Travel guide: Milan in 48 hours
This isn’t particularly a bad thing, though it hit us unexpected. The finance capital of Italy brings a lot of business to the city, resulting in an active, fast-paced climate. Sitting in a coffee shop one morning, we couldn’t count the many office workers who jumped in and out for a quick shot of espresso.
But we also found a compact city that we could easily explore by foot. A city with some impressive architecture and highlights that can easily be covered in a day or two.
This makes Milan a perfect destination for a short weekend break, however maybe just a little bit less Italian than we imagined. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Language: Italian
- Airports: Linate (closest to the city), Malpensa (largest one) and Bergamo (low-cost option but furthest away)
Special note on public transport
We usually don’t use public transport all that much because of a few reasons, but we make one exception every trip. When going from the airport to the city centre, there usually isn’t a more efficient option than taking a train or metro.
When landing in Milan Malpensa airport, there is a convenient train connection that brings you directly to the heart of Milan. One important thing to bear in mind when taking a train in Italy is to stamp your ticket before you enter the train.
Finding the stamping machine is quite an adventure though since it is located in different sections of each station. According to an Italian lady on the train, they even come in different shapes and colours depending on what Italian station you are at.
We had no idea and an Italian ticket inspector who didn’t speak English at all was so kind to explain it to us… Capito? I nodded and he let go of the fine.
Similar difficulties when we wanted to take a tram back to the hotel after spending a late evening outside the city. We didn’t succeed in buying a tram ticket anywhere and the shops who did sell them were closed. The tram driver looked at us with big confused eyes and we ended up marching the long walk back. We slept exceptionally well that night!
Duomo di Milano
The first thing that caught our eyes when leaving the metro station, was the enormous cathedral that Milan is so famous for. Its impressive structure is created with a sense of extravagance. Its many sculptures and spines emphasize that thought. This results in a stunning masterpiece that made us gaze at it each time we walked by.
The interior is equally stunning and characterized by large stained-glass windows, big pillars and many statues and other artwork. There is even an archaeological site underneath the cathedral! The ultimate reward of your visit lies on its rooftop terraces, where impressive views over Milan can be admired.
Make sure to first get your ticket at the nearby ticket office before queuing the line in front of the Duomo. We visited first thing in the morning which limited waiting time to less than 30 minutes.
Museo del Duomo
If you can’t get enough of Milan’s architectural masterpiece, the nearby Duomo museum covers all its history and displays some unique items that bring you back in time.
We didn’t spend too much time here but did want to visit the building the museum is located in. The Palazzo Reale is the former Royal Palace and often forgotten due to the Duomo’s touristic supremacy. Its exterior might not blow you away, but a walk through its large halls and stairways will make it clear why the rulers of the city resided here.
Tip: a visit to the museum is included when you purchase a ticket to visit the Duomo and its rooftop terrace.
Visiting one of the fashion capitals and not spending some time in the shopping districts is like visiting Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. Take some time in the afternoon to stroll down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II where all the high street brands are located.
At the end of the street, continue your fashion adventure by walking down the Via Monte Napoleone. This is where fashion is born, and its exquisite buildings accommodate only the most luxurious Italian fashion brands. Despite limiting our visit to some window shopping, we were excited to discover the houses of Gucci, Armani, Prada and other famous industry names.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Talking fashion, you cannot get passed the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The world’s oldest shopping mall is probably also the most impressive one. This industrial-aged gallery is best known for its glass and iron roof, which is still considered a technical marvel.
Being one of Milan’s most popular sights, the Galleria is often crowded. Regardless, it is a place not to miss. Its incredible glass roof, its beautifully aligned facade and the many colourful mosaics on the floor will leave you speechless.
Head over to the Naviglio neighbourhood for an evening in a very enjoyable setting. The Naviglio Grande canal forms the centre of an artsy and upcoming district. Cozy shops during the day are replaced by lively bars and excellent Milanese restaurants at night. No better place to spend the evening!
Teatro alla Scala
Ever since we visited the Opera Garnier theatre, we are in love with the setting and atmosphere of a historic theatre. Similarly, Milan’s 18th century Scala theatre ticks those boxes. Being able to witness the rehearsal of an opera singer accompanied by a 40-ish headed orchestra left us with goosebumps.
Besides the theatre itself, the Scala museum makes you relive the times when opera was the prime form of entertainment. Looking at all those costumes, music instruments and theatre props is interesting and enjoyable. However, we found the true highlight the exhibition on the life of Maria Callas, one of the most influential opera singers of the 20th century.
Explore Milan’s streets and walk towards the Sforzesco castle. Today housing several museums, the castle has once been a defence fortress that has been destroyed and built up again.
One of the museums has an amazing art collection, including the last masterpiece of Michelangelo, the unfinished Pietà Rondanini and the frescoes by Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante.
If you are not into art, a walk around the impressive courtyard is also pretty entertaining!
At the back of the Sforzesco castle, you can find a 116 acres large green spot. The large park is not only a great place to escape the busy city life, it also provides many attractions such an aquarium, a sports stadium and a fancy restaurant and bar!
Santa Maria delle Grazie
Leaving the best for last, the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent beholds one of the most admired artworks in history: the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Unfortunately, the convent is not built for the large crowds and only a limited amount of visitors are allowed. Therefore, bear in mind that tickets should be booked months in advance due to its popularity!
All our Milan travel tips gathered on the map:
What we liked
- The Duomo and the Galleria kept amazing us, regardless of daylight or nighttime. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of such beautifully maintained constructions.
- Italian food is our favourite! And pizza is our weak spot, so we couldn’t resist eating it whenever we had a chance. One restaurant experience really stood out though: Restaurant Piz. A glass of wine as a welcome drink, an entertaining atmosphere and super personal service. On top of that, we enjoyed one of the best pizza we had in years!
What we disliked
- Despite not having difficulties finding things to do, we did find the really impressive sights to be rather limited. Yes, the Duomo is great, the Galleria is beautiful, but we felt a bit unsatisfied after that.
- Squares like the one in front of the Duomo or the Sforzesco Castle are a hotspot for the classic tourist traps. Be vigilant about people trying to give you a “friendship bracelet” or trying to help you take a picture. We didn’t always felt at ease when we spotted such groups of scammers. Especially because police officers seemed pretty careless towards them.
Did you visit Milan? What experience did you have? Are you travelling to Milan soon?