Even though Milan (Milano) might not be the first Italian city that comes to mind when making travel plans, it has its fair share of historical sites in addition to attractions. Despite its hard-working reputation as Italy’s financial and commercial hub, the city has a significant history and a vibrant cultural legacy.
Take into account that St. Augustine was baptised in a basilica that once stood at what is now Piazza del Duomo; that artists Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, composer Verdi, great tenor Enrico Caruso, and designer Giorgio Armani all resided and worked here; that Toscanini frequently conducted at La Scala; that Napoleon was crowned here (actually, he crowned himself); that Mussolini founded
Milan has preserved a variety of artistic, cultural, and architectural treasures for you to enjoy as a result of its long history and the significant wealth it has amassed as a result of its advantageous business location.
There are many things to do close to the Duomo and a massive Piazza del Duomo serves as a metro station in front of the church. If you stand beneath the stone market arcade in front of the 13th-century Palazzo della Ragione in the little Piazza dei Mercanti, you’ll think you’ve travelled back in time.
Travel back in time a few centuries to enter the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which features a beautiful dome and faces the Duomo.
To arrive in front of the most renowned opera house in the world, pass through it. All of it can be walked to in five minutes. With this handy list of the top attractions in Milan, you’ll find these and more of the best locations to visit.
- 22. Il Duomo (Milan Cathedral)
- 21. Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
- 20. Browse in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II: Luxury Shops and Elegant Cafés
- 19. Sant’Ambrogio
- 18. Cimitero Monumentale
- 17. San Maurizio and the Archaeology Museum
- 16. Spend an Evening in Naviglio
- 15. Santa Maria Presso San Satiro
- 14. Poldi-Pezzoli Museum
- 13. Museo Bagatti Valsecchi
- 12. Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology
- 11. Parco Sempione
- 10. Triennale di Milano (Palazzo dell’Arte)
- 9. Sant’Eustorgio
- 8. Indulge Your Inner Fashionista
- 7. Pirelli Hangar Bicocca
- 6. Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna (Modern Art Gallery)
- 5. Piazza Dei Mercanti
- 4. Basilica Di Sant’ambrogio
- 3. Castello Sforzesco
- 2. Pinacoteca di Brera
- 1. See an Opera at Teatro alla Scala
22. Il Duomo (Milan Cathedral)
The massive Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, which the Milanese call just “Il Duomo” is among the world’s largest (it holds up to 40,000 people) and most magnificent churches, the ultimate example of the Flamboyant Gothic style. It was begun in the 14th century, but its façade was not completed until the early 1800s, under Napoleon.
The roof is topped by 135 delicately carved stone pinnacles and the exterior is decorated with 2,245 marble statues. The dim interior, in striking contrast to the brilliant and richly patterned exterior, makes a powerful impression with its 52 gigantic pillars. The stained-glass windows in the nave (mostly 15th-16th centuries) are the largest in the world; the earliest of them are in the south aisle.
Highlights include the seven-branched bronze candelabrum by Nicholas of Verdun (c. 1200) in the north transept, the 16th-century tomb of Gian Giacomo Medici, and the jeweled gold reliquary of San Carlo Borromeo in the octagonal Borromeo Chapel leading off the crypt. Behind the high altar, the choir has deeply carved panels, and misericords under the seats.
In the south sacristy is the treasury with gold and silver work dating from the fourth to the 17th century. A walk on the roof of the cathedral is an impressive experience, offering views across the city and extending on clear days to the snow-covered Alps. (An elevator ascends all but the last 73 steps to the platform of the dome).
At the front of the Duomo, near the central doorway, you can descend under Piazza del Duomo into the foundations of the Basilica di Santa Tecla (fourth-fifth and seventh century) and the fourth-century baptistery, Battistero di San Giovanni alle Fonti, which were discovered during the construction of the Milan Metro system.
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Milan
21. Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
The Gothic brick church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the Corso Magenta, was begun about 1465, and its massive six-sided dome in the finest Early Renaissance style was designed by Bramante, one of Italy’s most influential Renaissance architects.
The church – and adjoining refectory, which holds Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper – were badly damaged in World War II, and during the repair work, old sgraffito paintings in the dome were brought to light. At the end of the north aisle is the Baroque chapel of the Madonna delle Grazie, with an altarpiece of the Madonna.
