Once know as Mediolanum, Milan was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 402 AD. Although Florence, Rome, and Venice get more adulations, Milan is the second most visited city in Italy (Rome is #1), and the 24th most visited city in the world! It was called the “New Athens” during the Renaissance due to its richness in art, history, and culture. After spending some time in this glorious city, we can see why it is so loved. There is so much to do in Milan, you could easily spend a week exploring. However, if you are trying to see a whole region, the highlights can be toured in 2 days.
We recently accompanied my brother and sister-in-law on a 10-day tour of Northern Italy. They were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary so we let them set the itinerary and enjoyed tagging along on their celebration. For the first half of our trip, we stayed in Milan for 5 days, spending 2 of them touring the city and 3 days taking days trips to Bergamo, Lake Como, and Cinque Terre.
- How to Spend 1 Day in Bergamo
- How to Spend 1 Day at Lake Como
- How to Spend 1 Day at Cinque Terre
- 5 Days Touring Northern Italy: Lombardy Region
Watch our 4-Minute Summary of the first 1/2 of our trip to Italy!
How to Spend 2 Days in Milan, Italy
Since Milan was going to be the home base for several day trips, being close to the train station was more important than being close to the major Milan tourist attractions. The Hotel Michelangelo is just a short 1-block walk from the Milano Centrale Station. From there, not only could we easily catch trains to our day trip destinations, but we could also take the yellow or green subways. After a long day of touring, it was nice to only have a small walk back to our hotel from the train or subway.
The accommodations of the Hotel Michelangelo are quite nice. At night, we were thankful for the jacuzzi tub with complimentary epson salts for our aching feet! The lovely view of Milan and breakfast every morning were included at no additional charge!
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Airport- From the airport you can take a train to one of three stations in Mian: Milano Centrale, Porta Garibaldi, or Cadorna. Since we were staying at the Hotel Michelangelo, we took the train from the airport (Terminal 1) right to Milano Centrale. It was an easy process to buy tickets at the train kiosk or automated machines and hop on the next train. You are suppose to validate your ticket before boarding the train, but the machine wasn’t working for us, and no one checked our ticket anyway! The departures are every 30 minutes and the ride is about an hour long and costing €15 per person.
Metro (subway)- Milan’s subway system is about the easiest, cleanest, and fastest public transport system that we have every used. We couldn’t quite understand the automated ticket machines, but it was just as easy to stop inside the little convenient shops to buy our tickets. Tickets can be purchased at newspaper stands, tobacco shops, or any shop that has an ATM sticker in the window.
We used the yellow line most often from Milano Centrale because that line takes you right to the famous Duomo. Tickets are €1.50 for one-way and valid for 90 minutes. There are also 24-hour passes (€4.50) and 48-hour passes (€8.25) available. You’ll need to run your ticket through to go through the turnstile to get into the line, but keep your ticket because you’ll need the same ticket to exit.
Milan has busses and trams, but the metro was really all we needed to get to the major attractions.
What to Eat in Milan
When you think about Italian food, pasta or pizza are probably the first things that come to mind. If these are your favs, trust me. You will find pasta and pizza EVERYWHERE! However, if you want to experience what dishes are the most Milanese, then think hearty, stew-like cuisine that is heavy on the meat. It reminded me a lot of the comfort food I like to eat on winter days here in the US.
Risotto alla Milanese- While Southern Italy is famous for its pastas, the regional speciality of Northern Italy are risottos. For Milanese, that means risotto flavored with saffron, giving it a golden color. Risotto can be found listed as a first course on the menu. For lunch, a bowl of risotto was plenty to fill me up.
Ossobuco- The Italian word “osso” means bone and “buco” means hole. The meat used in ossobuco is veal shank, cut right across the bone. Veal shank is a tough meat, so it has to be cooked slow, like a meat used in stews. That makes it a perfect complete to eat with risotto, so you often see them offered together. The real prize of the dish is the bone marrow. If meat could be made into a butter, it would be veal shank bone marrow. This is one dish that I took my time eating. I wanted to savor every bit!
