Milan In-Depth Explorer’s Guide: 10 Reasons to Visit Milan

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When I think about the churches of Italy, the Milan Cathedral is always the first that springs to mind. This Gothic masterpiece, frequently featured on social media, is a testament to architectural brilliance. Its grandeur, breathtaking appearance, and historical significance make it an unmissable landmark in Italy.

If you’re planning a journey to Northern Italy, I suspect Milan, home to this magnificent cathedral, is on your potential itinerary. However, you might be reconsidering, wondering if there’s more to Milan than just the cathedral. Well, of course, yes!

After exploring the city, I can say that Milan, also known for its high-end shopping experience and fashion industry, is definitely worth a visit. Milan is teeming with fascinating finds that are sure to pique the interest any curious explorer, and there’s even more to it than that!

In Milan, you can uncover the works of Leonardo da Vinci, behold world-renowned landmarks like La Scala Opera House, and visit Santa Maria Delle Grazie, which houses the original painting of The Last Supper. And of course, there’s the iconic Milan Cathedral, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Castello Sforzersco… the list goes on!

Interested in learning more about these places I’ve mentioned? Don’t worry, I’ll provide more details in this post.

As a bustling city (Milan is Italy’s second largest), there’s an abundance of activities to engage in this city. All it takes is a bit of research, which I’ve conveniently done for you in this post. If you’re now considering a trip to Milan, here’s where you can find top-notch hotel deals, as well as most amazing guides, skip-the-line tickets, and tours.

Let’s get started with the details about Milan!

1. Milan’s Ultimate Attraction: Milan Cathedral

Like myself, I suspect that for many people, the Milan Cathedral is the first image that comes to mind when they think of Milan. After all, every time Milan is mentioned in the news or featured in an online publication, the iconic Duomo di Milano is often showcased.

Wondering why the Milan Cathedral makes Milan worth a visit? I have an abundance of reasons that I’m eager to share with you!

Milan Italy, Duomo di Milano
Milan Italy, Duomo di Milano
Milan Italy, Duomo di Milano

In my opinion, Milan Cathedral or Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Nativity of Saint Mary alone is enough to visit Milan.

This iconic structure stands as a testament to centuries of faith, artistry, and perseverance, making it a masterpiece that is nothing short of awe-inspiring. To gaze upon the Milan Cathedral is to witness one of humanity’s most remarkable achievements.

The construction of the Milan Cathedral began in 1386 and it took nearly six centuries to complete. With the final details only completed in 1965, the Milan Cathedral has been a silent witness to many historical events throughout its construction, ultimately becoming one of the world’s most famous architectural marvels.

One such event was when Napoleon Bonaparte initiated the completion of the façade on May 20, 1805, just before he was crowned King of Italy.

As a Christian, the Milan Cathedral holds a significance that goes beyond its breathtaking appearance. To visit it is to undertake a journey of faith and devotion. A Pilgrimage.

Nestled within the grandeur of the Milan Cathedral, or Duomo di Milano, is a relic of immense significance – a nail believed to be from the True Cross, known as the Holy Nail. This relic is thought to be one of the actual nails used during the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Nail is not easily visible to the casual observer, though. It resides in a tabernacle high up in the cathedral’s apse, about forty meters above the ground. A small red-light bulb marks its location. However, this sacred artifact becomes accessible to the public for a brief period each year.

As part of an ancient tradition known as the Rite of the Nivola, the Holy Nail is brought down and displayed for three days in September. This event involves a unique “machine” called the Nivola, a sort of “lift” decorated with painted canvases and statues of angels, which is used to reach the tabernacle.

Aside from historical and religious significance, Milan Cathedral also offers exciting experiences like the opportunity to walk around on large parts of its roof. Imagine being up close with about 135 spires, each adorned with a statue that tells a story from Milan’s history or the bible. It’s definitely the best way to immerse oneself to the architecture of Milan Cathedral.

And let’s not forget about the view! From atop the cathedral, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking panorama of Milan and its surroundings. On a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of the Alps in the distance.

Speaking of Architecture, did you know that the largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world? Its exterior is adorned with pink, white marble and is dotted with an array of pinnacles and towers, each crowned by statues that seem to watch over the city. The nave stands nearly 45 meters tall, boasting the tallest Gothic vaults of any church.

While Milan Cathedral was primarily designed in French-inspired Gothic style, elements of Italian Renaissance architecture are also present in Milan Cathedral. Today, you’ll see a beautiful blend of Flamboyant Gothic and Perpendicular Gothic styles in the cathedral.

When you visit Milan Cathedral, you can also do the following: search for your zodiac sign on the cathedral floor, admire the grandeur of the columns between the five naves, and lose yourself in the biblical scenes depicted in the stained-glass windows.

Getting to Milan Cathedral is quite straightforward. If you’re taking public transport, hop on the Yellow Underground (M3) line from Central Station and alight at the Duomo stop. If you’re nearby, a leisurely walk can lead you straight to the cathedral.

The cathedral welcomes visitors from Monday to Sunday. The cathedral and its archaeological area are open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. If you’re interested in a panoramic view of Milan, the rooftop is accessible from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm from Monday to Thursday and 9:00 am to 8:00 pm from Friday to Sunday. For art enthusiasts, the Duomo Museum opens its doors from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

As for the best time to visit, spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) offer pleasant weather and fewer crowds. It’s advisable to avoid the summer months due to peak tourist season. Tickets can be conveniently purchased online or at one of the ticket offices located on the right-hand side of the cathedral. There are also cashiers in the Duomo Milan Museum area.

