Milan is not a traditional city like Rome or charming as Florence. However, Milan has a lot to offer to those who visit. If you have a few hours to spare in Italy, pack your camera and enjoy some of the best places you can see in Milan and also try some of the best things to do. Milan is a good destination both for solo travelers as well as for families, packed with entertaining activities, beautiful museums, and unique architecture. Here are some tips to spend 2 days in Milan, Italy.
Essentials for Milan
- Milan 48 hour city pass allows you to explore Milan according to your own interests, it includes discounts at dozens of affiliated restaurants and shops, as well as free entrance to city museums, and add on transport options.
- Sometimes, the best way to get to know the city and make the most of your time in Milan is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a great selection of proposals that help you save time and money. From cooking lessons to guided tours, skip-the-line attractions, and even airport transfer!
- Airfares to Europe can vary immensely from one airline to the other, make sure you always compare ticket prices with a powerful search engine.
- I’m certain you know that it’s always better to travel with an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads. And what if you’ve already left home? With World Nomads it’s also possible to buy your travel insurance online!
- When moving around in a new town, it’s a good idea to carry a pocket travel guide with essential and useful information. I normally get mine a few months before the trip to plan even better. When it comes to Milan, the Pocket Lonely Planet is perfect for a city break.
- Another thing that comes with me is my Nikon D7200, I love getting up early to take the best pictures!
- Are you planning on renting a car to visit the area? Check the most convenient car rental at Milan Airport Malpensa (MXP).
Milan, a bit of history
The second biggest city in Italy after Rome, Milan, was founded in the 6th century BC. The Romans conquered the city in 293 and gave it the name of Mediolanum, the capital of the Western Roman Empire.
During the Middle Ages, it was a rich center that turned into a free city by 1117. In fact, it could already be considered one of Europe’s biggest cities in 1450.
As time went by, Milan underwent foreign dominations for centuries, a situation that strengthened the character of people and made it a leader city during Italy’s industrialization process.
As a direct consequence of World War II, Milan became the center of the Italian Resistance.
By the end of the fifties, it was the economic capital of the country, able to receive immigrants from an impoverished Italy, and later on, from all over the World. A status that remained unchanged up to the present.
How to spend 2 awesome days in Milan: Best things to see and do
I’ve lived just a few km away from the city center of Milan for over 18 years. And while attending the Università degli Studi di Milano (the public university in Milan) I would commute to the city every single day for about 5 years.
On weekends, instead of enjoying the more laid-back atmosphere of my nearby province, I would normally jump on a train to reach Milan to enjoy some of its many cultural activities: Cinemas, theaters, exhibitions, museums, concerts, Italian aperitivos, and dinners with friends.
On other occasions, I would just reach Milan to then board another train and spend a day in one of the many cities close to Milan.
Among my favorite, Bergamo and Como, but also Varese, Verona, and Venice. All of them easy to visit on a one-day trip from Milan. In this guide, you can read about day-trip ideas to visit Como and Bergamo.
Here you will find a two-day itinerary. On day 1, I will mostly focus on the things you can see and do in the city center. I will devote the second day to nearby day-trips from Milan.
Since day 1 will be packed with activities and places to see, you can always choose just some of them. You can also leave some for the next day if you are not interested in seeing other towns.
If you have more days in Milan, you can see them all at your own pace. In any case, Milan will fascinate you, so have fun!
Day 1: Things to do in Milan
Downtown area: The Duomo and its surroundings
The best way to see the city center is to go for a walk. If you’re only interested in sightseeing, without actually entering some of the buildings, the area covered is not so big, in a day you will manage to see most of these sites.
You’ll need more time if you are particularly interested in any special gallery or museum, for instance, the Museo del Duomo or the Brera Gallery.
To make things faster for you, I’ve added the recommended means of transport to consider so as to make the most of your time in town.
The Cathedral, Il Duomo di Milano
Il Duomo, as Italians call its cathedral, is an iconic symbol of Milan, and the obvious first stop on your day around Milan. The building stands right in opposite Piazza del Duomo, which is considered the meeting point in the city.
The cathedral of Milan, dedicated to the nativity of the Virgin Mary, is a unique masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It features more than 200 bas-reliefs, 90 gargoyles, and 130 spires. It took over five centuries to complete and counts around 3500 statues.
It’s indeed the second-largest cathedral in the world, and you shouldn’t miss a visit. However, being the Duomo one of the most crowded landmarks in Milan.
I strongly recommend a tour & skip the line pass so as to make better use of your day in town.
The building material is white Candoglia marble, an advantage during war times. In fact, being the Duomo white, it was visible in the dark, helping enemy soldiers to orient themselves when flying over the city. Therefore it was never bombed.
The impressive interior is divided into five naves. The over 50 stained-glass windows offer a remarkable visual effect, producing a calm but mysterious atmosphere; something that I personally did not experience in any other cathedral.
Remember to take a scarf or sarong to cover your shoulders even in Summer, this is required to visit the place.
Visit the Madonnina
It’s also possible to use the stairways (or even a lift, open from Mondays to Sundays and from 9.00 to 18.30) to get to the Duomo’s rooftop.
There you can enjoy an outstanding view of the city, stretching as far as the Alps on a clear day. The most famous statue of the Duomo is right there.
The unique statue of the Madonnina, the small virgin, is a beloved symbol of the city.
If you are interested in accessing the different roofs of the Duomo, it’s also possible to buy a rooftop pass in advance.
>> Reach the Duomo with the subway, M1 or M3 station Duomo.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
This long pedestrian street goes from the Duomo goes down to Piazza San Babila. It tends to be full of people every day, but on weekend afternoons it’s usually packed.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele is lined with elegant coffee bars and shops from many Italian and international brands.
On the left side, coming from the Duomo, there is a small square; there you will find another interesting church: San Carlo al Corso.
This temple is a neoclassical church featuring a beautiful and characteristic dome. You can combine this with a visit to the Duomo.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Another key meeting point for locals as well as for visitors, the Galleria is also called il Salotto di Milano (the living room of Milan). And that’s for a reason, this is the place to be, to meet friends, to be seen.
The Galleria hosts luxurious design shops, a few interesting bookstores, and several restaurants. Its octagonal floor has a mosaic of heraldic emblems of the former Italian royal family and of some Italian cities.
If you’re already at the Piazza del Duomo, simply cross the street and you’ll be inside the Galleria.
Piazza Della Scala
Leaving the Galleria through the opposite end there’s a beautiful place to take a rest. Here, you’ll be able to take some wonderful pictures of the old trams that still go by on the cobblestone streets.
At the center of the square, stands one of the most famous monuments in town, dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci.
The remarkable Italian character is surrounded by minor statues of his pupils. Opened to the public in 1872.
The sculpture was a source of controversy back in time since the locals were much more in favor of a statue dedicated to a musician due to its location in front of the theater.
The statue took about 15 years to be finished and the legend says that the payment the artist Pietro Magni received for the work was so low that it didn’t even pay for the building material, which is marble from Carrara.
Right opposite the Piazza Alla Scala, you will find the very famous Teatro Alla Scala, for ages home to opera and ballet performances.
Teatro Alla Scala (and the theater’s museum)
Built between 1776-1778, this theater soon became one of the most famous stages in the world. Locally named La Scala, the theater officially opened in August 1778, and it’s one of the most important opera and ballet theatres.
It has also its own chorus, ballet, and orchestra, as well as a school, the La Scala Theatre Academy.
It’s the custom of the theater that every performance should end before midnight, and for that reason, long operas can be scheduled quite early in the afternoon.
The theater stands on the former site where the church Santa Maria Alla Scala used to be, therefore getting the name from the church. The building suffered great damages during World War II since it was heavily bombed, and remained closed for restoration for 3 years, reopening in 1946.
It’s possible to book a guided tour behind the scenes getting in touch with [email protected] in advance you can book a guided tour behind the scenes.
It’s also possible to access the theater’s museum, to visit both the collections and the seasonal exhibitions. You can find more detailed information at the Museo Teatrale’s website.
>> Find the theater and its museum right opposite Piazza Della Scala (Largo Ghiringhelli 1, Piazza Scala). Opening hours: 9.00 – 17.30.
This tower is an iconic modern building dating back to 1957, that you can easily see from the terrace of the Duomo.
Velasca is also the only skyscraper in the center of Milan.
The structure is a modern design and interpretation of the medieval fortresses and castles of the region.
The tower has 28 floors and it’s 99 meters high, with a very special shape that gets larger at the top.
You can check the building from the rooftop of the Duomo or from the rooftop of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
Brera art gallery
One of Italy’s most important art galleries is Pinacoteca di Brera. If you are interested in paintings, you will be happy to know that’s in the gallery it’s possible to see works by Caravaggio, Tintoretto, and the well-known The Kiss, by Francesco Hayez.
Here, other than visiting Milan’s most important painting collection, it’s possible to see Milan’s Botanical Garden as well, located at the back of the gallery.
If you’re not super knowledgeable about art, but still very interested in discovering the gallery, the best thing you can do is book a guided experience.
I personally went for a guided tour and I enjoyed and learned a lot. It’s available in English and in Italian and it will also allow you to skip the line.
The palace also houses the Academy of Fine Arts, the National Library, and the Astronomical Observatory. There are special visits and activities designed for children and families, mostly during the weekend.
>> Reach the gallery with the subway M2 station Lanza. You can also reach with M3 station Montenapoleone.
The Castello Sforzesco is probably one of my favorite places to walk around in Milan. There are many places inside the Castle that are open to the public, while there are also some private exhibitions and collections.
So, for those on a budget, it’s still possible to see its magnificent architecture for free.
The Castle was built over a medieval fortress that used to shelter the city, and it was later on rebuilt by Francesco Sforza in 1450. It has a square structure with four impressive towers on each corner. Two of them are cylindrical and two squared.
When you have visited the Castle, you can exit the premises from the opposite end and visit the beautiful Parco Sempione.
The Castello is mainly divided into three courtyards, one of them is Piazza d’Armi. Nowadays, the Castle is house to libraries and many museums.
- Museo di Arte Antica
- Furniture Museum
- Museum of Musical Instruments
- Applied Arts Collection and other interesting collections.
>> Reach Castello Sforzesco with the subway M1 station Cairoli.
A vast area extending over 380.000 sq. m., this park includes centennial trees coming from all over the World.
It offers the best view from Piazza del Cannone, towards the lake and the Arco Della Pace or Porta Sempione (Sempione Gate).
This beautiful triumphal arch dates back to the 19th century and it’s decorated with rich bas-reliefs and other ornaments. However, the gate has very ancient origins, as it was part of the Roman walls of Milan.
Sempione Park is right behind Castello Sforzesco, just across the castle you will see this huge green extension, the biggest and most important in the city.
SANTA MARIA DELLE GRAZIE CHURCH AND CENACOLO VINCIANO
Holy Mary of Grace is a church and Dominican convent famous for the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, in the refectory of the convent. They suppose works started around 1495, commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.
Holy Mary of Grace is a church and Dominican convent famous for the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, in the refectory of the convent.
Works are supposed to have started around 1495, commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.
There are lots of different associations offering guided tours to the outer courtyard of the Church and a visit to the Mural. Some of them include special activities for kids.
Prices vary a lot, check wisely before booking. It’s a great idea to choose a skip-the-line tour to visit the church and the Cenacoolo.
I personally suggest the Renaissance Treasures of Milan tour that also includes a visit to the Castello Sforzesco to take greater advantage.
>> To reach the Cenacolo, take the subway M1 (you’ve already bought a day pass, right?) and get off in Conciliazione station.
QUADRILATERO DELLA MODA
Milan’s fashion quadrangle, this glamorous neighborhood is home to a litany of the world’s leading fashion designers, who have spread their shops over famous streets like Via Montenapoleone or Via Della Spiga.
>> This time, your subway M3 station is Montenapoleone, or M1 San Babila station.
The Monumental Cemetery is one of the two main cemeteries in Milan, it displays an amazing stylistic diversity of monuments, mausoleums, and sculptures.
There, you can also find a Pantheon for famous citizens (the Famedio) with an octagonal cupola.
>> Take the subway M5, Monumentale station.
Nowadays, the Navigli, Milan’s canals represent the heart of Milan’s nightlife. Bars, pubs, and restaurants full of life and music open until late at night. In the past, they connected canals around the city.
Street art is one of the many reasons to visit the Navigli, but also its unique gastronomic panorama made of both traditional restaurants and more modern eateries.
In the Navigli, it’s possible to taste the unique polenta, one of northern Italy’s main and most important culinary traditions. The best place to do so is NOX.
The Navigli is also the place where to see Sant’Eustorgio, one of the oldest churches in Milan with unique frescoes.
All in all, the Navigli is wonderful for a walk during the day, eat a good traditional dish for lunch, and have an Italian aperitivo before dinner and in good company.
>> Your station to reach the Navigli by subway M2 is Porta Genova.
Museo Nazionale Della Scienza e la Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”
Check one of the most interesting museums in Milan, especially if you are visiting with children. It’s the largest museum in the country dedicated to science and technology and to Da Vinci’s works and genius ideas.
The museum also features special areas dedicated to space and astronomy, maritime activities and there’s even a submarine to visit inside, as well as trains and ships.
It’s also usual for the museum to host temporary exhibitions. In my case, I was lucky to enjoy a great travel photography exhibition by the famous Steve McCurry.
Several are also the activities and laboratories dedicated to entertain and educate children, and it’s possible to spend a great afternoon with the whole family on any of those not uncommon rainy days in Milan.
Discover all the activities available on the museum’s website.
BASILICA DI SANT’AMBROGIO
Once in the area, you can visit this church dedicated to the patron saint of Milan. Sant’Ambrogio is one of the most representative buildings of the Milanese spirituality.
It was built between 379 and 386, and it features two more modern bell towers, “dei Canonici” on the left and “dei Monaci” on the right, both built over 500 years after the church itself
>> To reach both the museum and the church, take the subway M2 and the station is Sant’Ambrogio.
Things you can’t miss in Milan
Finally, there are a few things nobody should miss during a visit to Milan, so, when in town…
Taste a Panzerotto at Luini
Luini (Via Santa Radegonda 16 – M1 Station Duomo) is one of the staples of the local gastronomy in Milan. It resembles a calzone (folded pizza) in shape, only fried and smaller.
Luini has been making this traditional bite since 1888. They offer a variety of creative fillings to choose from… if you manage to choose!
Although the panzerotto is a traditional dish of the south (mostly Puglia), this shop is probably the best place in Italy where to taste them.
I used to queue at Luinis every Friday after the last class at the university, and its panzerotti were always worth the wait.
Have a slice of traditional pizza
Spontini is a local landmark, which first opened in the city back in 1953. It only features plain tomato and mozzarella topping (with a small anchovy, the house’s trademark), no more on the menu. Spontini is a symbol of the city and it’s favored by people of all ages.
With a bit less than 10 € per person, you will have a meal of pizza, a drink and coffee included. Check which is the Spontini nearer to where you are here.
Experience the Aperitivo Milanese
An Italian aperitivo is usually at about 7 pm, in most bars in towns and it’s possible to enjoy a glass of wine or other beverages and combine it with small dishes of bites that can include pasta, pizza, salad, and finger food. It can sometimes be so abundant as to replace a meal.
Usually, you pay for your drink which allows you to help yourself from the aperitivo-buffet table.
One of the best places for an aperitivo in the city is N’Ombra de Vin (Via San Marco 2 – M2 Lanza Station), a historic wine bar inside a 16th-century building.
Aperitivos are a usual social gathering, a way to meet with friends and have a good time enjoying some food and sharing a drink before dinner or clubbing.
Milan’s tourist office is in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Mon-Fri 9 am-7 pm; Sat-Sun 9 am-6 pm
Day 2: Day trip from Milan
It’s possible to visit unique cities, towns, and villages of the Lombardy region taking a train from Milan, you just need to reach Milano Stazione Centrale (Milan Central Station) and get a ticket to one of the following destinations (don’t forget to validate the tickets before getting on the trains).
A day trip to Como Lake
By train from Milan, it takes from 30 to 60 minutes to get there, depending on the type of train you choose.
Como is located 45 km North of Milan, in the Province of Como. It is at the tip of the southwestern branch of the lake and just a few miles away from the Swiss border.
Lake Como is 50 km long. To the west of Menaggio, the lake splits in two, giving origin to the arm of Como and the arm of Lecco of the lake of Como.
The mountains around the lake are 2000 m high and the lake up to 1350 feet deep, making it one of the deepest lakes in Europe.
This beautiful city is one of Italy’s most famous spots, known for its superb cuisine, snow-capped mountains, and a fine style in architecture.
Walk along the central main street and visit the square as well as the Gothic Cathedral, in honor of the Virgin Mary, which dates back to the 14th century.
Pay a visit to the cathedral to admire the remarkable central dome, covered with impressive gold artwork and decorations.
Stop at the square of the cathedral to grab a bite, and then continue your visit either with the Museo Civico (Como’s Archaeological Museum), or head to the lakefront and board a ferry.
This way you will be able to spot some of the natural landscape of the lake and take unique photos of the mountains in the area.
Don’t miss spotting some of the beautiful mansions that dot the sides of the lake.
Places to see near Como
One of the best places to see in Como is the renowned Villa Carlotta. A mix of luxurious interiors and art collections, house to a museum and a botanical garden.
This tiny islet in Lake Como is close to the western shore of the Como arm of the lake. The island was invaded by Frederick Barbarossa in 1169, but also and mostly because one of Como’s bishops cursed it during the same period. There are a restaurant and a cafe, as well as very few houses, and an archaeological site.
In Como, you can also take a ferry to Cernobbio a place with colorful houses and elegant villas, and home to the impressive Villa d’Este built for one of England’s Queens. The Lido (the shore) of Cernobbio is a great place for those into photography, with pretty and colorful fishing boats along the coast.
Bellaggio and other villages
Finally, there are other villages in the area that are worth a visit. You can reach both Varenna and Piona, with its amazing abbey, by train from the station of Como.
Instead, to visit the unique village of Bellaggio you must board a ferry.
Here it’s possible to admire the villas from the last century, the luxurious hotels and elegant gardens. The small town is home to unique shops and cafés.
All of these lake villages are worth a stop. You might also be interested in other lakes in Italy
One day in Bergamo
By train from Milan it might take you from 45 to 90 minutes to get there, always depending on the train you choose, but Bergamo is always worth the trip.
Once arrived at the station, there’s a bus (line 1) for the upper city every ten minutes. Or you can walk and catch the funicular.
Bergamo is a pretty old town in Lombardy, on the edge of the Alps.
It was a defensive hilltop and now this part of town is the Città Alta (upper town).
Modern Bergamo, instead, spreads over the plain below the old town. The lower town or Città Bassa was laid out at the beginning of the XX century. Both parts connect with the funicular.
Most of the historic buildings are in this area. There is no traffic and the narrow lanes are pleasant to wander.
What to see in the upper city of Bergamo
This is the heart of the old town, a wide-open space surrounded by a mixture of medieval and Renaissance architecture, the piazza fills up with tourists and students from the university who gather around the fountain.
There are several bars too where you can sit and enjoy a cup of cappuccino.
The most interesting of the palazzi facing the square is the medieval Palazzo Della Ragione, with a portico dating back to the 12th century and connecting Piazza Vecchia with the little Piazza del Duomo, home to a group of fine religious buildings, including a church (Santa Maria Maggiore), a Chapel and a Baptistery.
After that, and if you are into music visit the Museo Donizettiano – Donizetti Museum – Via Arena, 9. The composer, born in Bergamo in 1797, is one of the most famous local artists. His grave is in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. In the museum, you can see some of his musical instruments.
What to eat in Bergamo
Città Alta is a magical place, you can stroll the main street for hours, going up and down and then up again. In the upper town, stop by at vineria Cozzi for a glass of wine (maybe a Fragolino) as well as their cheese tarts and other bites. It’s a great place for an aperitivo or a romantic dinner.
Instead, for a cheaper, more informal option, try the different polenta restaurants in the area. Here polenta is a big thing. The dish can be tasted with sausages and tomato sauce, with local gorgonzola cheese, or even with bacon and beans.
Check this link to find the best hotel deals as well as rental homes if you still don’t know where to stay in Lombardy.
Have you ever been to Italy?
Let me know in the comments below!
- This is a pin-pin situation!