But the reason most tourists visit Santa Maria delle Grazie is to see da Vinci’s most famous work, painted on the refectory wall of the former Dominican monastery. The Cenacolo Vinciano, as it is called here, was painted on the wall in tempera between 1495 and 1497.
Instead of earlier static representations of Christ’s last meal with his disciples, da Vinci presents a dramatic depiction of the scene, which was quite novel and marked an important new stage in the development of art. The painting, which had already begun to flake off before the destruction of part of the room left it exposed to weather, has been restored several times, a process which will probably never be fully completed.
Entrance is limited and restricted to those with advance timed tickets. An easy way to see this and the other most famous sites in Milan is on a Milan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour with da Vinci’s The Last Supper. This 3.5-hour walking tour takes you to several key attractions and includes admission to La Scala and an entrance ticket to see The Last Supper.
Address: Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2, Milan
20. Browse in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II: Luxury Shops and Elegant Cafés
Forming one side of Piazza del Duomo and opening on the other side to Piazza della Scala, the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni and built between 1865 and 1877. It was then the largest shopping arcade in Europe, with a dome soaring 48 meters above its mosaic floor.
Marking the beginning of modern architecture in Italy, today it stands as a splendid example of 19th-century industrial iron and glass construction.
And it’s still a beautiful, vibrant place where locals meet for lunch or coffee in its elegant cafés and browse in its luxury shops. It is so much a part of local life that the inhabitants of Milan refer to it as “il salotto” (the salon).
Address : Piazza del Duomo, Milan
The church of Sant’Ambrogio was founded in 386 by St. Ambrose, who was born in Milan and is the city’s patron saint.
The present church is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, built in the 12th century around the choir from an earlier ninth-century church.
There’s a lot to see here, beginning with the large portico, also from the ninth century, and the atrium, whose carved stone capitals and portal rank it high among Europe’s best examples of the Romanesque period.
Inside, be sure to see the pulpit with late Romanesque carving, and the richly carved 4th-century Stilicone sarcophagus underneath it.
The casing (paliotto) of the high altar is a masterpiece of Carolingian art made in 835 at either Milan or Rheims. It’s easy to miss the mosaic dome of the original 4th-century Sacello di San Vittore, accessed through the last chapel on the right.
Address: Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 15, Milan
18. Cimitero Monumentale
With all of Italy’s magnificent architecture and art from Ancient Greek and Roman, medieval, and Renaissance eras, it’s easy to forget that Italy also has some outstanding examples from the Art Nouveau period, known here as Stile Liberty.
Cimitero Monumentale, near Stazione Porta Garibaldi rail station, is an outdoor gallery of Art Nouveau sculptures, many by noted Italian sculptors.
Behind a monumental and flamboyant striped marble portico, these monuments mark the tombs of Milan’s rich and famous from the late 1800s through the mid-20th century. A map in English helps you find the most outstanding examples.
Address: Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale, Milan
17. San Maurizio and the Archaeology Museum
To many, the interior of the church of San Maurizio is the most beautiful in Milan. Built in the early 1500s as the church for a convent of Benedictine nuns, the entire interior is covered in frescoes of biblical scenes.
Not only are these by some of the best Lombard artists of the 16th century – principally Bernardino Luini and his sons – but the colors of the paintings are as vivid as if they’d been painted yesterday. The long nave is divided into two sections, the rear one reserved as the nuns’ choir.
The extensive monastery was built over the ruins of the Roman circus and portions of the Roman walls, all now part of the Civico Museo Archeologico (Archaeology Museum), where you can see these excavated remains of Roman Milan.
Along with the ancient history of Milan, you’ll find Greek, Etruscan, and Roman finds from elsewhere in Italy, including sculptures in stone and bronze. Particularly good are the third-century sculpture of Maximilian, a bronze head, and a female statue with folded drapes.
Address: Corso Magenta 15, Milan
16. Spend an Evening in Naviglio
For the young people who frequent the canal-side cafés and music clubs, Naviglio is one of the top things to do in Milan at night. Although it’s the most active in the evening, go in the daytime for the boutiques and artists’ workshops, and for the restaurants and frequent festivals held here.
