• see & do

Top Ten Things to do in Milan – Recommended by a Local

By Emily Saylor An American currently living her own Italian adventure in Milan.
26 February 2020
Top Ten Things to do in Milan – Recommended by a Local

Edited by: Matthew Wears

Milan is a city that is world famous for its rich history and culture as well as being a global centre for fashion and design which, from a tourists point of view, means that there is so much to see and do. Finding things to do in Milan is easy, so it all depends on what side of the city you want to see. Perhaps you want a cultural trip taking in some of the iconic sights such as the Duomo or the Castello Sforzesco, or maybe it‘s the luxury fashion and design shops that have caught your interest. Hopefully this top ten things to do in Milan list gives you some inspiration for whatever trip you’re looking for so that you too can experience one of the most unique and varied cities in Europe, and discover some of the best things to do in Milan.

Visit the world-famous Milan Duomo

No trip would be complete without a trip to Milan Cathedral, or the Duomo as it is also known. The Gothic-style building is one of the largest Christian churches in the world and has a stunning one-hundred and thirty-five spires on the outside. The Piazza at the front of the cathedral is a great spot for a quick espresso or even a leisurely lunch and is the city’s main meeting point for locals and tourists alike. The cathedral opens every day from 8.00 am to 7.00 pm and costs just three Euros for entrance to the building itself and the Crypt of St. Charles. There is also the option to pay an extra nine Euros to go up onto the roof terrace which I would highly recommend because you get some of the best panoramic views of the city. This should be at the top of any list of the best things to do in Milan. 

Brera District

The Brera district is one of the oldest in Milan and has evolved from the artistic center of the city to become a chic, cosmopolitan area filled with cool cafes and up-market restaurants. It still has an artistic side to it though and houses many small fashion boutiques and design stores making it one of the best places for shopping in Milan. These up-market retailers often sit just around the corner from quirky antique shops where you never know what little gems you could find! Then, sip a locally adored Spritz from a table out on the street in one of the many high-end bars such as the Emporio Armani Cafe, although many offer happy hour deals so make sure you plan your visit to avoid high prices. Brera has a buzz at all times and eating and drinking your way through the streets is one of the most exciting things to do in Milan at Night if you have the cash!

Visit East Market in Lambrate

Located north-east out of the city center is the Lambrate design district, an area of the city that was once the industrial heart of Milan but has since been regenerated to become one of the most important art and design centers. It hosts regular food and design festivals and is one of those things to do in Milan that you just won’t find anywhere else in the world. One of the highlights is East Market, a huge flea-market filled with independent stalls selling vintage clothes, vinyl, handmade crafts, and even antique furniture. The event is free to access and starts from 10 am until 9 pm and it is recommended that you get there earlier to get the best deals. Afterwards, enjoy some food in one of the many street food vendors that serve outside. The easiest way to get there is to take the underground M2 line Eastbound until you get to the Lambrate station.   

Experience the Hangar Bicocca

Located in an old Pirelli factory just North-East of the city center, Hangar Bicocca is one of the city’s best contemporary art spaces. This is absolutely one of my favorite things to do in Milan because every time I go, there are highly creative works of art made by some of the most forward-thinking artists from all across the globe. Many of the exhibitions make use of the massive open space to create highly interactive works, be it by sound, visuals or even by allowing you to walk thought the artworks. The gallery is open from 10 am to 10 pm from Thursday to Sunday and is totally free to visit. It can be reached by taking the underground from the Garibaldi station and get off at the Ponale stop and walk from there. It’s quite far out of the city centre but it is well worth the visit and there is a small café on site for food and drinks.

