Are you looking for ideas to spend 2 Days in Milan and searching for the best things to do, see and eat? Milan is famous for its history, architecture, fashion, and food. Find Milan’s unmissable attractions here and plan a great trip to Lombardy with our Milan Itinerary guide. This guide is also useful for those planning a 1 day trip to Milan.
Milan, Italy is one of the most sophisticated and stylish cities in the world. Located in the northern part of the country in the Lombardy region, Milan is Italy’s fashion, design, and finance capital. It has a unique blend of modern attractions from world-class shopping and the latest fashion trends to Renaissance-era buildings and architecture. It is home to the famous Milanese fashion houses of Armani and Prada as well as to the National Stock Exchange building, Borsa Italiana. It is also a cultural hub and has many historical sites, famous artworks, museums, and art galleries. The city is also famous for its sports teams and Milanese cuisine. A weekend is a perfect time to explore this wonderful city and make the most of its top sights.
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“ Milan, for me, is a city of discovery. You can find some amazing gardens behind some great houses; I also love finding beautiful galleries and incredible shops, but you have to explore. And the food is amazing. “
– Francisco Costa, the Brazilian fashion designer
History of Milan
Milan has an interesting history. The city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire in the 2nd century and a few Roman ruins can be seen in Milan even today. However, Milan had to fight invasions from northern Europe as well as Asia and gradually declined in importance. It again started flourishing during the Renaissance years under the rule of the powerful Sforza family. Milan became one of the centers of the Renaissance and its most famous buildings were built during this time. In the following years, Milan successively came under Spanish, Austrian, French (Napoleon) control. It eventually came under the Fascist control around 1920.
In the early 20th century, Milan was quite small, had many canals, and looked similar to Venice. During WWII, it was heavily bombed by the Allied Forces. Many historic buildings were damaged including the Duomo (Cathedral) and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. By the end of the war, most of Milan was utterly destroyed and left in rubles. It was rebuilt in the 1950s – canals were built over – and the city quickly expanded; many small neighborhoods and suburbs grew around the city center as a result of the urbanization. Today, it is the second biggest city in Italy by population and the economic capital of the country.
Milan and Leonardo Da Vinci
Milan is also famous as the home of Leonardo da Vinci. While he was originally from Florence, he came to Milan during the Renaissance era to seek his fortune. He found a patron in the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, and lived in the city for almost 20 years. He created many of his famous works in the fields of art, architecture, and engineering in Milan. Seeing Leonardo Da Vinci’s work, including the famous ‘The Last Supper’ painting is one of Milan’s highlights. Other attractions include the navigali or the canals and the Atlantic Codex – a 12-volume set of drawings and writings containing just about everything that he worked on from designs of flights, music instruments, water wheels, hydraulics, and botany. Cultural enthusiasts can even plan a couple of days around Milan based on Leonardo da Vinci’s life and works. Here is a full itinerary for a Leonardo da Vinci themed Milan trip.
When to visit Milan?
Overall Milan has a mild climate and does not see extreme temperatures in either summer or winter. That being said, some months are better to visit Milan than others.
Summer is Milan is an extremely popular time to visit because of vacations and school holidays. In the months of June, July, and August, Milan sees lots of tourists from all over the world. Most popular Milanese attractions have long wait times and higher rates. Summer also has higher temperatures with highs of over 80 F and lots of humidity.
The best time to visit Milan is during the spring and fall. These are shoulder seasons and have fewer crowds than the peak summer season. Visitors will also be able to find hotel deals during the shoulder months of April, May, September, and October. The temperatures are very pleasant: you won’t find the heat or the cold.
The months from November to March are off-peak months. Milan sees the least crowds during these months with the exception of the holiday season. The temperatures in November and March are still pleasant however from December to February the night temperatures are at or below freezing. The days are often foggy and waterproof winter clothes are a must.
Where to stay in Milan?
