Milan is a really popular Italian airport for international flights, and unfortunately many people fly in or out of Milan without leaving any time to see the city itself. They travel in from Lake Como or Florence (on the fast train) the day of their flight. While this is convenient and allows time to see more bucket-list sites in Italy more touristy destinations, I think most tourists should spend at least 24 hours in Milan. That way, getting to/getting off your flight is not as stressful, and Milan is a pretty fabulous Italian city that is completely different from any other!
As you may know, Milan, Italy’s business capital (but not political capital), is in Northern Italy. Its 3 hours from Venice, and 2 hours from Florence (or 3 hours from the Cinque Terre via Florence) and Bologna on the fast train. Milan is more modern that most Italian cities and rather than ancient ruins, has modern buildings (some less modern than others…), along with lots of great museums, shopping, and Northern Italian restaurant fare (i.e. no meatballs in red sauce here)!
To get to/from Milan from Milan’s Malpensa airport, take the Malpensa Express from the airport into Milano Centrale, Milan’s central (but not only) train station. The Malpensa Express is easy, cheap, and almost always quicker than taking a car. From the train station, drop your bags at your hotel (or at Milano Centrale if you are only in for a few hours) and you are ready to go! When I was in Milan last, we stayed at Hotel Berna, a lovely hotel a five minute walk from Milano Centrale that I will absolutely stay at again.
After settling in, take the metro to Duomo, Milan’s most famous site (Duomo is also the name of the metro stop). And on that note, you should plan to walk and use public transportation to get around Milan. Milan is quite big, so walking everywhere is not a great option, especially if you have limited time. The metro, however, is very efficient, safe, and easy to use. Trams supplement where the Metro is lacking. Considering buy a 24 or 48 hour ticket if you will be following my itinerary.
The Duomo is Milan’s BEAUTIFUL cathedral, and its my favorite European cathedral!! As you can see from the picture below, its also everyone else’s favorite cathedral…
While the the facade and interior of the church are quite breath-taking, the best part of the Duomo is visiting its roof! Yes, you can walk around the roof of the cathedral! And, its totally awesome! Tickets to the roof and interior of the church are available from a sales desk locked in the building behind the Duomo. The line to get to the roof is on the left side of the Duomo and the entrance to the interior is in the expected place. Whatever you do, do not miss the roof if you can make the climb! Expect to spend 2 hours here if you want to see the roof.
Post-roof-top climb, walk through the Galleria Vittorino Emanuale II, which is the fancy building directly next to the Duomo (1 minute walk)!
The Galleria Vittorino Emanuale II is the World’s oldest shopping mall and is home to some swanky shops, including Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci! Make sure to check out the center of the mall and take a turn of the bull painted on the floor for good luck! Pryor and I got some shopping in! How long to spend in the Galleria Vittorino Emanuale II can range from 15 minutes to hours…depending on how much shopping you plan to do!
If you walk through the Galleria Vittorino Emanuale II, you will come out at the La Scala Opera House! La Scala is one of the most famous opera houses, and you can take a guided tour or see an opera if one is playing (however tickets are VERY expensive and smart dress is required).
Somewhere during this trip, you will probably get hungry and the Duomo-area is one of the worst places in Milan to find a decent restaurant. However, the casual and very Milanese bakery, Luini, is located right next to the Galleria Vittorino Emanuele II and serves excellent panzerotti, which is fried, stuffed bread! You really cannot go wrong!
On your second day, or in the afternoon of your first day if you are reallllly efficient and have only a full day to explore Milan, go see The Last Supper – the famous fresco by Leonardo da Vinci. Side note – buy tickets to see The Last Supper FAR, FAR IN ADVANCE. Like the moment they go on sale approximately 90-days in advance here. Seriously, The Last Supper is one of the hardest sightseeing tickets to get in all of Europe!
Surprising to many, The Last Supper is not a traditional painting but a fresco on a wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Santa Maria delle Grazie is located away from the touristy Duomo in a cute residential area. If you pre-ordered tickets online, the ticket pick up is in the modern building directly next to the church. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes in advance, if not earlier, to ensure enough time to get there and collect your tickets. Your tickets are only good for the reserved time.
If you have even more time in Milan, I recommend the Brera Gallery, Via Dante, the Sforza Castle, or more shopping on Corso Venezia! However, if you have 24 hours or less, you will be lucky to even get through my itinerary. In planning your trip, focus on the Duomo and expand from there depending on time.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel Berna: Via Napo Torriani 18, 20124 Milan, Italy. T: +39 02 9475 5356. Reservations can be made online here. I recommend booking directly with the hotel to take advantage of any available upgrades, etc. Excellent breakfast served every morning.
Luini: Via Santa Radegonda, 16 – 20121 Milano. Tel. +39 02 86461917. Open Monday 10:00 – 15:00, Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 20:00. Take out only.
The Duomo: Piazza del Duomo (metro: Duomo). Open daily 8:00 – 19:00. Entrance to cathedral €3,00/person. Entrance to rooftop €13,00/person.
The Last Supper: Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie, 20123 Milano, Italy. Open Tuesday – Sunday 8:15 – 16:30. Tickets MUST be secured online before you leave, and should be secured as soon as they go on sale (typically 90 days before your visit).
Milan Metro: Milan’s metro website in English. The 24 and 48 hour cards are valuable if you make a couple trips.
Malpensa Express: Buy tickets and find information on this English website.
ON A BUDGET
Milan has lots of hotels, hostels, Airbnb, etc. at all price ranges. However, Hotel Berna usually has decent prices and the complimentary breakfast really evens out the price. In terms of food, Luini is my top budget choice. In addition to Luini, take advantage of Milan’s appertivo hour. You buy one cocktail or glass of wine, and then you get to take advantage of the free food that they keep setting out!