Situated in the northern Italian region Lombardy, Milan is the second biggest city in Italy and often considered the unofficial capital of the country. Fashion and design hub that attracts a lot of tourists each year, Milan is a symbol of elegance and sophistication. However, Milan is much more than just a chic and glamour city; the busy life and the historical and cultural heritage of the city are in perfect synergy.
So, if you think that Milan is uninteresting and there are not enough sights to see, take a look at this 3-day itinerary that will make you want to pack your suitcases right away and hop on a direct flight to the Lombard capital.
TIP: Milan is very well- connected by public transport; the four subway lines, trams, and buses will help you stroll around the city easily so for your three days trip I do recommend you to get a two-day ticket valid 48 hours after the first validation.
Kick-off your trip by visiting the most famous landmark of the city – The Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, known worldwide as Duomo di Milano. Standing proud in Piazza del Duomo for more than 600 years, the Gothic cathedral is one of the biggest in the world. The dazzling pink-veined white marble façade, 3500 statues, 135 spires, and 700 decorative figures will leave you speechless. Once you are in front of it, stop for a while to admire the stunning details. On the highest spire, 108,5 meters above, the statue of Virgin Mary – The Madonnina- as locals call her, dominates the city with her splendor. A curious fact is that on the eve of World War II, the Madonnina was covered by with a grey-green cloth and remained covered for five years, to avoid providing an easy target for fighter-bombers.
The inside of the cathedral is as stunning as the outside. Once you enter, you remain speechless; spectacular stained -glass windows that tell a story, beautiful floor decoration, and all fifty-two majestic pillars, once for each week, are some of the details that make the cathedral second to none. Upon entering, the interior will dominate your field of vision. However, don’t miss to look down to the floor, where you’ll find the sundial of the cathedral. It appears as a brass line from south to north, broken up by the zodiacal signs, depicted on white marble tiles. Another thing not to be missed inside Duomo and, not everybody even knows, is that the cathedral houses one of the most important relics of Christianity: Holy Nail from the True Cross. A small red light close to the highest Altar will indicate the position.
Another absolute must is strolling among the Cathedral spires. The Duomo square and its stunning geometric decoration, the panoramic view of the city, the skyscrapers and if lucky, also the Alpine peaks, walking on the Duomo rooftop is a unique experience because from above, Milan is even more beautiful.
NOTE: Terraces are open from June to September so before planning a visit please check the official website of Duomo di Milano.
- To admire the beauty of the cathedral, even more, head to Piazza del Duomo early in the morning when the square is still not crowded.
- If you decide to visit it, get your tickets in advance to avoid the queue and not to lose precious time.
After visiting the cathedral head to Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery. Known as Milan’s living room, the gallery is the oldest shopping mall in the world. Prada, the historic brand, has started as Fratelli Prada in 1913, opening a luxury leather atelier here. Just right at the entrance of the gallery, you’ll find the historic bar Camparino, opened in 1915, it quickly became an important location for a drink among the Milanese elite.
Take the classic walk through the Galleria that connects Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Della Scala, where the world-famous theatre is situated. Wander and enjoy the extraordinary details and mosaics and immerse yourself into the busy city life and sophisticated atmosphere. A Milanese tradition has it that if you spin three times on the dancing bull mosaics that represent the Kingdom of Turin, you’ll be back to the city. Don’t miss doing it if want to include Milan also in your future travel plans!
If you start getting hungry, not far away from the gallery, there is another symbol of Milan – the Luini bakery. Since the bakery was opened, Luini attracts locals and tourists with its delicious panzerotti – a typical stuffed savory pastry from Puglia. There is always a queue in front of the bakery, but it goes fast.
After lunch head to another landmark – the Sforza Castle – the former fortress of the Milan most powerful family. When in 1494 Ludovico Sforza became a lord of Milan, he called numerous artists to decorate the castle. Leonardo da Vinci was one of them, his fresco in Sala delle Asse is a remarkable presence of the Tuscany genius in the city. Another important piece of art you can admire is the last and uncomplete work by Michelangelo Buonarroti – Pietà Rondanini.
The Castle hosts a vast plethora of civic museums and galleries:
- Museum Pietà Rondanini
- Museum of Ancient Art
- Furniture Museum
- Picture Gallery (1,500 artworks by local artists and big names)
- Museum of Decorative Arts
- Egyptian museum
- Museum of Musical Instruments
- Museum of Prehistory and Proto-history
- Trivulziana Library and City Historical Archive
- Art Library
- Vinciana Collection (books, manuscripts, antique and modern collections, photos related to Leonardo da Vinci.
- Sala Delle Asse
NOTE: If you decide to visit all the museums in the castle, please consider at least 3-4 hours for the visit. I also recommend you to get your tickets in advance.
Even if you don’t have time to visit the museums, the Castle is still a good option just to take a stroll and admire its red-brick architecture and lush grounds. It is connected to the biggest city park – Parco Sempione, which features walking paths, ponds, bars and its points of interest.
One of the symbols of the parc is Torre Branca (Branca Tower). Inaugurated in 1933 on the occasion of the 5th edition of Triennale, art and design festival that occurs every three years, the tower is considered a true work of art of modern architecture. What not everybody knows is that you can go up to the observation deck by elevator and admire scenic and panoramic views of Milan from above.
NOTE: The tower is open from mid-May to mid-September so please visit the official website for more detailed information.
Only a few minutes walk from the tower, you’ll reach another of the Milan landmarks – Arco Della Pace. Designed by a local architect, the marble neoclassicism arch was built to celebrate Napoleon’s victories. Make some photos, enjoy the passing old-style trams and finish the first day of your trip with a typical Milanese style aperitivo in one of the many bars in the area.
Did you know that that Milan is the city where the genius Leonardo da Vinci stayed the longest? Yes, that’s correct! He spent almost two decades in the Lombard capital enriching the city with his works. Day 2 of your trip will be following the footsteps of Leonardo in Milan.
Start your day by visiting the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent where one of the most famous works is hidden – Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’. Considered one of the most important works of art of all time, The Last Supper, Il Cenacolo in Italian, was committed by Ludovico il Moro and was painted between 1495 and 1498. The mural is part of the World Heritage List of UNESCO since 1980. With its impressive size of 4,60 m high and 8,80 m wide, it decorates the end of one of the walls in the dining hall of the convent. Depicting the Gospel of John, described in the Bible, represents the dramatic scene of Jesus together with his twelve Apostles on both sides during their last supper.
The mural of the most renowned Renaissance painter, Leonardo Da Vinci, is one of the most reproduced and studied artworks ever, inspiring also popular fiction. Legends and curiosities have always been part of the history of the painting. Historians and researchers have tried to solve the mysterious enigmas, but nothing is yet confirmed. What remains to us is to admire this ‘second to none’ artwork!
- If you are planning a visit to The Last Supper, book your tickets at least two-three months in advance.
- To preserve the masterpiece, access to it is permitted for small groups of 20-25 people. Visits are of 15 minutes.
- Dress conservatively, or you may be turned away by the convent.
After visiting Il Cenacolo, remain in the same area of Corso Magenta. Steps away from Santa Maria Delle Grazie and the famous painting, there is another treasure Da Vinci left behind – Leonardo’s Vineyard or La Vigna di Leonardo.
Small and peaceful place, the vineyard was given to Leonardo da Vinci by Duke Ludovico il Moro as a demonstration of his gratitude. While painting his absolute masterpiece, Leonardo would retire in the vineyard tucked within the lush garden of Casa Degli Atellani, just across the road, taking great care of it. Opened in 2015, the vineyards of Leonardo is another step that will bring you closer to the Tuscany genius and his life.
Stop in some of the small restaurants nearby and have lunch.
After lunch, continue your day two exploring the places in Milan connected to Leonardo. Besides being famous for his paintings, Leonardo is known for his skills in the field of civil engineering as well. Head to Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, close to Piazza del Duomo, where the world-famous Codex Atlanticus is kept.
