World’s Fashion Capital
It was long long due to return to this city, the third time now, and counting. We kept postponing and not even considering it on behalf of other cities, preferably if we’ve never been before, but it was indeed a great choice especially that this time we could enjoy by far more than last times, with great weather and great company. If back in 2009 I was a bit disappointed with the city and found it quite plain, grey and dirty; all this has changed for the opposite with the years to a great experience, very clean city and enormously elegant and monumental. I also recall, back then it was November, cold and rainy days. Nothing to compare with how vibrant and lively was now in the middle of summer.
Milan is the second largest city in Italy after Rome, and the 5th largest urban area in the European union; an important financial, industrial, cultural and arts centre; the mode capital in the world. Do not expect to find here such a charming squares to the likes of Rome or Florence, but in a sense, more austere yet imposing constructions and very elegant avenues and streets following a great urban planning. There is a lot to see and do and a weekend can come really short since distances are large and the sights scattered all around on every corner. Not only the city itself is packed with history; the nearby region is simply spectacular with countless beautiful villages, lakes and nature at the foot of the Alps. Milan will be your perfect gateway base to explore this region.
The historical core is perfect for visiting on foot. Over the years I can compare since the first time I came in 2001, and now, these many years after, majority of the historical and shopping streets are now pedestrian friendly. Vast amount of buildings perfectly restored and beautiful overall urban landscape where an unique icon of the city gives its extra personality: the historical ancient trams. While many hundreds have been removed over the years, a reasonably large fleet have been retained and run through many of the lines coupled with the more modern fleet. Milan, like Lisbon, Blackpool and Isle of Man are the only places left in Europe with a traditional historic tram fleet fully operational at such scale.
The guide below is going to be one of the largest I’ve created for any city, but Milan has so much to offer that it is physically impossible to even list everything. If anything is not listed below, it is not because it has less importance, but because I’ve concentrated in providing a reasonable ordered list divided by well defined areas.
You should not miss a must-do which we actually did not manage yet on the 3 times we’ve been to Milan. This is the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church where you will find one of the world’s most famous paintings: the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Not only the painting, but the basilica itself, a masterpiece of renaissance architecture designed by Donato Bramante are listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At least this time we managed to get inside the basilica, but not to see Leonardo’s painting. They do release only 20 tickets in the morning, and the rest are booked over the internet well in advance. The limit is up to 1100 people per day that can admire the painting, so as you can imagine, this is a hard task to manage some tickets.
Something great about this city comes in the afternoon. Dinner time. So while of course you have countless restaurants of any kind anywhere, you also have the “happy hour” places where you buy a drink, and get a food buffet included! This is called apericena. OK, do not expect having a huge choice of food, but it is great enough. We found right after Porta Ticinese dozens of these places, where we paid just 5 Euros for a cocktail and ate until we got tired (and full).
For more information about Milan check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Milan
- Crown around the Historic Centre Milan has a great urban plan with an extremely well defined grid pattern. The entire crown surrounding the Historic Centre follows an orthogonal street and avenues plan with diagonal streets and many squares.
-Sempione Park The main garden west of the historic core. It sits in between Corso Sempione, the main avenue northwest of Milan, and Via Dante, the main avenue directly towards the historic centre at the Duomo Square. At both ends of the park, the semicircle road is filled with beautiful buildings everywhere.
-Arco della Pace This triumphal Arch of Peace was built in the 19th century to celebrate Napoleon’s victory. Located at the northwest entrance to the park.
-Palazzo dell’Arte The Palace of Art was built in 1933 by Giovanni Muzio. Located on the western side of the park half way between Arco della Pace and Castello Sforzesco. Home to the Triennale di Milano art expo.
-Castello Sforzesco The former residence of the Sforza Visconti ruling families and later residence of the Austrian governor during the Hapsburg Empire. The large complex houses some museums and art gallery collections. Michelangelo’s statue Pietà Rondanin is in one of the museums. You are free to enter and wander around the courtyards without having to pay admission. The nearest metro stations are Cairoli-Castello or Lanza-Piccolo Teatro, buses and trams. Located at the opposite side of the park from the Arco della Pace, at the beginning of the historic town a short walk to the Piazza del Duomo.