The best place to stay in Milan is in the vicinity of the Piazza del Duomo or the Milan Cathedral. This area is known as the Centro Storico or the historic city center. If you are based in this area, you will be located close to all the major attractions including the Duomo, the Galleria, the Sforza Castle, the Last Supper Fresco and a short ride away from farther attractions like the Navigli district. The hotels in this area while expensive are very convenient and will save you quite a bit on time as well as money. If you like to be away from the tourist hub, then consider a hotel in Brera. Brera is still close to the Sforza Castle and the Triumph Arch in Sempione Park but has lesser tourists.
What to eat in Milan?
Milan is one of the top Italian cities for food. Milanese cuisine is different from other regional Italian cuisines and has many signature dishes. The most popular of them are Risotto Alla Milanese, Cotoletta Alla Milanese, and Panettone. Milan is also popular for its ‘Aperitivos’ which are similar to American Happy Hours. Walking into an Aperitivo Bar between 7 pm to 9 pm is a great way to experience local culture and eat and drink with the locals. Visitors can order a drink and eat a variety of small plates of cheese, cured meat, pizza, and even pasta for free with their drink.
Milan Travel Tips
Here are a few practical travel tips about visiting Milan: Milan is a walking city. There are many hidden things to do and see that you will miss if you don’t take the time to walk. Public transport in Milan is quite good and you need the same ticket for tram, bus, and subway. Bike sharing is another great option to get around Milan. Uber and taxis are also prevalent but costly. Milan is expensive but there are also lots of free things to do in Milan and visitors can easily spend 2 days in Milan without breaking the bank. Tap water in Milan is safe to drink. More Milanese’ speak English than Italians in other parts of the country, making your trip just a bit easier. How to spend 2 Days in Milan?
Day 1 – The Milan Cathedral, Sforza Castle, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Start your 2 Days in Milan itinerary at the Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) by admiring Italy’s Gothic architecture. This Castle – Duomo – Fashion District circuit while touristy is extremely popular and includes some of Milan’s top attractions.
The Milan Cathedral or Duomo di Milano
The Milan Cathedral is a huge, imposing building designed in the Gothic style of architecture. It can seat about 40,000 people and is the 4th largest in the world. Work on the Cathedral continued for over 5 centuries from 1386 to 1805. The Duomo is centrally located in the Piazza del Duomo or the Cathedral Square of Milan and all streets radiate outwards from it.
The Milan Cathedral makes for a great first stop. One can spend hours looking at all the intricate details on the facade and the door. It is carved with statues of saints and mythical creatures and features elaborate workmanship. The many spires of the Cathedral are works of art in themselves. There is even a sundial by the main entrance. Entry to the Cathedral is free for worshippers while tourists need to pay a fee to visit the Duomo Museum, archeological site, and the rooftop. The Duomo has long lines and purchasing the fast track ticket is a great way to save time. The interior of the Duomo is as beautiful as its exterior. It’s most notable features include hundreds of statues, huge stained glass windows, and marble columns. For more information on the entry fees, see here.
The rooftop is easily Duomo’s most unique attraction. The roof can be reached either via stairs – there are about 250 steps, which makes for a great workout – or using an elevator; tickets for the elevator cost more. The entrance to the roof is located to the left of the main Cathedral entrance. Visitors can walk up to the roof of the Milan Cathedral and admire the elaborate architecture from up close. The roof is perfect to see the details of the spires and the gold Madonna statue. It also has beautiful views of the piazza and Milan with the Italian Alps in the background.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is located to the left of Piazza del Duomo when facing the Cathedral. It was built in the 18th century and has a magnificent glass-covered central dome and beautiful architecture. This is the oldest shopping mall in Italy and home to a variety of luxury brands. It is four-storeyed and has beautiful window displays. Inside you will find high-end fashion brands, jewelry stores, art galleries, and bookstores. While shopping in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is not cheap, visitors can take a stroll and admire the many brands. The Galleria also has many restaurants and cafes and is a perfect place to eat Milanese food and the famous gelatos while people watching. The Galleria connects the Duomo with Teatro Alla Scala which should be your next stop.
