Flying into Milan on your trip to Italy? Interested in the cutting edge, trendsetting side of Italy? Ready to bask in world famous sophistication, art, music and culture?
Milan is Italy’s richest city, with the largest metropolitan area. It’s a world fashion capital, and the best place in Italy to see a living blend of old and new.
I lived in Milan for a year in my early 20s, and have been back many times since. My most recent visit was with my husband and 2 children. Check out Milan with Kids if you too are traveling with kids.
Here’s my guide to what makes Milan special, and who it’s best for, so you can decide whether to visit during your trip to Italy. I have tips for:
- when to go to Milan
- what sights to prioritize in Milan
- where to eat and drink near the Duomo
- what to eat and drink in Milan
- how to get around
- where to stay
- how to get to Milan
I look forward to sharing my take on Milan with you. Andiamo! Let’s go!
Table of Contents
WHERE IS MILAN
Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region in northeastern Italy.
In Italian Milan is called Milano.
The pronunciation of Milano is: mee-LAH-noh
Listen to how to pronounce Milano here:
WHY MILAN IS SPECIAL
Milan is likely to be the arrival or departure city for your trip to Italy. It’s home to Italy’s 2nd and 3rd busiest airports: Malpensa (MXP) and Bergamo/Ora al Serio (BGY).
- is Italy’s finance and business engine
- is forward facing and trendsetting
- Is Italy’s fashion city
- oozes style
- has the hum and buzz of an important major city
- things generally work and are efficient
Before I moved there to study, people assured me I’d like Milan because it’s like New York City . . . um, no. Milan sleeps. It’s not frenetic. After all, it is Italian. It is manageable and has cute neighborhoods. But it also buzzes with the pulse of a modern city.
SHOULD I GO TO MILAN, ITALY?
Sì! Yes! If you want to:
- experience modern italy
- put your finger on the pulse of fashion, style and design
- see a blend of old and new
- like shopping
- like bustling cities
Skip it if you:
- hate cities
- dream of the Italian countryside
- want to see traditional Italy and quaint ancient villages
- really just want to relax by the pool with a glass of wine
WHEN SHOULD I GO TO MILAN, ITALY?
If you’re flying in or out of Milan, I recommend taking an extra day to explore the city, no matter what time of year! In fact, many people end up visiting Milan when they’re on their way to or back from other Italian destinations.
Spring (March and April) and fall (September and October) are good times to visit Italy in general, and Milan is no exception! The summer hordes have gone home, and it usually isn’t too cold.
BOX OUT: [Milan is a world fashion capital: keep in mind that the women’s fashion weeks are held every year in February or March and September or October, while men’s fashion weeks are in January and June. This affects hotel prices and availability.]
If you don’t mind the cold, December is also a great time to visit. Milan’s patron saint day, Sant’Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose), is on December 7th, and kicks off the city’s Christmas festivities. The Duomo area is donned with lights and decorations, the shops get all decked out, and Christmas markets pop up (like Oh bej! Oh bej!).
Milan is a fun place in December, but be prepared. In winter, fog descends on the city and it gets cold. I’ve faced my share of New England winters but the cold of Milan got under my skin and in my bones when I lived there. Pack warm– and stylish– clothes!
Use this handy guide to Italian holidays so you can double check on when things may be closed. Italy celebrates holidays that don’t exist in the US, like May 1 and ferragosto. Throughout the year most museums are closed on Mondays. And remember: Milan’s patron saint day is Sant’Ambrogio on December 7.
WHAT TO SEE IN MILAN
Here’s my breakdown of the sights and a map so you can prioritize what looks most interesting to you:
DON’T MISS: The Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
For shopping lovers and Fashionistas: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, Montenapoleone
Art lovers: Sforza Castle, Pinacoteca Brera and The Last Supper
Music lovers: Teatro alla Scala
Sports fans: San Siro Stadium
Nightlife: the Navigli
DON’T MISS: THE DUOMO
Milan’s major cathedral is a gothic marvel of white marble and gargoyles. Even if you’re only in town for a few hours and don’t have time to go in, make sure you see it outside from the huge busy square, or piazza, out front (called the Piazza del Duomo).
