If you fancy exploring the history of Lombardy’s powerhouse to the core, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Discover the collection of paintings at Pinacoteca di Brera, learn about the Renaissance master at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum or visit Fondazione Prada, a haven for contemporary art lovers.
The city is also home to historic landmarks like the 15th-century Sforzesco Castle and the Colonne di San Lorenzo. You’ll also find Italy’s oldest shopping centre, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and one of Europe’s most prestigious opera theatres, La Scala, in Milan.
What’s in this guide?
Milan museums and galleries
You don’t need to be an art enthusiast to appreciate Milan’s beautiful museums and galleries. From Visconti’s 14th-century Gothic movement to the 20th-century Futurism, Milan has always been a homeland of different artistic influences. Whether you love contemporary exhibitions or prefer exploring back to the Middle Ages, Milanese museums and galleries suit all tastes.
1. Leonardo da Vinci Museum
The Leonardo da Vinci Museum opened in February 1953, Italy’s largest science and technology museum dedicated to one the greatest artists of all time – Leonardo da Vinci, of course!
It is divided into seven collections: materials, transport, energy, communication, new frontiers, science for young people and the world-famous Leonardo da Vinci Art and Science exhibition. This features digitalised restorations of his paintings, including the Last Supper Hall.
Where: Via S. Vittore 21
Nearest train station: 3-minute walk from Sant’Ambrogio metro stop (M2 Line) or 11-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
2. Fondazione Prada
Fondazione Prada is not just an art gallery; it’s an institution for contemporary art lovers, showcasing various artists and mediums. There’s a cinema, too!
Since its opening in 1995, Fondazione Prada has hosted permanent and temporary exhibitions, film festivals, multi-disciplinary conferences and design projects. Discover the worlds of Jean Luc-Godard, Robert Gober, Carla Accardi, Jess Koons and many others.
Where: Largo Isarco
Nearest train station: 14-minute walk from Milano Porta Romana
3. Pinacoteca di Brera
Housed in the majestic 18th-century Neoclassical Palazzo di Brera, the Pinacoteca is one of Italy’s finest art galleries. It was first established alongside the Accademia delle Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in 1776. It inherited most of its earlier collections here.
At the Pinacoteca di Brera, you can follow the evolution of Italian art in its purest form, from the Middle Ages to the mid-20th century. Ever heard of Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Mantegna and Severini? Imagine having all of them in one place! Discover shining examples from the Baroque, Renaissance and Rococo periods.
Where: Via Brera 28
Nearest train station: 15-minute walk from Milano Cadorna, or 20-minute walk from Milano Porta Garibaldi
Must-see landmarks in Milan
Why visit Milan? For starters, the great Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci lived here. Verdi studied at the Conservatory while Napoleon was crowned inside the Duomo. If this isn’t enough reason to add Milan to your itinerary, keep reading to discover more.
4. Santa Maria delle Grazie
Designed by Bramante in the Early Renaissance style, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Italy’s gems.
The Duke of Milan Francesco I Sforza ordered the construction of a Dominican convent and church, which was first completed in 1469. Santa Maria delle Grazie was severely damaged during World War II when much of the refectory was destroyed. Some walls remained intact, including Da Vinci’s great masterpiece Last Supper, a turning point for the Renaissance period.
Where: Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie
Nearest train station: 8-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
5. Duomo di Milano
No matter how far from the city centre you venture, you’ll always go back to this iconic monument. There is simply no Milan without its Duomo. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Nascente (Cathedral of the Nativity of Saint Mary) is the third-biggest cathedral in the world after Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica and Seville Cathedral.
Its construction began in the 14th century, and it took almost six centuries to complete. Topped by 135 carefully carved stone pinnacles and decorated with 2,245 marble statues, the Duomo is the ultimate representation of the Flamboyant Gothic style, a celebration of Italian grandeur.
Where: Piazza del Duomo
Nearest train station: 24-minute walk from Porta Romana, or 30-minute walk from Milano Porta Garibaldi
6. Castello Sforzesco
When we said that Milan is a work of art, we really meant it. And Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle) is one of its most iconic buildings.