-Porta Volta East from Sempione Park, this square still retains the former toll gates from the old Spanish Walls (16th century). A great new glass building has been constructed blending incredibly great with the older structures.
-Porta Garibaldi Just a bit northeast from Porta Volta, is part of the new finantial are in the city with a frenetic ongoing construction. The train station with the same name is at one of the sides, and many interesting buildings worth to visit.
-Porta Nuova Garden The true heart of the new financial district, meters east from Porta Garibaldi and entirely surrounded by new high-rises and ongoing construction. By the time we came around here in 2009 was barely nothing! Now a completely new city is rising to the sky.
-Piazza Duca d’Aosta East from Porta Nuova Gardens along Via Giovanni Battista Pirelli, it is the main transport hub where the glorious rationalist style train station is.
-Milano Centrale Train Station It’s one of the largest and most important railway stations in Europe. Built in 1931 to replace the old and smaller 1864 one, was designed and modelled after Union Station in Washington DC. It is a blend of many different styles, noticeable Liberty and Art-Deco. A must see for it’s enormous size and design of the many halls.
-Torre Pirelli Nicknamed the Pirellone, was built in 1956 becoming the new economic symbol of the city and Italy overall. Now long shadowed by the shiny glass towers growing everywhere around this area.
-Piazza della Repubblica South from Milano Centrale train station along Via Vittor Pisani heading towards the historic centre.
-Public Garden Next to Piazza della Repubblica, heading south towards the historic city centre.
-Palazzo Dugnani In Rococò style with many frescoes, two of them painted by Tiepolo. It’s at the western side of the park.
-National History Museum In a beautiful neo-Moorish style building located at the eastern end of the park.
-Via Alessandro Manzoni Leads southbound from the western corner of the park towards the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Piazza del Duomo at the heart of the old town.
-Corso di Porta Venezia Also heading southbound from the eastern corner of the park and parallel to Via Alessandro Manzoni, is one of the elegant avenues in the city containing impressive buildings and luxury shops. It reaches San Babila Square where Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and Via Monte Napoleone starts, being all these streets famous for its up-scale shops.
- Historic Centre With every street packed with historical buildings, hundreds of churches, palaces and great squares; it becomes difficult to truly create a guide to list all these sights, but I will list the absolute must see.
-Piazza della Scala At the northern side of the old town, at the confluence of Via Alessandro Manzoni, Via Santa Margherita and Via Filodrammatici.
-La Scala Opera House One of the most famous opera houses in the world. Opened in 1778 with the largest renovation taken place in 2004. Occupies an entire side of the square.
-Teatro Filodrammatici Side by side with the Scala, small yet beautiful architecture.
-Palazzo Clerici One of the finest palaces in Milan with an spectacular mirror gallery and a vault painted by artist Tiepolo. It is on the parallel street from Teatro Filodrammatici.
-Statue of Leonardo Da Vinci Right in the middle of the square.
-Banca Commerciale Italiana Occupying another of the sides of this beautiful square.
-Palazzo Marino At the opposite side of the Opera, is Milan’s City Hall, dating from 1563.
-Piazza San Fedele Right behind the City Hall, small square with the 1569 San Fedele Church.
-Gelleria Vittorio Emanuele II Built between 1865 and 1877 to celebrate Vittorio Emanuele II, was inspired by the Burlington Arcade in London. A very large and impressive shopping arcade, the world’s oldest shopping mall. An incredible gallery with a stunning mosaic floor and beautiful glass roof and cupola at the perpendicular intersection at the centre, linking both Piazza della Scala with Piazza del Duomo.
-Piazza Meda Small square few meters east from Piazza della Scala along Largo Raffaele Mattioli.
-Sede Banca Popolare di Milano The main building facing this square.
-Piazza Belgiojoso Through one of the sides of Piazza Meda you reach this long rectangular square, quite hidden yet beautiful.
-Palazzo Belgiojoso Occupies an entire side along the square. Completed in 1781 in Neoclassical style by Giuseppe Piermarini, was modelled in the Royal Palace of Caserta.
