Living in the Italian lake district, I head to Milan when I want to scratch an urban itch. For countryside dwellers like me, the city is an international metropolis where life moves fast; for city dwellers, Milan offers a unique urban culture revolving around fashion and art. But you shouldn’t let the lack of ancient ruins fool you—Milan’s history is just displayed in a more refined, Milanese way.
Over time, I’ve gotten to know the city’s history and sights well, and I’ve rounded up some tips for travelers who are new in town.
Milan’s weather is typically Mediterranean with hot summers, cool winters, and pleasant months in between.
If you only have time for one thing, make it the Milan Cathedral for its history, Gothic architecture, and sweeping views.
Spend your first day with Milan’s big-name attractions. First on your list is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper—this is such a popular attraction that you’ll need to book tickets in advance or arrange a visit through a tour.
Afterwards, stroll east and swing past Castello Sforzesco en route to Piazza Duomo in Milan’s historic center. Stop at the elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II for an espresso and a snoop around the high-end boutiques before hitting the Duomo di Milano, or Milan Cathedral. Don’t skip the cathedral’s rooftop terraces, where you can join the Gothic gargoyles gazing out over the city.
No trip to Milan is complete without a shopping day, and no Milan shopping day is complete without visiting the fashion quarter (Quadrilatero della Moda). The upscale area includes the streets of Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga, home to the flagship stores of Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and more.
If your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, check out nearby Brera for one-of-a-kind boutiques and artisan offerings—as well as picturesque streets, art galleries, and a vibrant food and nightlife scene. Or, stroll south down Via Torino to find casual brands like Zara and H&M before hitting Corso di Porta Ticinese and the Navigli canal quarter, where vintage shops and riverside bars abound.
After two busy days, it’s time to relax. Many spas are tucked away inside Milan’s luxury hotels, but you don’t need a 5-star budget to get your wellness fix here. The QC Termemilano spa is set inside a reconverted 19th-century train station building, featuring a swimming pool nestled amid the ruins and a sauna in a historic Milanese tram. Alternatively, soak up more of the city’s history and culture by exploring the many museums of the Castello Sforzesco; the Triennale Design Museum, Museum of Ancient Art, and Pinacoteca are top picks.
After an aperitivo, head to the historic La Scala Opera House. If you don’t have time for a show, you can still soak up the ambience on a tour.