The first fortification was built in the 14th century. It was later enlarged by the Duke of Milan, Francesco I Sforza, when it turned into a magnificent ducal palace. It is situated inside Sempione Park. Today, it houses several museums, including the Museum of Ancient Art, the Archaeological and the Egyptian museums.
Where: Piazza Castello
Nearest train station: 2-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
7. Santa Maria presso San Satiro
Tucked within the city’s urban heart, Santa Maria presso San Satiro is an utter surprise. You might have walked past it many times during your stay in Milan and never stopped by. But trust us – Bramante's imagination is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
The inside is an ingenious game of illusions. Its majestic, vaulted sanctuary appears to stretch into an apse nearly the length of the church itself. But... is it actually? Walk to the altar, and you’ll start realising that it’s only a painting. This timeless optical illusion never stops amazing.
Where: Via Torino 9
Nearest train station: 16-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
8. San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
If you thought only Rome owned a Sistine Chapel, you’re wrong. Milan has its own too! San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore’s sober façade hides the sublime interiors, with magnificent paintings and 16th-century frescoes adorning every inch.
Its construction began in 1503 and was finished 15 years later when Cristoforo Solari divided it into two parts by a central wall: one for the faithful and one for the nuns. An impressive organ in the nun's sitting area dates from 1554.
Where: Corso Magenta 13
Nearest train station: 5-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
9. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, you name it. It’s no news that Milan is Italy’s fashion capital. And no other place exemplifies this better than the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, this superb glass-vaulted arcade was built between 1865 and 1877, with a dome soaring 48 metres above the floor.
Known among the Milanese as the “Salotto di Milano” (Milan’s drawing room), the Galleria houses various luxury brands and high-end retailers, as well as fine-dining restaurants.
Where: Between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Scala
Nearest train station: 15-minute walk from Milano Cadorna, or 22-minute walk from Milano Porta Venezia
Park and squares
If you want to escape the bustle of busy Milan streets, the city is home to some beautiful green spaces and iconic squares not to miss. What better way to recharge your batteries after an intense day of sightseeing than having a picnic along the lake in Sempione Park?
10. Arco della Pace
Milan’s Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace) is a superb example of Neoclassical architecture, located at the start of Corso Sempione. It was built by Luigi Cagnola between 1807 and 1838 under Napoleon’s rule of the Italian Republic to echo Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.
It comprises various materials, including marble, bronze and stucco. It contains bas-reliefs and statues and is sustained by Corinthian columns.
Where: Piazza Sempione
Nearest train station: 13-minute walk from Milano Cadorna, or 24-minute walk from Milano Porta Garibaldi
11. Sempione Park
Sempione Park is a must-see if you're visiting Milan, packing multiple sights into a single destination, including Sforzesco Castle and Torre Branca (Branca Tower).
Before becoming a park, it was a forest preserve that the Sforza family stocked with rare wildlife. The Italian architect Emilio Alemagna designed the land to offer panoramic glimpses of the surrounding landmarks. Walking around Sempione provides picture-perfect views of famous monuments, such as the Arena Civica and the Arco della Pace.
Where: Piazza Sempione
Nearest train station: 8-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
12. Piazza Mercanti
At the heart of Milan’s Middle Ages, Piazza Mercanti has retained its authentic Medieval charm through the years, despite having lost its status as a commercial and trading hub.
Today, it is home to four main buildings: Casa Panigarola, Loggia degli Osii, Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine and “Broletto Nuovo”, also known as Palazzo della Ragion – once Milan’s courts of justice.
Where: Close to Piazza del Duomo
Nearest train station: 13-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
Milan is one of Italy's wonders, home to the magnificent Duomo and unique art galleries and museums. Whether you’re planning a solo trip, a weekend with your family or a romantic getaway, here are some of the best attractions you simply cannot miss.
13. Lake Como
The beauty of Italy is the number of spectacular sceneries on your doorstep, and Lake Como is one of the very best. The lake is Italy's third-largest, just a 2-hour drive or a little over 2-hour train journey. Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, a day trip to Lake Como promises breathtaking views of the local landscape.
Cruise past the luxurious villas, stroll through Como’s botanical garden or explore the picturesque towns of Varenna and Bellagio.