In April, the neighborhood along the canal is filled with flowers for the Festa Di Fiori, and the Festa del Naviglio brings concerts, processions, crafts, and an antique market.
Barges along the canals are decorated in mid-June for the Sagra di San Cristoforo (Festival of Saint Christopher), and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi performs about 50 concerts on Thursday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Auditorium di Milano.
Address: Corso San Gottardo, Milan
15. Santa Maria Presso San Satiro
From the outside, this church on a shopping street not far from Piazza del Duomo seems relatively small and unimpressive.
Step inside to see that it is quite grand, its majestic, deep, vaulted sanctuary stretching into an apse that’s nearly the length of the main part of the church.
Or is it? Keep your eyes on it as you walk forward, and watch as it melts into an almost completely flat wall behind the altar. It’s all an optical illusion, a very clever trick played by the architect Bramante to give grandeur to a church with only a limited space.
Address: Via Torino 9, Milan
14. Poldi-Pezzoli Museum
An elegant old patrician house is the setting for this art museum, which originated in the 19th century as the private collection of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli and his mother, Rosa Trivulzio. Highlights are paintings by Botticelli, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, Guardí, and other artists, as well jewelry, silver, bronzes, porcelains, Etruscan pottery, armor, and weapons.
Textiles in the museum include Flemish and Persian carpets, tapestries, a large collection of hand-worked lace, and a very rare embroidery designed by Botticelli.
The house itself is worth seeing, as artworks and other collections are shown in a combination of room settings and gallery spaces; many of the rooms were redecorated in the mid-1800s to showcase the collections. Poldi-Pezzoli Museum is one of four houses that form the Circuito delle Case Museo di Milano, Milan Museum House Network, with admission on a single ticket.
Address: Via Manzoni 12, Milan
13. Museo Bagatti Valsecchi
Several things make this an especially interesting place to visit. Two brothers in the 19th century spent their lives collecting furnishings and decorative arts to make the interior of their Renaissance palazzo look as it might have appeared originally.
Not only will you see a home of that era in a livable state, as opposed to just rooms of display cases and walls of paintings, but you can follow their collecting process through the excellent English signage. So you get to share a bit of the excitement of the chase amid the historical and artistic information about each piece.
Most of all, though, it’s nice to see the furniture, tapestries, glassware, books, children’s items, and paintings by Renaissance masters in a household setting. The museum is also part of the Circuito delle Case Museo di Milano, four distinguished houses accessed with a single ticket.
Address: Via S Spirito 10, Milan
12. Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology
Housed in a former Olivetan monastery, the museum illustrates the history of science and technology from the work of early scientists into modern times.
Of particular interest is the Leonardo da Vinci Gallery with working models of many of his inventions and machinery, created from da Vinci’s drawings.
In the physics exhibits are apparatus used by Galileo, Newton, and Volta, and there are sections relating to optics, acoustics, telegraphy, transport, shipping, railroads, flying, metallurgy, motor vehicles, timekeeping, and timber.
In all, more than 15,000 technical and scientific objects represent the history of Italian science, technology, and industry.
Festivals & Events
11. Parco Sempione
The English-style landscape of Parco Sempione is a good place to rest your eyes after they’ve overdosed on stone and architecture, and to wander the curving pathways.
Walkers, joggers, local office workers with their lunches, and parents with children in tow all enjoy the park. In the summer, concerts are held here.
At the entrance is the monumental Arco della Pace, Peace Arch, and towering high above the park is the Torre Branco, designed by famed architect Gio Ponte in 1933.
On a clear day, views of Milan and the Alps are spectacular. If you like Art Nouveau, be sure to see the fanciful aquarium pavilion at the Via Gadio edge of the park.
Address: Corso Sempione, Milan
10. Triennale di Milano (Palazzo dell’Arte)
The building beside Parco Sempione, constructed in 1933 to house the premier Italian design show, is a textbook example of Fascist-era architecture (the style is properly known as Stripped Classicism, but in Italy, it is almost always a product of the Fascist regime, whose leaders favored it).
But it works well as a showcase for art and design, and inside are always high-level shows and exhibitions, often international in scope.
They can range from retrospectives of a great name in modernism, such as Andy Warhol or Gio Ponte, to examinations of the roots and themes of tribal art or even food design.
