21 Unforgettable Things to Do in Milan

Milan is one of the most vibrant and stylish cities in all of Italy. Renowned for its fashion, design, architecture, and art scenes, it won’t take long for you to find things to do in Milan, Italy!

If you’re looking for a city that combines history, art, fashion, great food, and more, check out my list of 21 things to do in Milan below.

While living in Lake Como, we spent quite a bit of time in Milan. This city has so much to offer and we loved visiting all the museums and exploring the architecture. If you’re visiting Milan, here’s what we recommend.

What is Milan Known For?

Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region in Northern Italy. And since the beginning, Milan has been an important cultural and economic center. The city’s history can be traced back to 600 BC. It was ruled by various powers before it finally became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

If you visit Milan today, it’s striking to see the blend of ancient history and cutting-edge design. The city boasts breathtaking architecture, including the iconic Duomo di Milano, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world. But in contrast, there are also forward-thinking creations like the Bosco Verticale!

Milan is a bustling city that’s known for some of the world’s most famous high fashion brands, such as Versace, Armani, and Prada. Every year Milan hosts Milan Fashion Week, one of the most important events in the fashion industry.

But Milan is not only about fashion and design. It is also a cultural center, with world-renowned museums and art galleries. And then there are the works of Leonardo da Vinci found throughout the city. In fact, one of the top things to do in Milan is da Vinci’s “Last Supper” painting. But the city owes a great deal to the man’s genius in art and science.

What to Do in Milan Italy

Milan makes the ideal destination if you prefer a central location and a balanced mix of modern and historic attractions. Find out more on my list of the 21 best things to do in Milan.

Grab a Hop-on Hop-Off Bus Ticket

If it’s your first time in Milan or if you’re looking for what to do in Milan in a day, I suggest a Milan bus tour. It’s nice that so many of the main sights are all within walking distance of the Centro Storico.

Red double decker bus on the street in Milan

But a great way to get in several sites and get your bearings in a new city is on a hop-on hop-off bus tour! This one is great because of the different options. You get a bus ticket for a double-decker sightseeing bus that runs along 4 different connecting lines.

They all loop through Central Milan and give you an excellent look at major sights like La Scala Theatre, Piazza dei Mercanti, and Santa Maria delle Grazie. While you won’t get an in-depth experience, your ticket also gives you access to an audio tour in 10 different languages to listen to as you ride along!

Another perk of this Milan bus tour is that you can choose either a 24-, 48-, or 72-hour ticket. This means you don’t have to stress jumping off to explore a site up close or stopping for lunch. Just hop on the next bus on the circuit or start up where you left off the next day!

Duomo di Milano Cathedral

The Duomo di Milano is one of the most iconic landmarks in Milan, and a must-visit for anyone exploring the city. The Duomo is an imposing Gothic cathedral that took over 600 years to complete, with construction beginning in 1386. It wasn’t fully completed until 1965!

The cathedral in Milan with people in front of it.

The Milan Cathedral is the largest in Italy and one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Its stunning facade is adorned with over 3,000 statues. This includes the famous Madonnina, a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the cathedral’s spire.

If you want to go inside the Duomo di Milano, you’ll have to purchase tickets for the experience you want. There are different tickets depending on if you want to see the Duomo, the rooftop terraces, the underground crypt, the museum, and more. You can purchase them in person or online. And children under 5 are always free.

The Milan Duomo sits on Piazza del Duomo. This impressive square at the city center is also considered one of the top Milano things to do. From the square, visitors can enjoy views of the cathedral and the surrounding buildings. Any time of the day, the Milan Duomo is stunning, but if you can see it all light up at night, do it!

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, also opens onto the piazza. You can also see the Palazzo Reale di Milano art museum on the square, and you’re also a short walk away from the Piazza dei Mercanti.

Teatro alla Scala

Another must-see in Milan is the Teatro alla Scala, one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world. Known simply as “La Scala,” it has hosted some of the most famous operatic performances and singers in history. The 18th-century theater is renowned for its exceptional acoustics, opulent interiors, and beautiful architecture.

inside of the la scala opera house in Milan. A stage with balconies of seats surrounding it.

