Known for its fast-paced atmosphere, old-world charm and elegance, Milan is Italy’s most cosmopolitan city. A transalpine metropolis that is not only the gateway to Europe for the Italians, but also the route to the Mediterranean, it’s a vibrant, multicultural place that combines a big-city vibe with quintessential Italian spirit. Discover the best of Milan with our 48 hour walking tour.
Parco Sempione & Castello Sforzesco
Start with an early morning walk around Parco Sempione, Milan’s equivalent of Central Park. The sandy colored paths, verdant horticulture and bubbling streams serve as a perfect backdrop for Milan’s early bird runners, coffee drinkers or strollers. Enter at Arco Della Pace, a neoclassical arch that rivals the Arc de Triomphe in grandeur.
There are numerous chic coffee vendors that serve cappuccinos in the park so grab a takeaway coffee and take a stroll around the majestic Castello Sforzesco which is located in the park’s grounds. Built in the 14th century by Francesco Sforza, the duke of Milan, it was the largest citadel in Europe. Today it houses a number of museums and galleries, including a fine art collection, library and The Museum of Musical Instruments.
The Last Supper
From Castello Sforzesco, walk down Via Dante to reach Santa Maria Della Grazie, the small church that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. On your way you’ll pass Corso Magenta, Europe’s oldest shopping street which is packed with independent jewelry shops and old-fashioned pastry shops. Legend says that da Vinci built secretive underground tunnels to allow him direct access between the church and the Castello Sforzesco. Make sure to book tickets online at least one month in advance as they always sell out fast.
Continue your da Vinci tour with a visit to Casa Degli Atellani, a Renaissance house and garden where you can visit La Vigna di Leonardo, a small vineyard that once belonged to the famous painter himself. Lovingly restored by the architect Piero Portaluppi, the house is practically unknown to most tourists and offers a rare glimpse into not just da Vinci’s interest in viticulture, but also Renaissance life in Milan.
The third-largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, Milan’s Duomo dominates the skyline with its towering, buttercup-colored facade, dreamy statues and golden Madonna at its highest point. Work originally began in 1386, but it wasn’t until 1965 that the cathedral was declared officially finished. Each of the statues represents a particular saint, priest, aristocrat or donor to the cathedral, and there are well over 3500 in total. Climb the 250 steps to the roof for a panoramic view of Milan and, on a clear day, a view of the distant Alps.
Milan’s culinary heart beats fast in the center of the city, with an abundance of traditional, experimental and haute cuisine. Nowhere, however, beats lunch from the food hall on the rooftop of La Rinascente, the city’s premier department store. Home to a champagne bar, the chic Maio restaurant, a steak house and a mozzarella bistro, there’s options to suit all palates. From your privileged seats on the terrace, you’ll be able to admire the honey-colored spires of the Duomo from up close.
Museo del 900 and the Royal Palace
Two of Milan’s most impressive art museums lie just beside the Duomo: the Museo del 900 and the Palazzo Reale. The former houses Milan’s 20th century art history, including a major section devoted to Italian futurism. The permanent collection features works by Picasso, Kandinskij, Giacomo Balla and Giorgio de Chirico, to name a few.
As its name suggests, the Royal Palace right next door was once the biggest palace in the city, before becoming the seat of the Italian government during the period of medieval communes in the Middle Ages. Today it hosts a wide array of temporary exhibitions featuring local and international artists.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Across from the museums lies Galleria Vittoria Emanuele, the first shopping mall in Europe built for King Vittorio in 1915. Today, it houses the flagship stores of Italy’s biggest brands, a vintage book store, as well as restaurants and bars including the Camparino Terrace. Legend has it that Milan’s signature drink, Aperol spritz, was created here. Designed to stimulate the appetite, this mix of herbs and flowers helped launch aperitivo culture in Italy. With its art deco features including cast-iron chandeliers, a carved bar and mosaic floor, it’s not hard to see why it was a regular haunt of personalities like Toscanini and Verdi, among others.
During the daytime, head one floor up to Pasticceria Marchesi. Designed by Wes Andersen and Prada, this café serves delectable sweet treats (think colorful macaroons, fluffy, bite-sized cakes and creamy cappuccinos) in its sumptuous booths overlooking the galleria below.
Teatro La Scala
From the Galleria, walk through to Teatro La Scala, Milan’s opera house. Built for Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in 1778, La Scala’s luxurious interiors and impressive remit of singers and shows will blow away even the most cultured of tourists. The gilded, atmospheric space will transport you back to Milan’s golden age of entertainment. Guided visits are available and tickets for performances can be purchased online.
A final stop on day one is Milan’s prettiest central neighborhood. Brera and Moscova are adjoining districts that offer a more traditional Italian feel than the rest of this modern city. White-tablecloth restaurants, upmarket boutiques and open-air markets line the cobbled streets of Brera, while Moscova is central to Milan’s ‘Design City’ status, with names such as Seletti, Herman Miller and Bisazza owning boutiques in the area.
The neighborhood lends its name to the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of Italy’s leading art galleries. Here you’ll find an impressive collection of Renaissance art within the walls of a medieval palace-cum-art-school, including masterpieces like Raphael’s “The Marriage of the Virgin”, Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus” and Francesco Hayez’s “The Kiss”. Make sure you finish your visit with a coffee stop at Caffè Fernanda, located inside the museum. The recently refurbished bar offers some of the chicest drinks in Milan.
