Last Updated on March 24, 2023
Milan, or Milano, as the Italian’s call her, is Italy’s second-most populous city and widely recognized as the fashion capital of the world. This cosmopolitan capital of Italy’s Lombardy region is also renowned for its Northern Italian cuisine, art and culture.
Shopping aside, when visiting Milan you’ll find more to do than embracing the latest fashions. Milan is also home to many historical landmarks, museums, and art galleries, making it an ideal destination for sightseeing.
Milan belongs with Rome, Florence and Venice in the pantheon of great Italian cities. It is rich in history with a vibrant culture and should not be overlooked by visitors wanting to experience all that Italy has to offer.
Here are some of my favorite sites in this mecca of culture and glam in northern Italy.
Visit the Milan Cathedral
Every city in Italy has its impressive Duomo, and Milan does not disappoint. The Duomo di Milano is the most famous landmark in the city and a must-visit for tourists. This massive cathedral is one of the largest in the world taking over six centuries to complete.
Its intricate Gothic architecture and stunning stained-glass windows are truly breathtaking. For the hardy, visitors can climb to the top of the cathedral for a stunning, unforgettable view of the city.
Explore the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Another feature of Italian cities are their impressive gallerias – covered shopping arcades. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II built in the 19th century features high-end boutiques and restaurants. It is widely considered one of the most beautiful shopping malls in the world.
Here, locals and visitors alike can shop, dine, or just stroll the gallery, enjoying the ambience and perhaps an Italian cappuccino or café latte from one of the several cafes located inside.
Admire The Last Supper
Milan’s greatest art treasure is also one of the most famous on earth, in part thanks to Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel “The Da Vinci Code.”
No trip to this magnificent city is complete without viewing one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, The Last Supper. This masterpiece, considered one of the world’s most poignant works of art, is located in the refectory of the splendid Santa Maria delle Grazie church.
Leonardo’s masterpiece depicts Christ revealing that one of his disciples will soon betray him. Horror and disbelief are etched on every disciple’s face, but Jesus remains calm and resigned. The fresco also shows Judas sitting to the left of Jesus, leaning away from him with the bag of silver clearly visible in his right hand.
Visitors must book tickets in advance to see the painting, which is one of the most iconic works of art in the entire world. This is an experience you won’t forget.
Wander Around the Brera District
In order to savor the true flavor of this historic and vibrant city, a visit to the Brera District is a must. One of the oldest and most picturesque neighborhoods in Milan, the Brera District is home to many art galleries, antique shops, and cafés, making it a great place to explore on foot.
The Pinacoteca di Brera art museum houses an impressive collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, including works by Raphael and Caravaggio.
With its wealth of galleries and popular restaurants, Brera is at the heart of Milan’s art and gastronomy scene and can be experienced by walking and bicycle tours or explored on your own.
Visit the Sforza Castle
The Sforza Castle is a Renaissance-era fortress that was once home to the ruling Italian Sforza family. It now houses several museums including the Museo d’Arte Antica and the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea.
Among the art collections are works by the great Renaissance Master, Michelangelo. Visitors can explore the castle grounds and take a walk through the adjacent Sempione Park.
Take a stroll in the Navigli District
Another classic Milan neighborhood to explore is the Navigli District, known for its picturesque canals and lively nightlife. This scenic area is perfect to relax and enjoy a drink at one of its many bars, have a fabulous dinner in one of its many top-notch restaurants or just take a leisurely walk along the water.
Once, many kilometers of canals crisscrossed the city, but today only two remain: Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese. The canals were used to facilitate the transportation of marble to the Duomo and city center. Today in the summer, boat tours depart every hour from Alzaia Naviglio Grande carrying passengers along this historic waterway as they enjoy the many charms of the Navigli District.
Visit the La Scala Opera House
The La Scala Opera House is one of the most famous opera and ballet theaters in the world and has hosted some of the most renowned performances. Inaugurated on August 3, 1778, most of Italy’s greatest operatic artists, along with many famous singers from all over the globe have entertained audiences here.
This historic theatre was once illuminated with 84 oil lamps mounted on the stage and another thousand in the remainder of the theatre before electric lights were installed in 1883. In 1907, the theater was renovated with its current configuration of nearly two thousand seats. Heavily damaged in World War II, it was again restored and reopened in 1946.
Visitors can get tickets for a performance here or schedule a tour.
Explore the Royal Palace of Milan
The Royal Palace was once the residence of the ruling families of Milan and the seat of government in the city for several centuries. Today, it is now home to several museums and art collections. Visitors can awe over impressive works by Botticelli and Titian and explore the palace’s picturesque gardens.
Covering an area of 7,000-square-meters, the palace regularly exhibits famous modern and contemporary art works and collections in cooperation with other world-class museums and cultural institutions across the globe. Over 1,500 masterpieces are displayed annually within the palace walls.