What to Do on a Layover in Milan

An exquisite decorative ceiling inside Castello Sforzesco
An exquisite decorative ceiling inside Castello Sforzesco | © Gimas/Shutterstock
Raphaele Varley

Whether Milan is on your bucket list or not, if you find yourself with a layover in the city, you would be crazy not to take a peek! Whether you have three or 12 hours, there are many ways to enjoy the city’s culture and cuisine. Here are some tips and logistics for making the most of your time in Italy’s fashion and financial capital.

Travel To and From the Airport

To the city centre (Piazza del Duomo):
– 35 minutes by public bus (Urban Line 73), €1.50 each way. Service runs regularly between 5.35am and 12.35am.
– 20 minutes by taxi, circa €20 each way. 24-hour service

To Milano Centrale station:
– 30 minutes by coach,€5-7 each way. Service runs every 30 minutes.

To Milano Centrale station/Porta Garibaldi station/Cadorna FN station:
– 58 minutes on the Malpensa Express train line, €13 one way/€20 return. Service runs every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day.

To the city centre (Piazza del Duomo):
– 50 minutes by taxi, €80-95 each way. 24-hour service.

Trams, metro and buses operate throughout the city.

Il Duomo in the centre of Milan

Three Hours

If you have a three-hour layover and you have landed in Milan Malpensa airport, stay where you are. The journey time in and out of the city centre will leave you with just one hour to do something, and this is probably more stressful than enjoyable. However, if you have flown into Milan Linate airport, the situation is very different – you can be in the city in just 30 minutes, leaving two hours to explore. Assuming your next meal will be microwaved and served in plastic whilst a child kicks the back of your seat, there is no better way to spend your layover than eating Italian food in a beautiful setting.

Conveniently, en-route to your meal it is also possible to quickly take in a couple of sites. Ask your taxi to drop you at Piazza del Duomo (or alight here on the bus) and admire the symbol of Milan, the magnificent cathedral. Built with pink-hued white marble from the quarries of Lake Maggiore, the cathedral is the biggest and arguably the most elaborate Gothic building in Italy. Then stretch your legs with a 10-15 minute walk to the Brera neighbourhood, which epitomises everyone’s romantic vision of life in a European city. The apartment buildings are elegant, the public buildings grand, and on the corner of every cobbled street is an old-world pasticciera, luxury retailer or fine restaurant. Take the route via Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. This Renaissance-style structure is one of the most famous examples of European iron architecture and represents the archetype of the commercial retail space of the 19th century. The vaulted glass dome roof is awe-inspiring. Once you find yourself in the narrow streets of Brera, take your pick of the many fantastic restaurants and cafés on offer.

Before you get your return taxi or bus, quickly pop into Peck so you can take home some kind of Italian delicacy – Peck is the ultimate gourmand destination in Milan. Peck opened in 1883 as a shop for fine smoked meats and salmon, and has since become the most prestigious delicatessen in the city. The abundant and colourful counters spread across three floors, offering everything from chocolate to crustaceans. And then there is the wine cellar.

Duomo Information Point, Piazza del Duomo, 18, Milan, Italy, +39 02 72023375

Via Brera, Milan, Italy

Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II
Al fresco dining by Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine in Brera

Five Hours

If you have the luxury of landing at Linate with a five-hour stop, you could combine the above three-hour itinerary with a visit to the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of Milan’s best public art galleries. The Pinacoteca is not too big, so you can whip around and enjoy masterpieces by the likes of Bellini, Caravaggio and Tintoretto, as well as Boccioni, Modigliani and Severini. The extra time could also allow for a proper trip to Duomo, rather than just admiring it from the piazza. Enter inside or climb to the epic rooftop for panoramic views of the city.

If your layover is at Malpensa, it is a better use of time to visit an attraction in the north of the city, which is slightly closer to the airport – Cimiterio Monumentale is a beautiful and fascinating place to reflect on Italian history and the many personal narratives that belong to it. It is mainly outdoors so you can also enjoy some fresh air. The vast cemetery building dates from the late 19th century and reflects the eclectic tastes of the time, with nods to Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine design. Many illustrious characters linked with Milan’s political and civic history are buried here, including the Campari family who invented everyone’s favourite aperitif. Look out for memorials created by celebrated Italian artists such as the impressionist sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858–1928).