One of the top things to do in Milan Italy, a lot of people come to the La Scala Opera House for their first opera. Between shows, you can also tour La Scala when you visit the adjacent museum. Even if you’re not the biggest opera fan, it’s an interesting visit, with an extensive collection of costumes, set designs, and musical instruments.

The famous opera house looks onto the Piazza della Scala near the historic city center. There’s also a Milanese restaurant next to the museum entrance, Ristorante Teatro alla Scala il Foyer. It’s a great stop for dinner before a show or for drinks afterward.

Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio

Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, located in the center of Milan, is one of the oldest churches in the city. Built in the 4th century, it is dedicated to St. Ambrose, the city’s patron saint.

San Ambrogio church with no people around.

The church is renowned for its stunning Romanesque architecture, including a beautiful courtyard with intricate mosaics and a symmetrical design. The inside of the church is just as impressive, with stunning frescoes, sculptures, and paintings.

You can visit the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio for free. If you are interested in tours, staff members are happy to accept payment. You can tour the church, but the best part of this particular location is the fascinating crypt where St. Ambrose is displayed. There’s also a museum with religious artifacts and artworks.

Santa Maria delle Grazie Convent

About a mile from Milan Duomo is Santa Maria delle Grazie, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular places to visit in Milan. The Church of Santa Maria has stunning terra cotta exteriors and Gothic interiors. But it’s best known for being the location of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece “The Last Supper.”

tourists taking pictures of The Last Supper in milan

The church entrance faces east, opening up on the Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie. You can visit the church for free, but if you want to see “The Last Supper,” you have to purchase timed tickets weeks in advance. Most of the time it’s best to book online about 30 days out, but it’s worth it to see da Vinci’s painting in person!

The painting covers an entire wall of the church’s refectory, which now functions as a museum to the left of the church of Santa Maria. Inside you’ll see a collection of religious artifacts and artworks. However, it is the opportunity to see “The Last Supper” up close that draws visitors from around the world.

Go on a Leonardo da Vinci Trail of Milan

Milan, Italy is closely linked to Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest artists and inventors of all time. He moved to Milan in 1482 with a desire to move beyond art and focus on his scientific work. Da Vinci would spend a significant part of his career in Milan before leaving in 1499.

Leonardo da Vinci's house in Milan. A house covered in Ivy

You could walk a Leonardo da Vinci trail of Milan, which would include several key sites that tell a great deal about his life and work. Here are some of the most important sites:

  1. Santa Maria delle Grazie: This is where Leonardo painted “The Last Supper.” It was the only fresco that da Vinci would personally paint in Milan.
  2. Pinacoteca Ambrosiana: Come to this art museum to see a collection of Leonardo’s sketches and drawings. It includes the infamous “Codex Atlanticus.”
  3. Castello Sforzesco: Once the residence of the Sforza family, you’ll find several works by Leonardo, including the “Portrait of a Musician” and the “Codex Trivulzianus II.” He also created the horse statue inside the traffic circle in front of the castle.
  4. Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore: Built in the 1500s, this church boasts frescos done by students of da Vinci. The breathtaking work has earned the church the nickname, “Sistine Chapel of Milan.”
  5. La Vigna di Leonardo: Located across from Santa Maria delle Grazie along Corso Magenta is Leonardo da Vinci’s former villa and vineyard. You can take audio-guided tours of both.
  6. Duomo di Milano: Along with other famous artists, da Vinci was part of a team that worked on a redesign of the Milan Cathedral. It included the creation of the actual dome of the church!
  7. Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci: Take a day and explore this massive science museum. You can see models of planes and underwater vehicles designed by da Vinci.
  8. Naviglio Grande – This canal in Lombardy was designed by da Vinci and is today a popular tourist attraction for those visiting Milan.

Visit All the Museums

Art lovers looking for what to do in Milan Italy won’t be disappointed. The big city has plenty of museums and art galleries to explore, featuring every style and era from Renaissance masterpieces to contemporary works of art.

Pinacoteca di Brera is one of Italy’s most important art museums. It houses an impressive collection of Italian Renaissance paintings. And the Museo Poldi Pezzoli is a unique private collection. It includes Italian paintings and decorative objects by Flemish masters, as well as antique furniture, textiles, and ceramics.

