Top 21 Things to Do in Milan
Nestled in the heart of Lombardy, Milan is a city that effortlessly blends history, art, fashion, and culinary excellence. It's a destination that welcomes travellers with undeniable charm, offering plenty of experiences catering to every discerning taste. To help you make the most of your Milan sojourn, we've curated a comprehensive list of the 21 best things to do in this captivating city. Drawing inspiration from Milan's unique blend of tradition and modernity, let's dive into the essence of Milanese charm.
Where to stay in Milan?
When deciding where to stay in Milan, it largely depends on your preferences and interests. The city offers a variety of neighborhoods to choose from, each with its own unique character. If you're into high fashion and luxury shopping, consider the Quadrilatero della Moda (Fashion Quadrilateral) in the city center. For art and culture enthusiasts, the Brera district is home to numerous galleries and a charming atmosphere. Navigli, with its canals and vibrant nightlife, is perfect for those seeking a lively experience. Families may prefer areas like Porta Romana, while business travelers might find the Central Station area convenient. Ultimately, Milan's diverse neighborhoods ensure you can find accommodations that suit your needs and make the most of your visit to this stylish Italian city.
21 Amazing Things to do in Milan:
1. Explore the Magnificent Duomo
As the very heart of Milan, the Duomo di Milano stands tall as an awe-inspiring masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It's not just a cathedral; it's the city's soul. Marvel at the intricate details of this iconic structure and climb to the rooftop for a panoramic view of Milan's ever-evolving skyline. Make sure to check out the interior, where history and art converge in breathtaking splendour.
2. Sip Alongside Canals in Navigli District
Leonardo da Vinci's legacy lives on in Milan's Navigli District, where picturesque canals weave a charming tapestry through the city. Stroll along the cobblestone streets, lined with bars, restaurants, and cafes, and enjoy canalside drinks. The ambience is vibrant, especially on weekends when locals and tourists gather to bask in the Navigli's lively spirit.
3. Marvel at 'The Last Supper'
Step into the realm of artistic genius as you gaze upon one of the world's most renowned masterpieces, da Vinci's 'The Last Supper.' The original mural in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie radiates a mesmerizing emotional depth that any reproduction cannot fully capture. It's a must-see for art aficionados and history enthusiasts alike. Just be aware that due to some ill-conceived renovations in 1652, Jesus's feet are missing, adding a layer of intrigue to the experience.
4. Experience Opera at Teatro alla Scala
Prepare to be transported into a world of luxury and culture at Teatro alla Scala, Milan's historic opera house. Founded in the late 18th century by Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, it remains one of Europe's most esteemed venues for opera and ballet. Even if you're not attending a performance, visiting the museum offers a glimpse into the theatre's lavish interior, adorned in shades of red and gold.
5. Wander Through Sforzesco Castle
Step back to the 15th century as you explore the formidable Sforzesco Castle. Once one of Europe's largest citadels, it houses many museums, art collections, and historical relics. The castle's courtyards invite you to linger and savour the sense of history that permeates the air. Don't forget to exit through the back gate, leading straight into Parco Sempione, Milan's "green lung" and one of the city's most enchanting parks.
6. Unearth Treasures at Ambrosian Library
Dive into the Renaissance at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, where Leonardo da Vinci's folios are proudly displayed among stacks of other masterpieces. While Da Vinci's contributions are awe-inspiring, one particular treasure stands out— a glass-cased reliquary containing a lock of red-golden hair and two pendants. These once belonged to Lucrezia Borgia, the notorious daughter of Pope Alexander VI, known for her alleged acts of poison and incest. Legend has it that the library is haunted by Lucrezia's crying ghost, who returns at night to brush her lost lock of hair.
7. Enjoy Aperitivo at Fonderie Milanesi
In Milan, embrace the cherished tradition of aperitivo at Fonderie Milanesi, conveniently located near Porta Ticinese. Aperitivo is a pre-dinner ritual involving savouring light bites and cocktails, typically between 7 and 9 p.m. It's a time for socializing, and Fonderie Milanesi offers an ideal setting to partake in this beloved Milanese tradition. It's worth noting that the best spots tend to be bustling with a sense of community, adding to the overall aperitivo experience.
