It has been quite some time since my last visit to Milan and it was a brief one. I stayed for a day before heading to Venice, I had only one mission on my agenda – to see the Last Supper.
Before we dive into details about this world-renowned mural painting, I was surprised to have heard from a few people around me that “Milan is boring” after their visit.
“What are you going to do there?” “There is nothing to see in Milan!”… and so I wonder, Is Milan worth the hype? Is it worth visiting Milan?
To tell you the truth, and I have never mentioned this before – Milan was my first destination of solo travel. It was not planned but it was because Milan is an airport hub and I arrived at Milan for my “Run! Run!” journey in Venice, Florence, Rome and so many more. I saw the Last Supper and then I moved on.
This time, I am returning to Milan with 72 full hours because I did not get to see anything else in the city since my last visit.
Could it be expectations were too high because Milan was placed among other Italian cities like Venice, Florence, and Rome? Is it true that Milan has nothing to offer other than shopping? Let me know what do you think, and share your experience in the comment section after reading my own 72-hour (or 4-day-3-night) solo-travel itinerary.
I hope the plan will shed some light on what it’s like and you are welcome to leave questions if you are planning your trip to Milan, too!
What is the history of Milan?
Milan is the capital city of the region of Lombardy and the second largest city in Italy after Rome. While it seems everything evolved around Rome in the Roman Empire, Milan had its historic significance for being the capital of the western half of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.
Milan had been one of the most prominent political and economic centers and one of the most important trade and commercial locations in Europe from the 12th century to the 16th century.
Milan was badly destroyed during World War II, and the city was rebuilt after the war. In modern-day, Milan shifted from a political center to a financial center of Italy, and the city is known to the world for its art, culture, and fashion. Together with London, Paris, and New York, Milan is one of the four major fashion capitals in the world.
How to get around Milan?
It is convenient and easy to get around Milan. The city is easy to navigate for tourists – most tourist attractions are in the historic center around Duomo, to locate where you are and where you want to go. Use Milan’s Duomo and Milano Centrale Railway Station as your reference points.
Milan offers a great network of public transportation with buses, trams, and metro. Milan’s public transit uses the same ticket system – one ticket is valid for 90 minutes. With a ticket, passengers are allowed to ride as many buses and trams within this time to get to their destination. Now, you can simply tab your smartphone for payments too!
While you may have no problem knowing your directions, Milan is a city that makes walking not always possible. To complete your journey from point A to point B, I have shared tips and guides for exploring a city with an e-scooter; the bike/scootering sharing system completes the travel map because it is wonderful for short-distance travel. There are a number of bike and scooter sharing apps operating in Milan, from Bird, Lime, Ridemovi, Tier, Helbiz, voi, dott to Bolt. Teir and Bolt are commonly used in Milan and I had no problem with Lime when I was there.
Take public transportation to the area, and then reach your point with an e-scooter, it helps me get the places so much faster and easier.
Having said that, here’s an important tip: Avoid the historic center (around Duomo), it is a walking district and typically marked as a “no parking zone” with a speed limit. During the day, the area is simply too crowded for using an e-scooter anyway.
The best way to appreciate the beauty around the Duomo area is on foot. Take the metro to a nearby station and connect your spots with an e-scooter if needed.
For solo travelers (also groups and families), it is generally safe to get around Milan, with the usual precautions and common sense that ensure a safe and fun journey. There are police on standby in crowded tourist areas and the locals are friendly.
Where to Stay in Milan?
Since getting around Milan is easy, select a location that works for you and there shouldn’t be any problem. Personally, I prefer to stay close to the training station. Milan has a wide range of international hotel brands, and they are mainly situated in the historic city center or exhibition centers.
For a local choice, I stayed at UNAHOTELS Century Milano which is a mid-range traveler’s choice. The hotel is not a luxurious one yet the rooms are quite spacious, clean, and effective. The service staff are friendly and helpful. I appreciated their breakfast with fresh honey combs and they mix well with my yogurt. On top of all that, the hotel is within walking distance of Milan Centrale station, which means also the Centrale FS metro station. There was some door-banging noise from the housekeeping and neighbors outside in the corridor, but all in all the good points justify its cost.
For an extra, Hilton Milan, Hyatt Centric Milan Centrale, Duo Milan Porta Nuova, and a Tribute Portfolio Hotel are also nearby in the area.
Day 1 Morning: Milan Cathedral
Waking up fresh in the morning, this day is about revisiting Milan’s classic in the historic center. Of course, I saw the Milan Cathedral on my first visit but the cathedral was under renovation at that time.
Going to Duomo from Milano Centrale Railway Station, it is only a couple of stations away. For a charming detour, take a little walk along Via Vitruvio to Piazzale Bacone and enjoy a cup of coffee at the Orsonero Coffee.
The specialty café was opened by Brent Jopson from Vancouver. The intimate café looks minimalist, yet it’s packed with coffee lovers as I arrived. There are different types of coffee on their menu, from cold brew, Aeropress, American-style filter, and single origin to specialty blends.
Don’t forget to order a croissant with your coffee, and they have a great variety in their counter – I ordered Pistachio flavor and it was quite tasty.
Don’t be surprised that you see this impressive landmark a couple of times during your visit to Milan because it really is the centerpiece of the city. Milan Cathedral is one of the best cathedrals not only in Italy but in the world.
As I was approaching this cathedral, it was like walking down the memory lane. The feeling of seeing this giant and magnificent piece of art for the first time kept rushing back, and I still felt the same way the second time around.
It was not easy to find the right word to describe the amazement and I didn’t have much time. Because the reason I am heading to the cathedral this morning is for the rooftop visit. Usually, it is less crowded if you go there earlier.
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.
At Piazza Cordusio, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery is an eye-catching, retored classical building with a tiny garden-like outdoor seatiing area, and a long queue both outside and inside.
Starbucks succeeded in building its brand worldwide by tying closely with the coffee drinking culture, cafe trend and comfortable seatings. This coffee shop in Milan is considered thge third of its kind in Europe. Many Starbucks are very Instagrammable around the world – and this one in Milan, while is annoyingly crowded with tourists, is one of those locations with something special to offer.
The cafe is divided into a few different sections, and in the center of the hall is a fully functioning coffee roaster, which fills the entire cafe with the aroma of freshly roasted coffee. Here, customers will witness and get to know the process of coffee production while they enjoy the tasty and aromatic coffee in their cups.
There are a wide range of premium coffee on their menu, from common to exotic, high-quality Arabica coffees ethically sourced from over 30 countries around the world.
Day 1 Afternoon: Milan’s historic center and the classics
So where for lunch after the morning stroll? As I was walking further down Via S. Vincenzo, a small local restaurant Hygge was there around the corner of Via Giuseppe. The restaurant has a relaxed, layback environment with some nice music. They serve breakfast, lunch, and brunch with some specialty coffee.
Milan’s Historic Center
To understand further Milan’s history – explore the other landmarks around Duomo.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II has a rich history and is located on the right side of the Cathedral, with high-end retail brands and cafes. It is truly the most magnificent historic shoppe of its kind.
The end of The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele connects with Piazza della Scala. Check out the Statue of Leonardo da Vinci, and if you have more time, visit the World of Leonardo da Vinci.
The museum showcase digitally restored paintings and hands-on model of inventions by da Vinci. Osservatorio Fondazione Prada, an offsite location of the art center can also be found here.
While it may look ordinary from the outside, Teatro Alla Scala, or “La Scala”, is a lavish opera house and is considered a must-see. The lavish opera house was constructed in the 18th century and many of Italy’s important operatic artists, musicians, and players performed in this place through the centuries. The theatre is regarded as one of the world’s leading opera and ballet theatres. To fully understand the beauty of the architecture, join a La Scala Guided Tour, or simply buy a ticket and catch one of their performances.
On the left side of the Cathedral found the Palazzo Reale di Milano (The Royal Palace of Milan) – a magnificent museum of a grand 18th-century palace, showcasing the regal hallways, artistic works, and sweeping staircases.
Opposite the Cathedral, Via Dante is a pedestrian street that leads to Castello Sforzesco. On its way to the park, the Piazza Mercanti is a Medieval Square surrounded by historic architecture. Outdoor exhibitions, markets, and concerts take place in the public squares.
Day 2 Morning: Architecture of Old and New
Kicking off day 2 around Milan Centrale at the Piazza Duca d’Aosta, admire the beauty of this magnificent architecture that was constructed in the 1930s. In fact, Milan Centrale is one of the largest railway stations in Europe by volume.
For its almost a century of history, the station is the main hub connecting many Italian cities including Turin, Venice, Bologna, Rome, Naples, and Salemo.
The most impressive feature of the station is the glass-topped archways at the arrival hall, along with the engravings and sculptures that you find in the station that were mindfully designed to highlight the grandeur of this important building in the city.
At the main entrance of the station, is a huge art piece called “Apple Made Whole Again”, created by artist Michelangelo Pistoletto in 2015. The sculpture was originally on display for the opening of the EXPO until it was moved to its permanent site at Piazza Duca d’Aosta.
One highlight of Milan’s must-see list is the Monumental Cemetery. Before reaching the cemetery on my scooter, a modern structure was there in between. The Palazzo Lombardia is an office complex with a 43-story tall skyscraper, serving as Lombardy regional government. The office is typically not open to the public but check out their website or information desk because the terrace on the 38th floor occasionally opens as an observatory for general visitors. The terrace offers panoramic views of the city’s skyline.
Either way, the Citta di Lombardia Square on the ground floor is a great photo-taking spot with its beautiful curves on the building, designed and created by architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners out of a design competition in 2004.
Milan’s Monumental Cemetery is one of the largest in Europe and has many creative, artistic, and whimsical tomb and monument designs on display.
The cemetery opens to the public and it is the final resting place of a long list of celebrities and important figures.
Visitors come here to pay respect to those who passed, and what they left behind are beautiful art pieces that are worth admiration.
One of the most featured on this site is the Mausoleum of Antonio Bernocchi, an industrialist who passed away in 1939. Other iconic pieces include The Last Supper at the Campari family tomb and the Monument of the Morgagni family. The cemetery is considered a 250,000-square-meter open-air museum with a large collection of Italian sculptures, Greek temples, obelisks, and more.
Piazza Gae Aulenti is closely located at the Porta Garibaldi Train Station, showcasing a modern part of today’s Milan. The innovative square is a redevelopment directed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, with a circular fountain space surrounded by innovative office buildings and residential developments.
The locals enjoy hanging out by the water fixture (and it’s a beautiful place to see sun set), there are show of lights, music and water in the evening. On top of that, the solar tree in the center of the square lights the area with LED lighting using solar energy.
Of course, there’s no trip to Italy is complete without a taste of Gelato! Venchi is also one of my favourite Chocolatier and they also have some refreshing flavors on their menu.
Day 2 Afternoon: The Classical Italian Art and Religion
Pinacoteca di Brera
At the front of the cemetery is Via Ceresio, connecting with Via Alessandro Volta which leads to Via Statuto, and Via Solferino, which leads to Via Brera, where an important art museum, Pinacoteca di Brera is located.
Most Italian tourists know about the Uffizi Gallery in Florence for being one of the world’s top classical art galleries, Brera is actually underrated for showcasing an impressive collection of artworks from the 14th to 20th centuries.
Some of the highlights include works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, Picasso, and more. Check out the list of some of the unmissable masterpieces in Brera, it is important to pre-chase your ticket online before your visit because tickets do sell out at peak seasons.
The exit of Brera, right after you see The Kiss by Francesco Hayez (1859), is Caffé Fernanda. This bistro, or cafeteria, offers a range of artistic dishes with a touch of experimentation from genuine raw ingredients and care. The café is painted in a bold deep-blue color, adorned by classical embellishment and art paintings.
On a beautiful day, enjoy a cup of beverage at the outdoor seating and soak in the artistic vibe of the art museum before taking off your trip in the rest of your day.
Moving toward Milan’s historic center, Via Monte Napoleone is Milan’s upscale shopping street which is also the most expensive in Europe. This famous street is where international fashion and jewelry brands set up shops and put their best on display.
While not everyone comes here on a shopping spree, this is also where visitors come window-shopping, seek inspiration, or get to know what the latest fashion trends are. For the rest of the afternoon on day 2, feel free to explore this famous avenue at your own pace.
If you wish to visit a couple of the historic religious sites in Milan, there are a couple of churches that are not far away where you can learn a little bit more about the city’s past. If you are better prepared and made a reservation, you must see the Last Supper – one of the most classical paintings in the entire world. After all, explore the city and visit some of these sites based on your time and preference.
Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Last Supper
A highlight of your visit to Milan is for sure viewing the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most celebrated and well-known artworks in the world, The Last Supper is a mural painting in the dining room of the former Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. That particular section of the convent is now became The Last Supper Museum separate from the church.
For a typical tourist to book a ticket with the museum is hardly possible due to its high demand. To secure your visit, book your tour at travel websites: skip-the-line guided tour of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Still, these packages sold out quickly at a higher price, so plan your trip earlier to avoid selling out.
Apart from the painting, the cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie is also a beautiful space that tourist tends to miss during their visit.
Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa
San Bernardino alle Ossa is best known for its ossuary – which is located on the left of the church. It is a small chapel decorated with a large amount of human skulls and bones. The ossuary was built due to a lack of space in the adjacent cemetery in the early 13th century, and the room holding bones with the church was built next to the room 50 years later.
San Bernardino alle Ossa is a rather peculiar attraction because of this sinister decoration. A very similar one was built at Évora, near Lisbon in the 18th century, when King John V of Portugal saw this chapel.
Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio
This site is one of the most ancient churches in Milan. The church has a history of over two thousand years, being consecrated in 379. Commissioned by St. Ambrose at that time, the church was then restored and modified over time and it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style in the 12th century, with semi-circular arches as its signature.
The apex facade with the entrance portico is the most memorable feature of the church, Take a walk inside and admire some of the original structure of the church, including the mosaic of Christ Pantocrator dated back to the 4th to 8th century.
As a bonus, the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology is just within walking distance of the church and this museum is the largest science and technology museum in Italy, dedicated to the painter, but also scientist, Leonardo da Vinci.
Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore
The Roman Catholic church is located within the city’s ring of Navigli, and it is another historic church in Milan, originally built in the Roman times.
However, what we are looking at today was the latest rebuild in the 16th century, with consequent restorations.
Apart from the late 4th-century mosaic of Christ the Lawgiver, the grand octagonal chapel, and the beautiful ceiling over the chapel’s main altar, don’t forget to take a look at the Colonne di San Lorenzo. This is an archeological site made up of 16 Roman marble columns, next to remains of an amphitheater and baths. A few steps further, the Medieval Porta Ticinese is a gate of the 12th-century Walls of Milan – one of the three remaining medieval gates of the oldest Roman walls that were developed in modern Milan.
For an evening snack, I was wandering in the city of Milan and God Save the Food is located at the front of the charming Santa Maria del Carmine Church. The church is a 15th-century Romanesque church with a baroque interior featuring many printing, frescos and statues.
As for the deli, I was planning to sat down for a drink but a delicious huge board of snack of olives, breads and dips come with. The most enjoyable part of the drink is the relaxing vibe in front of the church courtyard.
Having said that, it does have some attractive dishes like Thai-style fried rice, sandwiches, and pancakes on their menu if you are staying for dinner after the drink.
Day 3 Morning: From Sforzesco Castle to Arco della Pace
From Sforzesco Castle to Arco della Pace is a beautiful green space in the city of Milan, and there are a number of museums in the area that take at least a day to complete them all.
For a taster, admire the signature architecture, especially the Filarete Tower, the Carmine, and the Santo Spirito Tower at the front.
In fact, Sforzesco Castle was the largest citadel in Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Castle Museums are a collection of seven museums and art galleries. The 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, and Museum of Decorative Arts may take days to complete.
Notably, there are important works of Leonardo da Vinci on the ceiling of the Sala Delle Asse.
The Simplon Park is a large city park established in 1888. The park was designed by Emilio Alemagna, covering an area of 95 acres, between two landmarks of Sforzesco Castle and Arco della Pace. There are a number of monuments and sculptures in the park, including the Arco della Pace at the end.
There is a footbridge connecting Piazza Gae Aulenti with Corso Como, a lively street in Milan with plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops.
They aren’t just a café or shop though, because some of them manage to find a niche or do something extra to stand out from the crowd. Here on the other day, I had lunch at 10 Corso Como Café, a chic eatery interestingly hidden in a lush garden.
The green space in the buildings is a breath of fresh air, and the eatery has Italian main dishes, light snacks and cocktails on their menu. The café also features art-lined walls with a design store at the entrance.
Day 3 Afternoon: Fondazione Prada – a taste of modern art
Created in 1993 by Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, Fondazione Prada questions the role of a cultural institution in our current time, in the belief that culture is attractive and engaging, as well as useful and necessary.
Art and Intellectual research are fundamental tools to enrich our lives and help us understand how we, and the world, are changing.
The current art space was opened in 2015, designed by Rem Koolhaas. The museum hosts temporary art exhibitions, with a large scale of permanent contemporary art collections on display in Torre (the 9-level main tower of the foundation).
Featured artists include Carla Accardi, Jeff Koons, Walter De Maria, Goshka Macuga, Betye Saar, Michael Heizer, Pino Pascali, William N.Copley, Damien Hirst, Carsten Holler, and John Baldessari. The selected works in the art space are impressive, and visitors may also enjoy an open view of Milan and the far-away mountains from the open windows.
Bar Luce is located in Fondazione Prada, and also a beautiful place to partake in the wonderful Italian tradition of mid-day coffee and cake.
The interior of the eatery has vibrant colors and a retro vibe of the 80s. The funky and whimsical design of an old cafe (from the box-shaped chairs, jukebox to Life Auqatic-themed pinball machine), really works well with the bold and artistic setting of the art institution.
Apart from its adorable photo moments. Bar Luce has an exciting selection of chiffon cakes and beverages. This is a great place to get refreshed and start your art journey at the site in the afternoon.