Prosciutto e Melone (Italian Ham and Melon)- Italians eat fairly late, especially compared to an early bird like myself. They will often stop by a bar or restaurant right after work for an aperitivo, a little pre-meal snack and drink. Prosciutto e Melone was on many of the aperitivo menus we looked at, so we had to try it. It was such a delicious combination, that I will definitely make it here at home!
My best meal of the trip- On our last night in Milan, we were needing to get some rest early due to our early departure the next day. We wandering around the area next to our hotel and landed upon Lepetit Milano. I ordered the seafood pizza, pretty much because my brother dared me too. It was the best pizza I have ever tasted! My only regret is that we didn’t stumbled across this little jewel of a restaurant earlier!
Extra Information- There are usually two different prices at restaurants & bars for food and beverage items. One price if you stand at the bar and a higher price if you sit at a table. “Banco” is the price if you stand at the bar; “tavolo” is if you’re sitting. If you want to sit outside and people watch, expect a service charge of €2 per person. Be forewarned, even if they have a sign saying “no service charge,” you may end up paying a mysterious tax that equals the service charge. For us, when the tables were available, we always sat outside. To me, the extra cost is well worth the atmosphere. After all, we’re on vacation and have saved all year in order to be able to splurge! (see How We Eliminated $35,000 in Debt in 1 Year So We Could Travel the World)
Unlike here in the US, there is a charge for water, bread, and after dinner drinks. Even if the waiter offers it to you, expect to pay for it. A good rule of thumb is that if something is just brought to your table, then don’t expect to pay for it. If the waiter asks, “Would you like …?”, then there will be a charge. If you have paid your bill, then you are asked, don’t expect a new bill. Speaking of bills, if you are finished with your meal and the waiter hasn’t brought you your check, just ask for it. Most Italian restaurants let you take your time and won’t assume that you are finished with your meal until you tell them so.
Eating Tip- To save some money and truly experience a different culture, find a grocery store and load up on snacks and drinks!
Milan 2-Day Itinerary
Day 1 in Milan
The Last Supper- The main reason my brother wanted to visited Milan was to see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper. He is a painter, and seeing this mural has been on his bucket list. Located in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, The Last Supper is a must see. However, reservations need to be made 3 months in advance (cenacolovinciano.net). As soon as your date is available, be prepared to jump on it, because slots fill up quickly! You can purchase up to 5 tickets for your 15-minute slot. You’ll be sent an email that you’ll need to present to the ticket office (next door to the museum). We accidentally purchased just tickets for the Italian tour, but it wasn’t an issue. We were able to purchase an English audio guide to use.
Be at the museum ticket office at least 20 minutes prior to your tour time with your proof of payment, or your time slot will be forfeited.
Cost and Hours: €10 (+ €2 booking fee), audio guide €3.50; Tuesday-Sunday 8:15am-7pm (closed Mondays)
Metro: Red & Green line- Cadorna
San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore- An 11 minute walk from the Santa Maria delle Grazie is the San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. Due to its rich gold interiors and frescoes from the school of Leonardo, this church has been called the “Sistine Chapel of Milan.” It was part of a 9th-century convent that was built into a part of Milan’s ancient Roman wall. The outside may look simple, but step inside to view the spectacular Bernadino Luini frescoes.
Cost and Hours: Free, Tuesday-Sunday 9:30am-7:30pm. Closed on Mondays.
Metro: Red line-Cadorna or Cairoli
Tips for visiting Italian churches: Be prepared to have knees and shoulders covered. Even if there are not signs, it is respectful to dress modestly in churches. I keep a large scarf in my daypack just for this reason. Men should remove their hats. Photography is allowed in some, but don’t use a flash. I never take pictures or video if a service is happening.
Castello Sforzesco- An 8-minute walk north gets you to Castello Sforzesco. The castle, a symbol of Milan, was built in 1368 as a palace/fortress, then rebuilt by the Sforza dynasty. Located inside the castle walls is a museum with collections including Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta & other significant Renaissance paintings. The castle itself is an interesting structure to walk around, but the real jewels are the seven specialized museums.
Cost and Hours: Museum- €10 which gives you access to all the castle museums. Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-7pm (Nov-Mar, the museum closes at 6pm). Closed on Mondays. Castle- Free, Monday-Sunday, 7am-7:30pm.
Metro: Red line-Cadorna or Cairoli, Green & Blue line- Cadorna
Parco Sempione- Sandwiched between Castello Sforzesco and the Arco Della Pace (Arch of Peace) is Milan’s “Central Park,” Parco Sempione. The park contains sprawling English gardens, an arena, a public aquarium, and the Torre Branca tower. On pretty days, the 95 acre (38.6 hectares) becomes covered with locals and tourist enjoying the walkways, ponds, and benches. Take a little picnic and blanket and stay awhile!
Day 2 in Milan
Duomo di Milano- The fourth largest cathedral in Europe, the Duomo was consecrated in 1418, but not finished until Napoleon had a facade completed until the 19th century. It made a fitting structure to have himself crowned King of Italy here. The Duomo is considered the symbol of Milan and no trip to Milan would be complete without a visit. The say that the cathedral is an awe-inspiring structure is an understatement. Plan on spending several hours to 1/2 day at this Gothic marvel.
There are several ticket options/combos available, but for us, entrance inside the church (see church tips above) and walking on the Duomo rooftop were “must sees.”
The ticket office is located in a separate building on the righthand side of the cathedral.
Cost and Hours: €16 for cathedral, museum, archaeological area, lift to rooftop terrace & San Gottardo church (get 3 days to use). €3 for cathedral and museum alone. Duomo and archaeological area daily 8am-7pm, museum and church 10am-6pm (closed Wednesdays)
Metro: Red & Yellow line-Duomo
Santa Maria presso San Satiro- A short 4-minute walk from the Duomo is a smaller church dating from the 15th century. It is a little tucked away, so you’ll have to keep your eye out for it. After the crowds and abundance of the Duomo, the Santa San Satiro is a quiet reprieve from the crowds. Inside the Catholic church is an interesting optical illusion. It looks like the choir area continues, but a look from the side shows how the eye is tricked by the illusion of depth. This is one of the first examples of trompe l’oeil in the history of art. The church also houses Byzantine frescoes and other works of art.
Cost and Hours: No cost, Daily 9:30am-5:30pm
Metro: Red & Yellow line-Duomo
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II- Located next to the Piazza del Duomo is a 4-story glass and iron shopping mall built in 1870. It was the first building in Milan to have electric lights. It’s beautiful (and expensive) place to shop and/or have something to eat (or do like we did and just window shop). Spin your heel on the bull’s testicle’s (tile on floor) for good luck!
Pinacoteca di Brera- From the Galleria, walk on through to the Piazza della Scala. Continue walking north about 8 minutes to reach the Pinacoteca di Brera. The Pinacoteca di Brera is the main public gallery for paintings in Milan. Art by Raphael, Piero della Francesca, and Caravaggio make up some the hundreds of renown Italian masterpieces house at this museum.
There aren’t obvious signs for the ticket office. It’s on the second level. The museum makes a big loop all along the second level. Trust me, you see masterpiece after masterpiece. Get the audio guide to make the paintings come to life!
Cost and Hours: €10 for museum (€5 for audio guide), free the first Sunday of the month. Tuesday-Sunday 8:30am-7:15pm (closed on Mondays)
Metro: Red Yellow line-Duomo
Have you been to Milan, Italy before? We’d love for you to add your thoughts and recommendations. Have any questions? Please ask by commenting below! Keep up with all of our travel, camping, and cycling tips by following us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Leave us your email (blue box at the bottom of the post) to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and never miss a post!
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Duane EdwardsJune 23, 2018 8:41 am