The Top Things to Do in Milan

Milan is a blend of historic artistic treasures and stylish modernity
Milan is a blend of historic artistic treasures and stylish modernity | Julia Shinkareva / © Culture Trip
Photo of Saskia Tillers
2 September 2021

Boasting a reputation as the fashion capital of the world, Milan is a city where traditional charm meets modern innovation. There’s something for every type of traveller – from history, art and shopping to good food and sport. A trip to the Lombardy capital wouldn’t be complete without visiting its breathtaking cathedral and Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic fresco, The Last Supper, but we’ve also rounded up the other must-see things to add to your itinerary.

Interested in visiting? With Culture Trip, you can sample Milan’s culinary delights on a guided food tour as part of our exclusive small-group Northern Italy adventure.

Admire the Duomo

Building, Cathedral, Church
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Exterior of Il Duomo Milan Italy. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.
© Glyn Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo
The spectacular Milan Cathedral is arguably the city’s most impressive landmark. Dedicated to Saint Mary, construction on Italy’s largest church began in 1386 and took almost six centuries to complete. Right in the centre of Milan, the elaborate Gothic cathedral is swathed in luscious white and pink marble, and features more sculptures than any other building in the world – 3,159 in total. After marvelling at the façade, explore the interior and then head up to the roof for an up-close experience among the ornate spires and gargoyles (and one of the best views of the city).

Experience 'The Last Supper' in person

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US First Lady Michelle Obama views Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, wife Agnese Landini and their families at the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie June 18, 2015 in Milan, Italy.
© White House Photo / Alamy Stock Photo
Take some time to study one of the world’s most famous artworks, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, in person. Located in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the painting was completed around 1498, and portrays the reactions of the 12 apostles from the Bible after Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. Perhaps no other work of art has caused as much speculation and theorising about hidden messages left by the artist. Make sure to book well in advance, as tickets have been known to sell out up to three months ahead of time.

Watch an opera at La Scala

Opera House
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Even if you’re not a fan of opera, you won’t regret buying a ticket to see a show at Teatro La Scala. Commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the extravagant theatre was constructed in the 1770s, but also underwent major renovations after being bombed during WWII. The opulent interior is a sea of red velvet, silk brocade and gold stucco, and in the centre of the performance hall sits a magnificent chandelier made up of nearly 400 lights. With regular performances by world-class musicians, singers, dancers and actors, a trip to Milan wouldn’t be complete without stepping inside the famed opera house.

Stroll through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Shopping Mall
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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy. Image shot 11/2015. Exact date unknown.
© Horizon Images/Motion / Alamy Stock Photo
Renowned as Italy’s most stylish city, it’s not surprising that Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is not your typical shopping mall. One of the world’s oldest, the grand building consists of a four-storey double arcade (covered passageway) with a glass-vaulted roof. In the 1860s, the city held competitions to modernise Piazza del Duomo and connect it with Piazza della Scala. Architect Giuseppe Mengoni won, and construction was completed in 1877. Today, the Galleria is often referred to as il salotto di Milano, or Milan’s living room, due to its regular use by locals as a meeting spot. Window-shop at Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton, or savour a decadent cake at the Milanese institution, Pasticceria Marchesi 1824.

Visit Sforza Castle

Historical Landmark
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Fountain In Front Of The Entrance To Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Lombardy, Italy
© Wojtkowski Cezary / Alamy Stock Photo
For centuries, the people of Milan considered Sforza Castle a symbol of tyranny and foreign domination. It wasn’t until the unification of Italy in the 19th century that this huge fortress became a revered cultural centre. The vast complex includes numerous museums and an impressive collection of art, with paintings by Andrea Mantegna, Titian, Tintoretto, and Michelangelo’s last sculpture. And it doesn’t stop there – in 2012, historians even discovered lost drawings and paintings by Caravaggio on-site.

Check out the Navigli District

Bar, Italian
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With its elegant canals and vibrant bars, the Navigli district is one of Milan’s most charming neighbourhoods. In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci initiated the complicated system of dams. Construction of the waterways lasted seven centuries, ultimately connecting Lakes Maggiore and Como with the Ticino and Po Rivers. Start your evening with a passeggiata (a traditional early evening stroll), before grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants lining the canals. After dinner, make like the locals, grab a cheap Aperol Spritz (or two!) from the waterside vendors and set up camp on the edge of the canal to people-watch.

See contemporary art at Fondazione Prada

Art Gallery, Cinema
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Fondazione Prada_Torre_14
Courtesy of Fondazione Prada / | © Bas Princen
Spend a day immersed in art at the Fondazione Prada. Open since 2015, the striking site designed by Rem Koolhaas is comprised of 10 buildings, including a tower covered in shimmering gold leaf. With imposing large-scale installations by 20th- and 21st-century artists including Dan Flavin, Jeff Koons and Louise Bourgeois as well as temporary exhibitions by international artists, there’s no better place in Milan to get your culture fix. Afterwards, rest your weary feet with a drink and snack at Bar Luce, a quirky an Instagram-worthy café inside the museum, designed by film director Wes Anderson.

Visit Cimitero Monumentale

Building, Cemetery
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More like an open-air museum than a cemetery, Cimitero Monumentale is where Milan’s leading figures and families have been buried since 1866. Get lost amongst the rows of sculpture-adorned tombstones and magnificent mausoleums while keeping an eye out for some famous names. Milanese legends including novelist Alessandro Manzoni, footballer Giuseppe Meazza and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of the Futurist movement, all of whom have their final resting places here.

Go for aperitivo

Aperitivo is the Italian version of happy hour – only better. A tradition that started out as a pre-dinner drink served with a few simple snacks has developed over the years into a veritable feast. Depending on how ritzy the bar is, between about 6pm and 8pm, if you order a cocktail, beer or glass of wine, you’ll be offered some form of food. It could be a few nuts and olives, or you could end up with a generous complimentary buffet spread, with dishes such as pizza, cured meats and cheeses.

If you're lucky, aperitivo can mean a hearty spread | © Daxiao Productions / Shutterstock

Catch a football game at the San Siro

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It’s a well-known fact that many Italians love their football, so don’t miss out on this vital part of Milanese culture. You can catch a cheap game between smaller local clubs or splash out to see the heavyweights – Cristiano Ronaldo has often played here for his team Juventus, as well as the highly competitive local derby between Milan’s oldest teams: FC Internazionale Milano (Inter) and AC Milan. With seating for more than 80,000 fanatic supporters, the atmosphere during a game is electric.

This article is an updated version of a story created by Jonathan Stern.

These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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