The dynamo behind the country’s “economic miracle” in the 1950s, Milan is an Italian city like no other. It’s a historic city, with a spectacular cathedral and enough ancient churches and galleries to keep you busy for a week, but there are also bars and cafés to relax in, and the contemporary aspects of the place represent the cutting edge of Italy’s fashion and design industry.

The best travel tips for visiting Milan

Welcome to Milan, a city where history seamlessly intersects with modernity. It’s foggy in winter, muggy and mosquito-ridden in summer, and is closer in outlook, as well as distance, to London than to Palermo.

Set your footsteps on a path that winds through centuries of culture and innovation. The iconic Duomo graces the skyline, a testament to Milan's rich heritage, while the Brera district exudes an artistic charm that beckons you to explore its hidden gems

Yet Milan isn't confined to its storied past. Navigli's vibrant canals and buzzing atmosphere immerse you in the city's contemporary pulse. The Quadrilatero della Moda offers a glimpse into Milan's fashion-forward soul, with renowned boutiques shaping global trends. Modernity thrives in the Porta Nuova district, where futuristic skyscrapers redefine the cityscape.

As daylight fades, Milan's allure endures. Nights here are alive with possibilities, from chic cocktail lounges to electric underground clubs. Every corner holds a promise of excitement, making each evening as enticing as the last. Whether you seek historical marvels, artistic treasures, or cutting-edge architecture, Milan invites exploration.

Planning a trip to Milan? Check our Italy itineraries!

Piazza dei Mercanti, Milan © fldlcc/Shutterstock

Piazza dei Mercanti, Milan © fldlcc/Shutterstock

The best things to do in Milan

From seeing the City from the roof of the world's largest Gothic cathedral, to viewing the mural of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, here are the best things to do in Milan.

#1 Wander around the roof of Milan’s Duomo, the world’s largest Gothic cathedral

Milan’s vast Duomo was begun in 1386 under the Viscontis, but not completed until the finishing touches to the facade were added in 1938. It is characterised by a hotchpotch of styles that range from Gothic to Neoclassical. From the outside at least it’s incredible, notable as much for its strange confection of Baroque and Gothic decoration as its sheer size.

The marble, chosen by the Viscontis in preference to the usual material of brick, was brought on specially built canals from the quarries of Candoglia, near Lake Maggiore, and continues to be used in renovation today.

Outside, from the northeast end of the cathedral you can access the cathedral roof and its terraces, where you can stroll around the forest of tracery, pinnacles and statues while enjoying fine views of the city and, on clear days, even the Alps.

milan duomo cathedral roof, Italy

Milan Duomo cathedral roof, Italy © Shutterstock

#2 Gawp at The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci’s mural for the refectory wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie is one of the world’s most resonant images. Due west from the Duomo, on Corso Magenta, stands the attraction that brings most visitors to Milan – the beautiful terracotta-and-brick church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, famous for its mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

More ancient exhibits are on display at the city’s Museo Archeologico, while the nearby Sant’Ambrogio is one of the city’s loveliest churches.

#3 Explore Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio

A visit to the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan is a captivating step into the city's early Christian heritage. This ancient church, named after its patron saint, Saint Ambrose, boasts a rich history dating back to the 4th century.

As you approach, the intricate Romanesque architecture and ornate façade immediately command attention. Inside, the solemn atmosphere is adorned with graceful arches, detailed mosaics, and historic relics that encapsulate the essence of Milan's religious past.

The church's significance as a spiritual and cultural landmark is felt profoundly, offering visitors a glimpse into the roots of the city's faith and architecture, and making it a must-see destination for those eager to explore Milan's historical tapestry.

Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan © Shutterstock

Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan © Shutterstock

#4 Visit Certosa di Pavia, a fantastic Carthusian monastery

Among the rice fields around 40 km south of Milan, one of the most extravagant monasteries in Europe, the Certosa di Pavia (Charterhouse of Pavia), was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo II Visconti in 1396 as the family mausoleum.

Visconti intended the church here to resemble Milan’s late-Gothic cathedral and the same architects and craftsmen worked on the construction. It took a century to build; by the time it was finished, tastes had changed (and the Viscontis had been replaced by the Sforzas).

As a work of art the monastery is one of the most important testimonies to the transformation from late-Gothic to Renaissance and Mannerist styles, but it also affords a wonderful insight into the lives and beliefs of the Carthusian monks.

You can see the church unaccompanied, but to visit the rest of the monastery you need to join a guided tour of just under an hour (free but contributions welcomed), led by one of the monks released from the strict vow of silence. Tours run regularly – basically when enough people have gathered. They’re in Italian, but well worth doing – even if you don’t understand a word – as they allow you to visit the best parts of the monastery complex.