8. Escape to 'The Silence Quadrangle'
Amidst Milan's bustling streets, discover the tranquil oasis, Quadrilatero del Silenzio. Enclosed by Via Serbelloni, Via Mozart, Via Cappuccini, and Via Vivaio, this quiet square adjacent to the fashion district emanates an air of serenity. As you wander through this charming neighbourhood, you'll encounter Liberty-style villas adorned with mosaic motifs, intriguing statues, secret gardens featuring flamingo-filled ponds, and captivating architecture. Among the architectural marvels, you'll find a colossal ear-shaped bronze doorbell and a mansion that seemingly bridges the gap between a castle and a space shuttle. Sculptures, some overrun with ivy, add to the eccentric charm of this peculiar village within the city.
9. Go Underground in the Crypt of San Sepolcro
Seek a different perspective of Milan's history as you descend into the Crypt of San Sepolcro. This underground labyrinth, located beneath the San Sepolcro church, rises atop the ruins of the ancient Roman forum. Yes, even Milan boasts a Roman soul, and the forum served as the heart of the Roman city of Mediolanum, as it was known during the empire. As you walk on millennia-old white cobblestones, admire frescoes, and gaze at a vaulted starry sky painted by early Christians who once sought refuge in the crypt. For an extra eerie experience, consider joining a night tour guided by a lantern-bearing art restorer. The crypt's rich history reveals Milan's deep-rooted connection to its past.
10. Relax at QC Terme Spa
Seek relaxation and rejuvenation at QC Terme, an underground spa in a former tram depot. This subterranean sanctuary boasts saunas, warm baths, geyser pools, a Jacuzzi waterfall, and more. The crowning jewel is the Underwater Museum, a mesmerizing crystal-walled tub enveloping ancient archaeological ruins. Outdoors, additional attractions, including a tram sauna, and three warm pools thoughtfully scattered throughout the garden. As a Time Out Tip, indulge in a jacuzzi 'archeo-aperitif,' a delightful way to unwind and immerse yourself in a unique Milanese experience.
11. Window Shop at the Golden Quadrangle
Milan, the world's undisputed fashion capital, beckons fashion enthusiasts and window shoppers alike. For an exquisite taste of luxury, explore the renowned 'golden quadrangle' or 'fashion Quadrilateral,' an area encompassing Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, Via Sant'Andrea, and Via Montenapoleone. Here, a captivating array of luxury brands awaits Italian (think Prada, Versace, Armani, and Dolce e Gabbana) and international (including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent). Even if you're not planning a shopping spree, strolling through this glamorous district is an experience, a chance to admire the stylish Milanese aesthetic and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the fashion elite.
12. Taste Milanese Classics at Ratanà
For a culinary journey into the heart of Milanese cuisine, make your way to Ratanà, a stylish restaurant in the Isola district. Chef Cesare Battisti takes traditional dishes and elevates them to perfection, including the iconic risotto alla Milanese, cooked in the Milanese way. Using locally sourced rice, he presents it with bone marrow, gremolata (a combination of lemon zest, parsley, and garlic), roasted meat sauce, and a succulent piece of ossobuco to enhance the flavours. In the local dialect, it's called risotto giad, or 'yellow rice.' Dining here is a culinary journey that offers an authentic taste of Milanese traditions.
13. Try Craft Beer at Birrificio Lambrate
While Italy is renowned for its incredible wines, craft beer has significantly impacted the beverage scene. One of the pioneers in Milan's craft beer movement is Birrificio Lambrate, which opened its doors in 1996, well before the craft beer craze took hold. What began as a modest operation with a 150-litre batch capacity and just two types of beer on tap has since evolved into a thriving establishment with a pub and pub restaurant. Birrificio Lambrate offers an impressive selection of beers to satisfy even the most discerning beer connoisseurs. Whether you're a craft beer enthusiast or simply curious, this brewery offers something for everyone.
14. Cycle Along Naviglio della Martesana
Milan and cycling go hand in hand, and the city has made it easy for visitors to explore on two wheels. Numerous bike-sharing schemes, including BikeMi and Mobike, are readily available, making cycling a convenient and enjoyable transportation. One of the most picturesque routes awaits along the Naviglio della Martesana. This charming bike path traces the smaller canal northeast of the city centre, offering scenic views of meadows, farms, and fascinating landscapes. As you pedal your way along, you'll eventually reach the town of Gorgonzola, known for its buttery, soft, and delectable Italian blue cheese. It's an excellent spot to take a break, savour local flavours, and relish Milan's outskirts' sense of discovery.
15. Admire Isola's Street Art
As Milan evolves, so does its creative spirit. Formerly isolated from the city, the neighbourhood of Isola has retained a touch of its gritty character, even as the nearby Porta Nuova development project has brought change and gentrification. Amidst this transformation, exploring Isola on foot is still possible and discovering its vibrant street art scene. Many artworks are created by local artists commissioned to contribute to the area's artistic expression. Walking through Isola's streets, keep your eyes peeled for colourful murals and thought-provoking pieces that add character to this evolving neighbourhood.
