Milan is Italy’s largest city and one of the world’s top fashion capitals. Milan is an influential financial center and is famous for its top end restaurants, shopping districts and impressive Gothic architecture. It’s also the home to one of Leonardo da Vinci’s best known paintings, ‘The Last Supper’ mural, as well as the Duomo di Milano, a stunning Gothic cathedral that took more than 500 years to complete!
Milan is also the first city in Europe that I ever visited (almost 20 years ago). I landed at the Milan Malpensa airport from the United States and checked into a hotel near the airport. I remember thinking that the area looked very ordinary. After a brief nap, I took the metro and got off at the Piazza del Duomo station, just in time for the sunset. It was at that time that my love affair with Italy began!!
Milan has been an important city in Italy for thousands of years; in fact, at one time it was the official capital of the Western Roman Empire! Even before the Roman period Milan was a wealthy trading center with archaeological digs finding evidence of civilization in the area dating as far back as 200 BC.
Milan’s geographic position made it a natural center of trade, culture and art however it was badly damaged by bombs and shelling during the Second World War. Following WWII and major reconstruction work throughout the city, Milan bounced back and experienced huge economic growth throughout the second half of the 20th Century.
In the modern world Milan is a magical mix of medieval architecture and glass skyscrapers, high end fashion boutiques and galleries that contain some of Italy’s most valuable artworks.
Milan is a fantastic place to visit; and so whether you’re a tourist or an Expat, no trip to Northern Italy would be complete without spending some time exploring the city and its unique culture.
How Do You Get To Milan?
As a significant hub of Italian business and tourism Milan has excellent transport links that include 3 airports, major railway stations and bus routes into the city. If you’re traveling to Milan from the United States, or elsewhere overseas, then you can fly directly to Milan’s main airport, Milan Malpensa, and catch a shuttle bus or train into the city center.
If you’re traveling into Milan from within Italy then your best option is to take a high speed or regional train. Of course, you can choose to drive to the city, however getting around and finding parking spots is not always an easy prospect and quickly gets frustrating for first time visitors to the busy city.
Popular Things To Do In Milan.
The following are some of the important things to see in Milan:
This spectacular cathedral, known locally as the Duomo di Milano, is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the whole of Europe. The construction of this remarkable cathedral, with its amazing spires and intricate stone facades, actually took almost 600 years to complete; with work beginning in the 14th Century and only being officially completed in 1965!
The cathedral is situated right in the center of the city on the Piazza del Duomo and is a must see for any visitor to Milan. The magnificently ornate exterior facades are perfectly complemented by nearly 150 towers and over 3,500 statues of Saints, mythical creatures, animals and other figures. The Duomo di Milano is truly one of the most impressive Gothic masterpieces in Italy and is an example of medieval architecture at its very finest.
It’s not just the exterior of the cathedral which is impressive because the interiors are absolutely beautiful and contain more than 40 stunning pillars, five naves and an incredible arched ceiling. There is also a great deal of artwork and sculptures to appreciate while you’re exploring the bounty of the cathedral’s interior.
If you want a really special experience while you’re visiting the cathedral you can book a ticket to get onto the roof (highly recommended but not something I would do when traveling with a small child). From the cathedral’s rooftop terraces you can enjoy panoramic views of the city below and on a clear day you can even see the Apennine mountains on the horizon!
To access the roof you can either take an elevator or climb the stairs and once you get to the top you can stay and appreciate the views for as long as you like.
Shopping In The Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
When you enter the gallery you might be forgiven for thinking that you’ve just walked into a palace and not a shopping mall! However, this lovely shopping center is one of the best places to visit for a truly Milanese retail experience (Visiting the Milan Cathedral and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which is situated right next to the Cathedral is a must).
This indoor shopping district has shops selling high fashion, jewelry, accessories, shoes and much more. There are also great eateries if you want to stop for lunch in the opulent surroundings of the Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
This shopping mall, which was opened in 1877, is one of the world’s oldest and is home to all the top Italian fashion brands that you’d expect including Louis Vuitton, Prada and Versace.
Church Of Santa Maria Delle Grazie.
Although the exterior of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is fairly modest it’s a very important religious site in Milan. The church was built in the 15th Century and employs an interesting mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and even Renaissance styles in its design.
However, as the old saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover because inside this discrete church lies one of the greatest masterpieces that was ever created during the Italian Renaissance – ‘The Last Supper’ mural by Leonardo di Vinci! Da Vinci’s masterpiece is widely considered to be one of the best crafted paintings of all time and despite its slight deterioration through the centuries, it has a truly sublime quality that has to be seen to be believed.
The church is located on the Corso Magenta and is easy to get to from anywhere in the city. The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but to really get a full understanding of the importance of Da Vinci’s mural you can join a short 45 minute guided tour. You’ll be able to skip the lines and have all the details and hidden meanings of the painting described to you by a trained art historian who will be your guide.