-Piazza del Duomo The main square and the heart of the city, symbol of Milan. Originally created in the 14th century with its current final appearance from the 19th century. The nearest metro station is Duomo on lines M1 and M3.
-Duomo Milan’s Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Construction started in 1386 in late Gothic style using mostly white marble for the whole of the exterior; it has hundreds of spires and statues on its façades. You can walk on the roof where you will get the best views of the city. It costs 7 Euros if you use the stairs, or 12 via lift, open from 09.00am until 17.30pm.
-Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano The Venerable Factory of the Duomo of Milan located right behind the Duomo itself, is a 600 years old organization established to supervise the construction of the Cathedral. One of its corners is by the Piazza Fontana, behind Piazza Duomo.
-Palazzo Arcivescovile The Archbishop’s Palace located by one of the Cathedral’s sides opposite this, like all other buildings in this square is a great piece of architecture, with an impressive courtyard and frescoes, specially those of the San Carlo’s chapel.
-Palazzo Reale The Royal Palace, opposite the South side of the Duomo and side by side with the Archbishop’s Palace was the seat of government of Milan for many centuries, nowadays a prime exhibition hall.
-Museo Novecento With the characteristic twin identical buildings facing the square, from 1937.
-Piazza Armando Diaz Not precise within Piazza del Duomo, but just meters behind from the Museo Novecento. Nice buildings and gardens within.
-UCB Building The next palatial construction after the Museo Novecento.
-Palazzo Carminati Located on the western side of the square facing the Cathedral.
-King Victor Emmanuel II Monument In the middle of the square.
-Corso Vittorio Emanuele II This is the main thoroughfare from the northeastern edge of Piazza del Duomo towards the northeast of the city. Many up-scale shops and galleries align both sides of the street.
-Piazza San Carlo Small opening along this road towards the San Carlo al Corso Church, designed in resemblance to the Pantheon of Rome.
-Via Montenapoleone Is Milan’s top high fashion shopping street where the biggest names in fashion and designer stores in the world are located. The nearest metro stations are Montenapoleone or San Babila, right at the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II, this street heads towards the north.
-Piazza Fontana Immediately to the east behind the Piazza del Duomo by the southern corner of the Duomo, comprises another of the many beautiful historical squares in this part of the city.
-Veneranda Fabbrica and Palazzo Arcivescovile Both have a facade facing this square an Piazza Duomo.
-Palazzo del Capitano di Giustizia Facing an entire side in the square, was built in 1606 and was the seat of the administration of justice during the Spanish and Austrian ruling of the city, nowadays the Central Command of the Local Police.
-Piazza Beccaria Small square by north side of the Palazzo del Capitano.
-Piazza Santo Stefano At the south side of Palazzo del Capitano.
-Chiesa di San Bernardino alle Ossa Construction of the first church dates from 1269, with the current building consecrated in 1776. Of special interest in the Ossuary, where the walls are entirely covered with human skulls from the former hospital and cemetery that were in this place.
-Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore Attached to San Bernardino, it is where in 1571 there was christened the painter Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio.
-Palazzo Sormani Few meters farther east from Piazza Fontana right at the beginning of Corso di Porta Vittoria. It has the finest Baroque façade of the city.
-Palazzo Campanini One of the best examples of Art Nouveau in the city. Located not much farther northeast of Palazzo Sormani.
-Piazza Mercanti A small medieval square meters west from the Duomo square filled with old palaces and houses in Gothic and Renaissance styles. The heart of the city in the Middle Ages.
-Broletto Nuovo Known as Palazzo della Regione was built in the 13th century as administrative building and judicial seat.
-Casa Panigarola Known as Palazzo dei Notai (Notary’s Palace), was built in the 15th century in Gothic style. Located on the south-western side.
-Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine Built in the 17th century in Baroque style. Located on the the south-eastern side.
-Loggia degli Osii Built in 1316 for Matteo I Visconti and included a parlera (balcony from which the authorities addressed the population). Located on the the south-eastern side.
-Palazzo dei Giureconsulti Not anymore in Piazza Mercanti but in the street passing outside, Via Mercanti. Built in 1561 implementing the older 13th century tower.