Teatro Alla Scala
Teatro Alla Scala is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. The La Scala Theatre Museum located in the opera house has many exhibits including paintings, costumes, and photos about the history of the theatre and opera culture. If you are there during opera season and can get the tickets, then seeing an opera at Teatro Alla Scala will be one of the most memorable experiences. The city square between the Galleria and Teatro Alla Scala is known as Piazza della Scala and is great for people watching. Piazza della Scala also has a monument of Leonardo da Vinci in the center.
After seeing the Teatro Alla Scala, visitors have two options: art and culture lovers can visit the Sforza Castle and its impressive museums while fashion and shopping aficionados can visit Milan’s renowned ‘quadrilatero della moda’ which literally means the fashion quadrilateral. Or have the best of both worlds: see the Sforza Castle and grounds but skip the museums and head over to the fashion district. The walk from the Castle to the Fashion District is just under a mile (1.4 km) and a taxi is the best alternative for those who don’t want to walk or bike.
The Sforza Castle
Sforza Castle is one of the most impressive European castles. The castle is located less than a mile away from the Milan Cathedral and is beautiful to see. It was built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza. This was Milan’s most powerful ruling family and the castle stands testament to that heritage. The castle is heavily fortified with defense walls, covered passages, and moats. The towers including Filarete Tower and Bona Tower are icons in themselves. The castle has well-maintained, landscaped grounds. The Parco Sempione, a large urban park, which contains the Porta Sempione or Milan’s famous Arch of Peace, is located adjacent to the Sforza Castle and is worth a stroll. The park has walking paths, a small pond, sculptures, and even an aquarium.
The Sforza Castle has now been converted into a museum. Visitors to the Castle complex can view the Museum of Ancient Art, Museum of Musical Instruments, Archeological Museum of Milan, Egyptian Museum, and many other museums as well as art galleries. A must see for art lovers is the Museum of Rondanini Pietà which contains Rondanini Pietà, a marble sculpture which is Michelangelo’s last work. The museums inside Sforza Castle are some of the best cultural institutions in the world and a delight for cultural travelers. While the Sforza castle is free to visit, entry to the museums is ticketed. A single ticket includes entry to all the museums; special exhibits may be extra. If one does not plan to visit all the museums, then the Sforza Castle and the grounds can be seen in an hour or two.
Quadrilatero della moda
The Quadrilatero della moda is also known as the Via Montenapoleone fashion district. This is a high-end shopping area and is one of the best upscale shopping districts in the world. All of the world’s leading fashion brands have a presence here. You will find clothing, shoes, purses, and jewelry stores. If you plan to shop and need to know which boutiques are present in the many streets and squares, then refer to this handy guide. Taking photos in front of the boutiques of Armani, Jimmy Choo, Hugo Boss, Versace, and Prada in the Fashion District for the ‘gram is a popular tourist activity. This area is great to people watch and spot celebrities while they shop but be sure to dress the part in trendy clothes before you venture here.
Hit an Aperitivo bar
And that wraps up the first day in Milan. End the day on a high note by visiting an Aperitivo Bar. An Aperitivo in Milan is the equivalent of America’s Happy Hours but is so much more than discounted drinks and appetizers. Dinner is Italy is really latish – 9 pm onwards – and Aperitivo hours are usually from 7 pm till 9 pm. This tradition of pre-dinner drinks and small plates is intended to build an appetite for dinner but tourists often dine on the aperitivos themselves. You won’t find really cheap drinks like in American bars but what you will find is a reasonably priced drink with a buffet of food – for free! Some great cocktails to drink in Milan include the famous Italian Campari or the Negroni. The buffet spreads vary slightly but most include cheese, meats, bread, pizza, vegetables, and pasta. While you can eat whatever you want, eating too much is frowned upon unless you purchase another drink. To find some of the best Aperitivo bars in Milan, check this list by Lonely Planet and this by Culture Trip.
