Top Things to do Milan in One Day
Milan is northern Italy’s magnanimous metropolis. Home to legendary artwork, like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper fresco, the commanding Duomo, and lavish boutique shops dressing men and women that will have you taking a second look. Milan is Italy’s second most populous city after Rome. And because of its size, the extravagant style of locals and visitors alike, and the sheer wealth of things to do in Milan it can be intimidating to the casual traveller. But I’m here to show you that you can easily see Milan in one day.
You can enjoy a relaxed day and still check off the top things to do in Milan with limited time. That’s not to suggest that Milan is only worth 24 hours. Every inch of Italy, its small towns to big cities, is full of endless treasures, like charming cafés, historic neighbourhoods, and little-known churches that keep travellers coming back again and again.
The Gothic Duomo di Milano Cathedral is one of the largest and magnificent Gothic cathedrals in the world. The Duomo is over 500 feet in length, over 300 feet in width, and over 350 feet in height and took over 600 years to create. It’s also reported to have the most statues of any other building in the world. And located right in the heart of Milan, it has so much to offer, easily making it to the top of things to do in Milan.
And a visit to the Duomo is a great way to start your day exploring Milan. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours exploring the Duomo. Wander the colossal cathedral, with its towering 52 pillars, beautiful artwork, and intricate sculptures. Descend to the crypt that’s home to a rich dark wood casket that showcases a cardinal adorned with a silver mask, from over 500 years ago. It’s also below that you’ll find the Cathedral’s archaeological museum. Here you’ll see the remnants of the first church built here, dating back to the 4th century, along with the original black and white tiled floor, and an array of artefacts.
To many, including me, the grandest experience at the Duomo is exploring the rooftop of this glorious cathedral. Take the lift or climb the 150 narrow stone steps to the Duomo’s terrace. Here you’ll be rewarded with sweeping 360 degree views of Milan. Witness up close the true mastery work, with its over 3000 statues, 135 spires, and the copper Madonna that sits atop the tallest spire at over 350 feet.
Visiting the Duomo details: Open 8am to 7pm, with the last admission at 6:10pm. The cost of admission ranges from €6 to €16 depending on age and range of entrance to the crypt, archaeological museum, and if you are taking the lift or taking the stairs to the terrace. Also, note that there is a simple security checkpoint to go through so avoid large bags when visiting. You can also take guided tours through the Duomo or download the Duomo Milano App – available in multiple languages.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Located right next to the Duomo, the open-air shopping arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the perfect next stop on your day exploring Milan. Home to luxurious shops and famous cafés, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the oldest shopping malls, built in 1877. Named after Italy’s first King, the Galleria is another grand structure. At over 600 feet long and 5 stories high it’s adorned with statues, an extravagant glass-topped roof, and stunning mosaics. There’s even a strange tradition. The tradition says if you spin your heels on the famous bull’s balls (part of the mosaic floor), it’s said to bring you good luck. But I would advise not, as it causes damage to the historic tiles. Consider yourself already lucky!
A few places to visit include; the ritzy Savini restaurant – an old Hemingway haunt, the historic Bocca Bookshop, and at the far end of the Galleria is a quiet piazza with a statue of Da Vinci. And for another epic view of Milan head to the Galleria’s rooftop. Dubbed the Highline Galleria, you can reach this over 800 foot walkway from a lift in the courtyard of Silvio Pellico 2.
Visiting the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II: The Galleria is open 24 hours but note that the shops and eateries run on standard opening hours. The Highline Galleria is open 10am to 8:30pm and tickets are €12, or for €15 you can also dine at the rooftop pizzeria.
San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
While most travellers head to Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie to behold Milan’s most famous piece of art – Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, I have another recommendation. Let me first put in perspective your visit to The Last Supper. It will be you and 24 other people ushered in for 15 minutes and then you must move on. Plus, the price for tickets is steep and must be booked advance. Is it worth it? Yes. But there’s another hidden gem in Milan. One with little to no crowds. And free!
To me, a visit to San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is a must for things to do in Milan. Located along Corso Magenta, a pleasant 15 minute stroll from the Duomo, its grey facade is unassuming and verging on lacklustre. But don’t let this book’s cover sway you. Beyond its doors, you’ll stop dead in your tracks.
