Milan is Italy’s industrial, financial, and fashion capital. It’s a big city, but it doesn’t have the same appeal to tourists like Venice, Florence, or Rome. You may be debating whether to include Milan on your itinerary.
When there are many bucket-list worthy places to visit in Italy, it’s not surprising many travelers skip Milan. Despite what you may have heard, the city does have a lot to offer visitors from unique architecture to famous art and delicious food.
If you have a limited amount of time, is Milan worth visiting? It depends. Considering all the reasons there are to visit Milan, if you can squeeze some time in to explore Milan, you won’t regret it.
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Milan is located in the Lombardy region in northern Italy. It is the second-most populous city (over 3 million in the metropolitan area) in Italy after Rome. The city’s business district is home to the Italian stock exchange and offices of many national and international companies.
The city was relentlessly bombed during World War II, and plenty of buildings had to be rebuilt after the war came to an end. Consequently, Milan doesn’t have the medieval charm of other Italian towns and is sometimes overlooked as a holiday destination. Take the time to visit Milan and you will find a city that is vibrant, with many neighborhoods to explore and many points of interest.
11 Reasons to Visit Milan
You may have read that Milan is overrated or just a big city, so you are thinking – Why visit Milan? Well, there are several compelling reasons.
The Duomo is reason enough to visit Milan. It is one of the most spectacular churches I have ever visited. When you see all the detailed-work, you can understand why it took 500 years to build. The stained glass inside is some of the most vibrant I have seen (not quite like La Sagrada Familia though).
When you visit, be sure to go to the roof as well (tickets should be booked in advance). From there, not only are there breathtaking views of the city but you can also get a close look at some of the carvings on the building.
Easy to Get to – Direct Flights from Everywhere
Milan actually has three airports making it easy to get to wherever you are coming from. The main airport is Malpensa (MXP) which is the second busiest in the country. There are also Linate Airport (LIN) and Bergamo (BGY).
All these airports have reasonable public transportation into the center of Milan. From the USA, there are direct flights to MXP from one of the NYC airports on Alitalia, American, Emirates, Delta, and United Airlines. From within Europe, there are plenty of flight options, including with low-cost carriers like Ryanair.
The Duomo is not the only impressive piece of architecture you will see in Milan, there is a mix of styles from different time periods. Architecture lovers won’t want to miss:
Milano Centrale (Milan Central Station) is an imposing structure with sculptures of winged horses, lions, bulls, and eagles on its roof.
Castello Sforzesco is a 15th-century castle that has been a residence, military fortress, and now a museum complex. The castle’s defenses were designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Bosco Verticale, which translates to “Vertical Forest,” is comprised of two modern residential towers. Instead of traditional cladding materials, they used screens of vegetation creating a distinct microclimate to improve the sustainability of the structure. The buildings are home to over 700 trees and 15,000 smaller plants.
Milan is a wonderful city for art lovers. You can see one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, The Last Supper, in the refectory (Cenacolo) at Santa Maria delle Grazie. (If you want to see this painting, plan ahead. Tickets sell out very quickly, so you should book least one month in advance). Depending on your interests there are several art museums in Milan that you might enjoy:
- The Fondazione Prada is a contemporary art gallery that opened in 2015 in a former gin distillery in the southern outskirts of the city. The centerpiece of the gallery is the Haunted House which is a four-story building covered with gold leaf. Since only 20 people can visit the Haunted House at a time, make sure to book a time slot when purchasing your entry ticket.
- The Museo del Novecento is dedicated to 20th-century art and it’s terrace offers wonderful views over the square with the Duomo. While one room includes works by international artists, the bulk of the museum focuses on Italian art, with sections dedicated to the major art movements of the time.
- The Museo Poldi Pezzoli is the home and private collection of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, a wealthy 19th-century nobleman. The house has been renovated to provide the perfect background for the precious art collection that includes paintings and sculptures from the Italian and Northern European masters.
- The Pinacoteca di Brera has a collection of paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the Romantic period in a stunning neoclassic building.
The food in Italy is some of the best I have ever had. In Milan, the restaurant scene is diverse. You can find establishments serving all types of international cuisines. While you are visiting Milan, you should also try its local traditional dishes like Risotto alla Milanese, Ossobuco, Cassoeula, and Cotoletta alla Milanese. Don’t forget to leave some room for gelato.
Milan is known to have some of the best nightlife in Europe. Whether you prefer bars, discos, or something more casual, there are plenty of options. Start the evening with “aperitivo” which is the happy hour custom of a drink or two accompanied by tasty snacks. (Locals say the aperitivo was invented here.)
Most bars will stay open until midnight or later. Discos, some of which don’t even open until 11 p.m., stay open until the very wee hours. Find suggestions on the best bars, nightclubs, discos, and more here.