The permanent exhibitions showcase Italian design, featuring the best Italian-designed products throughout the ages.
Address: Viale Emilio Alemagna 6, Milan
The Romanesque basilica of Sant’Eustorgio was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, and its fine campanile was added a century later.
The facade was not added until 1863. Look beyond the choir to find the Cappella Portinari, by Michelozzo in 1462-68, one of the earliest examples of Renaissance architecture. The frescoes are by Vincenzo Foppa.
Not far from Sant’Eustorgio is another church, San Lorenzo Maggiore, dating from the Early Christian period. Its Renaissance dome was added in 1574, but the mosaics in the chapel of St. Aquilinus are from the fourth century. In front of the church, the portico of sixteen Corinthian columns is the largest surviving monument of Roman Mediolanum.
Address: Piazza Sant’Eustorgio, 1, 20123 Milan
8. Indulge Your Inner Fashionista
The Quadrilatero della Moda is Milano’s high fashion shopping district, where the most famous Italian – and other – designers have their smartest shops. The four prime streets are Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, via Manzoni, and Corso Venezia, lined with a succession of windows displaying the latest designs and fashion trends.
This is one of the most famous designer shopping streets in the world, right up there with the Avenue des Champs Élysées in Paris, and you’ll see all the best names here: Prada, Armani, Fendi, Valentino, Missoni, Trussardi, and the rest.
Remember that casual browsing inside the shops is not welcome unless you dress the part. Most tourists simply browse the eye-catching windows, where the displays are as dramatic as the fashions.
Each autumn, Milan designers – the cream of the international fashion houses – send their top fashion models out to strut down the catwalks at Milano Moda Donna, Milan Women’s Fashion Week.
It’s the highlight of the fashion year, and although you can’t get into the shows without credentials, it seems as though everyone in Milan becomes a fashion model for the week; it’s a great time for people watching.
7. Pirelli Hangar Bicocca
In one of the most dynamic and popular of the arts neighborhoods emerging from former industrial districts, a former locomotive manufacturing plant has been converted into a center for contemporary art and cultural projects.
Changing temporary exhibitions fill two of the three galleries, while the third houses the dramatic permanent installation, The Seven Heavenly Palaces. A collection of concrete towers by the German artist Anselm Kiefer towers over visitors, and accompanying the exhibition are “Bubbles” with in-depth texts, videos, audio, and interactive events relating to the exhibitions or to contemporary arts.
Address: Via Chiese 2, Milan
6. Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna (Modern Art Gallery)
Napoleon’s residence when he occupied Milan, this palace facing the Giardini Pubblici was new when Napoleon commandeered it. Today, it retains its original stucco work and decorative details inside, which adds to its interest as a showcase for Milan’s extensive collection of modern art.
The emphasis is on Italian art, from 19th-century Romanticism to post-impressionists, but the collections are far broader, with works by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Rouault, Modigliani, Dufy, and Vuillard. There is an extensive group of Neoclassical sculpture by Canova and his contemporaries.
On the grounds are an English-style garden and a botanic garden, and adjoining it are the lawns, flower gardens, and playgrounds of the public gardens.
Also adjoining the Giardini Pubblici is the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Museum of Natural History), where the biodiversity of the earth is shown in nearly 100 detailed dioramas. Especially strong is the paleontology section, highlighted by a spectacular pliosaurus hanging from the ceiling.
Address: Via Palestro 16, Milan
5. Piazza Dei Mercanti
Piazza dei Mercanti is best visited at night and will transport you to the Middle Ages of Milan. Once the square was an administrative centre of the medieval city, for trade and merchant activities, it is now among the top tourist attractions in Milan.
The Piazza dei Mercanti is located in between the Piazza Cordusio and the Piazza del Duomo; it is also within range with other sights in Milan.
There are several beautiful buildings in the square, like the 13th century Broletto Nuovo (Palazzo della Ragione), the Pallanza della Scuole Palatine and the Loggia degli Osii (once used by authorities to address the people), which leaves the visitors stunned. Besides, being an architectural attraction, the square is turned into a bustling Christmas market during the holidays.
Location- Piazza dei Mercanti, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
4. Basilica Di Sant’ambrogio
The Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore is an essential catholic church, located in the southwestern part of Milan. It is one of the oldest churches and among the top Milan sightseeing places, originally built during the Roman times it has subsequently been rebuilt and renovated over centuries.
