Things to Do in Milan
Each day, Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo)" draws hundreds of art-loving visitors to the unassuming refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie for just 15 minutes with the painting (Yes, it's that good). Milan's famous 15th-century wall mural may be one of the most famous (and regulated) artworks in Italy—to see it, you must book entrance tickets in advance or sign up for a guided Milan city tour.
Milan’s Duomo (duomo di Milano) is a much-loved symbol of the city. The most exuberant example of Northern Gothic architecture in Italy, the cathedral and its spiky spires and towers dominate Piazza del Duomo, the city's beating heart. One of the highlights of a visit to the cathedral is the view from the roof, where you can scope out Milan from the highest terrace surrounded by statues. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the Italian Alps.
La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala), one of the world’s greatest opera houses, has hosted some of Italy’s most famous opera and other performances. Located in downtown Milan, this 18th-century theater and cultural landmark—magnificently restored in 2004—seats many of its 2,000 spectators in elegant boxes adorned with gold leaf and red velvet.
In the fashion capital of Italy, the soaring, glass-domed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade never goes out of style. Started in 1877, Europe’s oldest shopping mall connects the Milan Duomo to Piazza di Marino and the La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala) by way of a bright and airy, four-story center lined with busy restaurants and shops. Come for the Neoclassical architecture, stay for the brands and fresh baked panzerotti.
Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco) is a medieval fortress built by the Visconti dynasty that became home to Milan’s ruling Sforza family in 1450. Stark and domineering, the historic brick castle has massive round battlements, an imposing tower overlooking the central courtyard and surrounding Parco Sempione gardens, and defensive walls designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Today the castle houses a number of world-class museums and galleries.
Visitors flock to the modest 15th-century Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie)—built by Duke Francesco I Sforza and later reworked by Bramante—primarily to take in one of Italy’s most celebrated works of Renaissance art: Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, which decorates the refectory wall of the adjoining Dominican convent.
Milan hosts two top-division soccer (football) teams at San Siro Stadium, the largest in Italy. Also known as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, the stadium was built in 1925 for the AC Milan team, and in 1947, the rival FC Internazionale team, known as Inter, also moved in. Today, up to 80,000 fans fill the stadium to watch live games.
Perched on the western shore of placid Lake Maggiore, the tiny resort town of Stresa is backed by the Alpine foothills of Monte Mottarone and boasts elegant hotels on a tree-lined promenade. Stroll through picturesque Piazza Cadorna in the town center, relax on the waterfront lidos, or take a ferry to the charming islands nearby.
Milan boasts a number of trendy neighborhoods thick with hip bars, restaurants, and clubs. Of these, the Brera district—a maze of narrow, cobblestone streets lined with boutiques and cafés near the Duomo in the city center—is perhaps the most beautiful thanks to its laid-back pace and old-world charm.
Milan is known for its sophisticated style and unforgiving pace, but that doesn’t mean you can’t slow down and unwind in Italy’s fashion capital. If you need a break, QC Termemilano is an indulgent spa in the heart of the city with thermal baths, steam baths, relaxation rooms, massages, treatments, and more.
More Things to Do in Milan
Chic Milan is known for its contemporary elegance and relentless pace, so it may come as a surprise to learn that one of Italy’s loveliest city parks sits at its heart. Sempione Park (Parco Sempione) covers 116 acres (47 hectares) of central Milan, offering a welcome respite from the surrounding urban hustle and bustle.
While many travelers visit the adjacent Santa Maria delle Grazie church—home of da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper—the Bramante Sacristy (Sacrestia del Bramante) is an often-overlooked gem. Designed by architect Donato Bramante, the sacristy features a vaulted ceiling painted by da Vinci and exhibits on the inventor’s Codex Atlanticus.
Milan’s Fashion Quarter is home to a handful of luxury shopping streets including Via della Spiga. This is where locals come to buy their designer clothes from brands such as Roberto Cavalli, Hermes, Moschino, and Armani. The chic fashion street is also home to a number of upscale dining options, cocktail bars, and cafés.
The Romanesque Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio (Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio) is dedicated to Milan's patron saint, St. Ambrose, who founded the church in the fourth century while bishop of Milan. The saint’s remains lay beneath the stunning ninth-century Golden Altar, a masterpiece of gold, gilded silver, precious stones, and enamel. The basilica’s unique architecture makes it a must-see.