For those planning multiple visits or tours, consider getting a Milan Pass or Milano Card. These passes offer free admission to the Milan Cathedral and Duomo Rooftop, along with other perks like free tours and transportation. You can find the passes, tours, and skip-the-line tickets to Milan Cathedral here.

2. Milan’s Historical Landmarks

While Milan may not boast as many historical landmarks as Rome, it’s home to some truly remarkable structures that echo its rich history. The Duomo di Milano, Castello Sforzesco, and Porta Sempione stand as testaments to this past, and in my opinion, they’re also good reasons to visit Milan.

Milan Italy, Castello Sforzesco
Milan Italy, Castello Sforzesco
Milan Italy, Sempione Park
Milan Italy, Sempione Park
Milan Italy, Porta Sempione
Milan Italy, Porta Sempione
Milan Italy, Porta Sempione

If you find yourself in Cathedral Square, or Duomo Piazza, and you head northwest for about 1 kilometer (or 0.6 miles), you’ll first come across the imposing Castello Sforzesco, followed by the majestic Porta Sempione.

Castello Sforzesco

Castello Sforzesco, a grand fortress situated in Milan, Italy, was constructed in the 15th century under the rule of Francesco Sforza, the then Duke of Milan. This historical structure has undergone numerous modifications and restorations over the centuries. Remarkably, it evolved into one of Europe’s most extensive citadels during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Today, Castello Sforzesco stands as a beacon of culture, hosting a variety of city museums and art collections. It boasts numerous galleries that exhibit an eclectic mix of musical instruments, furniture, and artworks.

Notable among the museums are the Protohistoric Museum and Egyptian Museum, which offer intriguing insights into different parts of the world.

The castle is also home to masterpieces by renowned artists such as Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. A must-see is Michelangelo’s Pietà Rondanini, situated in the western part of Castello Sforzesco’s Ducal Court. This piece, which Michelangelo worked on for eight years until his death, reflects his late style infused with mystical Neoplatonism.

Indeed, much like a visit to the Milan Cathedral, stepping into Castello Sforzesco is akin to journeying back in time.

The fortress, with its distinctive red-brick facade and imposing structures, presents a remarkable medieval spectacle. The courtyard, embellished with vibrant swallow statues, injects a dash of whimsy into the historical ambiance.

If you’re an aficionado of architecture, Castello Sforzesco is bound to captivate you. The castle’s architecture is an intriguing blend of Renaissance and Gothic styles, notable for its concentration of defensive engineering. It’s worth mentioning that renowned engineers and architects, including Leonardo da Vinci himself, have contributed to its design.

Are you considering a visit? Castello Sforzesco welcomes visitors from Tuesday to Sunday, operating from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Please note that the last ticket is issued at 4:30 pm and final entry is granted at 5:00 pm.

Tickets can be procured at the Castle Museums Admission Ticket office or reserved online. Special passes such as the Musei Lombardia-Milano Card and Tourist Museum Card are also available. For further details, kindly refer to the official website of Castello Sforzesco.

You can find the passes, tours, and skip-the-line tickets Castello Sforzesco here.

Sempione Park

Nestled behind the Castello Sforzesco is the expansive Sempione Park, a beautiful green oasis in the heart of Milan. Originally the private park of the Visconti dukes, it later became the property of the Sforza family who built the Castello Sforzesco.

Today, it houses various cultural institutions and offers recreational activities that appeal to individuals across all age groups and interests. The park boasts a combination of well-manicured gardens, meadows, and water features, offering a splendid perspective of Arco della Pace and Castello Sforzesco.

Sempione Park, a haven of tranquility in Milan, provides an unparalleled spot for relaxation, especially after a tour of the grand Castello Sforzesco. But the park offers more than just a serene walk amidst nature.

Nestled within its confines is Torre Branca, a towering structure that stands at 108 meters, making it one of Milan’s tallest. If you’re up for it, you can take an elevator to the top and soak in panoramic views of Milan and the Lombardy countryside.

On a clear day, you might even catch sight of the Alps, the Apennines, and part of the Po Valley. Do note that the tower’s opening hours can vary, so it’s advisable to check Torre Branca’s official website for the most current schedule and updates.

Porta Sempione

Situated across Sempione Park, opposite to Castello Sforzesco, you’ll find the Porta Sempione. Known as the “Simplon Gate”, this city gate of Milan is distinguished by a notable triumphal arch, the Arco della Pace or “Arch of Peace”. This 19th-century landmark now serves as a portal to Milan’s rich history, recounting numerous significant events in the 19th-century like:

  1. On 22 March 1848, the Austrian army led by marshal Josef Radetzky escaped from Milan through Porta Giovia after being defeated in the Five Days of Milan rebellion.
  2. On 8 June 1859, four days after the Battle of Magenta, Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II of Italy triumphally entered Milan through the gate.

Standing tall at 25 meters and stretching wide at 24 meters, Porta Sempione is a remarkable example of Neoclassical architecture in the city. Adorned with an array of bas-reliefs, statues, and Corinthian columns, it’s a visual delight for any observer.

The decorations pay homage to significant events in the annals of Italy and Europe. Notable among these are ‘The Foundation of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia’ by Pompeo Marchesi and ‘Institution of the Iron Crown’ by Giovanni Battista Perabò. It also vividly depicts historical occurrences such as the Congress of Prague and the Battle of Leipzig.

3. Milan’s Other Unique and Beautiful Architectural Attractions

Another reason to visit Milan lies in the city’s architectural marvels, each echoing a different era. Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast or a casual observer, the city offers a diverse array of styles to admire and capture on camera.

