Milan isn’t always top of the agenda when it comes to Italian cities. Rome and Venice often steal the spotlight, but we’re here to tell you why you should be planning a trip to Milan. The city’s rich historical and architectural sights matched by its vibrant cultural and culinary scenes make Milan a must-visit destination.
Aside from the charming buildings and streets, Milan boasts the gothic masterpiece which is the Duomo di Milano and the stunning Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade, which is just a stone’s throw away. But that’s not all, the medieval Sforza Castle and the beautiful La Scala Opera House make Milan a fascinating city to explore. Here’s our ultimate guide to spending 48 hours in Milan.
Table of Contents
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Final Thoughts
Breakfast at an authentic Italian café
Start your day off just like the Italians with a trip to Pavé for incredible pastries, brioches, sandwiches and other baked goods. Among its many accolades, it has been awarded ‘The Best Café in Milan’ and rated among the 50 best patisseries in Italy by food writer Guida Gambero Rosso. Pavé really is one of the best cafés around. It also does one of the best cappuccinos in Milan so you can’t go wrong here really. There are two Pavé’s in Milan; at Via Felice Casati and Via della Commenda.
However, it’s worth saying that Milan is full of amazing bakeries and cafés so you won’t have to wander far to find something delicious. And a special shout-out goes to GluFree Bakery which caters to gluten-free travellers and locals alike. They serve gluten-free bread, pastries, pizzas and arancini rice balls.
The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie
The first stop on our sightseeing agenda is something that you’ll definitely want to book in advance. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper, is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Displayed in the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, advance bookings are absolutely necessary (unless you get very lucky). A maximum of 30 visitors are permitted per tour, with 15 minutes to view the painting.
The Last Supper is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8:15 am to 7 pm and Sunday 2 pm to 7 pm. Tickets cost €15 and can be booked via the official Cenacolo Vinciano website.
After our art fix, it’s time for some history and actually, some more art too. Milan’s Sforzesco Castle dates back to the 15th century and was once one of the largest citadels in Europe. The castle was extensively rebuilt in the late 1800s to the early 1900s and is now home to several of the city’s museums and art galleries. These include The Museum of Ancient Art, The Archaeological Museum of Milan, The Egyptian Museum and The Applied Arts Collection, amongst others. It’s certainly worth spending a few hours here exploring the castle and its grounds as well as some of the museums that appeal to you most.
Sforzesco Castle is open daily from 7 am to 7:30 pm, with free entry. The museums are open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am until 5:30 pm and cost €10.
We don’t need to wander far for the next stop on our trip. Sforzesco Castle’s back gate leads straight out to Parco Sempione. This beautiful park is the perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy Milan streets. The lush green lawns and trees make you feel a world away from the city. You can also spot turtles swimming in the lake!
We also recommend walking through the park to reach the Arch of Peace (Arco della Pace). The neoclassical arch’s construction began under Napoleon’s rule in the early 19th century and is made of marble from the Swiss Alps. This is because the arch marks where the Strada del Sempione road entered Milan. The Strada del Sempione connects Milan to the Simplon Pass in the Alps and continues all the way to Paris.
Parco Sempione is open daily from 6:30 am until 9 pm.
Grab a bite to eat at Trapizzino
A quick ten-minute tram ride from Parco Sempione is the fantastic Trapizzino. Specialising in stuffed pocket pizzas, known as Trapizzino, it’s the ideal place for a quick bite to eat. These stuffed pocket pizzas were invented by professional pizza maker Stefano Callegari and have become one of Italy’s most beloved street food items.
Trapizzino come with all kinds of different fillings stuffed inside of them, from Chichen Cacciatore Style, Meatballs with sauce, Eggplant parmigian, Double burrata stracciatella and Cantabrian anchovies, plus much more. You’ve got to give it a try while you’re in the city.
The Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology
Next up, with bellies full of Trapizzino we head off to the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology. Housed in a beautiful 16th century monastery, it’s the biggest science and technology museum in Italy and displays the breadth of the country’s industrial history.
The museum houses models of da Vinci’s inventions such as cars and a flying machine that has been constructed based on his drawings. There’s exhibits and interactive workshops on energy, communication, transport and much more. The museum really helps you to get to know the genius that was Leonardo da Vinci.
The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 9:30 am to 5pm and Saturday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm. Tickets cost €10.
An evening in the Navigli District
After a busy day of exploring, Milan’s Navigli District is a great place to unwind. The intricate system of interconnected canals took hundreds of years to complete with a little bit of help from, who else but, Leonardo da Vinci.
