Tips for a perfect trip to Milan
Before you go, a bit of history
Even though heavily bombed during WWII, Milan still gives you a glance of how it looked back in the day. Medieval buildings, churches, canals and the ancient city gates make it for a romantic background to one of Italy’s most cutting-edge cities.
Strategically located at the border of the Italian peninsula, Milan and the Lombardia region have always been a favorite target of invasions and occupations. Celts, Romans, Goths, Langobards, Spanish and Austrians have all controlled the city at some point in history.
In 222 BC the Romans occupied the city and annexed it to the Western Roman Empire under the name of Mediolanum, giving it the status of Latin colony in 89 BC after a short-lived protest. With time and following Roman conquests beyond the Alps, namely in the Gallic region (present-day France), Milan became the more and more important within the empire, and Emperor Augustus gave the city the status of capital of the Transpadana region that included cities like Como, Bergamo, Lodi, Pavia up to Turin.
From the 313 AD, year of Constantine’s Edict that imposed tolerance towards Christianity in all the regions of the Roman Empire, Milan saw a church building spree also thanks to St. Ambrose, very influential figure who was also nominated as the city’s first bishop. The fall of the Roman Empire led to a decline in importance and a major vulnerability. This is when Milan started being the target of different foreign powers and fell under the control of the Langobards first, who moved their capital to Pavia, and the Carolingians, under whose dominance the city experienced its own renaissance in the 8th century.
With the years, the power of the Church grew remarkably, and from 1200 Milan became an important hub. It’s from this period that new monuments, road networks, and gates were built. From the end of the 13th century, Milan was under the control of noble families, first among all the Visconti dynasty, while in 1450 Francesco Sforza took over the power bringing the long sought-after peace and a new splendor to the city he was now duke of. This was the time of Italian Renaissance, and Milan saw the building of important palaces, hospitals and other places such as the Sforza Castle, Santa Maria delle Grazie church, the city’s Duomo and the Ospedale Maggiore hospital.
Unfortunately, this splendor was ill-fated, and after the Sforza dominance, Milan was once again the target of foreign attacks by the Spanish, the Austrians, the French with Napoleon and finally the Kingdom of Italy after the Austrians were fully kicked out.
In 1919 Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party was founded in Milan. The city and the whole country was then under the Fascist rule and in 1940 entered WWII. During the war, Milan was almost completely destroyed and after the conflict, Lombardia was one of the Italian regions that greatly contributed in placing Italy on the map of the world’s industrial powers.
How to get Italy working visa
Alongside other 25 countries, Italy is part of the Schengen Area. There are different visas that will allow entering Italy: three months for tourist/business/visit, one year for the student visa with the possibility to renew it annually depending on the specific course duration, nine months for seasonal work, two years for independent/self-employed work, employed/subordinated work and family reunion.
Citizens of other EU members don’t need a visa to enter or stay in Italy, while other countries (Argentina, Brazil, etc.) don’t need a visa to enter and can stay for up to 90 days, after which time they must provide the papers to extend their visa, usually university enrollment or work contracts. Sadly enough, some nationalities such as Afghanistan are not likely to get an Italian tourist visa, but only family reunion, work and possibly medical permit.
To see if you need a visa, what type of visa, where you need to apply and what are the requirements for your nationality, check out the website of Italian Foreign Ministry.
How to get to Milan and around the city
As Italy’s most important business city, you can book Milan flights from pretty much everywhere and with most airlines, from Alitalia to Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, Air France and many more that have daily connections.
For comparison among airlines, prices and availability, check out GlobeHunters, Kiwi.com or GoEuro. If you are planning to reach Milan by train, check GoEuro comparison website for train passes in all European countries.
Once in Italy, you can decide to rely on the public transport to get around or rent a car if you are traveling outside the city and you like to be more independent.
Milan has three airports, Linate, Malpensa and Bergamo Orio al Serio. From each of them, you can either use the public buses and trains or rent a car. Linate and Orio al Serio are connected through buses: ATM and StarFly to and from Linate Airport and Terravision to and from Bergamo Orio al Serio and Malpensa. Malpensa airport is connected to Milan also by train that stops at Milano Stazione Centrale.
Milan’s public transportation system, ATM, include buses, trams and metro and is very efficient. It’s definitely what we suggest if you are on vacation and in Milan city the whole time. If you are taking day trips outside of the city, a car is your best option.
Where to stay, the best hotels in Milan
Milan definitely doesn’t lack in hotels and great accommodation solutions. In a city where visitors are demanding, the price/quality relation couldn’t be any less good. Here are some Milan hotels we think can fit a business traveler who also wants to enjoy the city.
Hotel delle Nazioni. This is the hotel we stayed in and we loved it. The room was perfect, the bathroom was modern and new, everything spotless clean, toiletries and a minibar. The location was also great, less than 10 minutes walk from the main train station Stazione Centrale and surrounded by shops, restaurants, delicious gelato shops and right beside a sweet cat bistro. Breakfast was not included in the price and it was 9 euro each for a buffet. The area is central and close to many offices and company buildings, so perfect for who’s traveling to Milan for business.
Click here for more details on booking availability and current offers for Milan’s Hotel delle Nazioni.