The architectural journey begins with historic landmarks like Castello Sforzesco, Duomo di Milano, and Arco Della Pace. But it doesn’t end there. Casa Della Memoria, Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, Torre Velasca, Bosco Verticale, Palazzo Lombardia, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are just a few more of the stunning structures that grace Milan’s cityscape.

These architectural gems could very well be your reason to plan a visit to Milan.

Casa Della Memoria

Casa Della Memoria, or the House of Memory, is a treasure box of Milan’s history. Completed in 2015 by the local architecture studio Baukuh, this house serves as a protective vault for the memories that Milanese citizens hold dear.

The building’s architecture is a simple rectangular parallelepiped measuring 20×35 meters. Its rough surface and modest materials, clearly dependent on Lombard tradition, reaffirm the connection between this architecture and the artisanal and industrial tradition of the Isola neighborhood that hosts it.

If you will notice, its exterior features a vibrant mosaic of red polychrome bricks. These mosaics paint pictures of freedom and democracy, symbolizing the ideals upheld by Casa Della Memoria and its organization.

Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio

Milan Italy, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio

Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio is one of Milan’s oldest churches, built by St. Ambrose between 379 and 386 in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions had been buried. Over the centuries, it has been rebuilt several times, with the earliest parts of the current structure dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries.

Today, the basilica serves as a pilgrimage and a picturesque example of Romanesque architecture. Its robust features incorporate elements from Roman and Byzantine architecture, making it one of the most interesting pieces of architecture in the city.

Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio is open from Monday to Saturday: from 10:00 am until 12:00 pm and from 2:30 pm until 6:00 pm. On Sunday: from 3:00 pm until 5:00 pm. The best time to visit would be during daylight hours when you can fully appreciate its architectural details. There’s no need for tickets as it’s free to visit.

For more information, please check the official website of Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio.

Torre Velasca

Milan Italy, Torre Velasca

Rising high into the Milanese skyline, Torre Velasca stands as one of the city’s first skyscrapers.

Towering at a height of 100 meters, or 328 feet, the architectural style of the tower is a fusion of modern and ancient influences, an example of a Brutalist architecture. The top third of the structure, jutting out from the lower levels, was crafted to mirror the design of medieval watchtowers.

In recognition of its historical significance, the Italian government granted it protected status in 2011, cementing its place as one of Milan’s cherished historic buildings.

Bosco Verticale

Milan Italy, Bosco Verticale

The Bosco Verticale, a pair of residential skyscrapers in Milan, boasts an exterior teeming with greenery. As the first example of urban densification of nature within a city, it’s a must-see attraction in Milan’s Porta Nuova district.

Palazzo Lombardia

Milan Italy, Palazzo Lombardia

Palazzo Lombardia, a skyscraper nestled in Milan’s Central Business District, stands tall at 161 meters (528 feet). This complex, composed of private and public offices, was recognized with the International Architecture Award for its outstanding global design.

While it may appear as an ordinary structure against Milan’s skyline, its minimalist beauty lies in the Città di Lombardia square. The square’s architecture is nothing short of picturesque, with leading lines and symmetrical proportions that make it a perfect subject for photography.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Milan Italy, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy, it was part of an urban project to modernize Milan after the city’s liberation in 1859. Today, it stands as a major landmark and Italy’s oldest active shopping gallery.

The Galleria is also a masterpiece of Neoclassical architecture in Milan. It’s made up of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon, covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. The arching glass and cast iron roof, a popular design for 19th-century arcades, is particularly impressive.

The Galleria is located at Duomo Square in Milan and you can get there via public transit access Duomo. It’s open from Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 19:30. To avoid crowds, it’s best to visit outside of weekends and weekdays between 12 and 6 p.m, or during the high season between June and August. Entry is free as it’s a public space.

4. Milan’s Shopping Experience and Fashion

Milan, one of the world’s fashion capitals, is a city that’s sure to meet your shopping desires.

Whether you’re on a shopping spree or just browsing, the glitz and glamour of Milan’s shopping districts will captivate you. There’s a golden glow in almost every corner you turn, particularly when you stroll down Milan’s most luxurious street, Via Montenapoleone.

While Milan boasts numerous shopping streets, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Quadrilatero Della Moda, home to Via Montenapoleone, are the most frequented and offer plenty of picture-worthy moments.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Milan Italy, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a shopping gem in the heart of Milan. While it is the oldest shopping mall in Italy, it is also among the most elegant.

As you walk under the glass and iron dome, you’re surrounded by luxury boutiques that have made this place famous.

You’ll find iconic brands like Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Armani. But also, don’t miss out on historic workshops like Cadè for shirts and ties, Piumelli for handmade gloves, and Mejana for time-honoured fountain pens.

When it’s time to eat, you’re in for a treat. The Galleria is home to some of Milan’s oldest establishments like Café Biffi. For a taste of tradition, try Luini’s one-of-a-kind “panzerotti”. If you’re after a gourmet experience, Ristorante Galleria, Savini, or Teatro alla Scala Il Foyer are excellent choices.

For a meal with a view, Giacomo Arengario overlooks Piazza Duomo. And if you’re seeking Michelin Starred cuisine, Cracco is the place to be.

Quadrilatero Della Moda

Milan Italy, Quadrilatero Della Moda

A stone’s throw northeast from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, you’ll discover the “fashion square” of Milan, the Quadrilatero Della Moda. This place is a haven for fashion enthusiasts, offering an immersive experience of luxury and style.

