Milan Sightseeing: The best tips for the capital of Lombardy
Milan is known for fashion, art, culture and some of the most impressive sights in Italy.
In this post I’ll introduce you to the best Milan sights, great viewpoints, museums and one or two insider tips. With these tips you will be well prepared for your city trip!
Things to know about Milan
Milan (Milano) is the capital of the Lombardy region. With about 1.3 million inhabitants, it is the second largest city in Italy after Rome. It is home to the country’s largest stock exchange and major banks.
Milan is located in northern Italy, just a few kilometers from Switzerland. A city trip can be wonderfully combined with a vacation at the upper Italian lakes.
At second sight
On first encounter, Milan is hard to get your head around and somehow so not Italian. I certainly struggled at first and didn’t really warm up to the city at first. After four days, Milan had me really wrapped around its finger and I would have liked to stay longer.
In my experience, it takes a little patience to understand Milan. The contrasts are harsh and don’t create a unified, romantic image like Venice, for example. And yet, Milan has so many wonderful things to offer.
Let’s start first with the most famous Milan sights, which are not insider tips, but definitely belong on this list.
Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) is the main attraction of the city and certainly one of the most famous buildings in Italy. With a total area of almost 12,000 m², Milan Cathedral is even considered one of the largest churches in the world. Depending on which measurements are used for comparison, only St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the Basilica de Nossa in Aparecida, Brazil, are larger.
When I first stood in Duomo Square (Piazza del Duomo) and looked at Milan Cathedral, it actually seemed quite small, to be honest. Its main facade is only 56 meters high. In comparison, Cologne Cathedral has a height of almost 160 meters.
Nevertheless, Milan Cathedral is hard to beat in terms of beauty. The marble shining brightly in the sun, reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, the many Gothic turrets and statues rising filigree towards the sky, the ornaments and all the many details. The cathedral is a true work of art!
Its construction began as early as 1386 and officially ended in 1813 in the time of Napoleon. So it took 427 years to build this gigantic structure and even today the masonry and statues are regularly repaired and replaced by specially trained stonemasons.
The beautiful white marble used to build the cathedral comes from the Candoglia marble quarry on Lake Maggiore. To bring it here, the Naviglio Grande canal was lengthened and given a small harbor. In this way the marble could be transported by water to the center of Milan.
Later, the section of the Naviglio Grande was filled in again. Today, only the street name Via Laghetto (Street by the Pond) at the back of the cathedral reminds of the former waterway.
An absolutely unique feature of the Milan Cathedral is the walk-on roof. It is optionally accessible via 158 steps or an elevator. Don’t miss the chance to visit the roof of the Duomo, which in my opinion is one of the very best Milan sights.
The panoramic view over the rooftops of the city to the often snow-capped Alps is priceless. You can also see the details of the stonemasonry up close from the roof.
If you are faced with the decision of “elevator or stairs,” I recommend taking the stairs. The elevator is faster, but the stairs have much more charm. The path leads between the towers and offers the most beautiful views along the way. Trust me, it’s worth it!
The different ticket prices:
- Cathedral visit (without roof): 5 euros.
- Cathedral and roof by stairs: 15 euros
- Cathedral and roof by elevator: 20 Euro
- Only to the roof by stairs: 10 Euro
- Only to the roof by elevator: 14 Euro
Extra tip: Since there is usually a very long queue at the ticket booth next to the cathedral, I recommend booking your ticket online in advance. This way you can go directly to the entrance with your QR code. For more background information on the cathedral, you can also join a two-hour guided tour.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the most impressive shopping arcade I’ve ever seen. It is located right next to Milan Cathedral and was built at the end of the 19th century by architect Giuseppe Mengoni.
The building is laid out in the shape of a cross. In the center rises a gigantic dome made of glass and steel. In the morning, the sun shines so beautifully through the glass roof that the entire gallery shines in a beautiful light.
The walls were decorated with magnificent frescoes, stucco and paintings. Four large mosaics cover the floor. They show symbols of the cities of Rome, Florence, Turin and Milan.
Luxury designers such as Prada, Gucci, Versace, Armani and Luis Vuitton have set up shop throughout the mall. In short, stores that no one needs. Nevertheless, it is fun to stroll along the shop windows and marvel at the horrendous prices.
