Cultural Attractions

When you think about Milan, the first thing that pops into your mind is the capital of fashion and shopping. The city is indeed famous for its fashion weeks and many designer boutiques. And now you understand why your girlfriend wants to visit Milan!

List of Cultural Attractions

When you think about Milan, the first thing that pops into your mind is the capital of fashion and shopping. The city is indeed famous for its fashion weeks and many designer boutiques. And now you understand why your girlfriend wants to visit Milan!

I am joking, of course Milan is a lot more than this!

In order to help you plan your stay in this beautiful Italian city, I have prepared a guide of the 15 best things to do in Milan. You will see, there are a lot of places of historical or cultural interest, starting with the most emblematic tourist attraction, the Milan Cathedral.

In addition, I will give you itineraries to visit Milan in 1, 2 or 3 days as well as my selection of the best accommodations in town.

So, what to do in Milan? Here are the best 15 points of interest!

1. Milan Cathedral

Let’s start this list of the top things to do in Milan with the must-see monument of the city: Milan Cathedral (“Duomo di Milano” in Italian). The symbol of the city is located on Piazza del Duomo, the historic center and best starting point for a stay in Milan.

Started in 1386, the construction of Milan Cathedral took nearly 500 years. It was finished under the order of Napoleon Bonaparte who absolutely wanted to be crowned as king of Italy there.

This architectural wonder is the third largest cathedral in the world, after St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and the Cathedral of Seville.

From the outside, you can admire its facade entirely made of perfectly carved stones. The 2.000 white marble statues and 136 arrows makes the whole thing super impressive! When seeing it, you clearly understand why it’s nicknamed “the marble hedgehog”.

The interior is also worth a visit, with its 5 sumptuous naves and 52 columns, each representing a week of the year. You can also admire sarcophagi and tombs of several archbishops, as well as a crucifix made by the master Leonardo Da Vinci himself!

But the highlight of the visit is the possibility to go on the terrace of the Cathedral. From up there, the view of Milan is breathtaking! You can choose to go there either by stairs or elevator. The second option is a bit more expensive: €12 instead of €7 for the first.

2. La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Just outside the cathedral, on Piazza del Duomo, you can visit Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, another top attraction in Milan.

The place is very photogenic and luminous, with its magnificent arcades and superb dome made of glass and iron. Nicknamed “Il salotto”, the Galleria is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, so don’t miss it during your trip to Italy!

Inside, you can find some of the most famous fashion designers stores, including Vuitton and Prada, as well as many high-end restaurants. You should definitely go there with a full wallet, if your sweetheart decides to do a little shopping!

3. La Scala de Milan

Leaving from Piazza del Duomo, along the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, you will arrive directly on Piazza della Scala. As the name suggests, it’s where La Scala, the famous Milan Opera house is located.

Along with San Carlo Theater in Naples and the Fenice in Venice, it’s one of Italy’s 3 most prestigious operas.

Masterpieces of Italian opera have been created here, such as “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini or “Otello” by Verdi. Also, one of the greatest classical singers of all time, Maria Callas, has performed in La Scala.

I didn’t have the opportunity to see the interior, but it’s world famous for being sumptuous. So you should really go if you can! The exterior facade however, is quite simple.

On the left of the building you can visit the Museum of La Scala and its collection of musical instruments, opera costumes and historical documents.

If you wish to attend a concert, an opera or ballet performance at La Scala, you can buy your tickets directly on the official website.

4. Sforza Castle

If you take Via Dante from the Piazza del Duomo, you will arrive directly at the main entrance of the Sforza Castle, another iconic monument of Milan.

This very impressive castle is located in the center of the city.

it was built in 1358 by the famous Visconti family to protect and defend the city against its enemy, Venice. Destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, it’s famous for having hosted Leonardo DaVinci workshops during the Renaissance period.

 Today, the castle hosts several museums:

  • The Museum of Ancient art, with frescoes of the Sforza family and many sculptures
  • The prehistoric collections of the Archaeological Museum of Milan. There, you can learn about the story of Lombardy since the Neolithic
  • Museum of Decorative Arts, with the work of stonecutters, weavers and upholsterers
  • The Egyptian Museum and its collection of sarcophagi and mummies
  • The Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, with more than 1500 works of art from the 13th to the 18th century
  • The Museum of musical instruments from around the world
  • The Antique Furniture and Wooden Sculpture Museum.

The vast inner courtyard of the castle is open to the public for free. It often hosts cultural events.

When I was there, there was an event celebrating the launch of Game Of Throne season 7. They installed a central stage with a huge screen to broadcast episodes of the past seasons. The reconstruction of the iron throne and the transformation of the fountain at the entrance with ice stalactites were also quite popular. Winter is coming!

If you walk across Sforza Castle, you will arrive directly in Parco Sempione.

5. Parco Sempione

Just behind the Sforza castle, you will find the green lung of the city. The Parco Sempione (Simplon Park in english) is the largest public park in Milan and a perfect place to rest a bit.

Some buildings worth seeing while strolling around:

  • The Civic Aquarium of Milan, and its nice architecture. The visit isn’t really worth it, as it’s quite small
  • The Triennale, highlighting the arts and Italian architecture
  • The Arena Civica, a multi-purpose stadium dating from 1807, where sport events are held
  • The Arco della Pace, the triumphal arch of Milan, built to celebrate peace. I loved the architecture!

6. Santa Maria delle Grazie church

Without a doubt one of the most famous churches in Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie is known for housing one of the most beautiful masterpieces ever made, the painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper in the refectory of the monastery, now called “Cenacolo” in reference to the masterpiece. Thousands of tourists come every year to admire this painting representing the last meal of Jesus Christ.