You’ll find yourself surrounded by the biggest names in fashion – think Armani, Versace, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and many more. And the best part? You’ll be walking down Europe’s most expensive street, Via Monte Napoleone!

You can also indulge in some delicious food at top-tier restaurants like Zelo or 10_11. And don’t forget to check out the historic Bagatti Valsecchi and Poldi Pezzoli house museums and the Palazzo Morando.

Caffe Cova, tracing its roots back to 1817, is among the oldest cafes and confectioners in Milan. It made a significant move to Via Monte Napoleone in 1950. The gastronomic delights at Caffe Cova are exceptional, though they come with a rather hefty price tag.

5. Milan’s Cuisine: The Michelin Star Restaurants

If you’re a foodie, Milan is your paradise! The city is a melting pot of culinary delights, offering everything from cozy neighborhood trattorias to high-end Michelin-starred restaurants.

In fact, as of 2021, Milan is home to 15 Michelin-starred restaurants. One of them, Enrico Bartolini al Mudec, even boasts the prestigious three-star rating!

What is a Michelin star signify by the way? It’s a rating system employed by the esteemed Michelin Guide to grade restaurants on their quality.

A one-star rating denotes “a very good restaurant”, two stars indicate “excellent cooking that is worth a detour”, and the coveted three stars represent “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey”. However, it’s worth noting that dining at these star-studded establishments often comes with a hefty price tag.

Here’s what Michelin Guide found in Enrico Bartolini al Mudec was awarded why it earned Michelin three stars:

This elegant, contemporary – style restaurant on the third floor of the Museo delle Culture offers an original location and attentive, solicitous service. The apparent simplicity of the menu sets the tone for a concert of dishes which feature extraordinary soloists backed by choirs of ingredients and variations on the same theme, all arranged across several courses which are striking for their imaginative quality. The conductor of this culinary orchestra is young Bartolini, poised and composed on the outside yet full of passion and energy within.

Michelin Guide

Here is the link to Michelin Guide to see all the Michelin star restaurants in Milan.

Most importantly, it’s not just about the stars. Milanese chefs are known for their innovative approach to cooking.

Take Spore in Porta Romana, for example, where fermented ingredients are the star of the show. And if seafood is your thing, you can’t miss Langosteria, known for serving the best fish and crustaceans in town.

6. Milan’s Superstar: Leonardo da Vinci

What also truly differentiates Milan from other Italian cities is its association with Leonardo da Vinci. Despite being a native of the Republic of Florence, Leonardo spent a significant portion of his life in Milan, leaving behind a legacy that is still evident today. This aspect alone makes Milan a worthwhile destination.

Milan Italy, Piazza della Scala

What makes Leonardo da Vinci so remarkable? Well, he was a prodigy who transformed the world as we know it. He is best known for his iconic paintings, the “Monalisa” and “Last Supper,” which are the most discussed and replicated artworks worldwide.

However, Leonardo was more than just an artist. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in history, with accomplishments in painting, sculpture, writing, music, engineering, invention, and even anatomy!

Viewing his creations in person is truly mesmerizing and often sparks curiosity. For 17 years, Milan served as Leonardo da Vinci’s home where he created notable works that can still be found in the city today. The top three Leonardo da Vinci-related attractions in Milan that should not be missed are:

  1. The painting of the Last Supper in Santa Maria Delle Grazie
  2. Atlanticus Codex (and more) in Pinacoteca Ambrosiana
  3. Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum

Should your trip to Milan be inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, considering guided tours could be a wise decision. These tours allow you to uncover every captivating aspect of Leonardo’s time in Milan. With guides offering comprehensive context and detailed explanations, your Milanese adventure promises to be a journey of learning and discovery—an enriching experience.

The Last Supper

It’s probable that most of us have seen depictions of the Last Supper in various places—be it in a church, within the home of a Christian family, or on the internet. However, how would it feel to gaze upon the actual painting? In my opinion, it’s an honor—a rare opportunity to personally experience a piece of art that is universally treasured and admired.

Milan Italy, Santa Maria Delle Grazie

The Last Supper, a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, was likely created between 1495 and 1498. It was part of a major renovation of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, commissioned by Ludovico Sforza. The monastery itself dates back to 1459, thanks to a generous donation from Count Gaspare Vimercati to the Dominican friars of Sant’Eustorgio.

Fast forward to World War II, and the monastery found itself in the crosshairs of Allied bombings. In August 1943, a bomb strike over Milan severely damaged many of the city’s Catholic landmarks, including Santa Maria delle Grazie. The refectory housing The Last Supper was badly damaged.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Despite the devastation, The Last Supper survived! Officials had taken precautions to protect this priceless work of art with sandbags and scaffolding. When the dust settled, the wall bearing the mural was still standing. A few months later, workers cleared the rubble to find Da Vinci’s mural almost intact. It was a close call – had the roof collapsed closer to the wall, we might have lost this masterpiece forever.

Today, we can still behold the Last Supper with clear details, depicting a significant moment from Jesus’ passion as described in the gospels of the Bible. It not only captures the final instance when Jesus and his apostles were together but also vividly portrays the emotions that surfaced when Judas’ betrayal was unveiled.

A closer look reveals Leonardo da Vinci’s extraordinary ability to convey the apostles’ feelings and reactions through his art. The sheer creativity and skill demonstrated in this masterpiece are truly commendable. The awe-inspiring dimensions of the Last Supper, measuring 9 meters (29 feet) in width and 2.5 meters (15 feet) in height, further enhance its impressiveness.

