Milan is not only the business centre of Italy but also one of its many cultural capitals. It is home to the Milan Cathedral, the Last Supper, the Galleria, Sforza Castle, and much more! Here are our top 15 things to do in Milan in 2021.
Pro Tip: If you need a break from the sights in the city, why not check out the best places to eat near the Cathedral in Milan? Exploring both northern and southern Italy? Take a look at our top tips for things to do in Rome.
The Top 15 Things To Do in Milan 2021
Milan is the industrial motor that drives Italy and its high fashion capital. Above all, there are a wealth of activities and sights that visitors often overlook. Make the most of every minute in the city, with our pick of the top things to do in Milan 2021. =
15. Find Milan’s Secret Symbol
Finally, in the 13th century Palazzo della Ragione, in what was once the commercial centre of Medieval Milan is a bas-relief of a strange beast, the scrofa semilanuta. This mythical animal looks something like a wild boar, but the translation is literally ‘a half-woolly sow’, which is a bit less impressive.
This adorable se-MILAN-uta, which also resembles a Hungarian mangalitza pig supposedly showed Belloveso, a prince of Gaul, where the city of Milan would be founded in the Po Valley. The furry sow was a popular symbol until it was supplanted by the Visconti family’s serpent when they ruled over the city.
Look up and you’ll find it on the second arch.
Address: Piazza dei Mercanti
14. See the Sforza Castle
One of the city’s most striking landmarks, the Castello Sforzesco links the destinies of two of its ruling families. Begun by the Visconti and later rebuilt by the Sforzas, this towered and crenelated castle with its massive walls became one of the most powerful courts of the Renaissance.
The castle is now a museum complex which will probably take you more than one visit to appreciate in full.
It includes the biggest attractions are arguably the museum of ancient art, with a layout of exhibits that feels strangely fresh and contemporary, and the Art Gallery. The castle is home to the works of Bramante, Mantegna and Lippi, has a room decorated by Leonardo da Vinci (the Sala delle Asse, currently undergoing renovation) and houses Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà, the incomplete sculpture that took up the last nine years of the artist’s life.
13. Wander the Brera district
Brera is Milan’s artists’ quarter, though you won’t find too many starving painters hanging out in its expensive apartments or chic streets. The area has a quiet, understated calm and is filled with upscale bars, galleries, and art stores. There are also hidden Botanical Gardens and the 15th century Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, with an impressive baroque interior.
It is home to the Academy of Fine Arts and Milan’s Louvre, the Brera Pinacoteca. This art gallery is home to works by Mantegna, Raphael and Caravaggio, among others. As the collection is vast you’ll probably need more than one visit to appreciate it to the full. The €15 entry ticket allows you to return multiple times and has to be booked online. Info here.
12. Go to Lake Como
Lake Como is one of Italy’s most exclusive and luxurious destinations which is why so many people want to visit. That said, it is far from “unattainable” as a destination. You can find reusable accommodation in Lake Como, see our guide to where to stay in Lake Como, as well as visit it from Milan as a day trip.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see what everyone is talking about!
11. Explore the Monumental Cemetery
It might seem a strange recommendation for a great day out, but Milan’s cimitero monumentale is filled with the incredible tombs of the city’s great and good. The names may not be as familiar as those at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but it’s the funerary architecture that takes centre stage.
On a sunny day, it’s filled with peace and light, so it offers a tranquil and fascinating break from the rest of the city. Make sure to wear some comfortable shoes, because you’ll do a lot of walking. Entry is free. Metro: Monumentale. Info here.
Address: Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale
10. Stroll the Galleria
The opulent iron and glass Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is home to some of Milan’s oldest and most famous stores, bars and restaurants. It is also a handy (and spectacular) shortcut from the cathedral to La Scala opera house.
It was designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni. Work began in 1865 and the mosaic floor is just as beautiful as its airy roof. If you see people spinning around on the mosaic bull’s testicles, please DON’T join them! It’s a city legend lost in the mists of time that is meant to bring good luck. Unfortunately, all it does is wear a hole in the unlucky bull’s crown jewels. Equally unlucky was the arcade’s creator, as Giuseppe Mengoni fell to his death from his own scaffolding.
This sad detail aside, it’s an incredible piece of architecture and the perfect place to people-watch. Try a Campari at the legendary Camparino in Galleria.
9. See the Prada Foundation
Prada’s history is inextricably linked with that of the city. The brand was founded here in 1913 when Mario Prada opened his leather goods store in the elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (our next destination, below).
One of the ways in which the brand has repaid its debt to the city is through the Fondazione Prada. It’s a space for modern art, thought-provoking installations, events, cinema and creativity in general. The complex is located on the south side of the city in an ex-distillery, a short walk from Lodi Tibb metro station. Its in-house 1950s style café, Bar Luce, designed by filmmaker Wes Anderson, is also an attraction in its own right. Ticket info here.
Address: Largo Isarco 2
8. Check out the ‘Vertical Forest’
The Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, is a welcome addition to Milan’s skyline. These tower blocks are a living testament to architect Stefano Boeri’s commitment to ‘Urban Forestry’. In a metropolis prone to pollution, this striking living space helps the city breathe by absorbing CO2 and microparticles. Bosco Verticale has quickly become a symbol of a kinder way of urban living, in greater harmony with nature.