The Codex Atlanticus is the largest collection of manuscripts, drawings, and notes of the inventions of Leonardo. This extraordinary document of 1119 pages, including 1750 drawings, is an incredible testimony of Leonardo’s genius. Divided into 12 volumes, it includes drawings of war machines, sketches of bombardments and mortars, studies of flying and architectural projects. Codex Atlanticus shows Leonardo’s interest in the art of war as well as his curiosity in a variety of different topics such as anatomy, astrology, chemistry, and mathematics. However, the Codex Atlanticus is not the only masterpiece to be seen during your visit to the Ambrosian Library. The Portrait of a Musician, the only artwork of Leonardo to have remained in the Lombard capital, can also be seen by the visitors.
NOTES: The Portrait of Musician will be in the Louvre from October 14th, 2019 until the end of February 2020.
La Biblioteca Ambrosiana is housing also the Ambrosian Art Gallery or Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, where it is possible to see famous masterpieces even if you are short of time. The gallery offers different itineraries giving visitors the possibility to immerse themselves in this place and its beauties even in one hour. Therefore, if you are planning a visit, do not miss to admire The Basket of fruit by Carravaggio, the huge preliminary drawing of The School of Athens in the Vatican Stanze by Raphael and the Madonna of the Pavilion by Sandro Botticelli.
Finish your day 2 in Milan heading to Navigli district. It is a great way to admire both Leonardo’s genius and the liveliest neighborhood of Milan in the evening.
Probably Milan is not the first city that comes to your mind when you hear ‘canals’, but Navigli is defined by its waterways. What not everybody knows is that the idea was to make Milan accessible from the sea. The artificial canals have been used to bring the marble used for the construction of Milan’s Duomo. In 1482, the project to make Navigli canals navigable from Lake Como to Milan was assigned by Ludovico il Moro to Leonardo da Vinci. He designed a system of dams to solve the problem and even today it is possible to admire some of them. No doubt Leonardo da Vinci is one of the masterminds the world has ever know and fortunately, Milan is a city where he left a huge legacy.
After the long day of following Leonardo’s steps, it is time to relax in some of the numerous bars and restaurants in the area, sip a cocktail or glass of wine and enjoy a delectable dinner.
Kick-off day 3 by visiting the artistic heart of Milan – Brera district. North of Piazza del Duomo and close to Teatro Della Scala, strolling around the narrow, cobbled streets of this historic neighborhood will bring you back in time. Once you are there, you’ll feel the enchanting atmosphere of the small vintage boutiques and artisan shops. Soak up the history and bohemian spirit!
Brera district is also home to Pinacoteca di Brera, or Brera Art Gallery, one of the most important art museums in Milan. More than 400 artworks from the 14th to 20th century are displayed chronologically in the gallery rooms. Thanks to Napoleon, the gallery was filled with amazing artworks from across the country. Today, painters as Piero Della Francesca, Caravaggio, Raphael, and the Flemish Van Dayk and Rubens have some of their works kept in Pinacoteca di Brera. The most romantic paint of Francesco Heyez, ‘The Kiss’, is a must-see. The passionate kiss of a couple depicted by the Italian artist is rich in symbolic meaning and has a strong emotional impact. Don’t miss it!
A hidden gem of the gallery is Caffe Fernanda, named after the director who reopened the museum in 1950 Fernanda Wittgens. It is a great place to relax from the sightseeing schedule.
NOTE: Consider at least two hours of visit.
OPTIONAL: If you don’t have enough time to visit the gallery, you can enter the courtyard and admire the statue of Napoleon in the guise of the Roman god Mars. Braidense Library can also be a stop during your visit to Palazzo Brera.
From Brera district, you can reach easily one of the symbols of the modern Milan – Piazza Gae Aulenti. In approximately 15 minutes walk you’ll be in one of the newest areas of the city. Skyscrapers, shopping areas, bars, and restaurants are the most characteristic places in the zone. Here you can relax and admire one of the most iconic buildings in Milan – the incredible Vertical Forest. The award-winning residential tower, a symbol of sustainable living, overflowing with trees and greenery will wow you. Take a photo, walk in the park close to the square and finish the last day of your trip to Milan with delicious gelato, a cup of cappuccino or a glass of Italian wine.
Beautiful and diverse architecture, artwork masterpieces, traditional cuisine, and world-class fashion, the reasons to visit Milan are a lot. And you, are you ready to explore this amazing city?
Updated: November 28, 2019