Planning a visit to see the Last Supper in Santa Maria Delle Grazie? The site is accessible from Tuesday to Sunday, between 8:15 am and 7:00 pm. As per the official Milan tourism website, prior booking is required. Here are some insider tips to make your visit smooth and enjoyable:

  1. Book early: The Last Supper is a hot ticket item, so make sure to reserve your spot well in advance.
  2. Consider a guided tour: A knowledgeable guide can really bring the painting to life with fascinating stories and context.
  3. Travel light: Big bags aren’t allowed inside, so leave them in the cloakroom.
  4. Watch the clock: You’ll have 15 minutes to view the painting, so make every second count.
  5. No flash photography: You can take photos, but keep the flash off to protect the artwork.

You can schedule your visit to Santa Maria Delle Grazie to see the painting of the Last Supper here.

What is another thing you can expect when you get there? Well, you’ll pass through a series of airlocks and climate-controlled chambers — all designed to protect this fragile masterpiece from humidity and temperature changes. And remember, it’s a religious site, so dress modestly out of respect.

Plan for about 2 to 4 hours for the complete visit, including exploring the surrounding area.

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

Leonardo da Vinci, with his exceptional talent and intellect, has always amazed me. The workings of his mind are particularly fascinating. During my college years, I often found myself wishing that I could have a share of his IQ. This way, I could have aced all my exams without the need for those grueling study sessions that are all too common during hell week.

But, real talk: It’s undeniable – without Leonardo da Vinci, our world would be a starkly different place. His designs and inventions, from parachutes and portable bridges to diving suits and even scissors, have left an indelible mark on our lives. Can you fathom a world devoid of scissors? The simple act of cutting would be a far more arduous task without Leonardo’s ingenuity.

Italy, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

Like me, are you intrigued by Leonardo da Vinci? Then Milan should really be on your travel list, including Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Established way back in 1618 by Cardinal Federico Borromeo, this library or art museum is a must-visit.

It is home to some of the greatest masterpieces of all time curated inside 24 rooms, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus — the largest collection of Leonardo’s writings and sketches. It spans Leonardo’s entire career from 1478 to 1519, and it’s packed with over 1,200 pages of his work.

As you gaze through the pages, you’ll see Leonardo’s mind at work in a variety of fields — seeing it is like stepping into the mind of the genius himself!

You’ll find studies and sketches for his paintings, showing the master artist at work. There are also plenty of notes on mechanics and hydraulics, revealing Leonardo’s fascination with how things work. The Codex Atlanticus also contains Leonardo’s mathematical studies, his observations on astronomy, and even his philosophical meditations and fables. And of course, you’ll come across his inventive designs for things like parachutes, war machines, and hydraulic pumps.

The Bibliotheca Ambrosiana also houses two rare and disputed works attributed to Leonardo: the Portrait of Isabella d’Este, wife of the Duke of Milan, and the Portrait of a Musician.

However, Biblioteca Ambrosiana is not just about Leonardo da Vinci’s works, there’s so much more to see! Here, you’ll find an array of paintings, drawings, and sculptures by renowned artists like Caravaggio, Raphael, and Botticelli. Each artwork is a feast for the eyes. The library also houses historical letters, including the love letters between Lucrezia Borgia and Pietro Bembo.

Planning a visit to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana? The library is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. You’ll find the library at Piazza Pio XI, 2 Milano. It’s easily accessible from the Cordusio or Duomo metro stops.

And here’s a tip: every Saturday at 3:30 pm, there’s a guided tour of the masterpieces of the Pinacoteca. It’s conducted by professional guides, so you’ll get to hear all the fascinating stories behind the artworks.

Just remember to check the official website for any updates before your visit.

Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum

Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum is Italy’s largest science and technology museum dedicated to the country’s genius, Leonardo. It’s another place to learn more about the country’s genius. 

Milan Italy, Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum

Situated in the historic San Vittore al Corpo monastery in Milan, the Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum offers a fascinating blend of old and new. Visitors can expect a unique experience as they explore the wide range of exhibits on transportation, communication, energy, and more.

A highlight of the museum is undoubtedly the section dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci. Here, one can delve into numerous drawings, projects, and illustrations created by the genius himself. Some of these designs have been transformed into tangible objects by experts, with exhibits featuring everything from a simple hydraulic saw to visionary flying machines and even submarines.

Also, prepare to be amazed by 50 contraptions that were way ahead of their time. Two floors are packed with incredible machines built according to Leonardo’s original designs: think multi-directional machine gun, trench digger, hang-glider and even webbed gloves (which were actually a precursor to modern flippers).

Don’t miss the 39 wooden models of his inventions, first built in Milan in 1952. These models were sketched out by Leonardo over his lifetime and provide a fascinating insight into his skilled mechanical drawings!

Ultimately, get ready for an interactive journey like no other through the mind of Leonardo da Vinci. the museum has a multi-sensory experience will take you deep into the world of this Renaissance Master.

The Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum is nestled in the heart of Milan, Italy, on San Vittore Street. If you’re planning to visit, you can hop on the M2 metro line and get off at the San Ambrogio stop, or take bus 58 to Via San Vittore/Via Aristide de Togni. Alternatively, bus 94 to Carducci is another option.

The museum welcomes visitors from Tuesday to Sunday. On Tuesdays, it’s open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. From Wednesday to Friday, you can visit between 9:30 am and 5:00 pm. Over the weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, the museum extends its hours from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm.

As for the best time to visit, any time during operating hours should be fine. But remember, the museum is closed on Mondays. For more information, please check the official website of the museum.