Between the stores are exquisite restaurants, cafes and bars. A real legend is the Camparino aperitivo bar in an Art Nouveau ambience. For over 100 years, Campari has not only been served here, but really celebrated. Today the bar is a tourist magnet, but somehow also pretty cool.
On the roof of the Galeria, you’ll find the Terrazza Aperol with a great view of Milan Cathedral. Here you can buy an Aperol Spritz for 18 euros, while two streets away it costs three euros. The exclusive location is paid for and is certainly worth the experience. During our visit, however, the long queue was so long that we didn’t feel like queuing.
On the second floor of the Galleria is the luxury hotel Galleria Vik Milano. With its truly exceptional rooms, brilliant views directly into the Galleria Vittorio Emanule and an impressive collection of Italian and international art, it is considered one of the most original and exclusive hotels in the world. A double room with breakfast costs around 500 euros per night. So if you want to treat yourself to something very special, this is the place for you. lifted.
Piazza dei Mercanti
After you’ve seen the two most famous Milan sights, you’ll move on to the rather unassuming looking Piazza dei Mercanti. In the Middle Ages, this square was Milan’s most important trading center. Tailors, goldsmiths, barbers, knife sharpeners, shoemakers, bakers and other craftsmen came here to do their business back then.
The oldest building in the square is the Palazzo della Ragione, built in 1228 as a judicial building. Even the former city hall of Milan is located in this square.
The historic Brera neighborhood is the artists’ district of Milan and one of my very favorite places in the city. Although it’s not far at all from Piazza Duomo and the hectic city center, the atmosphere here is completely different. Much more dreamy, alternative, quiet.
In Brera, you’ll stroll along cobblestone streets, between pastel-colored houses and past small art galleries and boutiques. Be sure to take a look in one or the other courtyard, because here are often small, fascinating oases with lots of plants.
Indulgence tip: In the middle of the Brera district you’ll find Bar Brera, which doesn’t really seem special at first glance, but is a real Milanese institution. We ended up here by chance because there was a table free in the sun and we could listen to the street musicians from our seat. We were served very nicely, the pasta dishes and bruschetta were delicious and reasonably priced. Don’t be put off by the pictures on the menu. I know they seem extremely touristy, but once you walk in the bar is somehow so really authentic. We liked it.
Let’s stay right on the topic of indulgence, because I want to introduce you to Eataly Milano. The Eataly Milano is a department store for Italian food and reminds me of the idea a bit of the KaDeWe in Berlin. On three floors, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat and fish, wines, spirits, high-quality oils, vinegar, delicatessen and much more is offered.
In between, restaurants, bars and cafes await you, where you can try small delicacies. The ambience is totally stylish in my eyes. Beautiful, old wooden tables, lots of plants and lights.
My tip: Sit on the comfortable couch in front of the wine bar on the top floor, have a glass of wine from the region served and watch the hustle and bustle. Maybe you’ll also find a culinary souvenir or two to take home?
- Address: Piazza Venticinque Aprile 10
- Opening hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to midnight
The Navigli are the man-made waterways and canals that connect Milan to Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, and the Ticino, Lambro, Adda and Po rivers. In the past, they were used as transportation routes. As mentioned at the beginning, for example, the marble blocks for the construction of the Duomo were transported to the center of Milan via the Naviglio Grande.
With the introduction of the railroad and later by cars, the Navigli became superfluous. Many canals were built over and can no longer be seen today. Only outside the city, the water network is used for irrigation of fields.
Those interested in the exciting history of the Navigli can join a guided tour of the Navigli district and visit the lock construction on the Naviglio Pavese, which was developed by Leonardo Da Vinci.
The Navigli district is a good half-hour walk from downtown and is one of Milan’s most popular attractions. Where workers and artisans once lived on the banks of the canals, bars and restaurants now line the area.
From late afternoon, the neighborhood slowly comes to life. Just before the sun sets, the houses are reflected in the canals. The alleys fill with people and the atmosphere exudes a touch of Venice. Many small bars then open their doors and invite you to enjoy an aperitivo outside.
Attention: Some bars have hired annoying touts who lure with special offers. For 10 euros per person, you get watery Aperol Spritz and a horrible all-you-can-eat buffet with plastic plates. We thought it was awful and preferred to find a bar in a side alley afterwards.
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