Take A Private Bicycle Tour Of Milan!
If you want a fun way to explore the city’s top attractions then you can join a 3 hour bicycle tour of Milan. This is a great way to get around the city and with an experienced guide you’ll be able to learn all about the history and cultural significance of the major tourist sites.
The 3 hour tour will take you past the Sforza Castle, the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Duomo, La Scala opera house and past the city’s canals. You can choose to take a tour in the afternoon or in the morning, depending on your other plans, and the tour includes time for you to stop at the main attractions to take photos and have a quick look around. As part of the tour you will be provided with a helmet to keep you safe so you won’t have to worry about bringing your own equipment. Tours depart from Via Giorgio Giuini, at 10am for morning tours.
As one of the oldest buildings in Milan, the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica was constructed in the 4th Century by Saint Ambrose and is a great example of Romanesque architecture. The basilica is distinguished by its two large towers which beautifully frame its façade and the lovely arches that surround the front courtyard.
Within the church you can marvel at some of the oldest mosaics, murals and artwork in the city which venerate the life of Jesus Christ. Visiting this ancient church will give you a really unique insight into the religious and cultural history of Milan which is far older than many of its visitors expect!
Located in the Piazza Sant’Ambrogio the Sant’Ambrogio church is right in the center of the city and only a stone’s throw from other attractions such as the Castello Sforzesco so it’s easy to fit a visit into your itinerary.
This marvelous 15th Century castle is situated in central Milan and is surrounded by magnificent gardens, fountains and monuments. The castle has impressive battlements and guard towers although it’s also home to some of the city’s best museums, exhibitions of artifacts and collections of artworks.
You can explore the museums and the grounds of the castle on your own or, if you prefer, you can join a guided tour. A 2 hour guided tour of the museums will show you around all the major exhibits, give you some fascinating insights into the history of the castle and you’ll even learn a few interesting stories about some of the castle’s most famous guests, including Leonardo da Vinci himself! You’ll also have a chance to see the very last sculpture that Michelangelo ever worked on, called La Pieta Rondanini.
Tours depart at 10.30 from the Piazza Castello in front of the castle.
Leonardo Da Vinci National Museum Of Science And Technology.
Although Leonardo da Vinci was born in Anchiano, in the Republic of Florence in 1452, he became dissatisfied with his life in Florence and so in 1482 he moved to Milan. He continued to produce incredible artwork during his time in Milan but he also became much more interested in science and engineering.
It was largely during his time in Milan that the master began to speculate more freely about the possibilities of the scientific revolution that played such an important part of the Italian Renaissance. There’s no better way to discover more about some of Da Vinci’s ideas, theories and designs than by visiting the official Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.
The museum contains some fascinating exhibitions that showcase some of the artist and inventor’s most valuable breakthroughs where you can see original Da Vinci drawings, reconstructions of his designs for flying machines as well as blueprints and sketches that he made during his time in Milan.
This is a great day trip for families with children but it’s also fun for couples and solo travelers who have an interest in the life and work of one of Italy’s most famous people!
The Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology is located in the center of the city near to the Sant’Ambrogio opposite to the Piazza Venino.
La Scala Opera House.
No trip to Milan would be complete with a trip to La Scala Opera House. First opening its doors in the late 1770s, La Scala is one of the most famous opera houses in the world and has hosted all of the great opera singers, from Pavarotti to Maria Callas and everyone in between!
To really experience the magic of this legendary opera house you can book a ticket to see one of their shows by visiting their official website. La Scala puts on a superb season of opera performances but it also hosts theater plays, musicals, ballets and even special concerts for children.
If you want to learn all about the history of La Scala, as well as opera more generally, you can take a guided tour, see their gallery and visit their unique museum.
Take A Hot Air Balloon Ride Over The City Of Milan.
One of the most unique ways to see Milan is from the comfort of a hot air balloon as you float slowly through the sky! A 1 hour hot air balloon ride is an exhilarating way to see the city and snap some amazing photos as well as appreciate the beautiful views of Piedmont and the snowy mountains on the horizon!
You’ll also see ancient castles in the hills, traditional vineyards and the dramatic Piedmont countryside beneath you. Once you land again you can enjoy toasting sparkling wine before you’ll be transported back to the tour’s pick up point.
The tour operators can pick you up from a number of hotels to take you to the hot air balloon take off point which varies due to wind and weather conditions. All in all, taking a hot air balloon ride over Milan is an unforgettable way to experience the city.
The Ideal Holiday Spot In Italy.
With its remarkable history and links to great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Milan is a treasure trove of art and culture. It’s also famous for its boutique shopping districts, fabulous cuisine and luxury hotels.
The perfect destination for families, couples and solo travelers, Milan is a must see for anyone who is visiting or staying in Italy!