The main entrance of the Basilica has colonnades and a statue of Emperor Maximian in the courtyard. On the other hand, the interiors show the old age of the church with mature colouration, high altars and the chapel of Saint Aquilino that has gorgeous ceiling artworks and mosaics.
Situated close to the medieval Ticino gate and in the Basilica Park, which also includes the Basilica of Sant’eustorgio and the Roman Colonne di San Lorenzo as well, you can visit the Basilica to pray while admiring the edifice.
Location- Near Cappelle Medicee, Piazza di San Lorenzo, 9, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
3. Castello Sforzesco
The Castello Sforzesco, held by the Visconti and the Sforza families who ruled Milan from 1277 to 1447 and from 1450 to 1535 respectively, was built in 1368 and rebuilt in 1450. The 70-meter Torre de Filarete is a 1905 reproduction of the original gate-tower.
The Castello houses the Musei del Castello Sforzesco, a series of museums, one of which features sculpture. The collection includes the Pietà Rondanini, Michelangelo’s last masterpiece, brought here in 1953 from the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome.
Other museums feature a collection of decorative art, prehistoric and Egyptian antiquities, a collection of musical history, and an armory of weapons and medieval armor.
The picture gallery includes paintings by Bellini, Correggio, Mantegna, Bergognone, Foppa, Lotto, Tintoretto, and Antonello da Messina. Between the two rear courtyards of the Castello, a passage leads into the park, originally the garden of the dukes of Milan and later a military training ground.
Address: Piazza Castello, Milan
2. Pinacoteca di Brera
The Renaissance Palazzo di Brera, built between 1651 and 1773, was originally a Jesuit college, but since 1776 has been the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts). Along with a library and observatory, it contains the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of Italy’s finest art museums.
Much of the art was acquired as churches closed or were demolished, and the museum is especially strong in paintings by northern Italian masters. As you enter through the courtyard, you’ll see an 1809 monument to Napoleon I by the sculptor Canova.
Notable among 15th-century pictures are works by Mantegna (Madonna in a Ring of Angels’ Heads and Lamentation). The Venetian masters are represented by Giovanni Bellini (Lamentation and two Madonnas), Paolo Veronese, Titian (Count Antonio Porcia and St. Jerome), and Tintoretto (Finding of St. Mark’s Body and Descent from the Cross), and portraits by Lorenzo Lotto and Giovanni Battista Moroni.
The Lombard masters, disciples of Leonardo da Vinci, are well represented, as are artists of the Ferrarese school. Correggio of Parma is represented by a Nativity and an Adoration of the Kings. Artists of the Umbrian school include Piero della Francesca (Madonna with Saints and Duke Federico da Montefeltro) and Bramante (eight frescoes Christ of the Column).
The most famous picture in the gallery is Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin (Lo Sposalizio), the finest work of his first period. Outstanding among foreign masters are Rembrandt (portraits of women, including The Artist’s Sister), Van Dyck (Princess Amalia of Solms), Rubens (Last Supper), and El Greco (St. Francis).
It’s not all old masters – you’ll also find works here by Picasso, Braque, and Modigliani, too. Most visitors miss the Brera’s little secret: the Orto Botanico di Brera, a charming garden in one of its inner courtyards, a hidden oasis of exotic trees, pools, and flower beds with a 19th-century greenhouse.
Address: Via Brera 28, Milan
1. See an Opera at Teatro alla Scala
Considered the most prestigious opera house in the world, La Scala has rung with the music of all the great operatic composers and singers, and its audiences – the theater seats 2,800 people – are known (and feared) as the most demanding in Italy.
The season begins in early December and runs through May, but tickets are often difficult to come by. The best way of getting tickets is through your hotel concierge, but it’s worth checking at the box office.
In the same building is the Museo Teatrale alla Scala, where you’ll find a collection of costumes from landmark performances and historical and personal mementos of the greats who performed and whose works were performed at La Scala, including Verdi, Rossini, and the great conductor Arturo Toscanini.
If there is not a rehearsal in progress, the museum offers access to see the inside of the opera house itself, one of the world’s grandest.
Address: Piazza della Scala, Milan
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