7. Milan’s Interesting Museums

With more than 50 museums scattered across the city, Milan is an amazing destination for culture enthusiasts and curious minds. The Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana are particularly noteworthy.

However, Milan’s museum landscape is diverse and extends beyond these two. The city’s museums celebrate its rich culture, arts, design, fashion, and much more. Some even house archaeological artifacts and scientific inventions, while others are dedicated to sports! Here’s a list of all museums in Milan for your reference.

Besides the two mentioned earlier, the Museo del Novecento, Pinacoteca di Brera, and MUDEC – The Museum of Cultures are also worth a visit in my opinion.

Museo del Novecento

Milan Italy, Museo del Novecento

Situated to the south of Duomo Piazza, the Museo del Novecento is a renowned museum dedicated to twentieth-century art. Its location provides an unparalleled vantage point over the city square, attracting travelers who wish to photograph the city center and cathedral without any distractions.

However, the nicer thing about Museo del Novecento is that it’s home to impressive collection of over 400 artworks, mostly paintings, photographs, and sculptures that were made from 1902 till the 1970s.

Established on 6th December 2010, the museum is managed by the Comune di Milano and aims to spread knowledge of 20th-century art and offer a more comprehensive insight into the collections that the city of Milan has inherited over time.

The main exhibition is a chronological display of works from the 20th century, with sections dedicated to major art movements of the time like Abstractionism, Post Impressionism, and Realism. You’ll find masterpieces by modern and contemporary artists including Mondrian, Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, and Kandinsky.

Some of the unmissable exhibits include the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, Futurist sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni, and Botticelli’s Venus.

For more information, please refer to the official website of Museo del Novecento.

Pinacoteca di Brera

Milan Italy, Pinacoteca di Brera

Pinacoteca di Brera, or Brera Art Gallery, is Milan’s main public gallery dedicated to paintings. Intriguingly, it was Napoleon I who founded this magnificent gallery, which today stands as one of Italy’s largest art galleries. Exploring the museum, you’ll see a breathtaking collection of Italian artworks primarily from the Quattrocento period through to the Rococo period – a span of three centuries from the 15th to the 18th.

Home to the works of Picasso, Raphael, Caravaggio, Bellini, and Titian, the paintings housed within the walls of museums are nothing short of incredible; some are large and still vibrant with color despite their age, thanks to meticulous restoration efforts.

Visitors to the museum are treated to a visual banquet. The museum’s 38 rooms are filled with beautiful and famous pieces, as well as numerous pieces that aren’t as famous, but that are just as mesmerizing. The main exhibition comprises chiefly religious works, many of them large altarpieces.

While art appreciation is subjective, I believe that four artworks in Pinacoteca di Brera will particularly draw your attention: ‘Saint Mark Preaching in Alexandria’ by Giovanni Bellini, ‘Madonna of the Cherubim’ by Andrea Mantegna, ‘Finding of the body of St Mark’ by Tintoretto, and ‘Madonna della Candeletta’ by Carlo Crivelli.

I think you will also find Caravaggio’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’, ‘Virgin and Saints’ by Piero della Francesca, ‘Marriage of the Virgin’ by Raphael, and ‘Discovery of the Body of St. Mark’ by Tintoretto interesting.

Actually, Pinacoteca di Brera is a museum within a museum. It is located in the Palazzo Brera, home to other cultural institutions such as the Brera Library, the Astronomic Observatory, the Botanical Garden, the Lombard Institute for Science and Art and the Academy of Fine Arts.

To fully appreciate its vast collection, plan for a visit lasting between one to two hours. The museum is open from Monday to Sunday (09:00 am to 6:00 pm). Tickets can be bought on their official website or at the entrance. Guided tours are available and there’s also an audio guide for a more immersive experience.

MUDEC – The Museum of Cultures

The Museum of Cultures, as the name suggests, is a cultural hub that showcases a variety of cultures from around the world.

Its primary objective is to foster dialogue on contemporary issues through diverse mediums such as visual and performing arts, sound art, design, and costume. While it houses permanent exhibitions, the temporary exhibitions are particularly intriguing. MUDEC has previously highlighted non-European cultures from regions like Polynesia, Japan, China, and New Zealand.

It has also delved into modern technology and entertainment with exhibitions featuring Disney and even Barbie! For information on past, current, and upcoming exhibitions, you can visit MUDEC’s official website.

8. Milan’s Urban Art

Looking for another reason to visit Milan? Consider its thriving street art culture. Milan is home to what might be Italy’s “longest” display of street art and graffiti — Milan’s urban canvas that is a riot of colors and creativity.

This accessible and unique form of art offers a glimpse into the minds of Milan’s residents, their expressions, and their narratives. Some murals carry profound messages, while others pay tribute to notable figures of recent times.

You’ll find these artistic gems scattered throughout Milan, but a concentrated collection can be found along Via Ortica and Via Camillo e Otto Cima in the Ortica district, east of the city center.

Here’s a street view of Via Camillo e Otto Cima and Via Ortica. Feel free to explore the area through the 360-image.

Via Ortica:

Via Camillo o Otto Cima:

9. Milan’s Musical: La Scala

You may not be a fan of operas, and I’m not either. However, that alone can be a compelling reason to visit Milan, all thanks to Teatro Alla Scala, more commonly known as La Scala. It is Italy’s most famous opera house.

La Scala, an opera house in Milan, Italy, opened its doors to the public on August 3, 1778. Originally known as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala, it was inaugurated with a performance of Antonio Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta.

