you don’t eat in Chinatown, it’s worth a visit just to experience that ‘am I still in Italy’ feel. For me, it was nice to pretend to be in Asia with the German Girls who’ve I’ve met in both Latin America and Europe but never Asia.
How to do it: The restaurant we ate at had no name. My best advice is to sniff the air and follow your nose. The absence of any English menu translation is a good hint that you’re going to eat local (Chinatown local, that is). Really can’t bring yourself to do it? Dumplings were translated as ravioli. So, it’s almost pasta.
38. Snap some street art in Isola
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: wander Isola and have your camera ready. Read more about street art in Milan including where to find it here.
39. Keep an ear out for Santa Clause all year round
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.
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.
40. Don’t miss Milan at night
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.
How to do it: beautifully illuminated, the Duomo, Sforza Castle, the Galleria and Navigli Canal are my favourite sights after dark.
Getting around Milan
From Malpensa Airport: The Malpensa Express is a train that will take you into the city for around €13 one-way. Trains run every 30 minutes but the train is hardly express, taking up to an hour, depending on your end station. On that note, check a map instead of just bailing out at Centrale and catching the Metro. There are several main stops within the city and one might be closer to your hotel than Centrale which isn’t that central at all. I use Trainline for all my European train planning. They have a cool app with live train and platform info that’s often more up to date than the local websites.
From Bergamo Airport: though not technical within Milan, Bergamo airport is actually a pretty straight shot into the city. Leave the airport and there will be a choice of buses heading to the city for around €12 one-way. I’ve used Terravision before and they successfully delivering me in one piece.
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.
Buses and trams – there are buses and trams but I didn’t use either – let me know if you’ve got any tips for my next visit. Otherwise, Citymapper should help with routes.
Where to stay in Milan
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.
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.
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.
Excelsior Hotel Gallia – would be my choice for a good, luxury hotel in a top location if the Grand Hotel is beyond budget.
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.
More of my Italy blog posts
Planning a longer trip to Italy? You might be interested some of my other posts:
Blog posts to help you plan your trip
The Only Packing List You’ll Ever Need (with printable checklist)