Commonly referred to as the fashion capital of the world, Milan, in Italy’s north, offers a great blend of the old and new. As Italy’s major financial hub and home to many of the world’s great fashion designers, Milan is sometimes overlooked by tourists but it makes a worthy destination for at least a day. Here's how you can spend a day in Milan.
How to Spend a Day in Milan
9.30 My day in Milan commenced when my husband and I arrived by train from Varenna on Lake Como. The one hour journey (€6.70 per adult each way) brought us to Centrale Station and it was then a short ride on the Metro to Duomo Station.
(Individual Metro ticket €1.50 per adult, single journey)
10.30 After an alfresco coffee and pastry at a cafe on Duomo (Cathedral) Square, we then met our tour guide for a three hour small group guided tour of Milan (click here for current prices). The tour included skip the line entry to the Milan Duomo and our guide provided really informative commentary about the Cathedral.
We learned that building started in 1387 and the finishing touches weren’t completed until the 1960s. The huge white Cathedral boasts 135 spires and 3200 statues of saints!
(Regular entry fee €4 per adult, tower access additional).
TIP: If you're not keen on a three hour tour, you can also join a 90-minute tour of the Cathedral (with skip the line entry) and the rooftop terrace - click here to check prices.
Are you visiting Milan enroute to Tuscany? If so, you'll want to read this guide to staying in an Agriturismo in Tuscany.
After our Duomo visit, our guide led us on a walking tour through the impressive neo-classical Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade, past La Scala Theatre and the 15th Century Castello Sfozesco (Sforza Castle), pointing out numerous other places of interest, and Milan’s famous yellow trams, on the way.
Our walk also included a stop at a Milanese cafe where we could purchase morning tea and a cool drink and take a much needed breather - it was already 35°C.
Fuelled up, we then made our way to the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie to see something I’d been wanting to see for a very long time - The Last Supper. Entry to the refectory adjoining the church, where the mural is housed, is restricted to a limited number of visitors each day so early booking is essential.
(Regular entry fee €6.50 per adult plus €1.50 booking fee. Advance bookings are essential.)
We entered the refectory at our allotted time, and anticipation levels were high. I’d read a lot about Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting which depicts Jesus Christ eating his last meal with his disciples and had heard a lot of the conspiracy theories surrounding it. I still wasn’t prepared, though, for my first glimpse of the painting - it took my breath away.
The Last Supper is huge - 8.8 metres x 4.6 metres - and took Da Vinci about three years to complete. Often called a fresco, the painting is actually a mural on the wall of the monastery’s dining hall. Whilst a normal fresco could probably have been completed in a week, Da Vinci experimented with a mix of oil and tempera (and didn’t work on it continuously) and it’s because of this that it took so long to complete.
The experimental techniques Da Vinci used are just one of the reasons that very little of the original painting remains today. Major restoration work took place as recently as 1999.
Nevertheless, The Last Supper is still a sight to behold and with so many intricate details to take in, the fifteen minutes our group was allowed to spend viewing it went all too quickly. Photography is banned in the refectory but fortunately a billboard outside the church features a copy of the painting, so I snapped away at that instead.
1.30pm With our tour now over it was time for lunch and we headed to Plaza Restaurant, just a short walk from the Basilica. The restaurant was popular with local office workers, more so than tourists, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch of cotoletta alla milanese (veal schnitzel).
Planning to visit Milan in the cooler months? This guide to visiting winter in Italy will be helpful.
3.00pm Despite the heat we still wanted to see more of Milan so we wandered towards the famous upmarket shopping district, Quadrelatero d’Oro, (the Golden Quad). This is THE centre of Milan’s haute couture industry and whilst we had no intention (or means) to buy anything, it was interesting to window shop.
4.00pm Heading back to the Duomo we stopped for a gelato and found some shade to rest for a while. We had pre-booked a 90 minute evening rooftop tour of Milan's Duomo (click here for current prices) for 5.15pm but with the soaring temperatures, a swim back at Lake Como beckoned.
5.00pm As much as we would have loved to view Milan from above, our hearts just weren’t in it so instead we made our way back to Centrale Station for the train ride back to Varenna.
Had we had more time, and the weather been more conducive to sightseeing, we could also have visited the San Siro football stadium and numerous Milanese art galleries and museums. We’ll leave those for next time!
Getting to Milan
Milan is located in the north of Italy and is on the main route between Rome and southern Italy and Switzerland. Both Rome and Bern can be reached by train in around three hours. Lake Como is just an hour away by car or train. Milan is also easily accessible from Venice - click here to read about the 10 best things to do in Venice.
Many international airlines, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Etihad, fly directly into Milan from their Middle East/Asian hubs, with connections to Australia.