Before travelling to Milan I had heard both negative and positive things about the city. All of these turned out to be true. Milan is a beautiful place, but it is also easy to get overwhelmed by the city and the many tourists.
I am here to help and have put together a review of the biggest sights in Milan and some travel tips, so you will know how to spend your first 48 hours in Milan.
Transport tip: Download the ATM Milano Official App before going. It lets you quickly look up how to get from one point to another and buy tickets for all public transport in Milan.
If you are flying into Malpensa Airport, check out Trenord. They run an express train 146 times a day, so you can get quickly to and from the city.
Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo is the big square in front of the famous cathedral and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. With an area of 17,000 m2 (183,000 sqft), you would think there would be plenty of space. But as the centre of the city and home to the two most famous landmarks, this is a popular spot. So make sure to get here early to beat the crowds.
Alternatively, stop by on your way home at night. There are still many people, but instead of street salesmen and tourists fighting for the best place to take a picture, the square is calmer and you will have time to really enjoy its beauty.
When I first arrived in Milan, we took the metro straight to the Piazza del Duomo because I was told that this was the best place to start exploring the city.
We walked up the stairs from the underground and came up literally in the middle of the square. To be honest. my first impression wasn't great. The cathedral and the surrounding buildings are very beautiful, but even visiting in January, this place was too crowded! (I can't even imagine how it must be in the summer)
You could barely make it up the stairs past people taking pictures or feeding the many pigeons. And it was filled with more or less creepy men trying to "give" you flowers or food for the pigeons. I took a few pictures but quickly left the square, as it was simply not a fun place to be.
The following day, I decided to give this place a second chance. I came back earlier in the day and gave myself time to really walk around and look at the many buildings. But the best decision I made in Milan was buying the ticket to the cathedral and walking up to the rooftop.
The square looks so beautiful from the top and since you are away from all the stress on the ground, you have time to really enjoy this beautiful place.
Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)
The Duomo di Milano was completed in 1965. It took nearly six centuries to complete and is currently the largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world.
It is by far the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen and it is definitely a must when in Milan.
Do yourself a favour and buy the Duomo Pass (16 Euro with lift or 12 Euro with stairs) which gives you access to the inside of the cathedral, a museum, an archaeological area, the San Gottardo Church, and the rooftop.
Walking to the rooftop of this beautiful building was one of my favourite things I have done in a while.
When the sun hits the white marble bricks the most amazing lighting is cast, so definitely make time to see the rooftop and the city from above.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is one of the most stunning buildings I have ever been in. It looks like a fancy museum or a government building, but it is actually the world's oldest active shopping mall. It was built between 1865 and 1877, and make sure to look up when you enter the building, as the roof is made of glass!
It is located right next to the cathedral, so it is equally crowded at most times. Make sure to get here early, too, if you want to really be able to enjoy the architecture.
Porta Sempione (Sempione Gate)
The Porta Sempione is the city gate of Milan. The names refer both to the gate and to the surrounding district. The arch is also referred to as Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace).
At first sight, it kinda looks like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but they are also built around the same time period.
Being the gate to the city, it also marks the end of the more touristy area. If you walk towards the city centre, there is a beautiful park and the Sforza Castle, and if you walk the opposite way it quickly turns into big roads and residential areas.
Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle)
The Castello Sforzesco was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification.
You can buy a ticket for €5.00 to enter the castle and museum, or you can just walk around it.
To be honest, I was very underwhelmed when visiting, but I also grew up in a country filled with castles, so it does take a lot to impress me.
I didn't go inside, so that might be cool, but if you aren't interested in the museum, I would just make this a quick stop and move on to some of the other things Milan has to offer.
A place I would much rather have spent more time in is the Naviglio neighbourhood. It is an up-and-coming neighbourhood named after the Naviglio Grande canal where you can find small shops and excellent restaurants serving authentic Italian food.
I visited early in the morning while people were still setting up their shops and restaurants and the vibe was just so different from the very touristy Piazza del Duomo I had visited the day before.
If I'd had more time in the city, I could have walked around these colourful streets all day long!
During the summer months, you can even take an hour-long boat tour along the famous canal with boats departing every hour from Alzaia Naviglio Grande.
Basilica di San Lorenzo and Colonne di San Lorenzo
The Basilica of San Lorenzo is located very close to the canals, so while you are walking around Naviglio Grande, swing by this old church which is definitely worth a visit. It was completed in the 18th century and is one of the oldest churches in Milan.
Right in front of the church is a group of ancient Roman ruins called Colonne di San Lorenzo. The church, the columns, and the surrounding colourful buildings all-in-all make a really cool little area, where you can sit down and relax before continuing your walk around the city.
These were some of the biggest sights and areas I had time to visit while I was in Milan. I definitely ended up having a great time, and being really font of the city even though my first impression wasn't great.
If I'd had more time to explore I would have visited these 3 places too:
- Teatro alla Scala: Milan's opera house La Scala looks absolutely stunning inside, so if you can make time definitely see if you can get in there.
- Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest): The two residential buildings are located a little outside of the city centre, but the view of these green buildings must be amazing in the summer.
- Torre Branca: A fellow travel blogger that lived in Milan suggested that I should go to the Torre Branca. From the top of the tower is a panoramic view of the entire city and even the Alpes on a clear day. Unfortunately, it was closed the day I decided to go, so check the opening times, and hopefully you will get to experience the view.
I really hope you enjoyed these reviews and tips from Milan. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed something. 🙂
Thank you for reading!