Milan is an often overlooked city on many Italy travelers’ itineraries. But once you compare airfare to Milan and realize it makes an excellent spot to fly into when touring northern Italy, you’ll definitely want to spend some time in the city center. If you find yourself with a day on either end of your trip, here are some things to do in Milan that will give you the best of what the city has to offer.
The best place to begin any visit to Milan is at the Duomo. This iconic church has a piazza outside which is perfect for a sit down to get your bearings for a few minutes and adjust to Milanese life. After a few minutes watching the world go by, you can enter the church for free (you know I love free). While the interior is well worth taking some time to soak up, it is the Duomo’s roof which is its major attraction.
You can actually walk on the roof of the Duomo, which offers some reasonable views across the city in good weather. Wandering through the church’s spires is an interesting way to spend an hour or two and you should be rewarded for your efforts with a closer view of the city’s symbol, the Golden Madonna, which is set atop one of the spires.
If architecture is your thing, then a visit to Sforza Castle may be in order. With its original foundations dating back to 1358, the castle is steeped in Milan’s history. However, it wasn’t until 1450 that Francesco Sforza, a military power figure during the renaissance period, decided to turn it into his permanent residence and began the long process of construction that would culminate in the castle we see today.
The construction period extended beyond his lifetime and, most notably, Francesco’s fourth son, Ludovico Sforza, drafted in the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and other renaissance artists to decorate the castle. Coincidentally, Ludovico is also the man who commissioned ‘The Last Supper’.
Speaking of Da Vinci, his great work, ‘The Last Supper’ is also housed in Milan. The Santa Maria delle Grazie church limits the amount of time which visitors can stay in the same room as the work by selling tickets. And since tickets are often sold out weeks and even months in advance, if you want to include this highlight of the city in your day in Milan, make sure you plan ahead.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the oldest shopping mall in Italy and has an unusual local tradition associated with it which makes it even more worth checking out. In the middle of the mall are four tiled areas representing four northern Italian cities. Turin is represented by a bull. His, ahem, manly bits, have been worn down over the years because people believe that spinning on that particular spot brings good luck. So, spin away.
La Scala is Milan’s famous opera house and while you may not have time to see a show, it’s well worth making some time to visit the museum, which means you also get a chance to see inside the theatre itself, if only briefly. It’s still less expensive and time-consuming than going to see an actual show. And you won’t have to pack a ball gown.
As the day draws to an end, you’ll want to get yourself to a good spot like Radesky Café, Corso Como 10 or Obikà for aperitivo: the cities almost beatified period between six and eight in the evening, when the bars throw open their doors for pre-dinner drinks, served with a host of complimentary food. Not something to miss out on!
If you’re not interested in seeing art, museums or typical tourist activities alone, perhaps spending time with a local in Milan and experiencing the city through their eyes would be more your style. You could even dine with a local family in their home – what could be more memorable that that?
Milan has a lot to see beyond this, but these suggestions will give you a taste of northern Italy’s business metropolis if you only have a day to spare.
Want to make the most of your time in Milan by hiring a guide, or arranging a private visit to the last supper, get in touch – I’d love to help!
Photo Credits Flickr : Taboada Testa, Maesk, Keith Havercroft, From the North