BUYING DUOMO TICKETS
Unfortunately you can’t just wander into the Duomo: you now need a ticket to enter. Duomo tickets are for a specific date and entrance time. There are also Fast Track options.
Buy tickets online at the official website or go to the ticket office (Piazza Duomo 14/A): it’s outside the Duomo and across the street on the south side (on the right as you’re facing the Duomo’s facade). The ticket office is open everyday from 9am to 6pm (closed on Christmas).
Bring along a lightweight scarf or long sleeve shirt in summer! There are many rules for visiting the Duomo, including no bare shoulders or knees allowed. When we visited, guards outside were enforcing this rule and denying entry to scores of people: handily, there was a vending machine with lightweight body coverings in the ticket office.
From the roof, the Duomo also offers incredible views of the piazza and the rooftops of Milan. If you’d like to climb up and see the spires and gargoyles up close, you must buy a ticket.
To climb or not to climb? Luckily they’ve made it easy if you’re exhausted but don’t want to forgo sweeping city-top views. You can opt either to take the stairs up, or the elevator! Choose in advance when buying your tickets. There is a big catch: unfortunately the roof is not wheelchair accessible, and you must climb the stairs back down regardless.
Chances are you may find yourself in need of a bathroom while at the Duomo. There are public bathrooms outside on the southwest corner (to the right as you face the facade) but be warned entry costs 2 euros (in 2023).
DON’T MISS: THE GALLERIA
Another must in Milan is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, even if you only have time for a quick walk through. Italy’s oldest shopping arcade (built in 1877), it has an elaborate mosaic floor, soaring iron and glass ceilings, frescoes, elegant cafés, and fancy stores like Prada and Gucci.
La Galleria– as the locals call it– is the perfect place to soak in Milan’s trademark sophistication. First you just have to smoosh your way through the throngs of tourists and influencers taking selfies.
The most famous of the Galleria’s floor mosaics is the toro, or bull. Dig your heel into its testicles and spin around three times for good luck, local tradition says. So many people have dug in over the years that there is a groove worn into where the bull’s poor family jewels should be!
EATING AND DRINKING NEAR BY THE DUOMO AND THE GALLERIA
When you’re in Milan chances are you’ll find yourself in the Duomo area looking for a place to eat, have a drink or get a gelato.
Feeling fancy and don’t mind paying a premium for a meal or coffee? Head to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. You’ll also find high prices along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, the shopping street which runs from the Duomo to Piazza San Babila.
Allergic to extravagant pricing? Do like the locals do and have your coffee or gelato standing up. For example, at Vanilla Gelati Italiani, tucked away behind the Duomo on Via Pattari 2, you can order decent gelato at the counter and eat it on the go, which costs less than their table menu.
Luini (Via Santa Radegonda 16) is a Milan institution for panzerotti (which are like fried pizza pockets). It’s cheap and delicious, just be prepared for the long lines. Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina Sorbillo (Via Agnello 19) serves fried pizza to go.
Tired of paying a fortune for water? Keep an eye out for the water fountain right at the Duomo’s northeast corner by the lift access, where you can fill up your water bottle and drink for free.
SEE AND BE SEEN: IL CORSO
The street packed with shops that runs northeast from the Duomo to Piazza San Babila is called Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, but locals call it simply Il Corso. This is where to go shopping, people watching, parade around in your finest, and go window shopping.
You’ll find all the major Italian (and many international) chains, smaller shops, cafés and restaurants. Explore the streets leading off the Corso as well.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele is great in wet weather or unrelenting hot sun, because it’s lined with porticoes. The porticoes will keep you dry from the rain, and offer shade from the sun.