Hotel Da Vinci. Just out of Milan, Hotel Da Vinci is surrounded by an 8000-square-meter park at some 5 minutes drive from Milan’s ring road, 15 minutes drive from Rho Fiera Milano Exhibition Centre or 300 meters from Bruzzano train station that connects to Stazione Centrale and Milan city center. Rooms feature modern design and furniture, flat-screen TV, free WIFI, room service until 1 am. The hotel has a state-of-the-art business center with 11 meeting rooms, each different in size. Free parking.
Click here for more details on booking availability and latest prices at Milan’s Hotel Da Vinci.
Idea Hotel Milano San Siro. Located at 2 minutes drive from the Settimo Milanese exit of Milan’s ring road, 9 km from Milan city center and 35 minutes drive from Malpensa International Airport, this modern hotel provides state-of-the-art rooms complete with LCD TV, minibar, and work desk. The on-site restaurant serves traditional Italian cuisine and the breakfast is buffet-style.
Click here for more information on availability and prices at Idea Hotel Milano San Siro.
Mandarin Oriental Milan. Located in the very city center a stone’s throw away from La Scala, this exclusive 5-star hotel combines Italian style and Oriental luxury. Guests will enjoy exclusive spa facilities and sauna, and rooms with a flat-screen TV, a coffee machine, and a sitting room. Alongside your business, this is the best area for shopping and sightseeing in Milan city center.
Click here for more information on availability and latest rates at Mandarin Oriental Milan.
Baglioni Hotel Carlton. Luxurious and modern boutique hotel in Milan city center, Baglioni Hotel Carlton is located in the fashion district near the Duomo, La Scala theater, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. The hotel provides spacious and elegant rooms, free WIFI, a modern spa with several beauty treatments and a coffee shop that is a popular meeting point in Milan.
Click here for more information on availability and current prices at Baglioni Carlton Hotel.
Hotel degli Arcimboldi. Minimalist and modern in style, Hotel degli Arcimboldi is close to Bignami metro station and 10 minutes metro ride from Porta Garibaldi train station. The hotel provides two meeting rooms with a capacity of 80 seats each and a projector, free WIFI, air-conditioned rooms with Sky channels, a buffet-style breakfast.
Click here for more details on booking availability and prices at Hotel degli Arcimboldi in Milan.
Things to do in Milan
It might not be as art-filled as Florence nor as monuments-packed as Rome, but you can rest assured that even if you stay for a week, you will have enough options of what to do in Milan and activities to fill your evenings with many exciting things to do in Milan at night.
Duomo di Milano. Make sure you don’t live Milan without visiting the stunning Gothic-style Cathedral, and by visiting I mean both outside and inside. The famous Gothic facade of the Duomo is no less than stunning and the perfect introduction to the sumptuous interior.
The works for Milan’s cathedral started in 1386 on the site of Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Tecla basilica when the religious Gothic style had reached its climax. The planning stage lasted for years and involved engineers, architects, sculptors, artists from many European countries.
The foreign workers arrived by early 15th century and the general line was to stick to the principles of the Gothic style. After the Counter-Reformation, or Catholic Reformation, introduced in 1563 by the Council of Trent in response to the Protestantism, Cardinals Carlo Borromeo and his nephew and successor Federico Borromeo, both belonging to the powerful Milanese clan, applied the architectural standards on the grand presbytery, the side altars, the crypt, the baptistery and the floor.
The world-famous facade, possibly the most photographed sight in Milan, was started in 1590 under the supervision of architect Pellegrini and continued with Richini and Carlo Buzzi, even though for years they kept the old facade of Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, demolished gradually as works proceeded and finally brought down in 1683. The works for the new facade re-started only in 1791 with a project by Felice Soavi and officially ended in 1805 upon Napoleon’s order.
Built in several centuries, Milan’s Duomo is a splendid reflection of layers of history, architectural styles, engineering, artists, and architects.
Duomo di Milano address: Piazza del Duomo.
How to get there: Metro, Duomo station, Yellow and Red lines.
Duomo di Milano admission fee: 3€ for the Duomo, the Crypt and the Museum, 7 if you wish to add the archaeological area from inside the cathedral; 9€ for the rooftop if you climb up, 13€ if you take the elevator. You can buy the tickets at the ticket office at the entrance of the museum on the left of the cathedral.
Duomo di Milano opening hours: Daily 8 am-7 pm, last ticket 6 pm, last entrance 6.10 pm. Crypt and San Carlo tomb daily 11 am-5.30 pm (Saturday until 5 pm), Sunday 1.30-3.30 pm, last entrance 15 minutes before closing. Duomo’s Museum and San Gottardo church open daily 10 am-6 pm, Wednesday closed, last ticket 5 pm, last entrance 5.10 pm. Duomo’s rooftop open daily 9 am-7 pm, last ticket 6 pm, last entrance 6.10 pm. The archaeological area inside the cathedral open daily 9 am-7 pm, last ticket 6 pm, last entrance 6.10 pm.