Drinks and Dinner
The Bulgari hotel’s monastic garden is the optimal spot for celebrity spotting. Featuring high ceilings and a stylish oval resin counter, this is the perfect place to spot Milan’s well-heeled post-work crowd. Take a seat on the wicker chairs on the terrace with a plate of Chef Niko Romito’s exquisite appetizers, or opt for the rooftop garden terrace for a view of the city skyline. Make sure to try the hotel’s signature drink – a fresh cocktail with gin, Aperol, lime, pineapple and orange juice.
Nearby, Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone is an upscale restaurant that serves traditional dishes for a stylish crowd. You’ll find classics like risotto alla Milanese and breaded veal cutlets alongside a variety of fresh pastas, seasonal vegetables and seafood dishes.
The Public Gardens
Wherever you’re staying in Milan, take tram 10 on a scenic route through the whole city. Step off at Via Vittorio Veneto and go to the Parco Indro Montanelli. These Victorian public gardens have a delightfully nostalgic feel thanks to the miniature nursery garden within it – and the children’s train which whisks youngsters around the gardens. There is also an impressive natural history museum and planetarium in the park, making it a wonderful option if you’re traveling with children in need of an entertainment fix.
Cross over Corso Venezia, one of Milan’s main thoroughfares, to admire some of the city’s most spectacular buildings. Having been bombed throughout World War Two, many of the palazzi that line the streets have been built in a plethora of styles: prepare to see pre-Renaissance mansions next to fascist buildings and brutalist styles next to medieval courtyards and art-deco façades.
I love to take a quick glimpse into the Palazzo Sola Busca on Via Serbeloni, outside of which the fascist era sculptor Adolfo Wildt, who was known for his mastery of marble and designed a giant ear as the entry phone. Around the corner on Via dei Capuccini, the fort-like Palazzo Berri-Meregalli offers one of the best examples of eclectic art-deco architecture. In the entrance hall, you can admire decadent mosaics and ceilings, while Adolfo Wildt’s famous sculpture “La Vittoria” acts as the focal point of this remarkable entranceway.
Villa Necchi Campiglio
Close to the glitzy shopping quadrant of Via Montenapoleone lies Villa Necchi Campiglio. Built for a sewing-machine tycoon in the 1930s, the villa was recently restored and is an excellent example of the modernist style Milan is famous for. Nestled in an enchanting garden complete with tennis court, gym and screening room (luxurious amenities at the time), you can admire art-deco style at its best during a guided tour from Wednesday-Sunday. There is also a lovely restaurant for lunch that overlooks the swimming pool. Villa Necchi Campiglio was also the flawless elegant location for Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton.
Sant Ambrogio Church
After lunch, head over to Milan’s southern districts for an afternoon of religious history before drinks and dinner in the Navigli area. An outstanding example of Lombard Romanesque architecture, the Basilica di Sant Ambrogio church was built between 379 and 386 and is tucked away in a little side street south of the Castello. Named after the 4th century Bishop who became Milan’s patron saint, the sombre red-brick church is filled with historical and artistic masterpieces, including a solid-gold 12th century altar beneath which is the saint’s embalmed body.
Just a ten minute walk from Sant Ambrogio, Zona Tortona has become a magnet for interior design firms, artists, fashion houses and restauranteurs alike. Milan’s former industrial zone is now a hub of creative talent, with many of the Fashion and Design Week events held here. Check out the Mudec art museum for modern art offerings, Armani Silos (the brand’s fashion-art space) and the plethora of restaurants that line the main street.
I love having an aperitivo at micro-distillery The Botanical Club before enjoying dinner in the garden at God Save The Food. A restaurant with an international twist and a plethora of plant-based entrees, you can find quinoa salads and lentil tacos alongside an octopus wok and roast beef. God Save The Food has multiple locations in the city and also serves brunch on weekends.
The Navigli, Milan’s Famous Canal District
Milan used to a be a city webbed with a network of navigli (canals), many of which were the arterial trade routes that funneled goods from southern Italy to Switzerland and further north. Today, only two adjoining canals remain; the point where they link up is known as the Darsena, which was renovated for the 2015 Expo. The area is a hub of relaxed, open-air bars and eateries which spread all along the main canal, Naviglio Grande. On the weekends, there are antique, vintage fashion and flower markets, and by night, the area throngs with locals looking for some of the best aperitivo and cocktails in the city. Enjoy after-dinner drinks at MAG cafe, an art-deco haunt that serves a wild concoction of drinks and is open until (very) late every night.
Where to Stay In Milan
Four Seasons Milan
Housed in a former 15th century convent, the Four Seasons demonstrates Milan’s ultimate luxury credentials. From the marble entrance hall and the exquisite pool-side bar to the enormous rooms – which are outfitted with rich Fortuny fabrics, custom wood fixtures and opulent marble bathrooms – the hotel is the perfect place to spend a pampered weekend in the city.
Created by the inspirational Italian architect Paola Giambelli, Palazzo Parigi is an opulent located between the public gardens and the Brera district. Launched with Milan’s Expo in 2015, the hotel is as famous for its afternoon tea as it is for its spacious, photo-perfect entranceway and sumptuous suites and rooms. Its Moroccan spa is a highlight.