Image: The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
People tend to pass through Milan on the way to their holiday destination and it’s often on these short stays that tourists come away with the impression that the city isn’t that nice. While you can't compare Milan to Venice or Rome, it has some stunning architecture and loads of history, culture, food and fashion. Plus, every third person speaks English well enough to hold a conversation with you. To get the most out of your quick trip to Milan, you just need to know where to go and what to see with limited time.
So, here is the itinerary we use when friends need to 'do Milan' in a day. If you want to go inside these sites, you’ll need to book tour tickets in advance so you skip the queue. And since you’ll be doing heaps of walking, a comfortable pair of sneakers or walking shoes is a must, plus coins or euros to buy metro tickets.
Piazza del Duomo
Here you’ll find the Duomo – The Catholic cathedral of Milan, possibly Europe’s finest example of gothic style architecture. With 3,400 statues, 55 stained glass windows plus paintings, this place is a masterpiece. You can join the rest of the tourists taking selfies outside or do the tour, which will even have you walking on the rooftop near the statue of the Virgin Mary. It takes an hour and a half and costs €26,00 for an adult.
From here, head into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It’s Italy’s oldest functioning shopping mall, designed in 1861 and built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1867. The domed glass and cast iron roof is truly breathtaking and is the basis for the modern shopping centres we frequent now. The designer shops in here will give you a taste of the fashion extravaganza to come.
Walk through the Galleria to the piazza scala, which is home to La Scala, one of the world’s greatest opera and ballet theatres. Many of the great operas debuted here and all of the legendary singers have performed on this stage. You can tour the museum and theatre for €9.
Image: La Scala theatre courtesy La Scala Facebook
The Fashion Quadrangle
From La Scala it’s a short walk to the Fashion Quadrangle, the most fashionable place on earth. Via Montenapoleone houses some of the biggest names in fashion: Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Dior, Sergio Rossi, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, Coach…with the rest of the high end boutiques scattered around Via Alessandro Manzoni, Corso Venezia, Via della Spiga and the little alleyways in between.
Black chauffeur driven Mercedes line the streets, security guards man the boutique doors and there are no price tags on the clothes. Get used to being followed around the stores - they’ve elevated hovering to an art form.
Next door to the fashion district is the beautiful, historic Brera area. This was the bohemian arts centre of the city and now it houses high end fragrance and fashion stores and lots of places to eat. So explore the little cobblestone streets and then relax over a lovely lunch.
We feasted on antipasti, asparagus salad, brushetta and a superb Italian pork sausage and truffle oil tagliatelle at Restaurant Nabucco in the charming Via Fiori Chiari. It’s a little pricier than other areas of Milan, but worth it for the charm and ambience.
Castle Sforza and Parco Sempione
It’s a ten minute walk to Castle Sforza from Brera and this is a must-see on your list.
Castle Sforza is a medieval masterpiece which houses the last unfinished work by Michaelangelo – the sculpure Pietà. Leonardo Da Vinci was part of the royal court so you can go in and see his handywork too. If you don’t want to pay for exhibitions, you can wander around and marvel at the architecture for free.
Once you’ve done Castle Sforza, it’s time to relax in the adjoining Parco Sempione. This is one of Milan’s finest parks, a wonderful place to stroll or sit and relax.
The Last Supper - Leonardo Da Vinci
It's an easy 15 minute stroll from Parco Sempione to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. You need to book tickets and entry is every 15 minutes with a maximum of thirty people in the church. Tickets cost €10 and the site is open Tuesday to Sunday 8.15 – 7pm with the last entry at 6.45pm. Due to the techniques Da Vinci used to create this work, it’s very fragile and is peeling off, so see it while it’s still here.
Milan is the aperitivi capital of Italy and the Campari Bar, also known as Camparino Bar, at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a historic and iconic location serving this pre-dinner ritual of cocktail and delicious snacks. You can take your aperitivi standing up at the bar to avoid seating fees, or sit down, relax and enjoy your view of the piazza and Galleria. It’s easy to get back here, the Galleria is a quick metro ride from the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Image: Courtesy www.camparino.it the historic and iconic Camparino Bar in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
If you don’t want to take another metro ride, there are heaps of bars serving aperitive buffets on Corso Sempione, at the northern end of Parco Sempione.
To experience gay Milan, take a short metro ride to Porta Venezia and Via Lecco, the gay area of town. There are heaps of bars to choose from here but one of the most famous is Lecco Bar, where the aperitivi buffet is cheap (€10 for a drink and all you can eat). The food is fairly average by Milan standards, however it’s the atmosphere you’re here for. Street drinking is legal in Italy, so while aperitivi time is quiet, later in the night the locals come out and the street fills up with people mingling with their friends.
Milan is really easy to navigate with the metro train system. Tickets cost €1.50 and last for 90 minutes or a 24 hour ticket will cost you €4.50.
We’ve been incredibly lucky with our Uber experience here. In fact, every time we’ve ordered an Uber we’ve ended up with a moonlighting professional chauffeur driving us around in a shiny black Mercedes.