Centuries before Piazza del Duomo became Milan’s main square, medieval Piazza Mercanti was the heart of the city. Marking the center of Milan’s historic center, this charming space is lined by porticoed palaces dating from the Middle Ages and offers a picturesque counterpoint to the rest of the city’s stately majesty.
The Brera Art Gallery (Pinacoteca di Brera), one of Italy’s most important museums, is a highlight of Milan’s fashionable Brera neighborhood. This impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings includes masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Piero della Francesca, and Andrea Mantegna.
The Arch of Peace (Arco della Pace), located at the entrance to Parco Sempione in Milan, is a neoclassical arch begun by Napoleon during the early 19th century to honor his military victories. Made of marble from the Swiss Alps, the triumphal arch marks the beginning of the road that connects Milan and Paris.
Milan’s best-preserved 16th-century church, the Church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore (Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore) features frescoes by Bernardino Luini as well as the oldest pipe organ in the city. It is also home to the Archaeological Museum of Milan (Museo Archeologico di Milano), which displays artifacts from the Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans.
The center of Milan was once crisscrossed with a series of interconnecting canals, called “navigli,” used to transport goods and people. Two still exist just south of the city center, and the surrounding Navigli District is one of Milan’s trendiest areas, full of galleries, cafés, restaurants, and clubs. It’s a hot spot worth a visit.
Via Monte Napoleone (sometimes written as Montenapoleone) is the most luxurious shopping street in the Italian fashion capital of Milan. It is lined with designer boutiques including Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and Prada as well as many jewelry shops. The decadent drag is located in the heart of Milan’s Fashion Quarter and is known as the most expensive street in Europe.
Milan’s historic Ambrosiana Museum and Library (Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana) was founded in 1618 by Cardinal Federico Borromeo. The cardinal donated more than 30,000 books, 15,000 manuscripts, and 12,000 pieces of artwork by famous artists such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.
Many churches in Italy are built on older worship sites. What makes the Church of Santa Maria at San Satiro (Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro) in Milan different is that the old church was incorporated into the new one, both in design and name.
The original church on this site was dedicated to San Sitiro (Saint Satyrus), built in the 9th century. In the late 15th century, the church was also dedicated to Mary. The name "Church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro" indicates that the new church was "staying with" (presso) the old one.
When the church got its additional dedication, it also got a bit of a redesign. The artist Bramante played a role in the renovation. One of the most interesting pieces of artwork at the church is Bramante's wonderful trompe l'oeil behind the altar; it looks like there's a series of columns that recedes into the distance, but it's just paint.
One of the newest areas of construction in Milan is north of the city center near the Garibaldi train station, including the futuristic Piazza Gae Aulenti. The piazza, which opened in 2012 and is named after the Italian architect who designed Paris’ Musee d’Orsay, is surrounded by three new towers, including one that has the distinction of being Italy's tallest building. The piazza is circular in shape, and elevated above the surrounding ground level, with walkways running around and across its central pool and dancing water fountain displays.
A footbridge connects the piazza to the trendy Corso Como and its many restaurants and bars, making it a popular meeting place for locals, as well as a location for photo shoots. Take a photo walking tour of Milan to expertly capture Piazza Gae Aulenti's reflective surfaces and bring home a beautiful souvenir—or opt to visit as part of a city highlights tour, including admission to Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Last Supper,' as well as the Duomo.
Milan is known as Italy’s fashion capital, and there are several areas in the city known for shopping. One street with a particularly high concentration of clothing stores is Corso Buenos Aires.
The Corso Buenos Aires is a major thoroughfare in central Milan, running from Piazzale Loreto in northeast Milan toward the cathedral in the heart of the city. Closest to the Duomo, the street turns into Corso Venezia.
Unlike the cobblestone lanes of the Quadrilatero d’Oro shopping district, Corso Buenos Aires is a broad street that’s busy with traffic - but it’s also packed with shops. This street is said to have Europe’s densest population of clothing stores. These are primarily ready-to-wear instead of the high-end fashion on display in the Quadrilatero d’Oro.
While mainly known as a shopping destination, Corso Buenos Aires also has several hotel options and is not far from the main train station in the city, Milano Centrale. Where the street becomes Corso Venezia is also one corner of the large park that includes the Museo Civico and a planetarium.
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