Often overshadowed by Rome and Venice, Milan is the other great city of Italy, minus the tourists. The sophisticated city is the center of industry in Italy but is also the capital for Italian fashion and home design. Located in the north of Italy, near the Po Valley, Milan is close to many other desirable destinations in Italy, including Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and Lugano, Switzerland.
We recommend staying in Milan for three days to experience the city fully, and below are our recommendations to get the most from your visit.
Things To Do In Milan
The central plaza and meeting place of Milan is Il Duomo Cathedral. Taking an extraordinary six centuries to build, 1386 to 1965, Il Duomo is the largest church in Italy, surpassing St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, with an interior space of 126,000 square feet. Although massive in size, the basilica has a warm and inviting quality to it. Since Il Duomo took so many centuries to build, there are a variety of distinctive architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Italian Gothic. Other attractions of Il Duomo include a museum with significant treasures and artifacts, an archive and library, and a music chapel that has been active since 1492.
Next to Il Duomo is the elegant Galleria Emanuele, the first indoor shopping arcade built in Milan in 1861. Named after King Victor Emanuel II, the stunning structure is a kaleidoscope of mosaics, stone, frescoes, and a gargantuan glass dome, measuring 121 feet in diameter and enrobed in iron.
Some of the finest fashion boutiques and restaurants in Milan are inside the Galleria Emanuele, including the first Prada shop, opened in 1913, which was a modest leather goods shop before it became a super brand, Borsalino, known for its stylish hats, and Luisa Spagnoli, who introduced angora wool to Italy. A must-do is to have an espresso and a pastry at Biffi Cafe and pastry shop or enjoy a meal of smoked cheese or Champagne risotto, or gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese, or veal osso buco.
The Galleria Emanuele also connects Il Duomo with the legendary La Scala opera house.
Known as the world’s most prestigious opera house, La Scala is the gold standard for aspiring opera singers. Inaugurated in 1778, La Scala was funded by sales of theater boxes to wealthy art patrons and above the boxes was the loggione, which was for the fiercest opera buffs and critics. These aficionados were so critical that their overbearing booing sometimes led to performers exiting the stage mid-performance and being replaced.
Many of the most beloved operas had their premieres at La Scala, including Norma in 1831, Fosca in 1873, Madame Butterfly in 1904, and Turandot in 1926.
La Scala also has ballet and concert performances. You can visit a fascinating La Scala Museum during the day, which also has guided tours of the opera house and the costume and scenery workshops.
The opera season always begins on December 7th, Saint Ambrose’s Day, the feast day of Milan’s patron saint. Tickets can be bought online in advance.
Pro Tip: Dress is formal at La Scala. Women should put on evening wear and men should wear a suit or at least a sport jacket and tie.
The Last Supper
One of the most iconic paintings in the world, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, is housed in the Santa Maria delle Grazie Convent in Milan. The painting, which is believed to have been painted between 1495 and 1496, was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Maria Sforza, as part of a restoration of the church and convent. The painting is a representation of the Last Supper of Jesus surrounded at a dining table by his 12 apostles, according to the Gospel of John.
The painting includes the reaction of the apostles after they learn that Jesus said one of them would betray him. Their reaction is vividly depicted through their body language and facial experiences.
Pro Tip: Make sure you purchase tickets in advance.
Necchi Campiglio Villa
An off the beaten path gem, Necchi Campiglio Villa was a private villa in the middle of Milan’s industrial area owned by a wealthy family. Designed by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi between 1932 and 1935, the stunning house brought a new type of elegant decorative art and design to the city. Besides the large and lush garden and tennis court, the house was the first to have an outdoor swimming pool in Milan. Necchi Campiglio Villa was the location used for the 2009 film I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton. One of the highlights of the house is the extravagant bathrooms with beautiful ceramic and mosaic tiles.
Best Restaurants In Milan
The Milanese style of cooking and dishes are some of the best in Italy.
Veal Milanese, a veal cutlet, lightly breaded and fried, is the signature dish of Milan. Osteria Brunello was awarded the honor of having the best veal Milanese in the city in 2015 by Gambero Rosso, the top food magazine of Milan. Other specialty dishes include spaghetti with lobster, saffron risotto, and for dessert, a classic tiramisu.
Peck is a gourmet foodie heaven not to be missed. Stocked with the finest Italian foods and produce, Peck has a fresh butcher, a delicatessen counter with antipasto and Italian cured meats such as prosciutto, Parma ham, and bresaola, fresh produce, a cheese counter with buffalo mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and gorgonzola, handmade pasta filled with foie gras, truffles, and caviar, and dessert, pastry, and gelato department. Peck also has a restaurant and an extensive wine cellar.
MA Hidden Kitchen Supper Club
Does a homemade five-course Italian dinner feast sound appealing to you? MA Hidden Kitchen Supper Club is a private supper club that hosts dinners for 14 culinary like-minded people at a community table. Although there’s a set menu, you can request changes to the menu if you have dietary restrictions and/or food allergies.
Paper Moon is a chic restaurant popular with the local fashion crowd of Milan and the place to be seen. The menu has Milanese and Italian specialties of pasta, meat, and fish.
Pro Tip: Always make reservations in advance at Milan restaurants.
Where To Shop In Milan
Milan is where all of the top-notch Italian fashion houses and their flagship stores are located.
Via Montenapoleone, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Della Spiga, and Via Manzoni are four streets next to one another with the main concentration of designer fashion, accessory, shoe, and jewelry boutiques in Milan. Brands include Prada, Bulgari, Dolce and Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Krizia, Moschino, Armani Casa (home shop), and Gucci.
Rinascente is an upscale department store (a cross between Macy’s and Bloomingdales in the U.S.) that carries Italy’s top clothing, furniture, and housewares labels. There’s also a food hall with a wide selection of Italian food products. Have lunch at their rooftop restaurant Maio, a glass-enclosed patio with super views of the Duomo.
A truly unique concept store, Corso Como is a clothing, home goods, and home accessories emporium with the latest cutting-edge products. Corso Como also has a book shop, art gallery, and an excellent restaurant where fashionistas hang out.
Just across the street from Corso Como, Telerie Roberto, a fabric shop, weaves luxurious Italian silk and wool patterned fabrics into fabulous scarves.
You can fit right in with fashionable Milanese women when you shop for jewelry at Monica Castiglioni. Her bold and beautiful, sculpted designs use industrial materials such as bronze and metal along with semi-precious stones. She also uses old-world techniques along with new technology to create unique but timeless pieces.
Best Hotels In Milan
You will get a touch of Paris design at Palazzo Parigi, a 17th-century palazzo converted into a luxury hotel. The hotel and grand spa are centrally located in the desirable Brera quarter. The spacious rooms and suites (the smallest room measures almost 400 square feet) decorated by renowned French interior designer Pierre Yves Rochon, are handsomely appointed with marble bathrooms, a bathtub, a king-size bed, and a terrace. On the top floor is the decked-out penthouse suite, an almost 2,000-square-foot apartment with a 900-square-foot terrace, living room, dining area, a fully equipped kitchen, and a study.
The Palazzo Parigi Spa has an indoor lap pool, a gym with the most up-to-date equipment, a sauna and Turkish style steam bath, an icefall, and a health food restaurant.
Hotel The Square
The highly-rated, four-star Hotel The Square is a good value, with deluxe rooms starting 140 euros a night. The contemporary-style rooms have king-size beds, padded headboards, and flat-screen TVs. The location is a 5-minute walk to the Duomo. Breakfast is included.
Pro Tip: Milan is a 3-hour train ride from Rome and 2 hours from Venice.