Nearest train stations: 2.20h from Milano Centrale
14. Teatro alla Scala
La Scala Theatre is Italy’s prime destination for opera performances and ballets. The elegance of its exteriors and interiors reflects the importance of this structure. It replaced the previous theatre, which burnt down in the mid-1700s.
Many of the world’s most famous operas have had their first production in La Scala, including Otello, Nabucco by Verdi and Madame Butterfly by Puccini.
Where: Piazza Scala
Nearest train station: 4-minute walk from Duomo Metro Station
15. Naviglio Grande
Connecting the River Ticino in Tornavento to Milan’s Darsena (dock), the Naviglio Grande is a canal and a meeting point for locals to escape the bustle of the city. It’s the oldest and most extensive Navigli, formed because of a widened drainage ditch.
It started to work as the main transport link for goods and services between Milan, Lake Maggiore and Switzerland. Insider tip: did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci helped build the canal’s dams and designed the locks?
Where: Milano Navigli
Nearest train stations: 7-minute walk from Milano Porta Genova
16. Colonne di San Lorenzo
Found in front of the splendid Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Colonne di San Lorenzo (Columns of San Lorenzo) are a group of well-preserved Roman ruins. The landmark comprises 16 Corinthian columns in a row, once united to the church by an ensemble of houses abutting on the façade.
Today, this spot is a popular night hangout among young people.
Where: Corso di Porta Ticinese
Nearest train station: 16-minute walk from Milano Cadorna
Out and about in Milan
Milan is a city that never sleeps. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, you’ll always find plenty of things to do.
Worldwide known as the fashion capital, shopping is Milan’s forte. Trends are made here, from luxury brands like Armani, Prada and Marni to upmarket boutiques and jewellery workshops. And if you feel like everything is too high-end, window shopping never hurts, right? It’s all about the atmosphere!
Milan is also famous for its culinary scene, one of the finest in Italy. Many exquisite restaurants and bistros cater to all tastes and budgets.
Ever-changing and cosmopolitan, Milanese cuisine has a homely feeling, where every dish is prepared with a love of local products. Milan surely knows how to please the palate, from classics like the Ossobuco alla Milanese and the timeless risotto to the traditional Christmas dessert, Panettone.
If you fancy a fine culinary experience, we suggest walking along via Dante, just in front of Castello Sforzesco, or exploring the Navigli area.
When we think about Milan, one of the first things that spring to mind is shopping. You might think it’s all about luxurious designer brands and high-end stores. Look deeper to find vintage boutiques and more tucked down the narrow alleys.
Visiting to explore Milan’s varied shopping scene? The Quadrilatero della Moda (The Fashion Quadrilateral) must be your starting point. Walk around via Monte Napoleone, via Sant’Andrea and via Manzoni and pay a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – an architectural wonder.
Getting around Milan
Covering around 20,000 square miles, Milan is Italy’s second-most populous city. Getting around is easy thanks to the excellent transport network.
The quickest and most efficient way to travel around Milan is by metro, with three lines connecting the main points of interest. A single urban ticket allows you to travel between the Mi1, Mi2 and Mi3 areas and is valid for 90 minutes for a cost of €2. You could opt for a 24-hour or a 48-hour travel card, for a price of €4.50 and €8.50.
Another efficient and budget-friendly way to get around Milan is the suburban railway service, operated by Trenord. It has 12 S lines linking the metropolitan suburbs to the city centre.
Bus services are also highly efficient, running between 05:30 to 01:45 on weekdays, with a night service available on Friday and Saturday. A single ticket costs €1.50.
Travelling to Milan by train?
If you want to spend some time in Milan, why not travel by train? Getting the train to Milan is easy due to the high-speed rail connections operated by Trenitalia and Italo. You can travel to Milan from some of the most popular cities in Italy and Europe, including Rome to Milan (2h 52m), Venice to Milan (2h), Florence to Milan (1h 40m), Turin to Milan (45m), Paris to Milan (6h 38m) and Zurich to Milan (3h 35m).
Need more information about travelling to Milan by train? Check out our dedicated page to trains to Milan.