My thoughts of Milan had always been of their Duomo and the fact that it’s the renowned fashion capital of the world. I was a little sad to miss it on my Venice–Verona trip last April, so I decided this big city warrants more than just a day’s visit, so I decided to pack my bags and head over there for a weekend 48 hour rendezvous.
First impression of Milan
While Italy is full of cities that I loved: Verona, Venice, Cinque Terre, Taormina to name but a few, Milan, like Palermo, had failed to entice me on the same level. There are some wow moments when I walk around the city, however, it somewhat lacks the charm I experience in places like Padua and Rome.
Out of all the cities I have visited in Italy, Milan would probably be near the bottom of the list in terms of favourite, but there are still some stunning places to see!
Sights in Milan
An itinerary is always subject to change due to weather and tiredness, so instead of telling you exactly where I spend how much time, I will list all the attractions I visited and what I thought of them in my 48 hours there as well as mark their location on the map above.
Why did I say that? Well – I visited most of these places on Day 1 because it was forecast to be pouring the next day! So for the sake of better photos, I crammed my itinerary and hopped from one place to another.
Navigli Grande is the hip neighbourhood of Milan, kind of like the central Saint Martin district in Paris with a canal and all – and on a Saturday it is lined with stalls for a good old-fashioned flea market. In truth, the things that are sold there are no different than what you would find in any other European City, although the vibe there was nice and it made for a good photo spot.
What caught my attention, however, was the food market – Naviglia Grande nearby. With a quirky modern design, it sells food and various edible goodies as well as street food trucks both in and outdoors. It is also a no WiFi zone, and the food look quite tasty.
How to get there: Porta Genoa metro station, head south to the canal
Red bricked with a thick wall, Sforza Castle looks like it was frozen since the Medieval Ages. Its central Torre del Filarete is the real eye catcher at 70m high, tapering upwards in successively smaller level towards a dome.
Built in the late 1300s, the castle was originally called Castello di Porta Giova and home to the Visconti lords. However, it was destroyed in the 1400s and rebuilt by Francesca Sforza, who founded the Sforza dynasty and is the 4th Duke of Milan, and made it the center of the Milan court.
The castle actually takes a back seat in the history of Milan when the Spanish invaded. For the next two centuries, it acted as a storage unit for the Spanish troops and it wasn’t until the 1900s that it was restored and renovated by Luca Beltrami. Now it is home to several museums and art collections
Address: Piazza Castello, 20121 Milano
Opening times: daily 7:00 – 19:00 for the grounds
Admission free (unless you want to enter the museum – which is 5 euros)
The park that adjoins the castle – Sempione Park was actually a bit of a disappointment and not very large at 386,000 m2. Established in in 1888, the park provides an excellent view of both the Arch of Peace and the Sforza Castle. While the park is home to a small arena, an aquarium and various sculptures, the only other highlight was the fact that there is a library within the grounds as well as the free WiFi.
Address: Piazza Sempione, 20154, Milan
Opening times: Nov – Feb: 6:30 – 20:00; Mar – Apr, Oct: 6:30 – 21:00; May: 6:30 – 20:00; Jun – Sept: 6:30 – 23:30
Arch of Peace
At the end of Sempione Park is the Arch of Peace. Greatly resembling the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, the arch dominates the square surrounding it. The location is also known as Porta Sempione, from which a gate dated back to the Roman times can be traced. The current gate, the Arch of Peace, was built under Napoleonic rule in the 19th century by Luigi Cagnola.
The arch is of neoclassical style, engraved with important historical event in Europe as well as classical mythology. It is 25 m high and 24 m wide and witnessed several key historical moments such as the escape of the Austrian Army in 1848. It also marks the end of the Strada del Sempione into Milan, which linked to Paris through the Alps.
Address: Piazza Sempione, Milan 20154
Opening times: n/a
Monumental Cemetery (Cimitero Monumentale)
It might seem weird, but the Cimitero Monumentale is a graveyard that is worth a visit. The second largest cemetery in Milan and the resting home to many powerful families in Milan, I was absolutely blown away by the elaborate gravestones and monuments that were built to honour the dead. Opened in 1866, it was designed by Carlo Maciachini sprawling over a whopping 250,000 m2.
The marble main hall Famedio stood as entrance to the grounds, the resting place of the most prominent citizen in Milan. From classical statues to Greek Temples – there’s no limit to the opulence you will see here. There are posts with the most famous sculptures and graves around for you to take note, as well as a separate section for the Jewish.