Since its opening, La Scala has been the stage for many premieres of operas by notable composers such as Bellini, Rossini, and Verdi. It has also hosted performances by some of the greatest singers of the past 200 years.

Today, La Scala serves as a venue for opera performances and is considered one of the leading opera houses in the world. It also has an associate school known as the La Scala Theatre Academy (Italian: Accademia Teatro alla Scala), which offers professional training in music, dance, stagecraft, and stage management.

When you visit La Scala, you can experience the thrill of watching operas that have gained global acclaim. You also have the opportunity to take a guided tour. This will give you an up-close look at the La Scala stage, its impressive chandelier, and the pit orchestra. In addition, there’s a museum within the theatre. Here, you can explore a collection of historical instruments.

Do you want to visit La Scala? It is located in the city center at Piazza della Scala square, just opposite the Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall. The exact address is Filodrammatici Street, 2, Milan.

Getting there is pretty straightforward. You can hop on a streetcar and get off at the Manzoni Scala station using lines 1 and 2. Alternatively, you can take the subway lines 1 and 3 to the Duomo station.

The theater welcomes visitors from Monday to Saturday between 10:30 am and 6:00 pm. If you’re planning to buy tickets on-site, the box office is open every day from Monday to Saturday from 12 noon to 6 pm.

As for the best time to visit for a tour, any time of year is great! But spring and fall are particularly lovely (fewer crowds). To avoid crowds during peak season, consider visiting early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Just keep in mind that public performances might restrict access to certain areas.

Tickets can be purchased online, from authorized sales agents, or directly from the La Scala box office. If you’re planning to explore more of Milan, consider getting the Milan Pass. It includes entrance to La Scala Theatre Museum and other attractions around the city.

For a deeper dive into La Scala’s history and splendor, consider joining a guided tour that usually lasts 45 minutes. You can book tickets for performances at La Scala Theater online through their official website.

You can find the skip-the-line entry tickets and tours to La Scala and other attractions in Milan using the link.

10. Milan’s Advantageous Location

One cannot overlook Milan’s advantageous location near the Alps when planning a trip to Italy. The awe-inspiring Alps, one of the earth’s most stunning landscapes, are within easy reach from Milan.

This opens up opportunities for day trips to picturesque destinations such as Lake Como, Bergamo, and regions of Switzerland. GetYourGuide facilitates day trips to Lugano and Interlaken. Check out the itinerary in the menu below for more information.

Learn more about the places in Switzerland you can next visit from Milan:

  • Zermatt: the best place to view the Matterhorn (one of the world’s most famous mountains). Learn about the 10 best views in Zermatt.
  • Interlaken: Have the most unforgettable adventures and breathtaking views in your life! Here is how you can spend 7 days in Interlaken.
  • Kandersteg: The village nearest to the most beautiful alpine lake in Switzerland, Oeschinensee.

Guides, Tours, and Accommodation in Milan

If you need help visiting the places I mentioned above, you can check guides and tours from GetYourGuide. I picked the best offers for your convenience:

See the complete list of the best things to do in Milan here.

When to Visit Milan

 Milan is a city that you can visit any time of the year, each season has its own offering.

If you’re planning to visit during the peak season, which is from May to August, be prepared for a lively atmosphere. The city is buzzing with activity and the warm weather is perfect for exploring the city. However, the museums can get quite crowded during this time. You might find yourself waiting in long queues at popular landmarks.

If you’re not a fan of queues, there are ways to avoid them. One option is to book your tickets online before your visit. This not only saves you time but also ensures that you don’t miss out on visiting an attraction if it gets sold out on the day of your visit. Another option is to purchase skip-the-line tickets which allow you to bypass the long entrance queues.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more peaceful discovery of Milan’s rich history and art scene, consider visiting during the shoulder season from September to November. During this time, there are fewer tourists, and you’ll have a more relaxed experience at the museums. The weather is also quite pleasant during these months.

If you’re looking to save some money on your trip to Milan, consider planning your visit between November and January. During this period, you can find hotel rates averaging between $56 and $148 per night. However, if you were to visit during the peak season, which is from April to June, you’d see those rates jump up a bit. In fact, they could range anywhere from $73 to $208 per night.

Note: these are just averages and prices can fluctuate.

Lastly, if you’re planning a trip to Milan and want to immerse yourself in the local culture, there are some fantastic events that you might want to time your visit around:

  1. Milano Fashion Week: Known as the fashion capital of the world, Milan hosts this glamorous event where designers from all corners of the globe come to showcase their spring/summer collections. The Women’s Fashion Show usually happens in September or October, while the Men’s Fashion Week is typically in January and February.
  2. Milan Design Week: An event that truly brings the city to life with beautiful expos. The dates can vary each year, so it’s best to check closer to your visit.
  3. Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix: If you’re a fan of high-speed thrills, then this event is for you. It takes place in Autodromo Nazionale Monza, which is about 30 km north of Milan, during the autumn.
  4. Christmas and New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Experience the magic of winter in Milan. The city is beautifully decorated with Christmas colours, making it a sight to behold.
  5. Teatro alla Scala Opening Night: On December 7th, the famous Teatro alla Scala celebrates the opening of its season with a grand performance.

You can check Milan’s calendar of events here.

How Many Days in Milan

How long should you spend in Milan to truly experience what the city has to offer? The answer depends on what you want to see and do.

Quick Milan Tour

If you’re just looking to catch the highlights of Milan, a quick 2-day trip should do the trick. You’ll have just enough time to marvel at the majestic Duomo, witness Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, and explore the grand Castello Sforzesco.