-Via Orefici, Via Dante and Via Mercanti And nearby streets are some of the most famous streets in the city, meeting at Cordusio Place and linking Piazza del Duomo with the Castle towards the northwest of the city. Lots of boutiques and high street shopping can be found along the way at the many palaces and historical buildings.
-Cordusio Place Oval shaped square where the most historical street meet and heart of the shopping district.
-Palazzo Borromeo One of the oldest palaces in Milan from the 13th century, with a beautiful Gothic courtyard and medieval frescoes. Take Via Cordusio to the west, is 2 minutes walk.
-Stock Exchange On a side street from Via Dante, west from Via Cordusio and Piazza Thomas Edison passing the Central Post Office is Piazza degli Affari, with the beautiful Stock Exchange building, the most important in Italy.
-Piccolo Teatro di Milano On Via Dante, right after the Cordusio Place.
-Via Torino From the southwestern corner of Piazza del Duomo starts this main street heading towards the southwest of the city. Countless historical buildings and palaces are along the way, with many more squares nearby around side streets. Along its way south it changes name to Carrobio and Corso di Porta Ticinese.
-Ambrosiana Gallery and Library Home of treasures such as Leonardo’s Atlantic Codex plus works by Caravaggio & Titian. From Via Torino taking Via delle Asole is few meters ahead.
-Piazza San Giorgio With San Giorgio al Palazzo Church dating from 1774.
-Piazza San Lorenzo One of the most important squares in the southern edges of the historical core.
-Basilica of San Lorenzo Just at the front of the Roman colonnade. Originally consecrated in 402 making it one of the oldest in western Europe, although the current construction mostly from 1619.
-Colonne di San Lorenzo Some of the few Roman remains in the city. Moved here in the 4th century although they date from the 2nd century.
-Porta Ticinese At the southern side of Piazza San Lorenzo, it is original from the medieval walls that once encircled Milan.
-Sant’Eustorgio Basilica Where the Sforza family monumental tombs are and the Lombard Reinassance Portinari Chapel. By Porta Genova metro station, few minutes south from Porta Ticinese along Corso di Porta Ticinese.
-Piazza Sant’Ambrogio Located to the west of the city, by metro Sant’Ambrogio. If following a route as this guide lists, then from Porta Ticinese you will need to take Via Edmondo de Amicis towards the west and its just few minutes walk.
-Pusterla di Sant’Ambrogio Marks the southwestern entrance to the square, built in 1171, one of the ten secondary gates of the medieval walls.
-Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio In Piazza San Ambrogio. Considered as the mother of all Romanesque architecture worldwide. “Mother and Queen of all Romanesque buildings” as you will often see it described. Consecrated in 379, the current Romanesque building was started in 1080.
–Sant’Ambrogio War Memorial Located in the square at one of the sides of the church. This part of the city was heavily bombarded in WWII with majority of the buildings half destroyed.
–Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore At the other side of the church, this is the central headquarters in Milan of this private university. A huge building in proportions.
-Corso Magenta Passing few meters north of Piazza Sant’Ambrogio runs from Cordusio on the east towards the west of the city.
-Santa Maria delle Grazie Church An UNESCO World Heritage site it is one of the masterpieces of the renaissance. Designed by Donato Bramante, the dome is one of best examples of the Renaissance era in the world. World famous for hosting the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Try to book the tickets online to save you the disappointment of not being able to visit as it gets fully booked quickly. It is in Corso Magenta, nearest metro stations are Cadorna and Conciliazione. Also easily reachable by trams 20, 24, 29 or 30. Very near Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, few minutes walk west from this square.
–San Maurizio Church One of the must does in the city, this Renaissance church is fully decorated with impressive frescoes. Nicknames as the Sistine Chapel of Milan. The nearest metro stations are Cadorna and Cordusio, beside the Archaeological Museum, east along Corso Magenta from Santa Maria delle Grazie.
-Palazzo Litta Across the road from San Maurizio Church, this Baroque palace is filled with frescoes.
-Porta Romana One of the few remaining original 16th century gate of the Spanish City Walls. Located on the southeast of the city, the best way to reach it is by taking the metro to Porta Romana station.