Address: Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale, 2 20154 Milano
Opening times: Tue – Sun 8:00 – 18:00
Duomo di Milano
Needless to say, the Milan Duomo is the main attraction. An absolutely stunning architecture piece, the gleaming white building with its many spires inspired my young self with fantasy of getting married there… but I am getting ahead of myself.
The full name of the Cathedral is the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of the Nativity of Saint Mary. Built in Italian Gothic style, the church took 6 centuries to finish – from the 14th century all the way until the 1965. It is also the second largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world.
The logistics of visiting the inside of the cathedral is not as simple or easy. Unlike many other Italian churches, to visit the Milan Duomo you are required to buy a ticket. You can do that at train stations or the Museum next to it. The common mistake people make is queuing up right outside the Duomo.
If there are two queues – the left queue facing the Duomo is for mass. As a visitor, you should buy tickets at the booth either side of the cathedral, which might or might not be opened, or at the aforementioned place.
The lift option is unnecessary in my opinion as there are not as many stairs. The view from the top, if I am to be honest, wasn’t great, but the fact that I got to get up close to see the architecture was worth it.
The ticket also includes the archeological site underground – which wasn’t very interesting with the remnants of an older church and chapel. Most of the descriptions are in Italian as well.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Milano
Opening times: 8:00 – 19:00 (18:10 last admission)
Admission fee: 2 euros for entrance, 8 euros for terrace and entrance on foot, 13 for elevator.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The grand shopping mall is one of the oldest in the world. Over four story tap with glass vaults and intricately laid floor, it is named after King Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of the Kingdom of Italy. Finished by 1877 by the architect Giuseppe Mengoni, it is now home to many luxury brands selling chocolates, jewelries, books and couture. Even if you can’t afford the shops or restaurants inside, it’s worth a visit to see the grandeur of a 19th century Art Nouveau arcade shopping mall.
Address: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II 20121, Milano
The department store of Milan, the Rinacentre is the perfect place to shop for a gift and to browse Italian goods. Right next to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and opposite the Duomo, it is three story high with the top floor offering restaurants and a small terrace that faces the Duomo. It is definitely worth a visit if you want to buy some pasta or pesto for your friends or just want to browse.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Milan
San Maurizio Monastero Maggiore
An unassuming church that you would pass by without a thought on the streets of Milan, the Church of Saint Maurice al Monastero Maggiore used to be attached to the female convent of the Benedictines in the city. Now partially converted into the Archaeological Museum, the church itself is still free to enter.
Built in the 1518, the church was built recycling some old Roman structure. While the façade is less than inspiring, the interior is stunning. It has a vaulted navel inside the entire church completely painted in fresco, divided into two halves with one for public and one reserved for nuns respectively. Even though I knew nothing about frescoes, I still couldn’t help but marvel at the richness of colours and the skill that must have gone in decorating the entire church.
Address: Corso Magenta, 13, 20123 Milano, Italy
Opening times: Mon – Sat 9:00 – 17:30 (Sunday services)
Colonne di San Lorenzo (Columns of St Lorenzo)
Red brick and marble columns, the Colonne di San Lorenzo is a ruin from the Roman times. These 16 columns were likely to be from a bathhouse or temple and were moved here in the 4th century, leading towards the medieval gate. Although there isn’t much to these structures, one must admire the fact that they have stood in its spot for over 16 centuries.
Address: Corso di Porta Ticinese, 39, 20100, Milano
Stay in Milan
Ostello Bello Grande
Only a few minute’s walk from the Central station of Milan, Ostello Bello Grande* is one of the nicest and warmest hostels I have ever been to. The hostel is clean, modern and ticked all the basic boxes and then some, here’s a few more reasons as to why I liked it:
- Welcome drink – we were asked to fill out a survey when we arrived, along with other new arrivals with a welcome drink in hand, a perfect way to make friends.
- Free food – during the evening hours, there is a free for all pasta slash salad bar for guests, so if you are on a budget, like me, it’s the perfect solution to finding dinner.
- Kitchen – not all hostels have a kitchen, but Ostello Bello Grande has one and is stocked with yoghurt. Can’t go wrong with that!
Although the price of the hostel is on the pricier end of the spectrum, the fact that you practically got breakfast and dinner included kind of balance the scale. I also met a fellow traveller there whom I still talk to – another score!
Address: Via Roberto Lepetit, 33, 20124, Milano
>if you are heading to Lake Como, check out this 48 hours guide to Como by my friend Arzotravels!
(*means an affiliate link: if you book through this I will get a % of sale at no cost to you)