Aerial View Pavia, Italy Certosa di Pavia © Shutterstock

Aerial view of Certosa di Pavia © Shutterstock

#5 Go shopping in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Milan is synonymous with shopping. If your pockets are not deep enough to tackle the big-name designer boutiques you could always rummage through last season’s leftovers at the many factory outlets around town, or check out the city’s wide range of medium- and budget-range clothes shops.

If you realy like shopping, there is no better place than Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This iconic 19th-century shopping arcade, often referred to as the "living room of Milan," is a masterpiece of iron and glass design that connects Piazza del Duomo with Piazza della Scala. As you step beneath its soaring glass dome, you're surrounded by an exquisite blend of high-end boutiques, elegant cafes, and opulent mosaics that adorn the floor.

It's a space that encapsulates Milan's reputation as a global fashion and design capital. The galleria's rich history resonates through its ornate details, while the vibrant atmosphere reflects modern Milanese flair.


Entrance of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II © Shutterstock

#6 Cruise and cycle around Mantua

Rent a bike and explore elegant Mantua and the surrounding waterways. Several companies offer cruises on Mantua’s lakes – bulges in the course of the River Mincio – and on the river itself down to its confluence with the Po, ranging from 1hr jaunts up to full-day voyages as far as Ferrara and Venice.

All run daily but must be booked in advance: usually a day ahead, but sometimes an hour or so will do. The leading company is Motonavi Andes Negrini, whose ticket office is at Via San Giorgio 2, three minutes’ walk from its jetty on Lago Inferiore, or try Navi Andes, based at its jetty on Lago di Mezzo.

Many of the boats accept bikes, so you can make a great day-trip – a morning on the boat, a picnic lunch at, say, Rivalta, then a gentle cycle ride back in the afternoon. The tourist office has a good map (also on its website) detailing cycle routes, plus information on bus, boat and train combinations.

Ferry boat in the lake of Mantova (Mantua), Mincio River © Shutterstock

Ferry boat in the lake of Mantova (Mantua), Mincio River © Shutterstock

#7 Beautiful Lake Como is an unmissable stop for unrepentant romantics

Of all the Italian Lakes, it’s the forked Lake Como (Lago di Como) that comes most heavily praised: Wordsworth thought it “a treasure which the earth keeps to itself”.

Today, despite huge visitor numbers, the lake is still surrounded by abundant vegetation: zigzagging slowly between shores by boat can seem impossibly romantic. As well as lakeside villas to visit, there is also some great walking to be done in the mountainous hinterland hereabouts.

The principal towns are Como and Lecco but three small towns stand out as the highlight of the lakes: Varenna and Bellagio for unrepentant romantics, and Menaggio if you want a pleasant, affordable base for walking, swimming or cycling.

To the north, the Alto Lago is much more sedate, with the towns of Gravedona ed Uniti and Domaso making for good bases for sports enthusiasts, with hiking, mountain biking, windsufing and sailing aplenty.

Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy © Shutterstock

#8 Wander Bergamo’s medieval upper town

With its steep, narrow streets, flanked by high facades and encircled by sixteenthcentury walls, Bergamo Alta – the upper town – remains in appearance largely as it was in the Middle Ages. The main public spaces – Piazza Vecchia and adjacent Piazza del Duomo – combine medieval austerity with the grace of later, Renaissance design.

The funicular railway from the lower town arrives at the tiny station on Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe from where the main street, beginning as Via Gombito and continuing as Via Colleoni after Piazza Vecchia, follows the line of the Roman decumanus maximus, topped and tailed by evidence of Bergamo’s military past – the Rocca to the east, the Cittadella to the west.

Just beyond the Cittadella, through Porta Sant Alessandro, another funicular ride whisks you up to the highest point of town, San Vigilio.


Bergamo, Italy © Shutterstock

#9 Catch the classic vintage car race, Mille Miglia, from the centre of Brescia

This historic race sees hundreds of classic and vintage cars set off from the centre of Brescia. Housed in an eleventh-century monastery complex, the Museo Mille Miglia showcases dozens of classic vehicles with photos, vintage posters, old-style petrol pumps and memorabilia from past Mille Miglia car races.

The museum consists of nine sections covering the period from 1927 to the present day. The pathway displays cars belonging to private collectors that are still used during the annual Mille Miglia race

RoughGuides tip: Planning a trip to Italy? Check our tailor-made Italy itineraries and perhaps our local experts in Italy can help you!


The city of Brescia © Shutterstock

#10 Visit the mesmerizing Sforzesco Castle

Visiting Sforzesco Castle in Milan is a journey back in time that encapsulates the city's rich history and architectural marvels. As you approach the castle, the imposing façade and majestic towers create a sense of grandeur and intrigue.