7. Museo nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo Da Vinci”

Since we are talking about Leonardo da Vinci, You may know that the city of Milan has dedicated him a huge museum: the Museo nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo Da Vinci (Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci). It’s one of Milan best tourist attraction.

Installed in a former 16th century monastery, the museum exhibits more than thirty models reconstructing the bold inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci, ranging from war machines to measuring instruments.

The exhibition devoted to Leonardo da Vinci is only a tiny part of this gigantic museum. Over several floors, you will discover aviation, rail transport, automobile, naval transport, space, communications and many others.

8. Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio

As it’s very close to the Museum of Science and Technology, I advise you to go have a look at the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio after your visit of the museum.

Named after the patron saint of the city, a first church was built on site in 386. The current basilica, one of the oldest in the city, was completed in 1099.

The exterior of the church, with its 2 brick towers of different heights and beautiful atrium is quite unusual. This point of interest isn’t very well known  by tourists, but it’s definitely worth a look. A great opportunity to take nice pictures!

Inside, you can see: the sarcophagus of Stilicon and the crypt, where the remains of Saint Ambrose, Saint Gervasus and Saint Protasus are located.

9. Visit the Cimitero Monumentale

Are you looking for an unusual place to visit in Milan? You should then definitely visit the Cimitero Monumentale di Milano (“Monumental Cemetery” in English).

Now you think I am weird! Ok, let me tell you something: even if I like zombies stories, walks in cemeteries after dark aren’t really my thing. The Monumental cemetery of Milan however is really worth seeing, because it’s really special.

More than a cemetery, it is a huge open-air museum with many artistic tombs.

At the main entrance, you can see the graves of the most important citizens of the country. Amongst the most popular, you can find a pyramid, a white tower or a marble four-poster bed shaped tomb. Milan wealthy families have really competed to stand out, as the numerous sculptures of angels or statues can attest.

At the entrance, don’t forget to take the map of the cemetery. You don’t want to miss anything of this unusual visit!

 Good thing to note: It’s closed on Mondays.

10. Pinacoteca di Brera

The Pinacoteca di Brera (“Brera Art Gallery” in English) houses one of the most important art collection in Italy.

It’s located in the Palazzo Brera, built on a former monastery. At the time, monks were the first to make it a cultural center with a school, an astronomical observatory and a library.

Since then, the collection of the Art Gallery just kept growing. Today, the works are exhibited in about forty rooms and are arranged in chronological order, according to the art technique used.

Amongst the most famous masterpieces, you can admire Raphael’s ”The Marriage of the Virgin” or Caravaggio’s ”Last Supper to Emmaus”.

Information for the schedule and entrance fee is available on the Pinacoteca di Brera official website.

11. The Royal Palace of Milan

As the seat of the Milanese government for many years, the Royal Palace of Milan has become an important cultural center of the city. Several exhibitions are organized every year, whether of modern or contemporary art, fashion or design.

The Royal Palace is over 7,000 square meters, and is home to many paintings lent by some of the most prestigious museums in the world.

You can also visit the museum of the palace. It presents its own history as well as the city and population of Milan history.

Divided into 4 parts, the museum allows you to explore the Neoclassical, Napoleonic,  and Restoration periods, ending with the unification of Italy, a very important period in the history of Milan.

12. Navigli canals

Another place you shouldn’t miss in Milan is the Navigli district, crossed by canals. It’s the most picturesque of Milan!

Originally, this system of canals connected the Po to the lakes of the region. They were used to transport goods and supply Milan with water.

The system of dam and locks used was invented by Leonardo da Vinci (him again!). Even the marble used for the construction of the Milan Cathedral, was transported by these canals.

Today, you can go to the Navigli district, walk quietly along the canals and enjoy a drink or a meal on one of the restaurant terraces.

The best is to go there at the end of the day, with the light of the setting sun. It’s a very romantic neighborhood, especially in the evening with the lights reflecting in the canals and the local life starting in the numerous bars and restaurants.

13. Shopping in Milan

Yep, we had to include a short paragraph about shopping in Milan in this article. The city is internationally recognized as the capital of fashion and design after all!

For shopaholics, we advise you to go to the quadrilateral of fashion (“Quadrilatero della moda” in Italian) composed by the following 4 streets: Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Manzoni.

If you have a big budget, you will find everything you need in the boutiques of great Italian designers like Versace and Gucci. This is also where the Milan Fashion Week takes place.

And for those who want to shop without ruining themselves, go to The Highline Outlet, located in the heart of Milan. You will find a lot of brands at discounted prices.

If you still haven’t found happiness after that, there is always the “I love Milan” T-shirt solution, a classic!

14. Piazza Affari

If you have time during your stay in Milan, go to the business square to admire a unique monument.

Located in front of the Milan Stock Exchange headquarters in Piazza Affari, you will find a magnificent 11-meter marble statue representing a giant middle finger. Baptized LOVE (Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità or Freedom, Hate, Vengeance, Eternity in English), the statue was created by the Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan to taunt the financial institution.

It was criticized and was supposed to be removed after a few months, but for now, it’s still in place since 2010

15. Milan Chinatown

Few people know it but there is a Chinatown in Milan. Just don’t expect a Chinatown the size of New York or even Montreal, this one is quite small.

However, you will find lots of shops selling jewellery at unbeatable prices. And if you want to buy some Chinese noodles (in addition to Italian pasta of course!) or Asian groceries, it’s the best place to find them!