Also, Sforza Castle actually has several museums inside! There’s an ancient art museum with geological artifacts that tell the story of Milan from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

For 19th- and 20th-century Italian art, visit the Museo del Novecento. It’s located on the Piazza del Duomo and has unbeatable views of the Milan Cathedral. And you can see more 19th- and 20th-century works at the Gallerie d’Italia. This massive museum is in fact housed in 3 opulent palaces near Piazza la Scala.

And finally, Contemporary art lovers should check out the Fondazione Prada. The museum features both established and emerging artists from around the world, housed in a striking building designed by architect Rem Koolhaas.

See the Milano Centrale Railway Station

It seems odd to have a train station listed as one of the best things to do in Milan, but Milano Centrale is truly a work of art. So even if you’re not traveling by train, you should still stop in.

escalators going up at milano centrale train station

Please be warned, I was almost robbed in Milano Centrale, so be on your guard. You can read more about my experience here. Train travel is generally safe in Italy, but beware of people trying to “help” you at the ticket booths. These are all in English and you do not need any help. Give them a firm “NO” and hold on to your bags!

Milano Centrale Railway Station is not only one of the busiest train stations in Italy but also a popular tourist attraction. You can admire the station’s ornate features, grab a bite to eat, or catch a train to other Italian cities.

The Milan Central Station was built in the early 20th century. It boasts a striking neo-classical facade and impressive cathedral ceilings inside. The interior decor was created using a mix of architectural styles, including Art Deco and Art Nouveau.

Piazza dei Mercanti

Piazza dei Mercanti is a charming square located in the heart of Milan’s historic center. The square dates back to the Middle Ages and was once a major center of commerce and trade in the city. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and a must-visit for anyone interested in Milan’s history and architecture.

One of the most prominent buildings in the square is the Palazzo della Ragione, which served as Milan’s town hall for centuries. The building features a stunning portico adorned with Gothic arches and is now home to a museum dedicated to the history of the city.

Another notable building on Piazza dei Mercanti is the Loggia degli Osii, a 14th-century structure adorned with decorative motifs and frescoes. The loggia once served as a gathering place for the city’s merchants and is now home to a restaurant. The square is home to cafes, shops, and restaurants, making it a great place to relax and soak up the city’s atmosphere.

Crypt of San Sepolcro

The Crypt of San Sepolcro is a hidden gem in Milan, located beneath the church of San Sepolcro, behind the Ambrosia Library. The crypt dates back to 1030 AD and is one of the oldest structures in Milan. You can explore the crypt on an hour-long guided tour where you’ll see chambers with unique architectural details and original Roman pavement stones!

But the most notable features of the crypt are the gorgeous medieval frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings. The frescoes depict scenes from the Bible, including the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. There are also intricate stonework, sculptures, and Roman columns.

You can take a guided tour of the Crypt which I highly recommend.

Explore Roman Milan

In 600 BC, ancient Celtics established the city of Mediolanum. Then, in 222 BC the Romans took over the city and it became an important center of the Western Roman Empire. After almost 350 years, the city fell to the Germanic Lombards. But to this day, you can find remnants of that ancient city throughout Milan.

 The Archeological Museum of Milan is built on top of important Roman ruins and is considered one of the most important preservation sites of ancient Rome. Another treasure is Colonne di San Lorenzo, which spotlights striking Roman columns. The site is popular with tourists, and it’s free to visit.

A hidden gem of Milan, you can visit the Museo sensibile del Teatro Romano to the 2000-year-old ruins of a Roman Theater under the city’s Chamber of Commerce! You’ll tour the museum above and then descend into an active archeological site that will thrill even the hardest to impress.

Go on a Food Tour of Milan

Milan should be better known for its food scene. Here you’ll find quality high-end restaurants, trendy eateries, and traditional dishes like Risotto alla Milanese. Much like its landscape, Milan’s culinary experiences run the gamut from traditional and rooted in rich history to modern and experimental.

Because Milan is a cultural hub and a modern melting pot, the city’s street food scene also shines with hits from across Italy. And one of the best things to do in Milan is go on a street food walking tour!

This one includes transportation to the Brera district, where your guide will take you to bakeries, cafes, and more. Over 3 hours, you’ll try Sicilian pastries, pizza from Rome, Italy’s most famous gelato, and more.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of Milan’s most iconic landmarks and a must-visit attraction for anyone exploring the city. The Galleria is a stunning glass-roofed arcade located in Milan’s city center, connecting the Piazza del Duomo with the Piazza della Scala.

