Travel Guide to Milan, Italy

By Rachael Funk


Milan is the second-largest city in Italy after Rome, known for fashion and design. A city in constant reinvention, Milan has a steady rotation of new bars, restaurants, and clubs to try out on your next visit. The city pulses with energy and the people who visit it will tell you there’s no place in the world quite like Milan.


What to Know

Known for fashion, finance, and design, Milan is a busy city, more similar to Paris or London than Rome or Venice. Here, dressing well is compulsory, as is being punctual. Italy’s drinking capital, Milan has been called “the land of happy hour.” Many places offer small plates (don’t call them tapas, though!) with the purchase of an aperitivo cocktail (usually spritz, which the city is famous for). Many of the city’s hidden gems are tucked away in places where they are easy to overlook. Keep your eyes peeled for hidden courtyards and barn-like houses on the banks of the Navigli if you are hunting down sights less seen.


When to Go

Unlike many other Italian cities, your reason for travel will likely be more important than how the weather may present. April in Milan is design month, which draws people to the Zona Tortona neighborhood or Porta Romana. Fashion Week occurs in February and September, which tends to bring in crowds of tourists and celebrities to the city. Outside of these events, great times to visit are April to May and September to October. These months surround the city’s peak tourism season and will allow you to miss the sweltering summer heat.


How to Get Around

Your best bet in Milan is to use the bus, metro, or tram to get around. The city center is compact and easy to navigate on foot, but if you are branching further out, public transit is key. Milan’s subway system has several lines which serve most tourist stops. There are more tram lines than subway, so these can be more convenient depending on where you are going. The buses also tend to serve the same general areas as the tram and the subway, but they also reach further out from the city. There is a bike sharing program called BikeMi, which makes day-long bike rentals possible as well.


Where to Eat

Restaurants in Milan close fairly early; lunch is generally not served after 1:30 pm and it can be tough to find somewhere for dinner after 8:30 pm, so plan your day accordingly. The city has recently rediscovered its own roots in terms of culinary inspiration and has ample offerings of dishes featuring locally-grown produce. A growing trend of sustainable dining experiences which combine restaurants, vegetable gardens, and meeting spaces will make it easy to find something that tastes good and feels good.


What to See

Il Duomo

Known as the largest and most unique Gothic complex in Italy, Duomo Cathedral has taken nearly half a millennium to build. Ornately detailed and studded with intricate statues on the exterior, the Duomo is just as impressive from inside. Stop by to snap some photos, tour the building, and take in centuries of hard work.

The Last Supper

Possibly Milan’s most famous mural, Leonardo da Vinvi’s The Last Supper is located in the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Book in advance, or join a guided tour – you may not be able to get in to see it if you just show up.


Sforza Castle

This 14th-century gem has been used as a defense fortress, military barracks, a private residence, and more. Learn about the many lives this iconic castle has lived in the hundreds of years since its completion. It currently also holds an art gallery, a collection of antique furniture, and several other exciting exhibits.

Teatro alla Scala

A must-see theater to watch opera, ballet, or classical music performances, this building hosts famous opera singers, ballet companies, and symphony orchestras from all over the globe. Even if you don’t have time to catch a performance, it’s worth it to stop by just to check out the gorgeous interiors.

Peck

The ultimate gourmand destination in Italy, Peck is the most prestigious deli in the city. Spread over three floors, this place offers everything from smoked meats and salmon to chocolate and wine. Stop by early in the week so you can enjoy the great offerings during your stay, then swing by to fill your suitcase with treats before you head home!


Tips and Tricks

  • There are hidden galleries under Il Duomo! To see them, you can join a guided tour for a lesser-known Milan must-see.

  • Head toward Navigli for the hippest, most stylish nightlife in the city.

  • Bring an umbrella – in Milan, it’s always rainy season.

  • Refrain from using your cell phone during siesta hours; it is considered rude and disruptive while people are trying to rest.

  • Pick up a few souvenirs at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the oldest shopping mall in the world.


Day Trips

Lake Como

Spend a day on Italy’s third largest lake and take in the grandeur of the area. Boasting unforgettable scenery, beautiful water, and plenty of places to sip a drink and gaze out toward the alpine scenery, Lake Como is a breathtaking stop to include on your trip.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Only a few hours from Milan, you can make the trip by car or train. If you opt for rail, you will be rewarded with unbeatable views as you ascend over 1400 feet into the Swiss mountains. Once you reach one of Switzerland’s most famous mountain resorts, you’ll be able to explore and enjoy the area at your leisure.

Maranello

If you or someone you’re traveling with is a Ferrari fan, you’ll want to work in a trip to Maranello. You can take a Ferrari tour here, see the test track used by new cars, learn more about the brand and its history, and wander through exhibits of older cars in their gallery. If you can’t get enough, you can also stop by Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari to get even more Ferrari history!

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