This church was once a part of an important female convent. Opened in 1518, it housed one area for the public to gather and another for the nuns who were forbidden to cross the wall. It’s affectionately known as the Sistine Chapel’s sister. Why? Because beyond those doors hold some of the world’s most breathtaking frescos from the 16th century. Upon first entering you’ll be pressed for where to look first. Almost every inch is covered in stunning and vivid paintings, covering everything from the last supper (Yes, it’s true!) to Noah’s Ark. While part of the building is now an archaeological museum, the church is still in use.
Visiting San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore: Entrance is free and hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30am to 7:30pm.
Did you know that in the heart of Milan there’s a castle? The Sforza Castle is a short walk from San Maurizio. Built in the 15th century, the castle was actually built as a fortress but later became home to the Sforza dynasty. And one cool fact is that the castle’s defences were designed by da Vinci himself. This vast red-bricked structure is free to wander through, picturesque courtyards, interesting exhibits, and don’t forget to peek in the grass-covered moats for some stray cats. It’s also home to seven different museums that showcase Milan’s cultural and civic history.
There are a couple of things not to miss. In the frescoed hall of the Spanish Hospital within the Castle you’ll find Rondanini Pieta, Michelangelo’s last work of art. And within the ducal apartments, that now houses the Museum of Ancient Arts, you’ll see beautiful frescos by da Vinci.
Visiting Sforza Castle: The Castle is free and open from 7am to 7:30pm. Museums are €5 and open from 9am to 5:30pm. And if you’re visiting on a Tuesday there’s free entry after 2pm.
Extending out from the Sforza Castle lies one of Milan’s largest parks. You can easily forget you’re in a bustling metropolis within the Park Sempione. With shaded trails, large ponds full of waterfowl and turtles, lush lawns for picnicking and sunbathing, the Park is easily one of the top things to do in Milan – especially when you want to relax.
Created in 1888, Park Sempione covers over 100 acres and is also home to an aquarium, a sports arena, the Arch of Peace, and even has free Wi-Fi! Don’t forget to check out one of my favourite little gems in the park, the Bridge of Mermaids. Under a canopy of trees lies this old bridge with two mermaid statues on either end made of cast iron. A whimsical spot to stop.
Park Sempione is also home to the Torre Branca, an unassuming steel tower. The Torre Branca was built in 1933 and is over 350 feet high. It’s one of the city’s highest buildings and you can even take a lift to the top for fantastic views over Milan and beyond.
Visiting Park Sempione: The Park’s hours vary but are generally 6:30am to 10pm. The Park is free but tickets for the Torre Branca are 4. Opening hours for the Torre Branca vary but are generally from 10:30am to midnight. Check before you go.
Milan Central Railway Station
Whether you’re arriving or departing by train or not, a visit to the Central Railway Station is definitely at the top of things to do in Milan. It’s considered one of the most beautiful train stations in Europe, and there’s a hundred reason why! Construction began in 1906 to replace the old station from 1864, but it wasn’t completed until 1931. Created in a mix of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles, the Milan Central train station is Italy’s second largest station. Did you know, you can fit two Duomos in the station?
Milan Central is so much more than a train station, it’s a literal work of art. From its massive exterior ornamented with symbols of strength and power to every inch of the walls and floors within, you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring it. The Atrium, an over 130 foot high hall, has light pouring in from the huge skylights. On its walls, carved of travertine stone and marble, you’ll discover Bas-reliefs that show the founding of Rome, Italian myths, and signs of the zodiac. And the Departures Hall is a staggering 705 feet long, with a curved glass roof. Its home to stunning tiled panels showcasing Italy’s main cities, like Rome, Venice, Florence, and of course, Milan, as well as Art Deco mosaics.
Milan’s Central train station shouldn’t be seen through the passing eyes of a hurried traveller. You won’t be disappointed if you give yourself the time to fully appreciate it.
Whether you’ve only got a day or you’re staying for a week, there are a wealth of things to do in Milan. And these just scratch the surface of this dynamic city.
What are your favourite things to do in Milan?
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