Stepping through its gates, you're greeted by a captivating blend of Renaissance splendor and medieval strength. The castle's courtyards and gardens invite you to explore their serene beauty, offering a serene escape from the bustling city beyond its walls.

Within the castle's walls, the museums housed within its chambers reveal a treasure trove of art, artifacts, and historical exhibits that provide insight into Milan's past and the legacy of the Sforza family.

Aerial view of Sforzesco Castle in Milan © Aleksandr Medvedkov/Shutterstock

Aerial view of Sforzesco Castle in Milan © Shutterstock

#11 Take a day trip

Milan serves as an ideal gateway to a plethora of enchanting day trips that unveil the diverse beauty of northern Italy. A short train ride away, the charming town of Como offers a serene escape with its stunning lakeside setting and picturesque streets.

Venturing to the historical city of Bergamo grants you the chance to explore its medieval upper town and enjoy panoramic views from its ancient walls.

The artistic allure of Florence beckons with its Renaissance treasures and iconic landmarks reachable by high-speed train. For a taste of luxury, the quaint village of Sirmione on Lake Garda boasts Roman ruins and thermal baths, while the Cinque Terre's colorful coastal villages, accessible by train, offer breathtaking hikes and coastal vistas.

Additionally, the lakeside town of Lecco presents a tranquil atmosphere and scenic landscapes, perfect for a leisurely day trip from Milan.

Rough Guides tip: make sure to check all the day trips from Milan

Lecco colorful square view, Como Lake, Lombardy region of Italy © Shutterstock

Lecco colorful square view, Como Lake, Lombardy region of Italy © Shutterstock

Brief history of Milan

Milan's historical significance began in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan granting religious freedom to Christians across the Roman Empire. Led by Bishop Ambrogio (Ambrose), the city emerged as a Christian hub, with current churches often standing on fourth-century foundations.

The Visconti dynasty's influence during medieval times led to the iconic late-Gothic Duomo and the initial structure of Castello. The Sforza dynasty expanded the castle, creating a lavish Renaissance court.

Lodovico Sforza's patronage of Leonardo da Vinci resulted in "The Last Supper." Centuries of foreign rule followed, including French, Spanish, Napoleon's, and Austrian Habsburgs' dominion. Mussolini's imprint introduced the monumental Stazione Centrale and Piazzale Loreto's historic significance.

Milan thrived postwar, economically and politically, symbolizing Italy's trajectory. The tragic Piazza Fontana bombing in 1969 marked the Anni di piombo, and Milan's corruption scandals led to Tangentopoli in the 1980s. Native Silvio Berlusconi, a media tycoon and former prime minister, left an enduring impact.

Hosting Expo Milano 2015 attracted millions and spurred urban renewal, bringing new cultural and culinary delights.

Best areas to stay in Milan

There are loads of great places to stay in Milan, from boutique hotels to heritage stays. Here are the best areas to stay in Milan.

Brera and Parco Sempione

Experience the vibrant art and student scenes in this area, where you'll find a wide selection of historic and design hotels. Plus, it's conveniently located near museums and the picturesque Parco Sempione.

Corso Magenta and Sant’Ambrogio

Escape the tourist crowds and indulge in an upmarket residential area with excellent options for value B&Bs and charming boutique hotels. Enjoy the proximity to the city centre and its attractions.

Duomo and San Babila

Stay at historic and stylish hotels right in the heart of the city, ideal for sightseeing and shopping enthusiasts alike.

Navigli and Zona Tortona

Immerse yourself in the lively student scene and vibrant nightlife along the canals in this exciting hot spot. Explore the local dining scene with a plethora of trendy eateries.

Porta Garibaldi and Isola

Discover a perfect blend of high-end and midrange accommodation options with excellent transportation links. The area boasts great shopping and a variety of dining choices in Isola.

Porta Romana and Porta Vittoria

Find tranquillity in this quiet residential area adorned with charming Liberty-style apartment blocks. Enjoy exploring independent shops and restaurants while benefiting from well-priced accommodations.


Naviglio canal in Milan © Shutterstock

Best restaurants and bars in Milan

Whether you’re looking for a neighbourhood trattoria, want to watch models pick at their salads or crave a bit of well-priced ethnic food, Milan has it all – usually within easy reach of wherever you’re staying.

Corso Como and Via Brera

Milan’s nightlife traditionally centres around the designer-label streets of Corso Como and Via Brera. If you don’t fancy a sit-down meal, make the most of the Milanese custom of aperitivo to curb your hunger.


Canal-side Navigli and the adjacent Ticinese quarter, south of the city, have a more mixed clientele who enjoys the lively bars, restaurants and nightclubs, some of which host regular live bands.

