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The Absolute Best Things to Do in Milan

Updated September 17, 2023

History and modernity flawlessly blend in the northern city of Milan. The cityscape is a juxtaposition of contemporary skyscrapers and innovative architecture alongside Renaissance-style galleries and gothic churches. As the economic and financial hub of Italy, the energy of this thriving metropolis is more fast-paced than the leisurely atmosphere of the south. Still, even amongst the hustle and bustle locals find time to unwind with their daily ’aperitivo’ (happy hour). Fashion reigns in Milan. Known as the fashion capital of the world, visitors will be impressed by the well-dressed city-dwellers and world-class stores. However, clothes aren’t the only works of art to be admired here. Visit the numerous iconic artworks displayed around the city by legendary artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci. To learn more about what the city has to offer check out this round-up of the best things to do in Milan curated by our local Milanese travel advisors

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Soak Up City Views Atop the Duomo di Milano

Witness one of the most beautiful places in Italy - the Duomo di Milano. The Gothic masterpiece is the result of half a millennium of construction and is the largest church in Italy aside from St Peter’s. Chiseled from pink-colored white marble, the exterior is etched with intricate statues and haloed with impressive spires. The crowning adornment is a gold statue of the Madonnina, a glittering representation of the Virgin Mary. Between the spires and statues, this bedecked house of worship boasts more statues than any other of its kind worldwide. After marveling at the outside of the Duomo head up to the cathedral terrace. One of the few gothic structures with a walkable rooftop, a visit to the top of this magnificent structure is one of the top things to do in Italy according to our local travel experts, aka Heroes. Located in the heart of the city center it offers a stunning panoramic view of Milan.

Stroll Through the Glamorous Galleria Vittorio

The heart of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II | dimitrisvetsikas1969 / Pixabay

In the fashion capital of the world shopping malls are akin to palaces. An architectural work of art, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a gilded Neo-Renaissance style plaza adorned with dramatic mosaics and domed glass ceilings. Designed by renowned architect Giuseppe Mengoni in 1865, it is Italy’s oldest shopping center. The gallery is set between two of the city’s most prominent monuments, il Duomo and the Teatro alla Scala, and was originally designed to be a covered passageway. It quickly became a hub for luxury brands, such as Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton, and now also features restaurants and bars. Nicknamed “il salotto di Milano” (Milan’s drawing room), our locals recommend paying a visit to people-watch, shop, and grab a bite. 

Enjoy Aperitivo at Milan’s Renowned Bars

Aperitivo is a quintessential part of Milanese culture. Similar to happy hour, people meet at their favorite watering holes for pre-dinner drinks after a long day of work. Bars abound in this cosmopolitan city, with the city’s most iconic joints earning spots on the world’s best bars list. Camparino is one of these legendary locations. Set inside the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the interior is a fusion of Art Nouveau and sleek modern finishes. Start off with an Aperol spritz, a classic Italian favorite. If speakeasies are more your vibe search out 1930. This underground bar is one of the city’s most well-known best-kept secrets. To find 1930 head to its sister bar, MAG Café. The only way to get into this mystery spot is to earn an invitation from one of the MAG staff. 

Take In a Show at Teatro alla Scala

Experience a performance at one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. Among the most renowned music halls, the iconic voices of Rossini, Puccini, and Verdi have all taken center stage at the famed La Scala. One of the top things to do in Italy is take a day tour of the grand amphitheater and learn all about its fascinating history. The visit includes a backstage look at the Ansaldo Workshops, where the designers create elaborate costumes and sets for the shows. Almost as popular as it was in its heyday, the performing arts venue still draws in crowds of locals and visitors with its world-class productions. You don't have to spend a pretty penny to catch a show at La Scala. The opera house famously offers cheap seats in the loggione (upper gallery) for those on a budget. Consult with our local Heroes for tips on the best time to go and how to get a seat. 

Appreciate Green Architecture at the Vertical Forest

Take a break from historic gothic churches and visit the one-of-a-kind Vertical Forest (Bosco Verticale). Designed by architect Stefano Boeri, the sustainable project comprises two apartment blocks of buildings draped in foliage. The high rises are covered with over 20,000 trees and plants and are a stunning example of green architecture. Bosco Verticale earned the prestigious International Highrise Award in 2014 and the award for International Excellence from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2018. You don’t need to be an architecture buff to appreciate the beauty of this development. As one of the city’s most important contemporary attractions, our locals recommend adding it to your Milan itinerary. 

Experience Milan’s Nightlife in Navigli 

For an authentic Milanese night out head to the Navigli district. The pedestrianized waterfront is dotted with bars, restaurants, and nightclubs that won’t break the bank. Begin your evening with an aperitif outside at one of the canal-side watering holes. Unlike the city center, Navigli offers unobstructed views of the sunset, so we suggest going on the earlier side. There is no shortage of bars in the neighborhood, and you can even find some of the city’s most popular spots like MAG Café and Backdoor 43 - the world’s smallest bar. The walkable set-up of the district makes it the ideal location for a pub crawl or club-hopping.  

Browse Milan’s Most Famous Art Museum 

Inside the Pinacoteca di Brera gallery | dimitrisvetsikas1969 / Pixabay

Witness Italian art throughout the ages at Milan’s premier public gallery - Pinacoteca di Brera. The former monastery is one of Italy’s largest art galleries and should be on every art lover’s list of things to do in Italy. Founded in 1809 by Napoleon I, the museum features paintings dated from the 13th century to the 20th century. The highlights of the venue are the Venetian and Lombard paintings from the Baroque and Renaissance periods. Visit some of the world’s most famous works including The Kiss by Francesco Hayez and Lamentation of Christ by Andrea Mantegna. After browsing the impressive collection enjoy a sunny stroll in the peaceful courtyard. 

Explore the Grounds of Milan’s Largest Park 

Take a break from the hubbub of the city center and enjoy some fresh air at Parco Sempione. The sweeping park offers more than trees and walking trails. Home to multiple attractions in one convenient area, spend the day discovering all the grounds have to offer. The main iconic sights of Sempione include the Triennale di Milano, an art and design museum; the Civic Aquarium of Milan, the third oldest aquarium in Europe; and Sforza Castle, an impressive 15th-century castle. Set between the greenery and monuments are small bridges with romantic histories and glittering lakes perfect for photo ops. Parco Sempione is a beloved spot among both locals and visitors. When the weather is nice, our Heroes recommend bringing a blanket and enjoying a picnic under the trees. 

Witness Leonardo da Vinci’s Greatest Work 

Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ | markus53 / Pixabay

Pay homage to the talent of Leonardo da Vinci at Santa Maria delle Grazie Church. The basilica is home to the Tuscan artist’s most famous piece, the Last Supper, and earned the site a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980. People from around the world come to admire the powerful fresco for both its artistry and symbolism. During your visit make time to explore the rest of the complex. The interior and its cloisters are stunning examples of architecture from the Renaissance period. As one of the top things to do in Italy, our local Heroes recommend booking your tickets to Santa Maria delle Grazie ahead of time, as they have been sold out as early as three months in advance. 

Best Local Recommendations in Milan 

Between art, fashion, architecture, and food there is no shortage of things to do in Milan. Visitors can find an array of museums, restaurants, and cultural activities to fill up their travel itinerary. With so many choices, planning your trip can feel overwhelming. Instead, connect with a local Milanese Hero to help narrow down your list to the sights and activities you will enjoy the most based on your interests. Let us add some fun to the trip-planning process! 

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