The towers are located in the Porta Nuova area of Milan, a regenerated business, residential and shopping district. It is also home to the visionary Piazza Gae Aulenti and the fashionable Corso Como, with its world-famous concept store. This area perfectly embodies the contemporary, optimistic spirit of the city.
Address: Via Gaetano di Castillia 11
7. Visit the Poldi Pezzoli Museum
This little gem is often overlooked on the way to bigger attractions, but this enchanting museum might just turn out to be your favourite in Milan. Born from the private collection of Milanese nobleman Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli it offers an eclectic collection of art and curios in the delightful setting of a private home. Curators expertly place their permanent treasures alongside fashion and contemporary objects in temporary exhibitions. Consequently, it’s a real wunderkammer.
Open every day 10 am – 6 pm (closed on Tuesdays). Ticket info here.
Address: Via Mazoni 12
6. Explore Chinatown
Just a short walk from Milan’s major park, Parco Sempione, Via Paolo Sarpi is the pedestrianised street at the centre of Milan’s vibrant Chinese quarter. The Chinese community is a well-integrated and essential part of Milanese life and business. This area draws young Milanese by the score to stores packed with Asian produce and its traditional (and more innovative) restaurants.
It’s a pleasant place for a stroll, for lunch or dinner. You can also find that green tea Kit Kat you’ve been hankering for! The Ravioleria attracts big queues for its street food (dumplings freshly made in front of you). Bokok is one of our favourite restaurants, with a fresh, modern interior and great dim sum.
Address: Via Paolo Sarpi
5. Walk the Fashion District
Milan’s is packed with great shops, from big chains to quirky, independent boutiques. However, its Quadrilatero della Moda (literally ‘fashion square’) just a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral is home to some of its most spectacular and expensive stores. The area’s most famous streets are Via Monte Napoleone and Via della Spiga. All the big-name brands in fashion, jewellery and footwear have flagship stores here. The window displays themselves are works of art.
Address: Quadrilatero della Moda
4. Visit La Scala
London has the Royal Opera House, New York has the Met and Milan has La Scala. Designed by the renowned neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini, the theatre opened in 1778 with a performance of an opera by Mozart’s arch-rival Antonio Salieri.
Catch a performance of your favourite opera, concerto or symphony. See Italy’s home-grown étoile Roberto Bolle, now coming towards the end of his illustrious career, follow in the footsteps of ballet legends like Fonteyn and Nureyev.
There are over 2000 seats in the sumptuous red and gold interior. Tickets don’t come cheap, and la prima, or the first night is a real event for Milan’s glitterati. As a result, you must book early online or try your luck at the box office on the day (Monday to Saturday from 10:30 am to 6 pm and on Sunday 12-6 pm). However, if a performance is beyond your budget, do the next best thing and visit the theatre’s wonderful museum or take a guided tour of the auditorium.
Address: Via Filodrammatici, 2
3. Nightlife in the Navigli
The perfect place for an evening aperitif or dinner in its buzzy bars and restaurants, Milan’s Navigli district is often thronged with revellers by night. However, it has a completely different vibe during the day. It’s a great area for a sedate stroll. Here, time seems to stand still. You can imagine the city of the past when its network of canals facilitated the transport of trade goods and the marble used to build its towering cathedral. The waterways offer a welcome respite from the bustle of the city. So do the charming wisteria-covered courtyards and interesting independent stores nearby.
For a great negroni and some evening fun check out bikers’ bar Deus Ex Machina
2. Visit Milan Cathedral
Construction of Milan’s very own ‘dreaming spires’ probably began in 1386. This delicate Gothic masterpiece is the soul of Milan. Its heart is the ‘Madonnina’, the golden Madonna on its highest spire, a sacred symbol for the city.
The exquisite marble for the Duomo was ferried from quarries near Lake Maggiore along the canals (our next destination). It houses a wealth of treasures. As well as containing the holiest of relics – a nail from Christ’s cross – one of its most unusual features is the statue of St. Bartholomew. This anatomically perfect representation shows the unlucky saint wearing his flayed skin as a cloak.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied in and around the Cathedral complex, so use your time wisely. However, a trip to the rooftops (by lift or stairs) is not to be missed. All info on advance tickets and skip the line here.
Address: Piazza del Duomo
1. See The Last Supper
Leonardo’s masterpiece Il Cenacolo (the Last Supper) is located in Santa Maria delle Grazie, a Dominican church and convent. It occupies, appropriately, what was once the refectory wall. The painting has survived Napoleon’s troops, a WWII bomb, and well-meaning restoration attempts.
This fragile work is viewed in small groups, for a limited time, and in a controlled environment. It is one of the biggest draws in Milan so booking well in advance is essential. Tickets currently cost 15 euros. Like many other historical sites in Italy, Monday is the culture’s day of rest. Visit from Tuesday to Saturday 9.45 am to 7 pm and on Sunday from 2 – 7 pm.