Porta Venezia, Corso Sempione and Porta Romana

Trendy bars and restaurants have started to spring up in these once-forgotten areas.

How to get around Milan

Milan’s street plan resembles a spider’s web, with roads radiating out from the central Piazza del Duomo. The bulk of the city is encircled by two concentric ring roads following the mediaeval and Spanish walls of the city, while the suburbs and industrial estates spill out towards a third ring, the Tangenziale, which links the main motorways.

The city centre is just about compact enough to explore on foot, though the public transport system is easy to master if you’re flagging or going a long way.

By metro

The metro has four lines: the red M1, green M2, yellow M3 and lilac M5, as well as the blue suburban railway line passante ferroviario.

The main intersections are Stazione Centrale, Duomo, Cadorna (Milano Nord) and Loreto. The front of each metro train shows the station at the end of the line. Services run from around 6am to midnight.

By bus and tram

Most bus and tram stops display the route and direction of travel. Services run from around 4am to 2am, after which night buses take over, following the metro routes throughout the night.

Cathedral, or Duomo from metro stairs - Milan - Lombardy © Shutterstock

Duomo from metro stairs - Milan - Lombardy © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Milan?

If you have limited time, you can still get a taste of Milan's highlights in just 1-2 days. This could include visiting the magnificent Duomo, exploring the elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and admiring Leonardo da Vinci's famous masterpiece, The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie.

With 3-4 days in Milan, you'll have more time to delve deeper into the city. You can explore its numerous museums and art galleries, such as the renowned Pinacoteca di Brera and the historical Sforza Castle.

Taking a leisurely stroll in the beautiful Parco Sempione or visiting some of the city's churches and historic landmarks can also be added to your itinerary. Moreover, having extra days allows you to make the most of Milan's vibrant nightlife and discover more unique places to shop and dine.

If you have the luxury of 5 or more days in Milan, you can take advantage of the opportunity to go on day trips to nearby attractions. The region around Milan offers picturesque destinations like Lake Como, the charming town of Bergamo, or the romantic city of Verona.

Best time to visit Milan

Milan's high season falls between April and June. This is when the city blooms with vibrant colour and has pleasant temperatures, making it ideal for outdoor sightseeing and strolling the city's streets.

Milan Fashion Week can spike prices. It takes place twice a year: February/March and September/October. Fashion enthusiasts and celebrities flock to the city during these periods, making it a thrilling time to witness the latest trends and haute couture events. Tourist attractions also get crowded around these times, so booking in advance is advisable.

To avoid the tourist crowds and enjoy milder weather, consider planning your visit in the shoulder seasons of October and late March to April. During these months, the city still boasts pleasant temperatures and offers a more relaxed atmosphere, making it easier to explore its historical sites, world-class museums, and stunning architecture.

On the other hand, if you prefer to steer clear of cold weather and potential closures, it's best to avoid Milan during the winter months from November to February. Although the city's charm remains, colder temperatures and occasional rain might limit some outdoor activities.

Find out more about the best time to visit Italy.

View of the Sforza Castle from Sempione Park, Milan © Shutterstock

View of the Sforza Castle from Sempione Park, Milan © Shutterstock

How to get to Milan

Navigating your way to Milan is an exciting journey that offers various transportation options to this vibrant Italian city.

By plane

Milan has two airports:

  • Malpensa is the city’s main airport, 50km northwest of the city near Lake Maggiore, with domestic and long haul flights arriving here.
  • Linate, located only 7km east of Milan, serves domestic and short-haul European flights. It’s particularly convenient to reach the city centre from there.

Bergamo-Orio al Serio, sometimes also touted as Milan, is a comfortable 45min away.

By train

Most international and domestic trains pull in at the monumental Stazione Centrale, northeast of the city centre on Piazza Duca d’Aosta, at the hub of the metro network on lines M2 and M3.

Other services, especially those from stations in the Milan region – Bergamo, Pavia, Como and the other western lakes – terminate at smaller stations around the city, Porta Garibaldi, Lambrate, Porta Genova and Milano Nord, all on M2 (the metro stop for Milano Nord is “Cadorna”), although these often also stop at Stazione Centrale.

By bus

International and long-distance buses, and many regional buses, arrive at and depart from Lampugnano bus station on Via Giulio Latta (MLampugnano). Regular buses run from Malpensa airport to several regional towns around the lakes.

By car

If you’re driving, try to avoid arriving during the morning and evening rush hours (approximately 7.30–10am & 4.30– 7pm) when Milan’s ring road, the infamous Tangenziale, is often gridlocked.

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written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 13.09.2023

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