You’ve only got one day to visit Milan – here is a guide on how to best spend your time.
You can follow this D.I.Y. tour, or book a 3 hour tour with a guide.
Start the day at Bar Magenta for morning coffee and fresh croissants and brioche. Bar Magenta was opened over 100 years ago and is still one of Milan’s most historic and iconic cafes. If you want a real Milanese morning experience, don’t sit down, stand at the bar and drink your coffee. You’ll be surrounded by Milanese professionals knocking back espressos and rushing off to work. You may get elbowed or prodded by a Prada bag or two and like in many large cities around the world, nobody will pay much attention to you, but you’ll feel like one of the crowd.
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Next, a 5 minute walk down Corso Magenta to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie where you will find Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper.
A.k.a Il Cenacolo Vinciano, was painted between 1494 and 1498 under the rule of Ludovico il Moro. Since the restoration done in 1999, only groups of 25 people are admitted every 15 minutes and you must book tickets in advance (sometimes up to 3 weeks ahead). Whether you are religious or not, the familiar scene of Jesus and the apostles is an amazing sight to see in person.
Next, head over to Castello Sforzesco and Parco Sempione. You can walk 20 minutes down Via Carducci or take bus 58. Castello Sforzesco dates back to the 14th century and in 1450 was named after Francesco Sforza, who transformed it into a ducal residence. In the castle, there is a museum of Milanese artifacts, medieval weaponry, tapestries and beautiful alfrescos in the residential rooms. On the ceiling of the ducal room Sala delle Asse, you will find another Da Vinci. In a secluded room at the far end of the castle, you can have a moment of reflection with Michelangelo’s Pietà Rondanini, an unfinished marble sculpture he was working on as a present to himself, which is said to be the last piece he worked on before his death at age 89.
Parco Sempione found on the north end of the castle was once Sforza’s private hunting ground. It was gated off and animals were imported for him. In the late 1800’s, the Milan municipality redesigned it as a public garden. Today it’s a popular place for sports, families and romantic walks.
After your jaunt in the park, head down Via Dante, a pedestrian boulevard that will take you to Via Orefici and then to Piazza Duomo. If you go on foot, (10 minute walk) you will enter into the heart of Milan, an open plaza of cobble stoned streets, trams and palatial buildings. Alternatively, you can take the red line metro from Cairoli to Duomo.
Lunchtime in Milan is about 12:30. Here in the center of Milan there is an abundance of restaurants and cafes to choose from. Keep in mind, if you stay in the main square or galleries you will pay exorbitant prices. If you feel like splurging a little then go to Spazio Milano and have a nice sit down meal with a view of the Duomo. Otherwise, you can have a good, fair priced meal at Il Bistro. For typical Milanese street food, go to Luini Panzerotti. A panzerotto is pizza dough filled with tomato sauce and cheese, folded over and fried. Get some to go and have a bench picnic around the corner in Piazza Fedele. It’s a caloric bomb, but you’ll need the extra energy for the 919 steps up to the Duomo Cathedral roof (but don’t fret, there’s an elevator too!).
Head over to the Duomo cathedral. The all-marble immensity took over 500 years to complete and is constantly being repaired and maintained. The Duomo is the third largest cathedral in the world and is intricately decorated with over 4000 statuettes, gargoyles and decorative carvings. It is one of the best examples of gothic architecture standing today.
Inside you’ll find monstrous columns, dazzling, colorful stained glass windows and the most beautiful marble inlayed mosaic pavement. On the north side of the church, there is a ticket booth and entrance where you can climb 919 steps to the top or for and extra two euro fifty, you can get an elevator. Up top you can see all of Milan, and on a clear day you can even see the Alps.
Now, it’s time for shopping! Take a shortcut through Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle; it’s one of the oldest glass covered galleries in Europe. You will come out on the other end at La Scala Opera House, a temple for classical music lovers. The Quadrilaterale della Moda, Milan’s luxury shopping district is made up of via Montenapoleone, via Borgospesso, via Della Spiga, and via Sant’ Andrea. Even if you are not a luxury shopper, it is still fabulous seeing all the creative window displays!
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At about 7pm, the Milanese practice a daily social ritual called l’aperitivo, which is what we might call pre-dinner drinks, or happy hour. The best area in town for l’aperitivo is in the Brera district. Brera was once the poor artists’ quarter in the 1950’s and 60’s, and is now a hip-chic neighborhood with boutiques, restaurants and nightlife. Bar Brera and Jamaica are popular with the student crowd, whereas N’ombra de Vin is a more sophisticated wine bar.
After drinks, get on the number 2 tram at the Lanza metro stop and take it all through the city getting off at Ripa di Porta Ticinese in Naviglio, the canal district. Walk up along the canal where there is an endless selection of restaurants and pizzerias. You won’t go wrong at Osteria di Porta Cicca, or Posto di Conversazione.
Once your tummies are full and your spirits are high, head down to La Scimmie for live jazz. The Naviglio area is full of wine bars, disco pubs and cool hang-outs.
Another popular area for nightlife is L’Isola, the island of blocks behind Garibaldi station. Nord Est Café or the Blue Note also offer live music. If you feel like clubbing, hail a taxi and go uptown to Hollywood, the legendary disco of the Milanese fashion scene or to the Cavalli Club, owned and styled by designer Roberto Cavalli.
Once you have finished a day of sightseeing and a night on the town in Italy’s fashion capital of Milan, you will be ready for your hotel pillow and a good night’s rest!
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10 Tips for Milan, Italy
- From Malpensa airport take the Malpensa express train or a shuttle bus. From Linate airport, take the 73 city bus or one of the shuttle busses. Or arrange private transportation, airport transfer
- Public transport; trams, busses and metro, are the fastest way to get around. You can get a 24 hour pass. Taxis are reasonable as long as you stay in town.
- Get a MilanoCard, includes: unlimited transportation, skip the line privileges and discounts to museums, shops and restaurants.
- If you ask for a coffee (un caffè), you will get an espresso . Caffè Americano is usually served as an espresso with extra hot water. Cappuccino is a morning drink, if you order it any other time of the day, it’s considered uncouth.
- Try wine from Valtellina, the region just north of Milan.
- Best time to visit Milan is early autumn and mid-spring. The weather is the best and fashion week is going on so there’s lots of action.
- Also not to miss: Monumental Cemetery, Museo del 800, Villa Necchi, and I Giardini Publici (public gardens)
- If you visit in the summer, bring mosquito repellent.
- Book in advance up to three weeks for Da Vinci’s Last Supper. You can book tickets online or telephone +39 02-8942-1146
- If you have an extra day, visit Lake Como.