16. Dine Aboard an Old-Fashioned Tram
A certain romantic allure is associated with train travel, where you can watch the world pass by outside your window. In Milan, this nostalgia has been beautifully captured by ATMosfera, a concept that transforms two of the city's historic trams into moving restaurants. Offering lunch and dinner runs, these trams allow dining while exploring Milan's streets. Picture yourself savouring a sumptuous five-course meal as the tram gracefully meanders through the city, giving you a unique perspective of Milan's charm. In recent years, ATMosfera has even introduced the option to book an entire tram for exclusive private events. This makes it a splendid choice for birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions.
17. Step into Wes Anderson's Dream Café
Film director Wes Anderson is renowned for his meticulous attention to detail and whimsical aesthetics, and Milan's Bar Luce is a testament to his unique vision. Designed by Anderson for Fondazione Prada, Bar Luce is a café that feels like a living embodiment of one of his films. As you step inside, you'll be transported to a bygone era, with vintage pinball machines, a jukebox, veneered wood wall panels, and a delightful palette of bubblegum pink and powder blue Formica furniture. The café's aesthetic pays homage to popular Italian aesthetics from the 1950s and 1960s, mirroring the sensibilities of many of Anderson's film sets, especially 'The Grand Budapest Hotel.'
18. Browse Vintage Furniture at Nilufar
Milan is synonymous with design and elegance, and few places, as well as Nilufar, capture this essence. Owned by design dealer Nina Yashar, this establishment is a treasure trove of 20th-century Italian furniture. While Yashar has operated her gallery on Via della Spiga since 1979, it was in 2015 that she unveiled Nilufar, a massive warehouse showcasing her meticulously curated collection of vintage and contemporary design pieces. Expect to encounter quirky, eclectic furniture and the epitome of Milanese style. Whether you're a design enthusiast or appreciate the artistry of fine craftsmanship, Nilufar offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of Milanese design.
19. Feast on Fluffy Panettone at Pasticceria Cucchi
Milan has a culinary treasure that extends far beyond its famous risotto and pasta dishes—panettone. At Pasticceria Cucchi, you can embark on a delightful journey through this delectable world. The bakery in Porta Genova has been perfecting the art of panettone for over 70 years. What sets it apart is that Cucchi's panettone is available not just during the holiday season but year-round. Whether you opt for a whole cake or a curbside table (a hot commodity on weekend mornings), the experience of tasting Cucchi's fluffy panettone alongside a morning cappuccino is nothing short of divine. It's a Milanese tradition worth savouring, and Pasticceria Cucchi ensures you can do so anytime.
20. Dance the Night Away at Tunnel Club
Venture beneath the tracks of Milan's Central Station to discover Tunnel Club, an electronic music sanctuary that has been at the forefront of Europe's electronic music scene since the 1990s. Despite facing challenges in the early 2000s, Tunnel Club has re-emerged as a trendsetter in Milan's clubbing landscape. It offers an underground atmosphere that's more about the music than being seen. Keep an eye on Tunnel Club's website or social media channels for updates, as the music calendar changes frequently. Whether you're a seasoned electronic music aficionado or curious to experience Milan's clubbing culture, Tunnel Club promises a night of energetic beats and pulsating rhythms.
21. Play Bocce at La Balera dell'Ortica
Bocce clubs once considered passé, have experienced a resurgence in popularity among younger generations. La Balera dell'Ortica, housed in a former railway station, embodies this newfound enthusiasm. Here, you'll find ample space for bocce games, dancing, and an eclectic crowd of all ages enjoying themselves. It's a place to let your hair down and partake in a leisurely game of bocce or soak in the lively ambience. La Balera dell'Ortica offers a unique Milanese experience that's equal parts nostalgia and modern-day fun.
Embracing Milan's Charms: A Farewell to Remember
In conclusion, Milan is a city that captivates with its rich history, artistic treasures, and contemporary vibrancy. Whether you're an art lover, a fashionista, a foodie, or simply someone looking to soak in the city's unique atmosphere, Milan offers an array of experiences that will leave an indelible mark on your journey. The 21 Best Things to Do in Milan are a testament to the city's ability to blend tradition and innovation. This provides travellers with diverse options to explore and enjoy every facet of this remarkable metropolis. Milan is more than a destination; it's an enchanting journey waiting to be embraced and celebrated.