The arcade was built in the late 19th century and was an architectural feat of its time. The Galleria is known for its beautiful, soaring arches, intricate mosaics, and ornate ironwork. It opened in 1877 as a shopping center, making it Italy’s oldest shopping mall. It was the first of its kind and actually inspired similar shopping malls around the world!

Today, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is home to high-end shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike.

More Shopping Along Corso Buenos Aires

If you’re visiting Milan and looking to indulge in some retail therapy, Corso Buenos Aires is an essential destination. The street is one of the city’s major shopping districts, featuring a wide range of stores and boutiques to suit all tastes and budgets.

Corso Buenos Aires is one of the longest shopping streets in Europe, stretching over 1.2 kilometers and offering a diverse range of shopping options. Visitors can find everything from high-end luxury brands to affordable fast-fashion stores, as well as independent boutiques and unique shops.

One of the highlights of shopping on Corso Buenos Aires is the sheer variety of stores available. Fashion lovers can explore the numerous designer boutiques, while bargain hunters can browse the many discount stores and outlets. The street is also home to a range of other stores, including electronics shops, bookstores, and beauty stores.

Visitors can take a break from shopping and relax at one of the many cafes or restaurants lining the street. Corso Buenos Aires is also conveniently located, with easy access to public transportation.

Shop the Golden Quadrangle

For more things to do in Milan, consider exploring the Golden Quadrangle, or Quadrilatero della Moda. Located inside Milan’s centro storico, it’s conveniently located high-end fashion boutiques, luxury shops, and exquisite restaurants. For this reason, it’s a popular destination for shoppers and fashion enthusiasts from all over the world.

The Golden Quadrangle is named after the four streets that make up its boundaries: Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, and Corso Venezia. The area is home to numerous flagship stores for some of the world’s most famous fashion brands, including Armani, Prada, and Gucci. You’ll also find many boutique stores and independent designers.

If you can’t afford to shop in the Golden Triangle, it’s still worth a visit. The area is also home to some of the most stunning architecture in Milan. There are beautiful historic buildings, charming courtyards, and hidden alleyways. Take a stroll through the area and admire the window displays or stop for coffee at one of the cafes in the area.

Attend Milan Fashion Week

Milan Fashion Week is one of the most highly anticipated events on the global fashion calendar, attracting designers, models, celebrities, and fashion lovers from all over the world. It’s an unforgettable experience for those in the world of high fashion and luxury. But even if you can’t attend the official events, the energy and excitement of the week can be felt throughout the city.

The event takes place twice a year, in February and September when the city comes alive with runway shows, presentations, and parties hosted by the world’s most famous fashion houses. The event is a showcase of the latest trends and styles for the coming season. Designers present their newest collections and creations to an international audience.

In addition to the official runway shows, Milan Fashion Week is also known for its numerous events and parties, which take place throughout the city. You can attend exhibitions, pop-up stores, and fashion-themed events in palazzos across the city! It’s also the best time to explore Milan’s boutiques and designer stores.

Bosco Verticale

While Milan is known around the world for its groundbreaking architecture across the ages, the city continues that legacy with innovative designs for the future. On that note, a must-do in Milan is seeing the Bosco Verticale, or “Vertical Forest.”

This is a pair of residential towers designed by Italian architect Stefano Boeri are located in the Porta Nuova district. What’s so exciting about the towers is that they incorporate extensive greenery into the buildings themselves. In fact, Bosco Verticale has been hailed as a model for urban reforestation.

The towers are home to more than 900 trees, as well as thousands of other plants and shrubs, which provide a natural habitat for birds and insects. Bosco Verticale is a symbol of the city’s commitment to sustainability and environmentalism. And they’re a stunning example of the potential for green buildings to contribute to a more sustainable and livable city.

This is one of the best things to see in Milan if you’re passionate about environmentalism or urban design. But the towers will interest everyone because they’re just so beautiful and inspiring. Plus, you can enjoy them from the building’s base at a spacious residential park.

Attend a Sports Event

For sports enthusiasts looking for fun things to do in Milan, a soccer game at San Siro Stadium is an unforgettable experience. The stadium is home to 2 of Italy’s most successful and popular soccer clubs: A.C. Milan and Inter Milan.

