Italy’s Most Stylish City Is a Paradise for Art Lovers and Shoppers
Milan is so much more than fashion week.
Between Rome, Florence, and Venice, Italian cities are beloved by tourists. Milan, while popular for a few days of shopping and a cathedral photo op, isn’t usually at the top of anyone’s list. But the city is more than just the Duomo and Galleria, and well worth the visit for those who are willing to take the time to explore.
Located in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Every year, tens of thousands of people flock there for either of the city’s two fashion weeks. But even those not interested in luxury and designer clothing can enjoy visiting this centuries-old city, and there’s plenty of fun to be had at any time of year. And as flight prices from the US to Europe begin to drop for fall and winter travel, there’s never been a better time to go to Milan. Here’s everything you should do when you visit.
Best places for first timers to visit in Milan
When you go to Milan for the first time, everyone is going to tell you that you need to see the Milan Cathedral, better known as the Duomo. They’re telling you the truth. The third-largest church in the world, the Duomo is Milan’s most important landmark and is located right in the city center. While the outside of the cathedral is magnificent enough on its own, going inside and visiting the top will give you an unparalleled view of the city skyline.
Conveniently located beside the Piazza del Duomo is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, another popular tourist site. Here, you’ll find flagship stores for some of the biggest names in luxury fashion—think Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani, Versace, and more—stacked inside a four-story shipping center. You have to visit at least once while you’re in the fashion capital, but you don’t have to pull out your credit card if you don’t want to. The Galleria is a great place to window shop and snap some photos for Instagram under its signature glass domes.
Once you’ve had enough of the busy Piazza del Duomo and Galleria, take a 15-minute stroll to Parco Sempione, the largest park in Milan. Take in the beauty for a few hours before you stop at Castello Sforzesco on the south edge of the park. This 15th-century citadel houses several museums and libraries with art by masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
But there’s more to do than the basics. Be sure to visit the Fiera di Sinigaglia, a weekly flea market in the Navigli neighborhood that takes place on Saturdays, to look for unexpected treasures. Swing by the Brera Botanical Garden as well—the beautiful outdoor space near Central Milan is totally free to explore.
Where to eat and drink like a local in Milan
Pizza, paninis, and pastas
When it comes to Italian cuisine destinations, many are quick to dismiss Milan in favor of cities like Naples and Bologna. But if you know where to eat in Milan, you will find yourself enjoying some of the best in Lombard cuisine.
A trip to Milan is incomplete without eating at one of the city’s many trattorias, and Trattoria Trippa is the one not to miss. Awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide, Trattoria Trippa specializes in uncomplicated but extremely delicious Lombard cuisine. The menu changes daily in order to make use of the freshest ingredients possible, but must-have staples include fried tripe and bone marrow. For an equally unfussy but less crowded restaurant that’s perfect for large groups, check out A Santa Lucia. Wolf down Milanese risotto and plenty of seafood dishes amongst hundreds of celebrity portraits, all looking down at you as if in approval of your food choices.
On the hunt for some fresh pastries? Check out the nearly-100-year-old bakery Pasticceria Cucchi, where you can sip a cappuccino alongside some traditional panettone.
For those who prefer to eat on the go, there’s lots of street food to choose from. You can find paninis, individual pizzas, or meat-stuffed dough on any street in the city. If you’re by the Duomo, check out Luini for panzerotti, a folded piece of fried pizza dough stuffed with cheese and tomato.
Negroni Sbagliato… with Prosecco in it
In Milan, Campari is king—which makes sense as the liqueur originated just 30 miles outside of the city. If you’re a fan of Campari, or interested in becoming one, there’s no better place to start drinking than at Camparino in Galleria. Rated the 85th best bar in the world by 50 Best, Camparino has been the definitive place to drink the aperitivo in Milan since 1915.
For a little more variety, check out Terrazza Duomo 21. Overlooking the Piazza del Duomo, the trendy cocktail bar offers a wide selection of drinks (with or without Campari) and DJs playing live sets late into the night. Make sure to grab a table with a view early in the night, as the bar tends to fill up quickly.
If you’re looking to get away from the center of Milan, head over to the Navigli neighborhood. Milan’s canal district, Navigli is situated along the city’s remaining two canals and bursting with bars and restaurants. Stop by Ugo, a cocktail bar with a creative menu focused on gin-based cocktails, and Rita & Cocktails, a fan-favorite spot in the district known for its inventive drinks and shared plates. For a cozier (read: smaller) venue, go to Backdoor 43. Measuring just 12 square meters, Backdoor 43 has been named the smallest cocktail bar in the world and can host a maximum of just four people—perfect for those who want to feel like they have their own private speakeasy.
Milan neighborhoods you can’t miss
Situated on the two remaining canals in Milan, the Navigli district is a charming area with tons of waterfront bars and restaurants. Stroll along the water as you take in the historic street art before parking yourself at a local bar like Ugo or Rita & Cocktails for a drink and a view of the sunset. If you visit Navigli on the weekend, make sure to plan time at the Fiera di Sinigaglia, Italy’s oldest weekly flea market.
The heart of Milan, Centro Storico is the city center where all the hustle and bustle resides—as well as the most popular cultural attractions. Here you’ll find the Piazza del Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and Parco Sempione. Teatro alla Scala is also located in Centro Storico. If you can, take a guided tour of Teatro alla Scala and grab tickets to a show at one of the most famous theaters in the world.
Beloved by tourists and locals alike, Porto Garibaldi is home to Corso Como, the pillar of Milan’s nightlife. While the rest of the city sleeps, the street of Corso Como is buzzing with partygoers moving from nightclub to nightclub, bar to bar. Check out 11Clubroom or Hollywood Rythmoteque if you’re looking for somewhere to dance the night away, any day of the week.
Technically a subdistrict of Centro Storico, Porta Venezia is also Milan’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood, and a melting pot of queer-friendly bars and restaurants serving up all types of cultural cuisines. The district is also home to Corso Buenos Aires, a one-kilometer-long shopping street perfect for those who are looking to make purchases outside of the Galleria. If you’re not in the mood to drink or shop, take a walk over to Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli and relax in the grass.
Museums, art, and culture in Milan
Milan boasts an incredible collection of museums and art galleries, rivaling any other Italian city. Its greatest artistic claim to fame, however, is that Milan is the home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Located in Santa Maria delle Grazie church, the piece is open to the public to visit. Do be warned, however, that access to the painting requires some planning; be sure to book your ticket ahead of time and bring a government-issued ID that matches the name on your ticket.
Just a stone’s throw from the Galleria is Teatro alla Scala, an 18th-century opera house and museum. The theater is famous for its operas (of course) and ballets, and also boasts a museum and music library open to the public. If you’re not interested in seeing a show, it’s still worth taking a guided tour of the theater to view the royal box and the theater’s costume collection.
If you’re looking for art on the more modern side, check out the Museo del Novecento (next to the Duomo), which is dedicated to 20th-century Italian art. The museum is only 13 years old, but boasts more than 400 artworks. If you want to go even more modern, make your way to Pirelli HangarBicocca, a contemporary art museum in the Bicocca district. Located inside a former Pirelli tire factory, Pirelli HangarBicocca was converted into an 11,000-square foot art gallery in 2012. The gallery features revolving installations as well as a permanent exhibition of The Seven Heavenly Palaces 2004-2015 by Anselm Keifer. Lovers of contemporary art should also check out Fondazione Prada in the Largo Isarco district, which maintains a busy calendar of events from film screenings to live performances alongside revolving contemporary art exhibitions.
Nature and outdoor experiences near Milan
Fresh-air activities near Milan are easily accessible, starting with a visit to Lake Como. Simply hop on a train from Milan’s central station. Just an hour from the city, Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy and one of Milan’s best day trips. Relax on the beaches alongside the inverted Y-shaped lake or take a boat ride on the water. If you’re looking to be a bit more active, there are hundreds of hiking trails to be found in the hills that border the lake, begging to be explored.
Also worth a visit is San Pellegrino Terme—yes, that San Pellegrino—around two hours by train from Milan. The charming spa town, nestled in Italy’s Val Brembana valley along the Brembo River, has been home to the water brand for over a century. Walk amongst the gorgeous art nouveau style buildings of the town and learn about the history of its mineral water before making your way to QC Terme, the most beautiful day spa in Italy, for some much-deserved R&R. It’s well worth leaving the city just for the experience of sipping San Pellegrino in an outdoor whirlpool overlooking the northern Italian mountains.
Milan hotels and other great places to stay
If you’re looking to make your Milan visit a luxury—and you’re willing to pay for it—you’ll want to stay at the five-star Bulgari Hotel Milano. Built in an 18th-century palace in the heart of the city, standard rooms start at a whooping $1,000 a night and grant visitors access to the hotel’s spa with indoor pool, gardens, and an extensive bar. Another option is the similarly pricey and luxurious Four Seasons Hotel Milano, located just minutes away from the Duomo.
If the luxury is a bit outside of your budget or comfort zone, you still have some wonderful options. Stylish nhow Milano, located in Milan’s Via Tortona district (walking distance to the Navigli), is a more modern option that boasts a vibrant color palette, funky furniture, and rooftop pools. Boutique hotels like Casa Baglioni and Chateau Monfort offer a more traditional stay. But no matter where you choose to sleep in Milan, know that every part of the city is easily accessible by foot, car, or metro.
What to know before you go to Milan
The best times of the year to visit
While there are no bad times to visit Milan, the best seasons to visit the city are the spring and fall, when the weather is temperate and the tourists are fewer. If you’re interested in fashion or celebrity culture, however, you may want to visit the city during its two fashion weeks, typically in September/October or February/March. You may get lucky and run into any number of A-listers roaming the streets in their best looks.
Milan’s time zone
Italy adheres to daylight savings time, meaning that the clock is set forward an hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall. As of late 2023, Milan is in Central European Time (GMT +1).
Milan’s weather and climate
Summers in Milan are hot and humid, with average temperatures in July reaching nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters are cold and foggy, with the January average sitting at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Fall and spring in Milan tend to be rainy, but offer the most comfortable temperatures.
The official language of Milan is Italian. That said, many Milanese people speak English as well.
How to get around
There are several ways to navigate Milan with ease. The Milan Metro is an extremely convenient way to traverse the city for cheap. There are five metro lines, which are all coordinated by number and color. The metro starts at two euros for a one-way ticket and is the most expansive metro system in Italy, meaning that you can use it to get practically anywhere.
Cabs and rideshares are also options. Milan is one of only two Italian cities in which Uber operates (the other is Rome). Though Uber is a popular and viable option for getting around the city, you can only call Uber Blacks, meaning you will be paying a bit more for every Uber than you might be used to. An Uber alternative there is the app Wetaxi. Wetaxi allows you to call a cab and know the maximum price you are going to pay for your ride before you call it. It is especially popular among locals.
Milan uses the Euro (EUR). As of December, 2023, $1 USD exchanges for €0.92 EUR.
International adapters you’ll need
Italy, like most European countries, uses the type C plug, marked by two rounded prongs.