Commonly known as the Center of Fashion & Design, the Lombardian Capital offers much more than that. Milan hosts not only high end fashion stores but also a variety of museums and galleries: from early medieval to mid century through to contemporary. Whether you’re into fashion or history, there’s something for everyone in our list of the best things to do in Milan. Luckily, the city is surprisingly walkable and at times feels more like a compact town than a major European metropolis.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Milan:
Milan’s magnificent Gothic cathedral is the third biggest church in Europe (after St Peter’s in Rome and the cathedral of Seville). It sublimely dominates both the great piazza on which it is located and the city of which it has long been the centre. The Duomo Cathedral is a truly monumental building and is famed for its sublime architecture and took over 600 years to complete. It contains 3,500 statues and Its 135 spires can be viewed up close on the roof, accessible by lift or stairs. Located in the centre of Milan in the self-named Piazza del Duomo, the cathedral was constructed in 1386 but not officially completed until 1965!
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie – Last Supper
Although the exterior of this church is not one of the most renowned, it still has a certain charm and grace – Created in 1497, the church features a Gothic style using red bricks and a large rear basilica. Inside the building lies one of the greatest artistic masterpieces in the world – The Last Supper by Leonardo di Vinci. Perhaps one of the most famous paintings in the world, Leonard da Vinci’s The Last Supper has been reproduced to death, but no tote bag or mouse pad or even large-scale reproduction can adequately capture da Vinci’s emotionally charged mural. Unlike frescoes, which are painted on wet plaster and thus must be completed rather quickly, da Vinci used tempera paints on a dry wall, after sealing the stone with dried plaster and adding an undercoat of white lead to achieve greater luminosity. It’s astonishing and overwhelming – even despite the fact that Jesus’s feet were lost in 1652 thanks to some ill-thought-out renovations.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Created in 1877, it stands as one of the oldest shopping malls in the world and was designed by Guiseppe Mengoni.
The cross shaped mall is covered via four glass panelled arms that let in the sunlight perfectly, whilst the walls and shop fronts are decorated with ornate panelling and stucco artwork.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is an opulent, covered pedestrian street connecting Piazza Duomo and Piazza della Scala. The Renaissance style structure is one of the most famous examples of European iron architecture and represents the archetype of the commercial retail space of the 19th century. It remains a host to elegant, high-end shops (Prada, Versace, Gucci…) and restaurants and cafés, some of which have been running since the building was inaugurated. The vaulted glass dome roof is awe-inspiring so it’s worth visiting for this alone.
Originally a Visconti fortress, this iconic red-brick castle was later home to the mighty Sforza dynasty, who ruled Renaissance Milan. The old Castle is the best place to learn about the city’s medieval and early modern history. The castle witnessed to Spanish, Habsburg and Napoleonic rule. It is worth allotting a large amount of time to visit the castle because it comprises multiple museums and galleries, including the Pinacoteca. The Pinoteca is home to paintings of not only but also Bronzino, Tintoretto and Titian as well as Michelangelo’s final work, the Rondanini Pietà. The latter is now housed in the frescoed hall of the castle’s Ospedale Spagnolo (Spanish Hospital).
The Brera District
A distinct Bohemian atmosphere prevails here and the neighborhood is full of art academies, galleries. The balconies and windows of the elegant apartment buildings are dressed with plants. On the corner of every cobbled street there is a charming café, indulgent bakery or chic retailer. In addition to the public museums Pinacoteca di Brera and Museo del Risorgimento, there are also many commercial gallery and design spaces. Nestled between Parco Sempione and Piazza della Scala, Brera it is a central location but without the chaos of the area surrounding Duomo.
Navigli – The Canals
Constructed originally in 1177, the canal was worked on for many years and continued to expand into what it is today. Most of the canals have sadly disappeared, but the banks of two of the remaining ones, and the basin where they join up, known as Darsena, have in the past two decades become the city’s liveliest area for informal drinking, dining, browsing in antique shops or simply strolling by the water.
BONUS – Opera La Scala
There are few buildings in the world that have hosted as many great artists as the Scala Opera.
Located to the north of the Duomo and the east of Castello Sforzesco this opera house is one of the finest in the world and is renowned for its acoustic qualities and opulence.
Inside the main auditorium the decoration and grandeur of the seating and stage is fantastic – 6 tiers of seating and individual boxes frame the stage in a semi-circle and the whole place is full of red velvet drapes and gold furnishings.