Take the 50-minute Malpensa Express and alight at the Porta Garibaldi stop; from here you can walk. Alternatively, ask your taxi driver to take you to metro stop Monumentale, which is right in front of the cemetery. Depending on how long you spend in the cemetery, you may have time for an aperitivo, coffee or a snack, in which case, hop on the No. 5 tram. In five minutes you can be in the hip Isola neighbourhood, home to many great watering holes, cool street art and quirky shops.

Pinacoteca di Brera, Via Brera, 28, Milan, Italy, +39 02 7226 3264

Cimitero Monumentale, Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale, Milan, Italy, +39 02 8844 1274

Via Carmagnola , Isola, Milan, Italy

Cimiterio Monumentale
A tombstone sculpture within Cimiterio Monumentale

Seven Hours

If daylight is on your side, head straight to Parco Sempione, Milan’s largest green space right in the heart of the city. Take a stroll with a coffee from one of the kiosks and enjoy people- and dog-watching. Within the grounds are the historical Castello Sforzesco and contemporary art centre La Triennale di Milano, so depending on your area of interest you could then visit an exhibition. Exit via the monument L’Arco della Pace (the arch of peace) and you will see Corso Sempione – a grand, leafy avenue lined with restaurants and bars perfect for a pit stop.

From here, follow (in reverse) either of the routes laid out in the three- or five-hour layover itineraries. From Parco Sempione, Monumentale and Isola are about 15 minutes on public transport; Brera is a pretty 15-minute walk, or 10 minutes on public transport.

Parco Sempione, Piazza Sempione, Milan, Italy, +39 02 8846 7383

Castello Sforzesco, Piazza Castello, Milan, Italy, +39 02 8846 3700

La Triennale di Milano, Viale Emilio Alemagna, 6, Milan, Italy + 39 02 724341

Castello Sforzesco in autumnal Parco Sempione
An exquisite decorative ceiling inside Castello Sforzesco

Twelve Hours

You’ve struck gold and have a full day in Milan to enjoy its cuisine, sites and culture at a leisurely pace, and even fit in some shopping. Take your pick from all of the attractions listed above, or venture to the south-west of the city where the neighbourhoods have a different vibe.

Navigli is formed around a group of canals (with Navigli Grande at the centre) dating from as early as 1179. Historically, the waterways were used for trade, but today they bustle with the sound of the many bars and restaurants that line the pavements. The buildings are painted in rusty hues of yellow and pink, and narrow side streets can lead you to both vine-covered courtyards or graffiti-covered walls; the vibe is young and relaxed. Discover cafés tucked away underneath charming case di ringhiera (the traditional workers’ houses characterised by iron railings). If your layover falls on the first Sunday of the month, you could pick up a memento from the thriving antique market. Just beyond Navigli, via Vigevano that leads to Porta Genova station is home to many chic vintage and contemporary clothing shops.

From here cross over the railway tracks into Zona Tortona. Every April, Zona Tortona becomes the centre of Design Week, with the creative glitterati of the design world attending vernissage events and furniture pop-ups. Stylish crowds descend again during Fashion Week. As a result of this attention, many appealing watering holes, restaurants and boutiques have been set up, so now the neighbourhood is in vogue all year. Sample traditional Milanese cooking at Osteria del Binari, for drinks The Botanical Club or Morna, and for gift shopping walk along via Savona. Also in the neighbourhood is Armani/Silos, a museum dedicated to the history of the fashion label, and Museo delle Culture di Milano (MUDEC), designed by architect David Chipperfield, which has become a destination gallery with blockbuster exhibitions from the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Frida Kahlo.

From the city centre, both Navigli and Zona Tortona are roughly 20 minutes on public transport.
Alzaia Naviglio Grande, Milan, Italy
Osteria del Binari, Via Tortona 3, Milan, Italy +39 02 839 5095

The Botanical Club, Via Tortona 33, Milan Italy +39 02 423 2890

Morna, Via Tortona 21, Milan, Italy +39 345 589 5057

Armani/Silos, Via Bergognone 40, Milan, Italy +39 02 9163 0010

MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, Milan, Italy +39 02 54917

The colourful buildings of Navigli
MUDEC in Zona Tortona

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