FASHION LOVERS: MONTE NAPOLEONE
Milan’s fashion district– Montenapoleone– is a must for fashionistas. Milan’s fanciest neighborhood is also called the Quadrilatero della Moda (Fashion Quadrilateral), or the Quad d’Oro (Golden Quad).
Via Monte Napoleone is the heart of it, but don’t forget to explore Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Gesù and Via Bigli. You’ll find boutiques of the world’s biggest fashion names like Fendi, Prada, Versace, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Dior and Louis Vuitton.
If you’re there to actually go shopping, I’m happy for you. Thankfully, if you’re just curious to see what Milan’s haute couture is all about, gazing in the shop windows from the sidewalk is free.
Castello Sforzesco is a real castle right in the center of Milan! It dates back to the 1300s and is in Parco Sempione, the city center’s biggest park.
The Sforza Castle houses a surprising number of museums with treasures to discover. For example, there is the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco with works by Mantegna, Titian, Canaletto and Tintoretto; and the Rondanini Pietà Museum with Michelangelo’s last sculpture. They are closed on Mondays.
However, if you’re short on time, it’s free to walk the grounds. In my opinion even just admiring the castle from the outside is worth the 10 minute walk up via Dante from the Duomo to get there.
The Brera Painting Gallery, Pinacoteca Brera, houses masterpieces by Rafael, Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Francesco Hayez, Tintoretto and Modigliani, among others.
If you only have time to visit one art museum in Milan, this is it. Buy your Brera card and book your visit online at the official site. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Pinacoteca Brera sits in Milan’s artists’ quarter: the quaint Brera neighborhood: The Brera is also home to the esteemed Brera Art Academy. This trendy area is a pleasure to walk around, with small streets, restaurants, cafés, contemporary art galleries, and independent small shops.
DA VINCI’S THE LAST SUPPER
The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned fresco, is called Il Cenacolo in Italian. It is in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie convent (a UNESCO World Heritage site), in west central Milan.
Confession: I lived in Milan for a year and never saw The Last Supper because it was being restored. Every day I rode the tram back and forth in front of Santa Maria delle Grazie to get to the city center and back to my apartment. I would gaze out the window annoyed by my bad luck.
But on my many trips to Milan since then I never saw it either. Every time it was impossible to get tickets, because I didn’t reserve them in time!
Learn from my mistakes: visiting the Last Supper isn’t something you can just do on a whim. You must reserve tickets for a specific date and time, and can do so online at the official ticket site. Be aware that tickets sell out quickly, and new tickets are released a few months in advance every three months.
If seeing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper is essential for you, make sure to book in advance. You may need to plan your trip to Milan around Last Supper availability.
SAN SIRO: SEE A SOCCER GAME OR A CONCERT
Calcio, or soccer, is the sport in Italy. Milan has not one but two Serie A soccer teams: AC Milan and Inter Milan. Catching a soccer match is a boisterous Italian rite of passage, even if you’re not a soccer fan!
Both AC Milan and Inter Milan play at San Siro, Italy’s biggest stadium. San Siro is one of the largest stadiums in Europe, and can seat over 80,000 people. As we discovered on our recent trip, San Siro even has views of the Milan skyline from up in the nosebleed seats.
Die hard fans won’t want to miss the San Siro stadium museum and take a tour.
San Siro is also a concert venue. Italian stars like Laura Pausini and Vasco Rossi, and world-famous artists like Bruce Springsteen, U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform there on their European tours. Tickets are often less expensive in Italy than at major venues in the US, for example.
GO TO AN OPERA AT LA SCALA
Teatro della Scala opera house is Italy’s most famous and esteemed theater. Its season of operas, classical music concerts and ballets opens on December 7, or the feast of Saint Ambrose, Milan’s patron saint.
