Milan is an important city in the centre of the Lombardy region and the second largest city in Italy. While it can be a challenge for visitors - Milan is often busy, hot and crowded and not always as clean as it could be - there are rich rewards for those who persist in exploring this vibrant Italian city.
Wealthy Milan means different things to different people - including shopping, art and culture, high fashion, football with AC Milan and Inter Milan, one of the finest cathedrals in the world, the Last Supper, opera at La Scala - and has something to offer all its visitors, although the principal focus of the town is not tourism.
While it is beyond the scope of this guide to provide a detailed guide to every highlight in Milan the guide here should give you an idea of the most important and interesting sites in the city, and is a good place to start your exploring. Begin perhaps in the Piazza del Duomo and the cathedral.
Milan Duomo (cathedral) and Piazzo del Duomo
A visit to the Duomo, Milan's vast gothic cathedral, is an unmissable highlight of every visit. Take the time to appreciate the facade, roof and building from the outside first - the cathedral has an uncountable number of ornate statues, towers, spires and other carved features and is one of the most elaborate gothic monuments in the world (although substantial parts have been completed in more recent centuries).
Inside the cathedral you can't help but admire the coloured light that passes through the (numerous) stained glass windows and the substantial pillars that line the nave. And also the immense size - apparently the cathedral can hold 40000 people! Suspended above the far end of the cathedral is a cross reputed to hold a nail from Christ's cross.
Be sure to also visit the small and very ancient baptistry that pre-dates the cathedral itself, the crypt, and the exceptional views from the cathedral roof. If possible you might like to visit the Duomo museum on Palazzo Reale before visiting the cathedral itself, to learn of the history and development of the building over the course of the last 600 years.
Other important monuments on Piazza del Duomo include the Palazzo Reale and the Palazzo Arcivescoville.
La Scala opera house (Teatro Alla Scala)
If time, money and ticket availability permit try and go to a concert at La Scala, one of the greatest opera theatres in the world. Otherwise be sure to at least admire the outside of the 18th century building and reflect on what you are missing out on...
Near here you can also see the 16th century Palazzo Marino.
Situated towards the north-west of Milan city centre, Castello Sforzesco is a renaissance era replacement of an earlier castle and has various parts designed by leading artists and architects of the time. As well as the sumptuous palace itself there is also a fine art collection held here in the Pinacoteca e raccolte d'Arte and several other museums.
Among the many parks in Milan the Sempione Park next to the Castello Sforzesco is a very pleasant place to explore and escape the bustle of the city, with various lakes, statues and fountains adding interest to a visit.
The Last Supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most famous paintings in the world and in itself a reason to visit Milan for many art lovers, is in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The 15th century renaissance style church would be worth visiting even if it didn't contain this famous painting, in part to see the lovely cloister.
The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is on Corso Magenta, just south-west of the Castello Sforzesco. You are highly recommended to book your tickets in advance to see the Last Supper (try Select Italy for booking tickets)
Pinacoteca di Brera
The art gallery in the Palazzo di Brera (a short distance north of the cathedral) features a magnificent art collection started more than 200 years ago and containing works by all the important Italian artists of the last 500 years such as Bellini, Raphael and Caravaggio, and an extensive collection of 19th and 20th century works of art. Raphael's 'marriage of the virgin' is among the unmissable highlights.
As well as the museums and galleries already mentioned above there are many others to discover in Milan. These include:
- the very extensive collection of modern art at the Museum of Contemopary Art (Palazzo Reale)
- the manuscripts and paintings in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana (including works by Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian...)
- the Archaeology Museum has many artefacts from the Roman era
- the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum has even more impressive art works such as furniture, tapestries and paintings
Shopping and other information
Of course, Milan is well known for the opportunities to enjoy shopping in some of the finest fashion houses to be found in the world.
Start your shopping trip perhaps in the beautifully decorated 19th century Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II (off Piazza del Duomo, substantially rebuilt after extensive war time damage) or the Brera area near the cathedral.
Fashion enthusiasts will enjoy the area of streets to the north-east of the centre around Via Monte Napoleone (known as the Golden Quarter), and if fashion and exclusive boutiques don't tempt you be sure to stop for a break in one of Milan's many delicious cafes and cake shops...
As with many large cities it is possible to take a bus tour that passes most of the most important highlights and can be a useful way to get a feeling for the layout of the city - ask for details in Milan tourist office.
Needless to say there are many, many other things to enjoy in Milan which is very much a living city. As well as the music and theatre, museums and public gardens, fine restaurants and shopping, there are almost always interesting temporary exhibitions and performances so check what is on at the time of your visit to make your Milan visit even more special.
Map of Milan and places to visit
Milan places to visit
See more places nearby in the Lombardy guide