Best Things To Do in Milan
Milan is known as one of the fashion capitals of the world, but its biggest draw is its cultural offerings. The Duomo and Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" are undisputed must-visits for every tourist. Travelers also enjoy meandering around Milano's Monumental Cemetery or visiting the Ambrosiana Library and Picture Gallery, where thousands more of da Vinci's works of art are housed. After you've visited the necessary sites, the best thing to do in Milan is take in its bustling atmosphere (it's a big business city), preferably in a piazza and with some gelato in hand. And if you can swing it, pick up a small souvenir at the most beautiful mall you will probably ever see, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Updated July 29, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in MilanMuseums, Parks and Gardens, Castles/Palaces, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Parks and Gardens, Castles/Palaces, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The former fortress and residence of Milan's most powerful rulers is now a campus for some of the city's best cultural institutions. Castello Sforzesco, found less than a mile northwest of the Duomo, features a plethora of museums and galleries focusing on art and history. There's the Pinacoteca, or Picture Gallery, the Raccolta di Mobili, Furniture Collection, Museo delle Arti Decorative, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Museo Egizio, Egyptian Museum and so much more. There's also the Oreficerie, which houses one of the largest collections of musical instruments in Europe. If you're short on time, travelers say you should visit the Museo della Pieta Rondanini, which houses Michelangelo's last masterpiece, the Pietà Rondanini.
Even if you don't have time to visit any museums or exhibitions, travelers say the Castello Sforzesco is still worth a detour for the site's beautiful architecture and lush grounds. The Castello Sforzesco is connected to the Parco Sempione, which features walking paths, a small pond, cafes and its own points of interest, including the Porta Sempione, which bears a striking resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries gardens in Paris. Should you wish to visit any of the castle's cultural hot spots, recent visitors advise coming early to avoid potential crowds. And if you're looking to save some dough, visit the Castello Sforzesco Tuesday after 2 p.m. or the last hour before closing Wednesday through Sunday to enjoy free admission.
- #2View all Photos#2 in MilanFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
It might seem strange to visit a cemetery during your vacation, but once you get a peek at the architecture that makes up Monumental Cemetery, you'll see why it's considered such a must-visit site. Opened near the end of the 19th century, Il Cimitero Monumentale is filled with graves, yes, but also Greek temples, ornate obelisks and impressive, nearly life-like sculptures throughout. The cemetery is so decorative, travelers say it could easily double as an outdoor museum. The reason the cemetery looks as beautiful as it does is because parts of the cemetery were once exclusively reserved for the rich and famous. So instead of rows of basic tombstones, the near and dear of the departed adorned burial sites with, or turned them into, works of art. Travelers say it doesn't take long to run into some pretty moving graves (think: angels standing over plots, statues spread out crying over tombs), make sure to keep an eye out for the bronze "Last Supper" recreation, a burial site that belonged to a prominent Campari family.
Located north of the city center, you can hop off the Monumentale metro stop to get to Monumental Cemetery. The cemetery is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sundays and is free to visit. Allot a couple hours here, as travelers say they ended up staying way longer than they had anticipated. For more information, you can visit the Milan tourism board's website.
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If you only have time to see one sight in Milan, the Duomo should be it. Milan's Duomo is considered the largest and most unique Gothic complex in all of Italy, having taken about a half a millennium to build. And once you've spent some time at the Duomo, it's easy to see why it's considered a masterpiece. The Duomo displays an inordinate amount of impressive architectural details both in and outside of its walls. The exterior is dotted with thousands of intricately-carved statues (2,300 to be exact) depicting both religious figures and stories from the Bible, including Jesus' crucifixion. And its interiors are even more intricate. Inside you'll find a thousand more statues, sky-high marble columns, gilded ceilings, striking stained glass windows and loads of paintings scattered throughout. The detail even goes all the way down to the floors, where you'll find geometric-patterned marble lined throughout.