La Scala is a must for opera and classical music lovers. Even if you’re not a die hard classical music fan, La Scala is an unforgettable place to see some of the world’s most esteemed musicians. It is a scene. And you’d better dress for it.
La Scala has six lush tiers of gold decorations and red velvet, and the audience gets dressed to the nines. La Scala is Milan high society. The rest of us can get tickets online at the official website. If you can’t score tickets, you can take a tour or visit the theater museum.
MODERN MILAN: PIAZZA GAE AULENTI
With all the historical sites to see, don’t forget that Milan is Italy’s most forward looking city. To see the modern face of Milan, check out newly reimagined and reconstructed areas like City Life in northwestern Milan and Piazza Gae Aulenti near Garibaldi train station and trendy Corso Como.
Piazza Gae Aulenti is the new development closest to the Duomo, and is a chance to step into a different, new Milan. Completed in 2012, it is a raised, round plaza flanked by new skyscrapers and towering modern buildings, with shops and places to eat.
There are great views of the Vertical Forest skyscraper (Bosco Verticale). The Piazza Gae Aulenti complex leads out into the expansive rolling green lawns of BAM park (Biblioteca degli Alberi, or Tree Library) where there’s a playground surrounded by weeping willow trees.
I Navigli means canals in Italian, but in Milan it’s synonymous with nightlife.
By day, the Navigli area in southern Milan seems like a sleepy neighborhood with canals. To really see the Navigli, come back at night when it buzzes with life.
Restaurants and bars line the canals, making it the place to experience Milan nightlife.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK IN MILAN
Fashion is king in Milan, and that goes for food as well. Milan is the place to keep up with food trends, find food from all over the world (hard to do elsewhere in Italy), and be dazzled by great decor too.
There is plenty of innovation: Milan is home to the first vegetarian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star back in 1996: Chef Pietro Leemans’ Joia.
If you have a craving for non-Italian food, Milan is the easiest place to find it. International cuisine can be found all over the city.
Milan is home to local specialties that have become popular all over Italy and the world. Keep your eye out for:
- Risotto alla milanese (Risotto allo zafferano): saffron risotto
- Cotoletta alla milanese: breaded, fried veal cutlet
- Osso buco: braised veal shank
Italy’s most famous Christmas cake, panettone, is from Milan. You can find industrial versions all over the country in grocery stores. Look for an artisanal one in a local bakery to try the real deal.
A pre-dinner aperitif, or aperitivo, is a must in Milan. Bright orange aperol spritzes are de rigueur, as well as whatever is the trendy drink of the moment. Head to the Navigli for an aperitivo or an after dinner drink.
GETTING AROUND MILAN
Just don’t do it.
Even though Milan is a huge city, most of the city’s main sites are within walking distance from each other. In fact, all of the important attractions I’ve recommended here are concentrated in the center, within a 10-20 minute walk from the Duomo.
Exceptions are The Last Supper (a 25-minute walk from the Duomo), Piazza Gae Aulenti (a 40-minute walk from the Duomo), the Navigli (a 30-minute walk from the Duomo), and San Siro stadium (take the metro for this one).
Milan’s metro (subway) system is extensive and will take you close to most of the places you want to go. However, to get around the city center near the Duomo, usually it’s easier and more direct just to walk. And you get to see more of the city too.
I like using the Milan metro for going long distances. ATM, Milan’s public transport company, even has an app now to help you get around. You can buy tickets on the app or go contactless, by using your credit card to pay as you go directly at the turnstiles.
TRAMS AND BUSES
I am a huge fan of Milan’s trams and buses. Back when I lived in Milan I used them to learn the lay of the land and understand the city’s layout. The routes spread out over the city like veins and arteries, and there’s almost always a bus or tram to hop on within a block or two.
Take a step back in time and ride one of the city’s trademark trams from the early 1900s which are still in use. On the other end of the spectrum, many modernized tram and bus routes have electronic signs at the stops telling you when the next one will arrive.
