Things to do in Milan

Must-see Milan sights

With its designer-clad natives and well-heeled stockbrokers, Milan is the cosmopolitan capital of Italy. Amongst the glitz, glamour and Donatella Versace, Milan is still packed with history. With its unmissable Duomo and enough ancient churches and galleries to keep you busy for a week, you can unwind in the city’s bars and cafes, and, of course, go designer window-shopping.

  1. Enjoy the view at the Duomo
  2. Go window-shopping in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
  3. Spend a night at the opera
  4. Relax in Parco Sempione
  5. Marvel at The Last Supper
  6. Navigate the Navigli
  7. Eat like the Milanese

Milan’s street plan resembles a spider’s web, with roads radiating out from the central Piazza del Duomo. The bulk of the city is encircled by two ring roads, while the suburbs and industrial estates spill out towards a third ring. The city centre is just about compact enough to explore on foot, though the public transport system is easy to master.

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1. Enjoy the view at the Duomo

Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo, was begun in 1386 but not completed until 1938. As such it’s characterized by a hotchpotch of styles that range from Gothic to Neoclassical. Even just looking at its marbled, detailed exterior is a fantastic sight: take time to explore the striking interior, but the highlight is escaping up to the cathedral roof and its terraces - not only will you have fine views of the city but on a clear day even of the Alps. Visiting the Duomo will feature in most Milan holiday packages.

Best for: Rooftop views with a history.

While you’re there: The nearby Museo del Duomo houses a large collection of historical treasures.

2. Go window-shopping in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

Leading off to the north of Piazza del Duomo is the opulent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a glass-domed galleria designed in the 19th century as a covered walkway. Today, top designer stores occupy most of the gallery - including the 80-year-old Prada shop - as well as expensive cafes and elegant boutiques. The galleria still manages to retain most of its original charm and dignity, thankfully.

Best for: Blowing the budget - or acting like you could, anyway.

While you’re there: Stop off at the Gucci cafe, where chocolates are shaped in the famous GG symbol.

3. Spend a night at the opera

The world-famous Teatro alla Scala opera house, popularly known as La Scala, has seen many leading names in Italian opera premier their major works here, including Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi. Today, you can visit the museum that’s tucked into one corner of the theatre, and a visit to the auditorium is included in the admission price. Visit La Scala Theatre for more information - you can book onto a guided tour of the theatre and workshops, which is definitely one of the best things to do in Milan.

Best for: Thespians and culture vultures.

While you’re there: Download their free app so you can take an audio-guided tour of the collections.

4. Relax in Parco Sempione

Looking for greener things to do in Milan? You can’t go wrong with Parco Sempione, the city centre’s largest area of greenery. It’s laid out in the old hunting grounds of Castello Sforzesco, which is also worth a visit. It makes for a refreshing break from the city’s traffic-choked roads, with a playground for younger kids, grass to kick a football on and a couple of cafes to sip an espresso in.

Best for: Making the most of the sunshine.

While you’re there: The Acquario Civico focuses on marine life and its small collection of tanks will keep the kids - and maybe adults too - entertained.

5. Marvel at The Last Supper

In 1498, Leonardo di Vinci painted The Last Supper in Milan, housed in the refectory building adjacent to the terracotta-and-brick church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It’s famed for being incredibly naturalistic for its time, not only realistically depicting the characters in the story, but also actually telling the story. If you’re wondering what to do in Milan that will leave a lasting impression, this iconic mural should fit the bill.

Best for: Seeing one of the world’s most resonant images.

While you’re there: Visits to The Last Supper must be booked far in advance, at least one month (about three in summer and at weekends), which will get you a 15 minute slot with the painting.

6. Navigate the Navigli

The southern end of Corso di Porta Ticinese is guarded by the 19th-century Arco di Porta Ticinese, marking the beginning of Milan’s canal – or Navigli – neighbourhood, once a bustling industrial area and these days a focus for the city’s nightlife. It’s pretty scruffy and slightly disappointing in the harsh light of day, so best to visit in the evening when the quarter’s many restaurants and bars come alive.

Best for: Drinking the night away with new friends.

While you’re there: There’s a monthly antiques-street market (last Sunday of month; closed July and August).

7. Eat like the Milanese

Whether you’re looking for a neighbourhood trattoria, want to watch models pick at their salads or crave a bit of well-priced ethnic food, Milan has it all – usually within easy reach of wherever you’re staying. If you don’t fancy a sit-down meal, make the most of the Milanese custom of aperitivo to curb your hunger. Milan has honed the aperitivo - a quick drink before dinner - to a fine art, where between 6-9pm, the city unwinds over a drink and bite to eat. Here’s how to join in: buy a drink (somewhere between €5 and €10, depending on the establishment), take a plate and help yourself, although if you’re really planning to fill up, it’ll go down better if you go back several times rather than piling your plate high.

Best for: Budget travellers.

While you’re there: Most aperitivo bars evolve as the evening goes on: the lights dim, the volume of the music increases and you can settle in for the night.

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