But let's not forget the top. Another thing that makes the Duomo so unique is its accessible roof. From here, travelers can admire the Duomo's elaborate buttresses, pinnacles and spires up close, all the while enjoying views of the piazza below. And make sure to get an eyeful of the Madonna, found on the highest spire. During World War II, to distract from bombers, the church had the gold statue covered so it wouldn't be easily spotted in the air.
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Even if you can't afford to buy anything in this elegant complex, it's still worth a peek for its stunning makeup. This galleria – built at the height of 19th-century belle époque – is a glorified shopping mall, housing high-end Italian designers from Prada to Gucci to Armani under its steel-and-glass arcade. You'll also find other shopping options, including lower-end clothing shops and bookstores rife with fashion literature. There are also a small handful of restaurants and cafes within. Expect to pay loads more for a cup of coffee here. But then again, you could always go to McDonald's (one of the restaurants housed here). Whatever your budget, travelers say the mall's glorious architecture, beautiful paintings and intricate floor tiles are worth a quick visit.
You'll find the galleria off the Duomo metro stop, connecting the Piazza della Scala to the Piazza Duomo. Before you leave, remember to "step on the bull." Supposedly, turning your heel on a painting of a bull on the galleria's floor will bring you luck. The galleria is free to visit and open 24/7, however, individual stores have their own hours.
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Leonardo da Vinci's famous work, "The Last Supper," lies inside Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Depicting the moment that Christ tells his apostles that one of them will betray him, the painting is immensely moving, especially considering what it's been through. In the 19th century, monks reportedly whitewashed this masterpiece. Not only that but "The Last Supper" also managed to survive a World War II bomb raid. The painting has since been restored, but because of the technique da Vinci used, it continues to deteriorate.
Regardless of its condition, travelers still flock to the Santa Maria to bear witness to the painting's magnificence. And according to recent visitors, the painting truly is a masterpiece. Reviewers say "The Last Supper" was brilliant in person and urged travelers to take a closer look, as it's loaded with detail (each apostle at the table has a different expression). Some went so far as to say they became emotional standing in front of the painting. Though the mural is no doubt the main attraction here, travelers also suggested taking a long look around. In addition to the painting, it's the Santa Maria's pristine Renaissance architecture that helped the church earn the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only complaint among visitors? You don't have long to view the artwork (due to crowds, you can only visit it for 15 minutes before being ushered out).
- #6View all Photos#6 in MilanMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Biblioteca and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana holds a vast collection of artwork, most of which were donated by a single person. In the early 17th century, Italian cardinal and former archbishop of Milan, Federico Borromeo, gave the Ambrosiana Library, which he also founded, all of the drawings, paintings and statues he had personally collected throughout his life. The art housed in this 24-room gallery features works from masters, such as Leonardo da Vinci ("The Portrait of a Musician"), Caravaggio ("The Basket of Fruit"), Raphael ("The Cartoon for the School of Athens"), Titian ("Adoration of Magi") and Botticelli ("The Madonna del Padiglione"). The Ambrosiana also houses numerous other works spanning from the 17th to the 20th century as well as historical relics, including gloves that Napoleon wore at the historic Battle of Waterloo. You might be wondering, why did Borromeo give up such a valuable collection of art? The answer is both simple and very sincere: Borromeo wanted the public to become further educated about art. It's safe to say that today, he has certainly reached his goal.
Recent visitors leave the Ambrosiana impressed with its offerings, with many expressing feelings of gratitude that they were so close to so many masterpieces. Standout artworks for travelers include Caravaggio's "Basket of Fruit" and Leonardo's Codex Atlanticus, a collection of 1,119 drawings that feature a variety of subject matter, from mechanics to manuscripts. Some travelers complained about the price, while a few others felt like staff were watching their every move while exploring the museum. Regardless, most said if you have time, the Ambrosiana is definitely worth a spot on your Milan itinerary.
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