The Full Milan Experience

But if you’re the type who doesn’t want to miss a thing, plan for about 3 days. This will give you ample time to discover both the famous sights and the hidden gems of Milan.

Kick off your Milan adventure with a visit to the heart of the city, the awe-inspiring Duomo. Once you’ve soaked in its grandeur, make your way to the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, a historic mall that’s a feast for the eyes. Next, treat yourself to a show at La Scala, one of the world’s most famous opera houses. Wrap up your day with a leisurely stroll around the Sforza Castle and Sempione Park.

Day two is all about discovery. Start with a trip to the Leonardo da Vinci Science and Technology Museum, where you can marvel at the genius of one of Italy’s greatest minds. Then, pay a visit to the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, an important symbol of Milan or more museums linked to Leonardo da Vinci we discussed in this post. As evening falls, head over to the Navigli District and enjoy its vibrant nightlife.

On your third day, immerse yourself in art at the Pinacoteca de Brera, home to an impressive collection of Italian Renaissance art. After that, explore the Royal Palace of Milan. Dedicate the rest of your day to shopping in Milan’s famous fashion district – it’s a fashionista’s paradise!

Milan Plus Day trips

Now, if you’re hoping to see Milan’s highlights and take a day trip to another part of Italy, you should plan for about 4-5 days. This gives you plenty of time to experience Milan and also visit nearby attractions like Lake Como or Bergamo.

Where to Stay in Milan

If you’re planning to stay in Milan, here are some areas you might want to consider:

  1. Centro Storico: This is the heart of Milan, where you’ll find the iconic Duomo di Milano and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It’s a vibrant area with stunning architecture and a creative scene. However, it can be a bit pricey due to its popularity among tourists.
  2. Brera: This area has a bohemian vibe and is part of the Centro Storico district. It’s packed with boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries. It’s a bit quieter and cheaper than Centro Storico but still has a high-end feel.
  3. Porta Nuova: This is one of Milan’s business districts. It’s modern and has plenty of shopping districts, chic restaurants, and a lively nightlife. However, hotel rates here can be on the higher end.
  4. Stazione Centrale: This area is near Milano Centrale, the city’s main transportation hub. It’s generally safe but always be aware of your surroundings as it can get crowded.

If you’re on a budget, you might want to check out Citta Studi and Navigli. These neighborhoods are centrally located and offer plenty of accommodations for budget travelers. But remember, you might need to look around a bit for more affordable options.

As for convenience in terms of transportation, restaurants, and attractions, Centro Storico is your best bet. You’ll be close to major attractions and well-connected to public transportation. But keep in mind that due to its strategic location, it can get pretty crowded and accommodations can be expensive.

You can find the best hotel deals in Milan here.

Getting Around Milan

Milan is a city that’s easy to navigate. The city’s public transportation system, run by ATM (Azienda Trasporti Milanesi), is efficient and extensive. It includes the Metro, buses, and trams.

The Metro is like the city’s lifeline. It has four color-coded lines that cover most parts of the city. It’s a popular choice among locals, commuters, and tourists. The ticket prices are quite reasonable too. A single ride costs €2, but if you’re planning to travel a lot in a day, you can get a 24-hour ticket for €7.

Buses and trams are also great options. They reach areas that the Metro doesn’t cover. There are eighteen tram lines operating within Milan. Just like the Metro, a ride costs €2.

Now, if you’re thinking about visiting nearby attractions like Bergamo or Lake Como, you don’t necessarily need to rent a car. You can take a train from Milan to Bergamo which takes about 50 minutes. There are also tours available from Milan to Lake Como.

Renting a car might give you more flexibility but driving in Milan can be quite a hassle. Parking can be expensive and finding a parking space might not be easy. Parking in Milan is divided into three color areas: white (free parking), blue (paid parking), and yellow (for residents only). Most of the parking in downtown Milan starts at €3 per hour. Free parking areas are mostly outside the city center.

So, unless you’re planning to visit areas not easily accessible by public transport or prefer more flexibility, you might not need to rent a car.

Where to Go After Milan?

Where to go after Milan? I think the two nearest best destinations are Bergamo and Lake Como.  

  • Bergamo is only 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Milan, and it’s a scenic medieval city perched on a hill.
  • Like Bergamo, Lake Como (and the town of Como) is also approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Milan. Lake Como is a beautiful lake where you can find not only breathtaking views but also lovely villas that are straight from a scene in heaven!

Lastly, you might also want to see other beautiful cities in Europe. Most of them have direct flights to/from Milan:

  1. Paris — I love Sainte-Chapelle and its spectacular stained-glass windows in Paris. You should see it.
  2. Strasbourg — This is the capital of Europe, and it has 3 districts to send you to 3 different eras of our civilization.
  3. Lyon — It is the third largest city in France, the gastronomical capital of the world. It has a church with stunning interiors!
  4. Munich — Come here to see BMWs and impressive palaces. 
  5. Stuttgart — It’s the city where the museum/HQs of Porsche and Mercedes Benz is.
  6. Nuremberg — A city with a fascinating history of the Holy Roman empire up to the Nazis. Come to see fairytale scenery like half-timbered houses and old churches.
  7. Geneva — If you’re interested in Museums and curious about different international institutions, Geneva is the place to be.
  8. Bern — It has a beautifully preserved medieval city center, considered a UNESCO heritage site. Come to see impressive fountains and giant clocks.
  9. Zurich— This is the largest city in Switzerland, and it is famous for its epic nightlife. But it is more than just nightlife.

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