Space travel display at Museo Nazionale Scienza Tecnologia, Milan | Courteys Archivio Museo Nazionale Scienza Tecnologia Photo: Paolo Soave
A cultural hotspot with plenty to see, Milan doesn’t just have great art galleries; it’s also home to a number of special-interest museums. You can learn how Italy came to be a nation, delve into the world of Leonardo da Vinci’s science or admire the creative genius of fashion designer Giorgio Armani. An added bonus is that ticket prices are very reasonable, especially if you purchase the city’s Tourist Museum Card, which lets you visit all of the civic museums over a period of three days at a cheap price.
In the trendy Zona Tortona neighbourhood in the southwest of the city lies this museum dedicated to Giorgio Armani, the celebrated Italian fashion designer. Armani founded his company in 1975 and rose to prominence in the 1980s with his line of power suits, and his eponymous brand remains one of the most well known on the global fashion market. Grouped thematically over four floors, the permanent exhibition at Silos highlights the points of inspiration that have influenced Armani’s creative approach throughout his career. It is grouped under ‘Stars’, ‘Androgynous’ and ‘Ethnicities’, themes that shape the designer’s work. The museum also hosts temporary presentations related to the life and work of the inimitable designer – for example, in 2017 it staged The Beats and The Vanities, an exhibition of work by society photographer Larry Fink. Audio guides are available in English.
Located in a grand townhouse in the heart of Milan’s historic centre, this small specialist museum focusses on the inception of Italy as a nation, referred to as Italian Unification, or Risorgimento. The permanent collection, which comprises prints, paintings, sculptures, weapons and diverse memorabilia, charts major events between Napoleon Bonaparte’s first campaign in the Italian territory (1796) to the annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy (1870). Not only does the collection provide a great overview of modern Italian political history; it gives detailed insights into Lombardy and Milan, touching on fashions of the period, significant battles, key figures and art. Admission is free.
After the Duomo, Castello Sforzesco is the next major symbol of Milan, and is one of the best places to learn about the city’s Medieval and early modern history – the castle bore witness to Spanish, Habsburg and Napoleonic rule. The imposing fortress was built by Francesco Sforza (the first Duke of Milan) in the 15th century, but underwent several modifications in the following decades. It is worth allotting a large amount of time to visit the castle because it comprises multiple museums and galleries, including museums of furniture and wooden sculpture, archaeology and musical instruments. The Sforzesco Pinacoteca is home to paintings by the likes of Bronzino, Tintoretto and Titian. A single ticket allows entry to all the museums. Admission is free every first and third Tuesday of the month from 2pm.
A new addition to Milan’s museum scene, MUDEC – the Museo delle Culture, or Museum of Cultures – opened in the city in 2015. Designed by architect David Chipperfield, who transformed an industrial building on the site of the former Ansaldo Energia factory in Zona Tortona, MUDEC is visually striking. It stages wider historical and cultural exhibitions on topics such as Ancient Egypt or the history of Chinese immigration in Milan, alongside a strong modern and contemporary art programme. Blockbuster art presentations in recent years have included Frida Kahlo, Wassily Kandinsky and Roy Lichtenstein. With a large education annex and underground parking, MUDEC caters particularly well to families.
Italy’s largest museum dedicated to science and technology is named in tribute to the unparalleled artist, engineer and scientist Leonardo da Vinci. It is housed in a vast and beautiful 16th-century monastery in the Sant’Ambrogio neighbourhood, close to Leonardo’s former Milan residence and the location of his famous painting The Last Supper. Beginning in the Renaissance period, the museum charts macro and micro global advances in science and technology. The presentation is dynamic and accessible, with over 13 interactive workshops and displays (such as video games and immersive environments), making the museum a good choice for those with children and young teenagers. All display texts are available in English.
Milan’s Villa Necchi Campiglio is a must-see for anyone interested in architecture or interior design, an interwar masterpiece that was designed in the early 1930s by architect Piero Portaluppi. The villa was built for sisters Nedda and Gigina Necchi and Angelo Campiglio, Gigina’s husband, and today visitors can enjoy its beautiful Art Deco furnishings as well as an art collection that spans from the 18th to the early 20th century. The gorgeous garden is almost worth a visit on its own, a peaceful green space in an otherwise hectic town, and the villa even has its own greenhouse-style garden cafeteria – needless to say, it’s one of the more stylish places for a coffee you’ll find.
Established in 1838, Museo di Storia Naturale, the oldest civic museum in Milan, has been building its collection and research initiatives for 180 years and has an important reputation in Italy and Europe. The permanent display (which covers 23 rooms and over 5,000 square metres, or 53,820 square feet) is divided into sections on mineralogy, zoology (vertebrate and invertebrate), palaeontology and the history of humankind. The large dinosaur and animal displays mean children will love this museum, but most of the educational activities and display information are in Italian only. The museum is located within Milan’s most romantic park, Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, and the building itself is beautiful. There is free admission on every first and third Tuesday of the month from 2pm, and on the first Sunday of the month.