Day 2- The Last Supper fresco,
‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci
Seeing ‘The Last Supper’ fresco by Leonardo Da Vinci is one of Milan’s musts. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world and is directly painted on the walls of the monastery attached to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The church is located just 1 km (0.6 mi) away from Sforza Castle and if you are staying anywhere near the Duomo should be an easy half an hour walk. The fresco shows Jesus Christ sharing his last meal with his apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The painting started deteriorating just 20 years after it was painted and while it still looks faded, it has been skillfully restored and looks undamaged. To conserve the painting and restrict crowding, admission is granted to only 25 people every 15 minutes. Almost everyone visiting Milan wants to see the painting and tickets can be sold out months in advance. Consequently, you need quite a bit of planning and advance reservations to view the famous masterpiece. If you are unable to obtain regular tickets, then you can purchase resale tickets from tour companies but these cost more.
Milan originally had a heavy network of canals, similar to Venice, and these were used for transporting heavy goods including marble blocks for the Duomo. Today few of these canals remain and you can see them in the Navigli district, located a little over 3 km southwest of Duomo. The great Leonardo da Vinci himself worked on the renovation of the canal system and designed canal dams. The Navigli Museum in Brera is a great place to learn more about Milan’s Navigli.
Today, the Navigli neighborhood is a trendy place with restaurants serving authentic Milanese cuisine, cafes, and art galleries. The area also has vintage shops, colorful houses, and is very pretty. Visitors can take a boat trip down the Naviglio Grande which is Milan’s oldest canal. The boat rides are about an hour long and a great way to experience this district. In the afternoon, try a traditional Milanese lunch at any of the Navigli restaurants.
Monumental Cemetery or Cimitero Monumentale is one of the largest cemeteries in Milan. The cemetery was designed by the famous Italian architect, Carlo Maciachini, in the 19th century. The cemetery has a vast number of artistic tombs and monuments and is worth visiting while in Milan. The tombstones have everything from Italian sculptures, Grecian temples, obelisks, among other decorative elements. Many of the tombs belonged to Milan’s rich and famous and were designed by famous artists, architects, and designers. The main entrance is also beautifully designed and has tombs for famous Milanese on its sides. There is also a short exhibit of the cemetery’s history near the entrance.
After that, you have seen most of Milan’s top choices and are free to spend the evening as you wish. Sports lovers can visit Milan’s football stadium in San Siro district while car lovers will love the Alfa Romeo Museum in Milan. If you want to shop some more, visit the Corso Venezia. Science geeks and Leonardo da Vinci fans will love the Leonardo da Vinci Science and Technology Museum. Contemporary art and design lovers need to visit the Triennale Design Museum. History lovers will enjoy visiting the Basilica of San Lorenzo and seeing the 16 Roman columns from the 2nd century still standing in front of the Basilica – a reminder of Milan’s Roman past. For those who wish to explore more of Milan and are searching for something unique, visit the Piazza Affari. This square is home to Milan’s stock exchange and in the middle of the square is a marble sculpture of a hand showing the middle finger. This artwork has created lots of controversies and depending on how you look at it, it’s the bankers saying FU to the world or vice versa!
Spending more than 2 Days in Milan?
There are many amazing day trips from Milan that you can take if you have more time in the city. In the summertime, you can relax near the lakes or by the sea while in winter, you can ski in the Alps. Milan is very-well connected by rail to many attractions in Italy including Lake Como, Turin, and Bologna – most of these take just 1 hr to reach. If you want to go on a road trip, then you can reach the beaches near Genoa in an hour or even cross the boundary into Switzerland. Lake Como is one of Milan’s most popular day trips. Visitors can take a ferry to various lake towns including Tremezzo and Bellagio.