Milan was never on my list of places to visit. But when I was planning a trip to Lake Como, Milan was one of the closest airports to travel from, and so I thought why not?!
As with many other things where you have no high expectations, you can be in for a surprise. I managed to find a lot of things to do and see in this bustling and vibrant fashion capital and would recommend it for a day or two. It’s also the perfect base if you plan to visit Northern Italy.
If you are wondering what to do in Milan in one day then this article is for you! The post will take you through some of the fun things I recommend doing while in Milan so you can make the most of it.
Getting around Milan
Milan, the capital of Italy in Northern Italy is a charming mix of modern and traditional bustling with art, fashion, history and delicious food.
It is pretty easy to get around. The charming historic downtown centre is completely walkable. It also has a great network of public transport, including buses, trams and the underground that makes it easy to get around if you want to take a break from walking around the city.
Start your day with a good brekkie
There’s no shortage of good food at every corner in Milan. The mouth-watering pastries that you will find in cafes will have you licking your fingers. I’d recommend starting your day with a scrumptious breakfast before you take off on a city tour – because you will need it!
If I have to choose one place, it would have to be the Paticceria Cucchi. This long-established place, since 1936, serves everything you will need to fuel you up for the day ahead, from traditional cakes and biscuits to savoury snacks. Make sure you leave some space to try their famous pannetone, a cream brioche. It is mouth-wateringly delicious!
Visit one of Europe’s most majestic gothic cathedral
It’s majestic. The Duomo is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world. But it’s not just the size, it’s the sheer brilliant gothic architecture of this cathedral that will take your breath away. It’s uniqueness also lies in the fact that it is made of pink-veined white marble from the Candoglia quarries, in the Val d’Ossola. The ruler of Milan at the time wanted to build a cathedral that the world could marvel at and he sure did achieve that.
There is a lot more to see in Milan as explained further below, but this is one of the main attractions in the city and visiting the Duomo is an absolute no-brainer if you are in Milan.
Here are some options to see Duomo:
- Marvel at the exterior of the cathedral
- Explore the interior of the cathedral. It’s one of the most beautiful churches in Europe, although the exterior is definitely more impressive
- If you go with option no. 2 and are up for it, climb / or take the lift to the rooftop terraces for incredible, panoramic views of Milan. On a good day, you can see as far as the Alps!
Want my advice – do all of the above!
With just one day in Milan, I wouldn’t waste any time and invest in getting ‘skip the line tickets’ in advance because it is worth it, and you will be thankful you did at the end of your Milan tour.
If you are wondering when is the best time to visit the cathedral, then it most definitely is in the mornings. It is much quieter, and you are likely to enjoy the experience much more.
Because we were part of a larger group, I had an excellent guide who explained the history behind the cathedral, but you can also download the official app here for a video and audio-guided tour of the cathedral, allowing you to explore Duomo di Milano all by yourself and at your leisure.
Tip: One of the most interesting statues in the cathedral is that of Saint Bartholomew – his statue is draped in his skin because he was reportedly frayed alive. Creepy right? Don’t miss it!
Admire a c. 150-year old shopping arcade
Being in one of the greatest fashion capitals of the world, your day in Milan will not be complete without visiting the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest mall and an important landmark that is housed in a beautiful arcade right next door to the Duomo cathedral.
The galleria is home to some of the most high-end fashion brands like Gucci, Armani, Prada, Versace, just to name a few. Some of these brands also have their flagship stores here. So if you want to spoil yourself (without breaking a bank), splurge or just treat yourself to a coffee in one of the many historic cafes and enjoy the stunning architecture – it is a treat to the eyes and the beauty of the building, with its 19th-century glass-topped gallery, beautiful mosaic tiles will make you forget that you are in a shopping mall surrounded by shops.
Walk around a 15th-century castle
Just a short walk away from the Duomo and Galleria, the Sforza Castle is another very popular monument in Milan that was built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan. Originally a massive fortress for centuries, it is now home to Milan’s most prestigious art pieces.
The castle’s main focal point is the Torre del Filarete (The Filarete Tower). It is 70 metres high and is one of the more distinctive symbols of Milan.
If you have one day in Milan, I suggest you just explore the exterior of this castle and while at it, don’t forget to grab a croissant and hot chocolate in the cafe at the entrance of the castle – it is delicious!
The last unfinished masterpiece of Michaelangelo, another legendary artist is housed in the castle.
Marvel at the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
Whether you are an art-enthusiast or not, you will have most likely heard about ‘The Last Supper’. It’s one of the most sought-after masterpieces of all time and people come to Milan solely just to see this.
The Last Supper is one of the most well-known and iconic pieces of art in the world that portrays Leonardo Da Vinci’s interpretation of the final meal before Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of his disciples and then crucified. He beautifully captures the moment Jesus is about to reveal who his betrayer is. It is located in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Graz church in Milan.
Word of caution: slots to see ‘The Last Supper’ get booked up several months in advance, so I’d recommend booking a slot as soon as you have confirmed your Milanese trip to avoid disappointment. Unless you have at least six months to plan, you are unlikely to get tickets. At the time of writing this post, the only available ticket was around six months away! The good news is that several private companies offer the Last Supper visit with a guided tour and other attractions around Milan. It is indeed more expensive than the official tickets, but you will also get a personal guide who will bring the painting to life for you. We booked this tour but there are other options to choose from.
Every ticket holder gets 15 minutes to observe the painting and if you are part of a group, you will all get 15 minutes together.
The painting has gone through many restorations over the years but when the Allied forces bombed Milan during World War II, several valuable art pieces were destroyed with it. Leonardo Da Vinci’s, Last Supper miraculously survived the bombing and we’re so glad it did.
Tip: Entrance to the museum on the first Sunday of each month is free, however, booking is still required.
End your day exploring the charming canals of Navigli
It’s not just Venice, but Milan’s Navigli district also has canals to offer which have a long history and is one of the coolest areas of Milan.
After a long day in the city, you are definitely going to need a breath of fresh air away from the bustling crowds and a visit to Navigli to end your Milanese trip is exactly what you should do.
The Navigli area is packed with food markets, exclusive boutiques, trendy restaurants, bars, cafes, gelatterias and comes alive in the night with live music that goes on until the wee hours. So, you can just wander around for an early evening stroll by the canal, take a boat and end the night with a glass of wine in one of the many outdoor restaurants overlooking the canal.
While you are in Navigli, don’t forget to visit some of the historic places like the Lorenzo church and the Washerwoman’s alley.
The Washerwoman’s alley is a colourful street and one of the prettiest in Navigli and its name is derived from the fact that women in the neighbourhood would come to this street to wash clothes on the stone slabs that can be found along this lane. It offers lots of selfie and photographic opportunities!
Milan definitely took me by surprise, and I ended my day wondering why I didn’t plan this soon enough or for a little bit longer! I can’t end this post without the mention of food because Italy is synonymous with the most delicious food ever, but I’ll need a whole new blog post to write all about it! In the meantime though, here’s a mini post on some of must-haves if in Milan or Lake Como. Hope this is useful!