In this mini guide to Milan, you will find: best neighbourhood to stay in Milan, where to eat and the best things to do in Milan in one day
I am just back from a long-awaited week-end in Milan. The main reason behind my trip was snooping around Expo 2015 (you can rad about my hell-ish day here, which is taking place just outside of the city but since I never had time to visit Milan properly, I also planned a full day in town.
Unusually for me, I didn’t go there with the kids, but rather with a friend, which allowed me to experience one of the things Milan is most famous for: its stylish food scene!
Best things to do in Milan in one day: mini city guide
Best time to visit: Milan has a continental climate and gets cold in the winter and very hot in summer. The best time to visit are the spring months and again September and October, also good months for day trips to famous localities in the area such as Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna
- Milan is one of the world’s fashion capitals and is home to the headquarters of many high fashion brands, like Versace, Pucci, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada and Armani just to name a few. Fashion is hugely popular in the city and the Milanese are considered among the most fashion conscious (and stylish) in the whole of Italy. For the visitor, this makes for a great excuse to show off your best outfit: there is no such thing as being overdressed here!
- Milan is a wealthy city and The highest income earners of Italy work in Milan.
- Milan is home to Europe’s largest opera house, La Scala, which attracts renown Directors, musicians and music lovers from all over the world.
- Milan is famous in Italy for being the home of what is now a national tradition: aperitivo. Read all about it, and how to join in this extravaganza of style and food, at the bottom of this page!
Milan is one of those cities people tend to visit in a hurry, usually during a business trip or on their way to the beautiful area of lake Como, nearby, but the city is quite beautiful and one day in Milan is likely to make you want to come back for more.
With 24 hours in town, you won’t be able to spend much time visiting its beautiful museums, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot make the most of your time and get a long walk to get a feeling for the place: for this, convenient accommodation is crucial (travelling time can be long) and an idea of main landmarks useful. I tried to include all of this in the short guide below: I hope you can use is to see if not the whole of Milan in a day, at least its most beautiful side!
Where to stay in Milan
We got to Milan during fashion week, a time of the year when the already high Milanese prices reach impossible peaks. Unable and unwilling to splash out on fancy hotel rooms, we booked a room with airbnb and made the location a priority: we stayed near Castello Sforzesco, in the city centre, and the location was perfect (the room not as much, but that’s another story).
Easy to reach from the train station, and therefore the airport, this area is beautiful, safe and practical: il duomo and the main Milan attractions are a short stroll away and Brera and Moscova, with their intense nightlife, are on your doorstep. The area was perfect for two girls alone and I would choose it again if I was there with my children: the nightlife is lively but not raucous and the side streets are quiet and with good lighting.
Accommodation options we were recommended in the area: Brera Apartments, Brera Prestige B&B and Eeasyhomes Brera-Madonnina (please note: these are affiliate link and will open a new window on the booking engine booking.com)
Where to eat in Milan
If you like eating out, Milan can be your personal slice of heaven.
From its famous aperitivo to full on meals, the choice is endless: the only limit is your imagination… and your budget (Milan can be really pricey)!
With so much choice, I will not even try to write a Milan food guide, but rather share the places we loved the most. From their number, you can guess both my friend and I love our food! Among the many good restaurants where to eat in Milan, we loved:
Light lunch/ snack:
- Princi bakery (pizza, salads etc), perfect for Italian breakfast or lunch on the go
- Vianson (cheesy focaccia, delicious!), for a quick bite at lunchtime
- Parma and co (cured meats and mains), good for lunch especially if you get a seat on the streetside terrace
- La Rinascente bar (mainly for the view over il duomo), a bar ad cafe with a rooftop terrace overlooking the duomo
- Cinc Brera, bar with outdoor terrace in beautiful and stylish via della Madonnina- great for cocktails
- La Tartina, serving small plates and bites (tartina is a small piece of bread with topping)
- N‘ombra de vin a gorgeous cellar serving high-quality wines and a small selection of excellent main courses
- Il pescetto, an informal fish joint with super fresh ingredient: you order at the till and get served at the table
- La vecchia lira, just in front, perfect for a more traditional Italian meal
The same local friends who recommended these, also recommended Officina 12 and Rebelot in the Navigli area: we didn’t have time to go there, but the source is reliable so I feel like including them in this list anyway.
What to see in Milan in a day
The most famous landmarks in Milan are famous for a reason and should not be missed.
The best way to visit Milan is walking and this is a good itinerary:
Castello Sforzesco, right in Milan city centre. Castello Sforzesco (=of the Sforza family) is one of the most important monuments in the city and for centuries it represented a symbol of power by both local and foreign rulers. Its development started in the year 1358 and it took about 10 years to complete. A curiosity: when first built, Castello Sforzesco stood 591 feet tall, but because of many foreign invasions and reconstructions, its height is now 102 feet! Entrance to the main courtyard is free and worth it for the beautiful gardens.The castle hosts temporary exhibitions, advertised outside.
Piazza Mercanti: a few minutes walk from the Castle on the way to the Duomo. It’s a medieval square, secluded from the main busy commercial high street and gives a great sense of what Milan commerce must have looked like in the past
Duomo, world famous and icon of the city of Milan. The Milan Duomo is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and is right in the centre of the city, beside the famous Galleria and walking distance from La Scala opera house. Work on it was started by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the Duke of Milan, in 1385 and the cathedral took nearly 600 years to complete. A very peculiar building because of its gothic style, not as common in Italy as is the North of Europe, it is worth a visit: explore the inside and then take the stairs (or the lift) to its roof for a close look to its imposing spires and a bird eye view over the city
Galleria, opposite the Duomo: this beautiful galleria is one of the most stylish buildings in Milan: Its official name is ‘galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’ and four-story double arcade now hosting shops, restaurants and hotels.
Corso Vittorio, la scala, il quadrilatero della moda (the fashion district: via Montenapoleone, via della spiga), via della madonnina. All these locations all walking distance from each other and easy to cover in a day without exhausting yourself: walking from one to the other, you will see MIlan’s modern shopping street (Corso Vittorio), peek into Milan’s fashion scene and see some of the prettiest streets in town, via della Madonnina, which has an understated but unmissable elegance.
A day in Milan would not be complete without some people watching so among the many things to do Milan a dip into its fashionista world is a must!
No matter what time of day, Milan never makes you forget her title of fashion capital: anywhere in the city centre you are likely to spot models, beautiful aliens towering over the crowds or fashion photographers at work, but of course the so called ‘quadirlatero della moda’ (the square of fashion, literally) is the spot of choice. Iconic via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga will be your best bet for spotting models and fill your eyes with beautiful clothes, but if you are on a budget, stick with window shopping as stepping inside the boutique will tempt you beyond belief!
For a taste of a more modern Milan, an interesting spot is Piazza Gae Aulenti: at the end of stylish Corso Como, this is an uber modern square, worth a visit for its architecture and fabulous shops.
If you venture that way, which that I highly recommend, make sure you stop at 10 corso como to peek at the casa di ringhiera there: it’s a very interesting house and if you linger outside for long enough, you are likely to run into a tour guide telling its story. Eavesdropping is free, while the same cannot be said about the coffee sold in the fancy coffee shop now hosted there. It’s extravagantly expensive, but ambience and style are priceless…. or are they?
I’d love to hear your impressions of Milan: have you been? Is there a favourite place I missed?
Thank you Travelabulous as always for the wonderful map!