Nowadays the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese are two of the most prominent canals in the area and it is a popular spot for artists, locals and tourists alike who enjoy its trendy bars, hip restaurants and quirky shops. It’s also a great place to people watch and take in the local atmosphere.
Now, the Italian tradition of aperitivo was born in Milan and the Navigli District is a great place to experience it. Aperitivo means having an alcoholic drink prior to a meal which is believed to stimulate the appetite. A traditional aperitivo would be a dry drink, such as a Negroni, which is a hugely popular cocktail in Milan. You’ll find loads of amazing spots for aperitivo along the canals along with some fantastic restaurants to head to after your pre-meal drink.
Brunch at Crosta
To begin day 2 of the Milan adventure we’re going to head to laid back bakery and pizzeria, Crosta, for an unbeatable brunch. Serving pastries, bread, sandwiches, pizzas and more, there are some fantastic options on the menu for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans.
Duomo di Milano
Our first stop of the day is possibly the most anticipated one of the whole trip, the Duomo di Milano. Italy’s largest church (depending on if we’re classing St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, as an independent country) the Duomo was built between the 14th and 19th centuries and is a simply staggering sight to behold. The gothic-style architecture and white marble facade make it one of the most recognisable cathedrals in the world.
Of course, as Milan’s most popular tourist attraction it is well worth booking tickets in advance to skip the queues and explore the interior and the rooftop of the cathedral. Clearly, just from viewing it from the outside the cathedral is a masterpiece with endless architectural details. There are around 2,300 statues, almost gargoyles and 135 spires. But, the interior is equally as impressive. And a visit to the roof terraces is definitely worth it, even just for the impressive views out over Milan alone.
Duomo de Milano is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm and don’t forget to book your tickets before you go. Ticket prices vary depending on what parts of the cathedral you want to access.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Next, we’re taking the brief walk from Duomo di Milano across the Piazza to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. As Italy’s oldest active shopping gallery it’s no surprise that it is also home to some of the oldest shops and restaurants in Milan. Institutions like the Biffi Caffè dates back to 1867 and the Borsalino hat-shop that was founded in 1883.
Taking a stroll through the galleria is a popular tourist activity, where you can take in the impressive architecture of the building and browse the shops. In fact, there’s a great Gelato shop inside the galleria, Amorino, which you need to try. They have some amazing flavours and even if there’s a bit of a queue, it’s worth the wait.
Drinks at the Aperol Rooftop Bar (Terrazza Aperol)
After a walk around the galleria, there’s time to stop for a refreshment. If you’re looking for a spot to relax and enjoy a drink then there aren’t many better locations than the Aperol Rooftop Bar. Located at the Piazza del Duomo, you get unrivalled views of the Duomo right in front of you. Of course, it’s not difficult to get an Aperol Spritz here, but there’s plenty of beers, wines, cocktails and soft drinks to select from too. To get to the bar head to the Autogrill Duomo shop and go up to the second floor.
Shopping at Quadrilatero della moda
No trip to the city would be complete without a visit to Milan’s fashion district, Quadrilatero della moda. Here you’ll find Prada, Gucci, Versace, Valentino and plenty more designer brands. It’s a fascinating place to browse, but if you are looking to buy something then we recommend you visit DMagazine Outlet. This discount outlet store is the place to find designer items for a fraction of the price in the actual stores.
Sample the best Risotto alla Milanese
You can’t come to Milan without trying the traditional Milanese dish, Risotto alla Milanese. It is traditionally made with rice, saffron, butter, meat stock, dry white wine and Parmigiano cheese to create a simple, yet rich and delicious dish. There are plenty of incredible restaurants where you can order the Risotto alla Milanese such as Trattoria Masuelli in Viale Umbria, Ratanà, in Porta Nuova and Osteria del Binari in Via Tortona, to name just a few standouts.
Catch a performance at La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala)
We’re ending our trip to Milan in style with a visit to the La Scala Opera House. One of the most famous opera houses in the world, the La Scala has hosted some of the greatest composers and singers in history since it opened back in 1778.
La Scala’s season runs from December to June, so try and book tickets as far in advance as you can to experience a taste of true Milanese history and culture. If you forget to buy tickets or are planning a last-minute getaway then you can always check at the box office for spare tickets two-and-a-half hours before each performance starts.
Milan has so much to offer for travelers looking for an authentic Italian holiday. You’ll be blown away by the city’s history and culture and dazzled by its bars and restaurants. There’s only one thing for it, it’s time to start looking for flights!
In fact, if you are planning an Italian adventure be sure to check out our Ultimate 2 Week Italy Itinerary: Exploring the Entire Country guide and thank us later.