Watching a game at San Siro gives you an authentic experience of Milan with passionate Italian fans filling the stadium. You’ll gain a unique insight into Italian culture and passion for the game.

A.C. Milan and Inter Milan are both known for their skilled players and intense rivalries, making each game an exciting event! You can purchase tickets to games online or at the stadium, choosing between general admission seating or VIP packages. And on the stadium grounds, you can also visit the San Siro Museum. 

Explore Naviglio Grande

Naviglio Grande is a historic canal in Milan that dates back to the 12th century. It is one of the city’s most picturesque and atmospheric neighborhoods, with charming narrow streets, historic buildings, and lively nightlife.

The neighborhood is home to many restaurants, bars, and cafes, which offer a variety of local and international cuisine. You’ll also find several art galleries and antique shops.

And the canal itself offers scenic views and the opportunity to take a leisurely boat ride. Go for a gondola ride with Canottieri San Cristoforo or enjoy a sunset stroll and aperitivos at one of the many canal-side bars.

More Things to Do Near Milan

If you have a little more time and you’re looking at Milan places to visit, consider these great options nearby.

Visit Lake Como

I can’t tell you to visit Milan without recommending at least a day trip to Lake Como. This is where our family lived and fell in love with northern Italy. If you can’t make it for a few days, at least take the train and hop on a ferry to see Bellagio. I promise it will be worth it. Even better, rent a boat in Varenna or take a boat tour, and explore the lake for yourself.

If you need a break from the bustle of the city, a day trip to Lake Como offers a chance to relax and soak up the natural beauty of northern Italy. You can take a boat tour of the lake, or explore historic lakefront villas.

Sacro Monte di Varese

Sacro Monte di Varese is a hillside complex located an hour outside of Milan that’s known for its panoramic views and historic religious monuments. You can take a cable car to the top of the hill, where you’ll find a network of chapels and shrines that depict scenes from the life of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

The site is also home to a beautiful park and several hiking trails, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. For those interested in history, art, and religious iconography, a visit to Sacro Monte di Varese offers a unique experience just a short distance from Milan.

FAQ for Visiting Milan

While you’re thinking about Milan attractions, check out some of the most frequently asked questions about the capital city below.

What is Milan famous for?

The city of Milan Italy has many claims to fame, especially as a fashion and arts hub. It’s also a popular destination for its history and breathtaking architecture from every era. People flock here to see the works of Leonardo da Vinci, tour the Duomo Cathedral, and attend Milan Fashion Week.

Is Milan cheap or expensive?

There’s no getting around it, Milan is an expensive place to visit on top of being a major center for tourists. Thankfully, there are ways to balance the cost with so many Milan sights being free to visit. Save your coin for that big shopping spree at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II!

Is 2 days enough for Milan?

With so many of the biggest Milan attractions located near the city center, 2 days offer plenty of time to enjoy a satisfying trip! In 2 days you can see iconic sites like Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” go shopping, and experience Milan’s culinary scene. And you’ll still have time to see historic landmarks like the Teatro alla Scala, the Duomo di Milano, and Naviglio Grande.

Is Rome or Milan better?

That’s such a hard choice! It really depends on a few things. Want a lower price tag? Go to Rome. Want a high-end culinary experience? Go to Milan. Rome wins when it comes to the sheer number and quality of historical sites. It also has better nightlife. But Milan has a better city center with a great balance of modern and historic attractions. And if you do want to explore further out, Milan has a much better public transport system than Rome.

Is Milan or Florence better?

Florence is one of the big 3 cities to visit in Italy and it’s a popular destination for first-time visitors to Italy. It’s absolutely beautiful and offers amazing examples of Renaissance art and architecture. On the other hand, Milan is just more glamorous. It’s ideal for the visitor interested in high fashion, shopping, and opera, but also Italian art and history.

Check Out All the Exciting Milan Italy Attractions

Visiting Milan offers something for every kind of visitor. There’s stunning architecture and historic landmarks, as well as world-class museums and shopping districts. Whether you’re a fashionista or a history buff, I think you’ll find something on my list that will satisfy you!

One thought on “21 Unforgettable Things to Do in Milan

  1. Pingback: Traveling to Italy in November: What You Need to Know | i Heart Italy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *