Italy is one of my favourite country to visit and you can actually spend 2 weeks just in Italy because it has many bucket-list worthy places to visit such as Rome, Florence and Tuscany, Venice, Cinque Terre, Amalfi coast and many more. Hence traveller often contemplate whether or not to skip Milan when they go to Italy. My suggestion if you want to focus in Italy is to fly in to Rome and end in Milan.
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy after Rome. Population of Milan is around 1.4 million people, with over 3 million people living in the greater metropolitan area. It is a dynamic city with a lot to offer, including world-class museums, historic landmarks, and high-end shopping. However, if your travel interests lie in other areas, such as nature or small-town charm, you may find that other destinations in Italy are a better fit for you.
If you’re not convinced yet, here’s what make Milan interesting:
- Fashion Capital: Milan is one of the world’s fashion capitals, with famous brands such as Armani, Versace, Prada, and Gucci based in the city.
- Art and Culture: Milan is home to several important art museums, including the famous Pinacoteca di Brera, which houses some of Italy’s most significant works of art, including those by Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian.
- Architecture: The city is also known for its beautiful architecture, including the magnificent Gothic cathedral, the Duomo, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.
- Culinary Traditions: Milan is famous for its cuisine, particularly its risotto alla Milanese and panettone, a sweet bread traditionally served during Christmas.
- Business and Finance: Milan is also an important economic hub, with many international companies and financial institutions based in the city.
How to get to Milan
Milan is easily accessible by several modes of transportation, making it a convenient destination to reach from other parts of Italy and Europe.
Flying into Milan
Milan has two major airports, Malpensa and Linate, which are served by many international and domestic airlines. Malpensa is the larger of the two airports and is located about 45 minutes northwest of the city by train or bus. Linate is smaller and closer to the city center, with a travel time of about 20-25 minutes by taxi or public transportation. If you’re flying out of Milan from Malpensa airport, you can still catch up on some shopping. The airport has a great selection of designer stores before immigration. So spare sufficient time if you still want to do some shopping.
Take the train
Milan is well-connected to the rest of Italy and Europe by train, with several high-speed trains, regional trains, and international trains serving the city. Milan’s central railway station, Milano Centrale, is one of the busiest train stations in Europe and offers connections to many destinations throughout Italy and beyond. Milan makes a great stop if you want to continue your journey to Swiss or South of France.
Milan can be reached by car via Italy’s extensive highway network, with several major highways converging on the city. However, like any other big cities in Italy, driving in Milan is challenging due to heavy traffic and many limited traffic zone area (ZTL). These ZTL areas in Italy is famous for imposing penalties to clueless tourist with rental cars. So if you arrive in Milan by car, find accommodation with parking and explore Milan by public transportation.
Take the Bus
Several international and domestic bus companies operate services to Milan, with connections to other cities in Italy and Europe. The main bus station in Milan is located near the central railway station.
How to get around in Milan
Milan has a well-developed public transportation system that makes it easy to get around the city. Here are some options for getting around Milan:
- Metro: Milan has a metro system with four lines that cover most of the city. The metro is efficient, affordable, and easy to use, with trains running every few minutes during peak hours.
- Trams: Milan has an extensive tram network that is especially useful for getting around the city center. Trams are slower than the metro but offer a more scenic route and are a good option for sightseeing.
- Buses: Milan also has a comprehensive bus network that covers the entire city, including some areas not served by the metro or trams.
- Taxis: Taxis are widely available in Milan and can be hailed on the street or at designated taxi stands. Taxis are metered, and fares are regulated by the city government.
- Bike-sharing: Milan has a bike-sharing system called BikeMi, which offers thousands of bikes for rent at stations throughout the city. The system is easy to use and affordable, making it a great way to explore Milan at your own pace.
Metro, Trams and Buses in Milan are managed by a single operator, ATM (Azienda Trasporti Milanesi). This means that a single ticket or pass will allow you to hop on any given means of transport in the city and freely switch from one to the other without additional costs, provided, of course, that you haven’t exceeded your ticket’s validity time. Pay attention to the city’s fare zones; Standard tickets and passes only cover the three first zones (Mi1 to Mi3), so a journey to any location outside of those zones (Mi4 to Mi9) requires a different ticket or the addition of a supplementary fare to your pass (tariffa integrativa).
- Standard single ticket (zones Mi1-Mi3): A single ticket is valid for 90 minutes and allows for unlimited journeys within the given time window and, of course, only within the relevant fare zones. Each ticket costs 2.20 euros.
- Daily ticket (zones Mi1-Mi3): A daily ticket will get you unlimited journeys within a 24-hour window for just 7.60 euros. The time window starts when first validating the ticket.
- Three-day ticket (zones Mi1-Mi3): A three-day ticket will cost you 13 euros. As for daily tickets, the time window starts when validating for the first time.
- 10-ticket bundle: A 10-ticket bundle will set you back 19.50 euros. Each ticket is valid for 90 minutes.
Where to buy your ticket:
- Paper tickets: Not an eco-friendly option but it is still an acceptable option. You can get them from a self-service machine at your nearest metro station (card payments are accepted) and at a number of edicole (newsagents) or tabacchini (tobacco stores) across the city. Validating paper tickets is fairly straightforward as you’ll only have to insert the ticket in the appropriate slot (you’ll find one on every metro entrance gate and on brightly-coloured boxes on buses and trams) and wait for it to be stamped. Keep in mind that you’re meant to validate your ticket every time you switch to a different means of transport. Also, when using the metro, you’ll need the ticket to both get in and out of the underground, so make sure you don’t lose it during the journey.
- RicaricaMI card: the card can be bought at any ATM point in the city or at any of the above-mentioned authorised sellers. I prefer this because you’ll only have to tap it against the given reader to validate it.
- ATM MIlano app: This is the quickest way to get a ticket. No registration is required and you can pay for tickets with your credit card, PayPal or Satispay. After validating your ticket, a QR code will appear on your screen and you’ll have to scan this to get through the metro barriers. However, scanning isn’t required on buses and trams. Download the app here.
- Contactless Bank Cards or device (phone, smart watch etc): Can be used on all metro lines and three bus lines (56, 70 and 73). You’ll always be charged the cheapest available fare and there are no extra costs or commissions. That said, ATM recommends that people use the same card (or device) to tap in and out of metro stations so as to avoid being charged twice.
How to get to/from Airport to Central Milan
ATM’s bus 73 connects central Milan (Via Gonzaga, behind Piazza Duomo, to be exact) to Linate Airport and a standard single ticket will be enough for the journey.
Naturally, there are other ways to get to Linate, including the Linate Shuttle and several Autostradale coaches, but these are not managed by ATM so you’ll have to get your tickets elsewhere.
As for Malpensa, all services between central Milan and the airport are managed by companies other than ATM.
However, prices are still very affordable: the Malpensa Express costs €13, whereas a one-way journey on the Malpensa Shuttle is €10.
Top things to do in Milan
Visit Duomo di Milano
A visit to Milan has to start from this stunning cathedral which is one of the most famous landmarks in Milan, with its Gothic architecture and ornate interior. Visitors can climb to the roof for panoramic views of the city. You can admire Duomo exterior anytime of the day; it looks stunning on daylight and at night. You can also enter inside the cathedral and explore its interior, which includes beautiful stained-glass windows, intricate stone carvings, and impressive works of art. There is option to climb to the roof of the cathedral, which offers stunning views of the city. Book your ticket online so you don’t waste time queuing here.
Explore Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a famous shopping arcade located in the heart of Milan, Italy and located just few steps from Duomo Cathedral. It was named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy, and was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in the late 19th century. It is often referred to as the “living room of Milan” and is a popular tourist attraction, and one of the oldest shopping mall in the world.
The arcade is covered by a glass and iron roof and has four floors, with a central octagonal space intersected by two arcades lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. The central space is topped by a dome and features mosaics on the floor representing the coat of arms of the three Italian capitals: Turin, Florence, and Rome, as well as the emblem of the House of Savoy.
One of the most iconic features of the Galleria is the bull mosaic on the floor, which is said to bring good luck if you spin around three times on the bull’s testicles with your right heel. This tradition has become a popular tourist ritual and has worn down the mosaic in that particular spot.
See Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper
This iconic painting is housed in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church and is one of the most famous works of art in the world. If you want to see it, you need to book your tickets in advance, as only a limited number of visitors are allowed to see the painting each day. Book through the official website of the Last Supper Museum here.
When you book your tickets, you will be asked to choose your entry time. You must arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled entry time. The museum is open from monday to Sunday from 8.15 to 7pm. On your allocated time you will have 15 minutes to admire the painting while a guide explains its history and significance. Photos are not allowed inside the Refectory, so make sure to take in the painting with your own eyes.
Visit the Pinacoteca di Brera
Pinacoteca di Brera is one of the most important art museums in Italy and is located in the historic district of Brera in Milan. It houses a vast collection of art from the 14th century to the 20th century, including masterpieces by Italian artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian. The museum also has an impressive collection of religious art, as well as works by international artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Van Dyck.
The building itself is also beautiful, with its neoclassical architecture and spacious galleries providing an elegant setting for the artwork on display. The museum also offers guided tours and audio guides to help visitors better understand the history and significance of the art on display.
Ticket need to be booked online at €15 per person in the official website here. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday 8.30am to 7.15pm
Visit the Castello Sforzesco
Castello Sforzesco is a historic castle in Milan, Italy that dates back to the 15th century. Today, it is a major cultural center and a popular tourist attraction. The castle has a free entrance and open from Tuesday to Sunday 7am to 7.30pm however for the museums you need to pay € 5,00 for full ticket and € 3,00 for (18-25 years and over 65). The museums open from 10am to 4.30am. Ticket can be purchased on site or online here.
Here are some things to do and see when visiting Castello Sforzesco:
- Explore the castle grounds: The castle has a large courtyard surrounded by a moat and towers, which are fun to explore and photograph.
- Visit the museums: The castle houses several museums, including the Museum of Ancient Art, the Museum of Musical Instruments, and the Egyptian Museum. Each museum offers a unique perspective on art and history, and admission is included in the castle ticket price.
- See Michelangelo’s Pieta Rondanini: The Pieta Rondanini is Michelangelo’s last and unfinished masterpiece, housed in a room at the end of the Museum of Ancient Art.
- Visit the castle’s art galleries: The castle also features several art galleries showcasing works by Italian artists, including the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco.
- Attend an event: Castello Sforzesco hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including concerts, exhibitions, and cultural festivals.
- Enjoy the castle gardens: The castle’s gardens are a beautiful place to relax and take a break from sightseeing. They offer a peaceful atmosphere with fountains, sculptures, and plenty of greenery.
Walk around the Navigli district
The Navigli district is a vibrant area of Milan known for its picturesque canals, trendy shops, and bustling nightlife. Whether you’re a foodie, an art lover, or a party animal, there’s something for everyone in this lively Milanese district. Here’s some suggestions on what you can do:
- Explore the canals: The Navigli district is named after the ancient system of canals that once connected Milan to the rest of Europe. Take a stroll along the canals and enjoy the beautiful scenery, or take a boat tour to get a closer look.
- Visit the Mercato Metropolitano: This sprawling indoor-outdoor market is a foodie’s paradise, with dozens of stalls selling everything from artisanal cheese to fresh produce to gourmet snacks. There’s also a bar, a cinema, and a performance space.
- Check out the street art: Navigli is home to some of Milan’s best street art, with colorful murals and graffiti decorating the walls of buildings throughout the district. Take a walk around and see what you can find.
- Enjoy the nightlife: Navigli is famous for its lively nightlife scene, with countless bars, restaurants, and clubs catering to all tastes. Whether you’re in the mood for a cocktail, a beer, or some live music, you’re sure to find something to suit your style.
- Visit the Chiesa di San Cristoforo sul Naviglio: This beautiful church dates back to the 12th century and is a must-see for history buffs and architecture enthusiasts. Be sure to check out the stunning frescoes and the ancient crypt.
- Shop for antiques: Navigli is known for its antique shops and flea markets, where you can find everything from vintage clothing to rare books to antique furniture. The most popular markets are the Mercatino dell’Antiquariato (held on the last Sunday of every month) and the Naviglio Grande Antique Market (held every Saturday and Sunday).
- Take a cooking class: Italian cuisine is world-renowned, and Navigli is a great place to learn how to cook some of the country’s most famous dishes. There are several cooking schools and classes in the area that offer hands-on lessons in pasta
Visit the La Scala opera house
If you are interested in opera, classical music, or the performing arts, La Scala is one of the most famous and prestigious opera houses in the world, with a rich history dating back over 200 years. You can take a guided tour of the theater, which includes a visit to the museum, backstage areas, and the theater itself. The museum houses a collection of costumes, musical instruments, and other artifacts from the theater’s history, while the backstage areas give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the production process.
La Scala also hosts regular opera and ballet performances throughout the year, featuring some of the world’s top performers and musicians. Attending a performance at La Scala is a truly unforgettable experience, and a must-do for anyone interested in classical music or the performing arts. You can check the schedule and book your ticket at its official website here.
Shop till you drop
Milan is known worldwide as a fashion and design capital, and there are many things to shop for in the city, from high-end designer fashion to unique local artisanal goods. Here are some suggestions for things to shop for in Milan:
- Fashion: Milan is home to some of the world’s top fashion designers and brands, so it’s a great place to shop for high-end designer items like clothing, shoes, and accessories. The famous “Quadrilatero della Moda” (Fashion District) is home to luxury boutiques and designer flagship stores, while the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are popular shopping destinations for both high-end and more affordable fashion.
- Design: Milan is also known for its cutting-edge design scene, so it’s a great place to shop for furniture, home decor, and other design objects. The Brera Design District is a popular destination for design shopping, with many showrooms and boutiques showcasing the latest in design trends.
- Artisanal goods: Milan is home to many talented artisans and craftsmen who create unique, handmade goods like leather bags, shoes, and accessories, as well as ceramics, glassware, and jewelry. The Navigli area is a popular destination for artisanal shopping, with many boutiques and shops selling handmade goods.
- Souvenirs: If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home from Milan, there are many options, from postcards and magnets to more unique items like hand-painted ceramics or artisanal chocolates. The area around the Duomo is a popular destination for souvenir shopping, with many shops selling Milan-themed gifts and trinkets.
Visit Serravalle Designer Outlet
If you didn’t have a chance to visit The Mall Designer Outlet in Florence, you can visit Serravalle Designer Outlet which is a large shopping complex about an hour’s drive from Milan. It is the largest outlet mall in Europe and one of the most popular shopping destinations in Italy. It opens from Monday to Sunday 10am to 8pm.
The outlet features over 300 stores, with a wide range of fashion and lifestyle brands offering discounts of up to 70% off retail prices. Some of the well-known brands you can find there include Prada, Gucci, Armani, Versace, and many others. You can check what outlets they have here.
Apart from fashion and accessories, the outlet also offers home decor, sportswear, and children’s clothing stores. There are also plenty of restaurants, cafes, and snack bars, making it a great destination for a full day of shopping and dining.
The mall is designed as a village, with pedestrian streets and squares, fountains, and gardens. The buildings are designed to resemble traditional Italian architecture, with red brick facades, arches, and balconies.
To get to Serravalle Designer Outlet from Milan, you can take a shuttle bus service that departs regularly from Milan’s city center. The journey takes about an hour, and it’s a convenient and affordable way to get to the outlet.
San Siro Stadium
San Siro Stadium is an iconic destination for football fans and sports enthusiasts from all over the world. Whether you are interested in watching a live football match, taking a guided tour, or simply exploring the history and culture of one of Italy’s most famous stadiums, San Siro Stadium is worth a visit.
officially known as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, San Siro Stadium is a world-famous football stadium located in the San Siro district of Milan, Italy. It is the home stadium of both AC Milan and Inter Milan, two of the most successful football clubs in Italy and Europe. The stadium was built in 1925 and has undergone several renovations and expansions over the years to become one of the largest and most modern stadiums in the world, with a seating capacity of over 80,000 spectators. It has hosted numerous high-profile football matches, including UEFA Champions League finals, World Cup matches, and European Championship matches.
The stadium is named after Giuseppe Meazza, a legendary Italian footballer who played for both AC Milan and Inter Milan in the 1930s and 1940s. The stadium has also hosted many other sporting and cultural events over the years, including concerts by international music stars like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and U2.
Visitors can take guided tours of the stadium, which offer a behind-the-scenes look at the history and architecture of the venue. The tour includes visits to the locker rooms, the press room, and the pitch itself, as well as a chance to see the stadium’s collection of football memorabilia.
VAT Refund in Milan
If Milan is your last destination in EU and you are flying out from Malpensa airport you need to validate your VAT refund form at the Custom office inside the airport. You can find the counters near the airlines check-in counter.
Here’s how to do it:
If you made your purchases in Italy:
You can either use self service VAT Refund machine or queue at the counter where you can either get your refund right away in cash or credited to your credit card. There are 2 counters: Global blue and Planet. You need to show your boarding pass along with the custom form and be prepared if they ask you to show the goods.
For purchases within EU and outside Italy:
Go to Dogana Customs counter and show your Tax refund forms along with boarding pass. Be prepared if the officer ask you to show the goods. The officer will stamp your VAT refund form, then you drop the forms at the Refund Mailbox. There are 2 mailbox; Global Blue and Planet.
I hope I managed to convince you to put Milan in your itinerary for Italian trip. Schedule for at least two days to properly enjoy the city. Happy Holiday!