The vibrant Centro Storico of Milan is full of historical buildings and art, fashion and design landmarks. For example, you can lose yourself in the whimsical atmosphere of the Duomo or walk around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where you can find the city’s best boutiques. To help you navigate the Centro Storico, Culture Trip has chosen some of the best things to do.
The Duomo is a stunning Gothic cathedral that dates back to 1386. It contains over 3,400 statues, 700 figures, 135 gargoyles and many large paintings that represent scenes from the Bible. If you’re interested in religious history, one of the fascinating pieces included in the collection is a nail reportedly used during the crucifixion of Jesus, which can be seen in a reliquary behind the altar. After exploring the whimsical interiors, take the stairs or elevator to the rooftop to see breathtaking views across Milan.
Known as Il Salotto di Milano (The Living Room of Milan), the sophisticated 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II connects Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. Built by the famous architect Giuseppe Mengoni, this Neoclassical building, complete with arcades and an iron-and-glass roof, houses multiple high-end boutiques, including Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Borsalino, the famous Italian hat design brand. Recently, the Galleria opened its rooftop, where you can stroll on the 250-metre (820-foot) walkway for some incredible panoramic views. Also, don’t forget to find the mosaic bull on the floor; the legend goes that if you stick your heel on the bull’s genitals and rotate three times, it will bring you good luck.
Located inside the Palazzo dell’Arengario in Piazza del Duomo, this museum hosts a comprehensive collection of over 4,000 works that highlight the development of 20th-century Italian art. Highlights include Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate) by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo and The Neon by Lucio Fontana, the internationally acclaimed Argentine-Italian artist.
This magnificent Neoclassical building is one of the most significant art centres in Milan. It hosts a series of national and international temporary exhibitions, with works by the likes of Canova, De Chirico, Picasso and Warhol. The museum also continues to house art pieces that the royals collected over the centuries. While you need to buy a ticket to access the royal palace, the courtyard is free to explore.
There is nothing more Milanese than tasting a panzerotto by the legendary Luini, a family-owned eatery specialising in this savoury turnover. Located behind La Rinascente (the well-known department store), Luini brought the traditional recipes of Puglia to Milan in 1888. An institution in the city, it makes a variety of panzerotti – fried, baked and filled with mozzarella and tomato. There are also delicious sweet versions.
Located in the artsy Brera district on the first floor of the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts, this art gallery is among the most visited venues in Italy. Housed in a former monastery built in the 17th century, the Pinacoteca di Brera has a world-class collection, including masterpieces by Raphael and Caravaggio. Other highlights include the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna and The Kiss by Francesco Hayez.
The department store La Rinascente opened in the early 1900s and has established itself as a fashion landmark. Here, you can find all the well-known and emerging designer brands, including Prada, Armani, Valentino, Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander Wang. From beauty and apparel to home decor and more, La Rinascente is the place to discover the latest trends. Moreover, the bar on the seventh floor has a spacious terrace with sweeping views of Milan.
Inside the Santa Maria della Grazie – a 15th-century church and Dominican convent – is The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, which is one of the most famous paintings in the world. The mural adorns what was once the convent’s dining hall. As it is a top-rated attraction, it’s best to buy tickets online well in advance.
Watching Tosca from the balcony of La Scala is one of the most unforgettable experiences you could have while in Milan. The theatre’s Neoclassical building is worth a visit in and of itself, complete with an extensive collection of costumes, accessories and photos of past shows. You can also book a guided tour that leads you to the Ansaldo Workshops, where professional designers make the costumes and set designs for the performances.
This 15th-century castle, which sits on 14th-century ruins, was once the home of the Sforzas; today, it houses several museums. For example, there is the Museum of Ancient Art, which displays the Sforza family’s frescoes and sculptures. There is also a museum dedicated to the famous Rondanini Pietà by Michelangelo. Meanwhile, the Pinacoteca features artworks created between the 15th and 18th centuries, including some pieces by Filippo Lippi and Canaletto. You can also enjoy the park around the castle, Parco Sempione, which is one of the most significant green areas in the city.