Milan counts with 3 airports making it fairly easy to find a good flight deal. Malpensa airport is the largest of them all with most of the international and intercontinental routes. Between T1 and T2 there are free buses though not very reliable, therefore count with enough time should you need to switch between terminal. Trains to Milano Cadorna Station or Milano Centrale all depart from Terminal 1, therefore if you happen to land or depart from T2, the best would be a bus and not the train. You can take any train and continue your journey by metro or tram from the train stations. A single ticket costs 12 Euros and must be bough and validated at the station before boarding. The last trains run few mins after 23.00pm, thereafter buses operate the same route.
Buses are a great option too, especially if you arrive at Terminal 2 as you will save the time in not needing to get to T1 by the free shuttle bus to the train station. With frequencies every 20 to 30 minutes it takes around 1 hour to reach Milano Central Station. Single costs 10 Euros and 16 for a return.
Linate Airport is only 7km from the city. Reaching the centre of the city is easy with bus number 73 direction San Babila, where you can connect with the metro line 1. A single ticket is 1.5 Euros with unlimited interchange during 75 minutes after validating the ticket, therefore you can easily connect to trams, metro or other buses to your final destination. Should you arrive on a weekday, you can benefit by saving time if taking the express bus X73 which does the same route but with only one intermediate stop. The cost is the same.
Orio al Serio Airport, in Bergamo, is the farthest of the airports at 45km and is mostly used by low cost airlines. A large base of Ryanair. The Autostradale buses run a direct from the Airport to Milano Centrale station at around every 30 minutes taking 1 hour journey. It cost 5 Euros per way.
If coming by train there is a good connection across the whole of Italy and other European countries, including cities as far as Barcelona. Milan lies in an strategical location being a major centrepoint of the pan-European rail and road networks.
Within the city you have a very extended network of buses, trams and metro. You can get wherever your destination is very easy, quick and reliable since every sight in the city is never far from any station or stop in the transport network. Having one of the largest tram networks in the world it does also still use the old famous wooden trams that characterise the city. Try to use them wherever you can instead of the metro, even if it will take you longer to reach your destination, they are by far the most enjoyable way to move around. A single ticket costs 1.5 Euros, while a 24 hour 4.50 and 48 hour 8.50. 10 trips card costs 13.80 Euros.
With an endless choice of hotels in the city it will be hard not to secure a good deal. However, staying anywhere within the city centre can be a very expensive business, especially when visiting the city on key dates as summer months. Consider a hotel outside the city centre since the public transportation is really covering every corner, meaning you can easily lower the cost by staying just a little bit outside of the historical centre.
A good tip to consider is doing a search for a flight+hotel in combination. This might surprise you and can lead you to a great deal altogether. We are doing this very often especially since this year and found our most recent trip to Milano on the British Airways website on their flight+hotel search option. Not only we managed to get the perfect flight times, but also Avios and Tier points for flying with our preferred OneWorld Alliance member, and also managed to get a nice hotel in the city centre all less than half price than if booking separately and flying with a low-cost carrier.
In this most recent trip we stayed at the Andreola Central Hotel, on 24 Via Scarlatti. A small and nice 4* property 2 streets east from Milano Central Station. Location impossible to beat, with the direct bus and train to both airports from there, the metro station, and plenty of trams and buses to everywhere in the city. Right behind the hotel you can take the tram number 1 that heads to the Castle, La Scala Opera, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele/Duomo and Santa Maria delle Grazie with the stop here less than 5 min away. The staff was nice and professional, very comfortable bed in a quiet room and overall well cared. Not the highest standards you can get on a 4* elsewhere like in Spain of the USA, but for Italian standards was quite good. Simple breakfast but awesome choice of cakes, with Villeroy & Boch crockery and beautiful table cloths! Definitely great standard in the restaurant.
Back in November 2009 we stayed at the Best Western Blaise and Francis in Via Enrico Annibale Butti, 9. Not far from Dergano metro station and with trams and buses passing by the door connecting with the historical city centre in few minutes was a great choice for price, comfort and facilities overall. Friendly staff, nice comfortable bedroom and very important, quiet at night. Breakfast, although simple, was good enough to start the day.