Milan has a deserved reputation as a city of business, finance and fashion. As such, it can be easy to pin the capital of Italy’s Lombardy region as a destination in which Europe’s rich and famous want to “be seen” but not necessarily one to visit as a tourist, especially on a budget.
However, there’s still plenty to see in Milan for the curious traveler, no matter what your wealth or fashion sense.
Duomo has been a landmark of Milan for more than 600 years. The white marble Gothic cathedral is one of the world’s biggest churches and a breathtaking sight the first or hundredth time you see it.
Highlights inside include Pellegrino Pellegrini’s beautiful altars, sarcophagi of historic archbishops, and Marco d’Agrate’s grisly Saint Bartholomew Flayed (1562) sculpture. The archaeological area down a narrow staircase is also worth a visit.
Not interested in the cathedral itself? Don’t pass up the opportunity to visit the cathedral’s rooftops. The views are one of the city’s biggest attractions are available as an entirely separate ticket from the cathedral itself. Choose between two different lifts or an energy-sapping climb up a narrow, twisting staircase.
The magnificent shopping arcade
You probably won’t be able to afford anything on sale inside, but a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is still a must to appreciate the magnificent architecture.
Oozing wealth, the glorious glass-vaulted shopping arcade houses premium brands and luxury boutiques with impressive window displays. The roof and in particular the giant central dome are some of the best examples of 19th-century iron-and-glass architecture.
See ‘The Last Supper’
Without doubt one of the most paintings in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper has been reproduced many times. Even so, head to the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie to see the spectacular original mural at the end of the dining hall.
Only a handful of people are admitted at once, so tickets must be booked in advance. Don’t forget to arrive in modest dress.
Scala theater museum
One of the world’s most famous performance spaces, the Scala’s magnificent wood and red velvet interior is a must see. Thankfully, you don’t need tickets to a show to appreciate the famous venue.
Visitors to the Scala theater museum get to take a look inside as part of their visit. The museum also includes a large collection of busts, costumes and other objects related to opera and theater.
Built in the 15th century, the medieval fortification was at one point one of the largest citadels in Europe. Behind it lies the sprawling Parco Sempione, a green lung at the heart of Milan.
Following an extensive post-war renovation, the building now hosts several city museums and art collections. With so much to see, a guided tour is a must if you have an interest in art history.
Visit the San Siro
Time is running out to visit one of the world’s most iconic soccer stadiums, the San Siro. Shared by Italian giants AC Milan and Internazionale (Inter), the stadium will soon be demolished and replaced.
Soccer fans from all over the world visit the famous arena either to attend a match or take the stadium tour, consistently one of the top attractions in Milan.
Navigli canal district
It’s not just Venice known for its canals. Milan is home to Europe’s oldest artificial canals, dating back to the 12th century. Once major waterways for transport and irrigation, most of the canals were closed by the 1930s.
But today, the Naviglio Grande, Naviglio Pavese and the Martesana canals are beloved for their industrial and cultural heritage. It has become one of the city’s liveliest areas, home to cafès, bars and a handful of traditional eateries where you can sample risotto or braised lamb shanks known as ossobuco, a Lombardy specialty.
Pinacoteca di Brera
The main public gallery for Milan showcases Italian paintings from the 13th to the 20th century. This is a real center of excellence for Italian art, as the site is also home to a few thousand students at one of Italy’s leading art academies.
Highlights of the gallery include works by Raphael and Caravaggio and the striking courtyard, the latter of which is entirely free to visit.
Get away to Lake Como
Last but not least, consider setting aside a day to explore one of Italy’s most scenic spots in the foothills of the Alps. It’s easy to take a train to reach Como, a small town in one corner of the wishbone-shaped lake.
From Como, ferries are available to sightsee on the lake and visit one or more of the trio of charming destinations at the lake’s center: Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio.