For your first visit you probably need under two days to enjoy the city’s major sights. Shopping – a key attraction here – will require additional time.
Distances are mostly walkable, but public transport may be required to reach some destinations.
Don’t miss: touring the roof of Duomo – a fairly unique and extraordinary experience.
Worthy attractions: Duomo; Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II; Teatro alla Scala; Pinacoteca di Brera; Museo Bagatti-Valsecchi; Castello Sforzesco [walked through and around without visiting museums]; Santa Maria delle Grazie with Leonardo’s Last Supper.
Left for another visit: Museo Poldi-Pezzoli.
Last visit: November 2018.
Milan is widely accepted as a high-end shopping destination but rarely comes up as a sightseeing one. That reputation is somewhat misleading: Milan may not be on the same level as Venice or Florence in terms of sights and museums, but it nonetheless has things to offer to the visitor.
Things to See
Even the proud locals would agree that Milan is not especially beautiful – there is too much haphazardness to its architecture, with too many sore spots. Milan is a modern metropolis, with not much in the way of architectural attractions. And yet, lovely pockets are found here or there, monumental buildings pop up at intervals, attractive lines of residential buildings appear on many streets, and more than one church offers a highlight. High-end shopping may act as a welcome supplement for some, but we normally are no more than lightly amused by boutique windows.
One sight that should be on everyone’s must-see list is the Duomo ♥♥♥, one of the main claimants of the title of the grandest Gothic churches in the world. The interior is both majestic and a bit glum, with wonderful stained-glass windows offering vivid contrast to the otherwise sparsely decorated space, but the highlight of the cathedral visit is undeniably its extraordinary roof, with 135 spires and uncounted statues and gargoyles. Being able to walk on the roof is a fairly unique experience in itself, and the views over the city are not half-bad either.
Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II ♥ is an attractive shops-and-restaurants arcade, with a certain impressive quality of design, especially when it comes to its glass ceiling and dome.
Theatro alla Scala ♥♥ is not too eye-catching from the outside, but a visit to its museum (which allows viewing the famous opera hall from a section of boxes) is worthwhile. The museum displays are centered on famous people associated with the opera, with a few fun musical instruments thrown in.
Castello Sforzesco ♥ is as eye-catching as anything. We only walked through its grounds without stepping into any of its museums.
A fine art collection at Pinacoteca di Brera ♥♥ is further enhanced by the gallery’s layout and item labeling.
Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is, conversely, underwhelming and rather overpriced for what it has to offer. Its main claim to fame is the library with Leonardo’s Codex, which does not compensate for the rest of the collection.
Museo Bagatti-Valsecchi ♥♥ is a very interesting 19th-century mansion designed to evoke 16th-century castles.
One other museum that will feature on the itinerary next time is Museo Poldi-Pezzoli.
Leonardo’s Last Supper ♥ requires advance reservation efforts to be visited. If you do go, you may be slightly disappointed by the brevity of the time allocated to you. The church itself, Santa Maria delle Grazie ♥ is rather interesting.
The church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore ♥♥♥ is among the most incredibly painted churches anywhere. Other churches worth attention are Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio ♥, San Lorenzo Maggiore ♥, and quite a few others.
Of the various neighborhoods at the edges of the city center, Navigli ♥ is the most bouncing at night.
Places to Eat
All places last visited in the fall of 2018.
Salsamonteria di Parma ♥♥♥ is off one of the main pedestrian shopping street a couple of blocks from the cathedral. Fantastic place! There are several small landings with 3-6 tables each, we sat at the biggest on the top level. Tons of choices on the menu. Mixed selection of salumi (e.g., Il Triunfo) is a must, but bruschetta and gnocchi were also great. Wine is poured into drinking bowls instead of glasses. Our damage: €71 for two people, with a bottle of wine.
Risoelatte ♥♥♥ is also located off a major pedestrian drag not too far from the cathedral. There is grandma’s kitchen atmosphere, with vintage accessories all around (complete with underwear drying on a line). Nice people, nice food all around. Leave room for dessert and get the special cuore de gelato (several topping options). The owner lady offered us a digestive after we paid our bill. Our damage: €109 for two, with carafe of wine.
Osteria della Lanterna ♥♥♥ is located in a somewhat deserted part of central Milan and offers a rather non-modern take on dining experience, unusual and fun. No English is spoken by the hosts; almost all the visitors spoke Italian. There are no menus; before each course, you are verbally given a choice of two-three dishes (different sauces may increase the variety to five-six). You do not select the next course until you are finished with what is in front of you. Everything is incredibly tasty, but simple. Two people, cover/primi/secondi/dolci/coffee, plus mezzo di vino – the overall damage is only €60.
On our most recent visit we also returned to a restaurant that we fondly remembered from our very first visit in 2003. Trattoria Da Giovanni ♥, on Via Gustavo Farra, is not far from the main train station; it was recommended to us by the hotel concierge on that first trip. We did not record the particulars of our meal, but fondly recalled the local community atmosphere and very friendly service. The second time around, the impression was muted by the quietness of a Sunday night. Appetizers were great, desserts were excellent, but main courses were only so-so. Friendly service, except as never before asked to leave separate tip in cash. Our damage: €78 for two people before tip, with mezzo of wine.
Somewhat accidentally, we also ate at Il Kaimano ♥ twice on two different visits, both times as unconnected random choice in Via Fiori Chiari in Brera area. The meals were not bad if not truly remarkable, seemingly the same waiter was efficient and dry-humor funny. The best part of the meal was the excellent people-watching on the pedestrian street. Latest damage: €55 for two people, with carafe of wine.
As in any large city, the options for a hotel or an apartment are nearly endless on major online platforms. Any location in Zone 1 (Centro Storico) will put you within walking distance of most of the points of interest. The excellent tram/metro network makes staying somewhere outside of city center workable as well.