The ATM app will come in handy to check routes and buy tickets, or you can go contactless, just check here for details about where and when you need to tap out.
There are plenty of taxis in Milan, but you can’t hail one on the street. Either:
- Go to a taxi stand. Here’s a map of Milan’s taxi stands: they’re located outside of train stations and near major attractions
- Call for a taxi:, (+39) 026969, (+39) 028585, (+39) 5353 and (+39) 024040 are just a few of the local cab companies
- Order a cab an app like Apptaxi or Intaxi
Taxis are white, and there is a minimum fare price. If you call for a taxi, just be aware that the meter starts running once it’s on its way to you (not when you get in).
The Uber app works in Italy but not the same way that it does in the US. It connects you to licensed local taxis and NCC (a car with a driver, or noleggio con conducente), and is also very controversial. In my opinion it makes sense to do like the locals and use one of the local taxi options above.
WHERE TO STAY
Milan accommodation runs the wide gamut from decadently luxurious hotels to simple hostels. There is something for every budget (almost– Milan isn’t cheap), and style: over the years I’ve stayed in 5 star hotels, basic B&Bs, and cozy apartment rentals in Milan.
Whatever your budget, my personal preference is to stay away from the Duomo area in a residential neighborhood in order to get a feel of the city’s everyday life. Just a few metro stops out, there are little family owned businesses instead of big flagship and chain stores.
I recommend picking a neighborhood with easy tram or metro service to the center. Every neighborhood has a fruit and vegetable store, bakery, local restaurants, and coffee bars where the owners know the local regulars. Some ideas: off of Via Cenisio, Corso Vercelli or Corso Buenos Aires (an important shopping street).
There is plenty of affordable accommodation near the Central Station. I lived a couple blocks northwest of the station. It’s generally safe,but keep in mind it’s not a great idea to walk around the station area late at night.
HOW TO GET TO MILAN
The Milan area has 3 international airports:
Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) is 49 km northwest of Milan. To get to the center of Milan:
- The Malpensa Express train leaves every 30 minutes to Milan Centrale station (approximately 1 hr ride).
- Four bus companies run service to Milan’s Central train station, leaving every 20 minutes. (approximately 1 hr ride, subject to traffic)
- Taxis from Malpensa airport to the center of Milan have a fixed flat rate that is now over 100 euros (see the taxi section above)
Milan Bergamo Airport (BGY) is in Ora al Serio, 45 km from Milan. The most direct ways to get to the center of Milan are:
- Terravision bus, which runs about every 30 minutes (50 minute ride)
- Orio shuttle bus to Milan Central station, which runs every 30 minutes (50 minute ride, subject to traffic)
- By taxi: there isn’t a flat rate, so the ride can cost well over 80 euros
Milan Linate Airport (LIN) is just 7 km east of Milan. The most direct ways to get to the center of Milan are:
- By metro: take the M4 subway line to San Babila
- Linate Shuttle bus to Milan Central station, which runs every hour (25 minute ride, subject to traffic)
- By taxi: there isn’t a flat rate, the ride costs approximately 30-40 euros.
Milan has direct service from Venice, Florence, and Rome, on high speed trains to Milano Centrale station, the main train station. It’s Europe’s second largest station, busy with trains coming in from far and wide.
Wherever you’ll be arriving from, in Italy you have two railway companies to choose from:
- Trenitalia, the Italian state train company that runs to towns big and small. It offers both regular (i.e. slow) regional trains, and high speed service. The high speed trains are called Frecciarossa, Frecciargento and Frecciabianca.
- Italo is a private railway company that offers high speed service to major and strategic cities only.
Read my guide to the Milan Train Station.
I don’t recommend driving into Milan. Milan has a great public transportation system: I say take advantage of it!
Parking is expensive and a pain. Driving means negotiating traffic, trying to stay out of ZTL zones (areas closed to general traffic), dealing with one way streets, and sharing the road with trams.