Explore Porta Nuova

This district has quickly become one of the most interesting and vibrant areas in all of Milan. State of the art architecture makes up this ultra-modern neighbourhood that is full of cool cocktail bars and quirky boutique shops. One of the highlights is 10 Corso Como, a design showroom and shop founded by Carla Sozzani with a restaurant and café on the ground floor. One of the more unusual Milan restaurants, it perfectly sums up the city’s ability to innovate. As well as this there is the truly impressive and now world-famous Bosco Verticale, a skyscraper where each balcony has plants hanging down so that the building becomes one big vertical garden. Nearby is the Piazza Gae Aulenti surrounded on all sides by Italy’s highest skyscraper; the Unicredit Tower. Spending an evening in the Piazza bars has became one of the most popular things to do in Milan at night

Eat Like a Local

Would it even be possible to visit anywhere in Italy and not try as much food as possible? Like everywhere else in the country, Milan has its regional speciality foods. One of the most famous is risotto, a rice based dish that is now eaten all around the world. One of the most authentic ways to eat this dish is with saffron, and according to many the best place to try this is at Trattoria Masuelli San Marco in the East side of town. The owner will serve you some of the best food in Milan and then recommend wines for every dish. Just don’t forget to book a table! Another Milan speciality is gorgonzola, a blue cheese that according to myth was made when someone buried a regular cheese underground to prevent it from being stolen, and later discovered it had grown mouldy. Most neighbourhoods have their own grocery market which will sell some of the most authentic gorgonzola.   

Visit two of Milan’s most beautiful Churches

The first is the Santa Maria delle Grazie, which initially might not seem familiar however it houses one of the most famous paintings in the Western World; Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. To view it though you have to book at least two months in advance so don’t just turn up and expect to go inside. Just ten-minute walk down the road will bring you to one of the city’s best kept secrets; the small but nevertheless very impressive San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. I would put this on my guide of top things to do in Milan in one day because of it is very close to Milan Cathedral and it amazes me every single time I visit. The inside of the building is awash with colourful frescos, one of which is an incredibly detailed depiction of Noah’s Arc and it is a personal favourite of mine. A real hidden gem.

Go to the Museum of Musical Instruments

The Museum of Musical Instruments is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Milan. It contains an incredible collection of over seven-hundred instruments from all around the world, including strings, brass, percussion, and even early electronic synthesizers. It is located inside the imposing Castello Sforzesco which is one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions alongside Milan Cathedral. The Castello houses many other museums and exhibitions including a Michelangelo display which contains one of his lesser-known sculptures; Rondanini Pietá. The admission fee for all museums is just ten Euros but it is free from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm everyday except Friday where it is free from 2 pm to 5 pm. This is perfect for a tourist that wants to find things to do in Milan that are a little bit different.

Relax in Sempione Park 

Located just behind the Castello Sforzesco is the Sempione Park, one of the largest green spaces in all of Milan. If you have been working your way through this top ten things to do in Milan list then you’re probably ready for a break, so why not sit back and spend a summer’s afternoon lounging in the park. Bring a book and some food and enjoy a totally free day escaping the madness of Central Madrid. There is still plenty to see and do here such as the magnificent Arco della Pace and even an aquarium which holds over one-hundred varieties of fish. There is also the Torre Branca, which is one of the highest points in the entire city. For just a four Euro fee you can catch the elevator all the way to the top, and it is open all the way until 12AM making it one of the most incredible things to do in Milan at night for panoramic views of the city.

Take a Canal boat Ride in Navigli

You might not think that one of the ten things to do in Milan would be to go on a boat trip, but you’d be wrong. Navigli is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for both dining and shopping in Milan and now offers a range of boat tours. The Leonardo Da Vinci designed canal system offers some of the most scenic views in the city, and what better way to experience them by taking a boat trip. All of the tours take place on Naviglio Grande but there are a number of different options available including large cruise-styled ships, smaller speedboats and even gondola’s. One of the most popular tour groups, Autostadale, will take you on a journey to see some of Milans lesser known sights such as the picturesque village of Boffaloro Sopra Ticino. Afterwards why not stay for a drink in one of the many appealing canal side bars.