Milan Top 5 Unmissable Attractions for First-timers

If you are planning a holiday in Milan for the first time, there are a couple of city classics not to be missed. Here is a list of the top five places first-timers should put on their itinerary, share your favorites and recommendations in the comments. What are your top five attractions in Milan?

The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci

Even if you are not an art buff, there is no way that you do not know this mural painting. The Last Supper, created by Leonardo da Vinci, is dated to the 15th century.

The masterpiece was completed in 1495 and 1498, commissioned as part of a plan of renovations to a church and its convent buildings by da Vinci’s patron Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.

Today, millions of visitors come to see the actual mural painting in Milan and it’s constantly sold out.

Santa Maria delle Grazie

Santa Maria delle Grazie is a Roman Catholic church listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. While “The Last Supper” may have stolen all the visitors’ attention, the church itself is quite beautiful.

The original church was constructed under the order of Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Lima, and it was dedicated to Saint Mary of the Graces. Duke Ludovico Sforza, later decided to have the church serve as the Sforza family mausoleum. This is a huge project –  the patron called on a number of the greatest Renaissance artists, Leonardo Da Vinci included, to design and decorate the church and the convent. The cloister and apse were also rebuilt and don’t forget to take a pleasant walk at the back of the church because you will be surprised by its architectural design.

The entrance of the refectory of the Last Supper.

The painting remains on the wall of the dining room of the former Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, exactly in the refectory of the convent, which is now called “The Last Supper Museum” (1934); It is one of the most celebrated and well-known artworks in the world, and while the Last Supper has been a frequent subject throughout art history, Da Vinci’s work, this mural in particular, captures the high tension of a particular scene in the Gospel of Saint John – the moment when Jesus announced to his apostles that he knows one of them will betray him.

From a technical point of view, the painting is brilliantly expressive, and it is a perfect showcase of the painter’s mastery of perspective and composition. Da Vinci precisely measured the wall and so the painting draws the viewer’s eye to the vanishing point – Jesus Christ’s head from every angle.

The Last Supper was created with materials like tempera on gesso, pitch, and mastic, in order to adapt to the painter’s inconsistent painting schedule and frequent revisions. What visitors can see today, however, is only a part of the original work. In 1943, a bomb in World War II caused the collapse of the ceiling and east wall of the refectory; The Last Supper was fortunately preserved due to the protection measures put in place at the beginning of the war and restoration work afterward.

There were several restoration works of the painting over the centuries, with the last restoration project finally removing layers of color, glue, and material added to recover the original fragments by Da Vinci.

The cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie is unmissable.

This is almost impossible for a visitor to just walk in to see the painting at any time. Prior reservation is required and the time slots are filled weeks in advance. To be honest, this is the most important thing to prepare before first-timers plan their trip to Milan. To reserve a ticket, visit the official ticketing website for more information and check for availability. Reservations open quarterly so they are typically fully booked once available. (With one exception: Tickets for free admission for the first Sunday of the month will be made available, exclusively online, starting from the previous Wednesday.)

Another way to secure your visit is via travel websites for a skip-the-line guided tour of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Even so, the ticket sold out really fast and it is recommended to secure the booking as early as possible. Each visitor has 15 minutes to appreciate the painting.

Duomo, Cathedral of Milano

The bronze door has rich details that deserve a closer look.

Milan Cathedral (Duomo) is no doubt a must-see in Milan. If there’s only one place to see if you are in Milan for a few hours, you have to see and take a picture of the Cathedral. The landmark is the city’s focal point for being the fifth-largest Christian church, and it is one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the world. Duomo was constructed in 1386 by Giovanni Angelo Cesaris and Francesco Reggio, with Roger Boscovich acting as a consultant.

Walking in Piazza del Duomo, the magnificent façade is the first thing visitors see. It is truly a giant piece of art – check out the bronze doors and learn about the insane amount of details, craftsmanship, and history that were put into it. La Legge Nuova (The New Law) above the front door is said to have been the source of inspiration for the Statue of Liberty.

The Duomo is uniquely designed with an impressive façade that is not common in other cathedrals – the box-shaped building covers an area of 11,706 square meters.

There are a total of 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, and 700 figures, making Milan Duomo the building in the world that has the most statues in the world. 

One signature of the Duomo is that it has more statues than any other building in the world. A total of 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, and 700 figures are there to decorate. Even so, the immense amount of figures does not overcrowd the sheer size of the structure, all of them were placed strategically on the walls and columns and they harmoniously exist in every corner.

To take an even closer look at these works, visitors need to take a walk on Milan Duomo Rooftops. In fact, this is the only church in the world where visitors can walk over the entire rooftop.

Prepare your visit by purchasing the tickets via Get You Guide so you can enjoy fast-track entrance to the Rooftop and the Cathedral (two separate entries). The ticket is valid for 72 hours, visitors can visit any time during the opening hours – simply show your booking QR code at the entrance and start climbing up the stairs to the top. The terrace offers views of the architectural details (spires, statues, and carvings) of the building that cannot be appreciated from ground level.

The intricate arches and spires wrap the cathedral like a veil – which makes me wonder about the amount of time, effort, and manpower spent on this huge project. Duomo’s rooftop is also one of the best viewing terraces in Milan because its prime location offers unobstructed and panoramic views of Milan’s modern city skyline and the Alps in the far north.

There are a lot of treasures to discover inside Duomo. The relic of the Sacred Nail is also preserved near the altar. The statue of St. Bartholomew flayed alive, was a rather gruesome story from the past. Madonna of the Roses and the miracle behind this painting. Don’t forget to check out the 55 monumental windows that date as far back as the late 1300s.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This shopping gallery is probably the most well-known in the world. It is Italy’s oldest active shopping gallery.

The best time to visit the gallery is early in the morning before 10 am because tourists flood in all day afterward. Having said that, the best time to take pictures with the Duomo and the gallery is during sunset because both of these landmarks are westward facing.

The gallery was designed in 1861 and built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877.

You don’t need to wear Prada to look chic, just walk in front of it 🙂 
The tradition is still alive. Put your heel on the testicles (the hole) of the bull and spin three times.

The Gallery was named after Victor Emmanuel II – the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. The entrance next to Duomo is actually an arch; it is a monument itself with a height of 38.5 meters.

The Gallery is a four-story double arcade, with a number of international fashion brands and cafes inside, some of them the oldest in Milan. For example, the Biffi Cafe was founded in 1867 by Paolo Biffi, a well-known pastry chef, and The Savini, and Borsalino hat shop.

Apart from being chic in the gallery, it is believed that touching the little Torino mosaic brings good luck. Put your heel on the testicles of the bull (there is an obvious hole in the pavement) and spin three times (without falling).

Castello Sforzesco

Sforzesco Castle has been the main fortification in Milan since the 15th century. It was built on the foundation of a citadel, its garrison was occupied by 3,000 people who were led by a Spanish castellan.

Being home to the Sforza family, the castle is the center of power as the family ruled Milan during the Renaissance period. Not only it was the largest citadel in Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries, but it also housed artworks created by several Renaissance artists like Leonardo Da Vinci. Therefore, the site has a lot of treasures inside and out.

On the outside, the architecture and gardens of the castle is magnificent. The Filarete Tower at the entrance is attention-demanding, and the Carmine and Santo Spirito Towers on the side have a unique look. The entire area extended beyond the castle walls and together with the Semipone Park and Triumphal Arch, it is the best urban green space in Milan.

The Castle Museums has seven museums and art galleries that require a day or two to complete. 

Take a walk in the castle and explore the various locations of the castle, the Rocchetta, or “the small keep”, was a courtyard that played an important role in terms of the castle’s defense; nearby are the Treasury Hall, Castellana Hall and Panoramic Halls, and the Civic Historical Archive and Trivulziana Library. Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta can be found in the Castle as well.

The Castle Museums are a collection of seven museums and art galleries. It takes a day or two to complete all these exhibits. The three-level museums comprise of Museum of Ancient Art, Armory, Pieta Rondanni Museum of Michelangelo, Museum of Decorative Arts, Museums of Musical Instruments, Picture, Museum of Furniture and Wooden Sculpture, Museum of Decorative Arts. The most important work of art is the frescoes created by Leonardo da Vinci, in collaboration with Bernardino Zenale and Bernardino Butinone; around 1500, Da Vinci painted the ceiling of the Sala Delle Asse. Regarding the Sala del Tesoro, Bramante was responsible for the frescoes.

Outside the Castle Museums, check out the National Archaeological Museum and the Egyptian Museum.

Pinacoteca di Brera

In the center of the gallery is a monumental bronze statue of the nude French Emperor Napoleon. Head in for many more spectacular art pieces.

Brera Art Gallery was founded by Napoleon in 1808 and it’s been the most prestigious institution in Milan for centuries. While there are many top art galleries all over Europe, Brera Art Gallery is actually quite underrated with an impressive art collection from the 14th to 20th centuries.

The museum features 38 rooms and the paintings are organized by time period and style. Each of these rooms showcases artworks created by some big names including Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, Picasso, and more. Therefore, this medium-sized art gallery is very suitable for any type of traveler, whether you are planning to have a quick taste or a deep dive into Renaissance classical art and modern art.

Tickets to Brera Art Gallery may be sold out during peak seasons, so it is recommended to reserve a ticket before visiting.

The Kiss, and the highlights of Brera Art Gallery

Brera Madonna, Piero della Francesca (1472) – It is an important painting with Federico da Montefeltro at the right corner, and the work celebrates the birth of his son. The details of the fabric is well acclaimed, especially the silver armor of Federico, this is not commonly drawn and executed so well in a painting at that time. Besides, at the top part of the patining there is an ostirch egg hanging over a shell semi-dome – this whimiscal element is a symbol of many things, and in general it represents the celebration of the child’s birth.

Lamentation of the Dead Christ, Andrea Mantegna (1475-1501) – The painting portrarys Virgin Mary, Saint John and St Mary Magdalene weeping for Jesus’s death.

It was an impactful work in terms of its content, and the perspective of Jesus Christ’s body draw the viewers emotion and empathy of this biblical tragedy.

Marriage of the Virgin, Raphael (1504) – the oil painting was the depiction of the marriage ceremony between Mary and Joseph. Originally painted for the Franciscan church of San Francesco, the High Renaissance artist told a story with delicate details and mastery skills. Look closely, you can see his signature at the bottom of the painting.

St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria, Giovanni Bellini (1504-07) – Giovanni Bellini went on a study trip to Constantinople in 1479 and he adapted his real-life experience in this artwork.

This work presents two particular moments in history and three spots: Alexandria, Venice, and the mountains. While the huge painting looks like San Marco in Venice, the foreigners and surrounfing suggests another places, there are rich with exoctic elements from Mamluk architecture, men in caftans, and minaret-like towers.

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio (1606) – This painting depicts a moment when two of Jesus Christ’s apostles invite a stranger to share a meal after the Crucifixion. It showcases the painter’s signature use of lighting and realism. How the emotions were depicted in this painting is extraordinary.

The Last Supper, Peter Paul Rubens (1632) – One notable element in this painting is that Judas is actually looking at the viewers away from the table. Isn’t the “fourth wall breaking” composition kind of unexpected and progressive centuries ago?

Bacino di San Marco from the Puntana della Dogana, Canaletto (1740-45) – this realistic painting captures the landmarks of the most visited part of Venice, from a view from punta della Dogana.

The Kiss, Francesco Hayez (1859) – this is the painter’s best known artwork and probably one of the most important in the museum. The painting is a representation of Italian Romanticism and the spirit of the Risorgimento (the unification of Italy). This painting was donated to Pinacoteca di Brera after the original owner, Alfonso Maria Visconti di Saliceto’s death. The couples’ in the painting are unknown because Hayez wants the kiss to bethe center of the composition.

Modigliani Portraits (1915) – Modigliani is a modern Italian Jewish painter and sculptor and he is known for his portraits and nudes in Expressionist style.

He is a friend of Picasso during hius time in Paris and there are a number of artwork in the art gallery showcasing his unique technique and emotional quality – the elongated faces (influenced by African masks) are very memorable.

Head of a Bull, Picasso (1942) – The art gallery focuses on a Renaissance art collection, and there are a number of contemporary art pieces in the museum. One of the modern art collection in Brera, and the expressive brutality of the bull’s head is an impactful image to the audience.

It is a also a fine example of the famous painter’s signature style and composition.

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  1. The buildings there are pretty amazing. The cathedral is quite breathtaking and is somewhere I really want to go and see for myself.

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