Day Trip Possibilities
With Milan’s location and transportation connections, there are many exciting day trip options:
- The resort area of Lake Como, popular with the elite, can be easily reached with a local train departing from the Central station or Cordusio station.
- The food capital of Italy, Bologna, is just an hour and 15 minutes away by train.
- The historical university town, Pavia, is located nearby. Just north of the town, you will find the Certosa di Pavia, a Renaissance monastery complex, known for its sculptural and fresco decorations.
- The home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona, is only an hour and a half from Milan.
Since Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is a good place for shopping. There are a plethora of shops and boutiques to check out, so make sure there is some extra room in your suitcase to bring back all the goodies.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, right by the Duomo, is the most beautiful shopping mall I have ever seen. With the floor mosaics and the steel-and-glass canopy, it feels like a luxurious place.
If you want to splurge, head to Via Montenapoleone where all the main luxury stores are located. There is also a wide variety of mid-range stores and small, family-run shops. The best places for shoppers are Corso Buenos Aires, Via Torino, and the Duomo area.
This theater opened in 1778 is regarded as one of the leading opera and ballet theaters in the world. It underwent a major renovation from 2002 to 2004. All its seats now include monitors for the electronic libretto system so audiences can follow along in English and Italian in addition to the original language.
Check the performance schedule and get tickets here. If a show doesn’t fit in your budget or itinerary then La Scala has a lovely museum where you learn all about its history.
It’s Easy to Get Around
Most of the tourist attractions in Milan are located in the city center, so if you stay in a central location you will be able to walk to many places and won’t even need to rely on public transportation. When you do need to go further, the subway, known as Milan Metropolitana, covers the city’s most important points, runs frequently, and is usually on time. You can get to most places in Milan in no more than 30 minutes with a standard one-way ticket that only costs 1.50 euros.
There are also trams and buses, but those are not as reliable as the metro and might be more difficult to use for those that don’t speak Italian.
It’s not as Touristy as other Cities
Most tourists flock to Rome, Florence, and Venice. While I love all those cities, some areas feel like tourist traps. Except for the area around the Duomo, Milan feels more like real-world Italy.
The ratio of locals to tourists in Milan is much more balanced than in the other popular Italian cities. You can explore the different neighborhoods and pretend that you’re a resident.
Should You Visit Milan?
As you can see there are many reasons to visit Milan, but does that mean it should be included in your Italian trip? Not necessarily. It’s difficult because there are countless amazing places in Italy. Can you justify choosing Milan over other Italian destinations?
Even though I enjoyed my time in Milan and would go back in a heartbeat, it is not my favorite city in Italy. If you haven’t been to Rome, Venice, or Florence, those cities should be higher on your list.
If you can fit Milan into the itinerary, you won’t regret it. The easiest way may be to choose a flight into or out of Milan and spend a day or two there before taking the train to the other places on your list. If you have already visited Rome, Venice, and Florence, it would be lovely to make another trip to explore more of northern Italy and make Milan your base.
What is the Best Time to Visit Milan?
The best time to visit Milan is in the fall or spring. The weather is mild and you avoid the summer crowds. In July and August, it can get hot and humid, so many locals head away for their summer vacations. In the winter, it can be cold, so it’s the time the fewest people visit. Those not bothered by the weather may be able to get the best hotel deals.
How Long Should I Stay in Milan?
To do Milan justice, you need at least three days. If you are pressed for time, it’s possible to squeeze the top attractions (Duomo and Last Supper) into one day. Alternatively, stay longer and make Milan your base to explore northern Italy and do a few day trips.
Where Should I Stay in Milan?
If you are coming to Milan to see the city’s main tourist attractions, it’s most convenient to stay in the Centro Storico. It is the historic city center, right next to the Milan Duomo, and within easy walking distance of all the major sights in the city.
If you want to splurge, stay at the Armani Hotel Milano. The building is shaped like an “A” and Giorgio Armani approved every element of the hotel himself. Check price and availability here or read more reviews on Tripadvisor here.
For something not quite as exclusive, stay at the Room Mate Giulia. This boutique hotel is a work of art in itself. Check price and availability here or read more reviews on Tripadvisor here.
If you are minding your budget and want somewhere clean and comfortable, stay at B&B Hotel Milano Sant’Ambrogio. Check price and availability here or read more reviews on Tripadvisor here.
You could also try an Airbnb. See the options here.
Is Milan Worth Visiting?
While Milan may not be the best city in Italy for tourists, it does have a lot to offer and is worth visiting. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you been to Milan? I would love to hear about your experience.
If you are planning a trip, be sure to check out my vacation planning checklist.
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