Duomo di Milano website: http://www.duomomilano.it/en/
Duomo di Milano tours: We recommend Walks of Italy’s Best of Milan tour that will show you the cathedral in all its parts taking you also to the crypt and the rooftop. Part of the tour is also the astonishing mural painting The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci with a pre-reserved ticket to skip the line.
Click here for more details on availability and prices of Milano tour with The Last Supper and Duomo’s rooftop.
Sforza Castle. Being Sforza one of the most important and influential families in the city’s history, their Castello Sforzesco is definitely one of the things to see in Milan.
For centuries symbol of tyranny and foreign occupation, the Milanese have a love/hate relation with this majestic residence, the construction of which started between 1360 and 1370 with a stronghold over the city’s medieval walls ordered by Galeazzo II Visconti. Throughout the years, the other members of the powerful Visconti dynasty carried on adding more parts such as the lodgings allocated to the troops in 1392 and later, under the rule of the last Signore of the Visconti family, Filippo Maria, the two parts of the structure are connected. This is when the square-shaped castle, complete with four square-shaped towers and a wide fence, became an aristocratic residence. Filippo Maria Visconti lived his last years in solitude and died without legitimate heirs but with only a daughter, Bianca Maria, who in 1441 married Tuscany-born condottiere Francesco Sforza, founder of Milan’s Sforza powerful dynasty.
During his reign, the Sforza Castle knew a period of new splendor. Francesco was aware of the negative sentiment the people had toward this building so he justified the renovation with the will to embellish the city and protect it against foreign invasions.
Among the following members of the Sforza family, Ludovico Maria, nicknamed Il Moro (The Moor), invited to the Milan court, one of the most elegant and exclusive in Europe at the time, great artists of the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Donato Bramante.
Today the castle is the symbol of the city and a cultural center that hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions in the beautiful interior.
Sforza Castle address: Piazza Castello.
How to get there: Metro, Red line, Cairoli Castello station; tram 4.
Sforza Castle admission fee: Free to enter the Castle premises and courtyard. 5€ for the Museum, the ticket is valid for the whole day and allows access to all the museums inside the Castle.
Sforza Castle opening hours: The Castle opens daily 7 am-7.30 pm, the Museum opens Tuesday-Sunday 9 am-5.30 pm, last entrance 5 pm. Closed December 25th, January 1st, Easter Monday.
Sforza Castle website: https://www.milanocastello.it/en.
Click here for information and prices on a half-day tour with Milan’s main landmarks such as the Sforza Castle, the Duomo, The Last Supper and La Scala Opera House.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Known as Milan’s salotto (parlor), if you feel like having a coffee surrounded by big brands, in Italy’s modern historical settings in the shade of the Duomo’s famous guglie (spires), this is your place.
Dating back to the late 19th century, the Galleria connecting Piazza Duomo to Piazza della Scala has been the symbol of Milan’s style and elegance in the past two centuries, just as architect Giuseppe Mengoni meant it when he won the contract in 1863 and on March 7th, 1865, when the first stone of the gallery was laid out by the same king Vittorio Emanuele II after whom it was named. First days of enthusiasm and celebrations for the beginning of a real construction adventure, a cutting-edge project for the time that will badly clash with the mysterious death of the mastermind Mengoni who fell (some say accident, some suicide) from the highest scaffolding on December 30th, 1877, on the eve of the official inauguration.
To fund the works, the government launch a lottery that turned out to be a failure, but soon after its opening, the gallery became Milan’s parlor, with the members of the local bourgeoisie spending their days between the trendy coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques. According to the Council regulation, all commercial activities need to have their sign written in golden color against a black background, no exception made, even McDonald’s had to comply.
In the original project, never realized, the huge arch at the entrance from Piazza Duomo was supposed to be crowned by a sculptured ancient carriage and faced by an identical arch placed in the southern end of the gallery.
In the middle of the gallery is the mosaic of a bull symbol of Turin, apparently portrayed as a mockery for the represented city. According to tradition, if you place your foot on the bull’s genitals and do a full turn with your eyes closed, it brings good luck. While this practice is very unlikely to bring any good fortune, it certainly causes the mosaic to be constantly under repair.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele address: Piazza del Duomo.
How to get there: Metro yellow and red lines, Duomo station.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele admission fee: Free.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele opening hours: Always open.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele website: http://www.ingalleria.com/en.
La Scala Opera House. World-famous opera house that hosted some of the biggest singers such as Italian Luciano Pavarotti, La Scala was built at the end of the 18th century with a project of architect Giuseppe Piermarini on the site of the old theater destroyed by a fire. A symbolic building of Neoclassic architecture, La Scala displays musical instruments, paintings, play objects, dresses and numerous relics belonging to the great figures that populated the three centuries of its history such as musicians Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini, orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini and theater actress Eleonora Duse.
It’s possible to visit La Scala and its museum, but if shows or rehearsals are taking place you can’t visit the theater hall.
La Scala address: Largo Ghiringhelli 1, Piazza della Scala. Ticket offices for shows at La Scala are at Biglietteria centrale in Piazza del Duomo Galleria del Sagrato, and Biglietteria Filodrammatici in Via Filodrammatici 2 under the colonnade of the theater. Here the website for both ticket offices.
How to get there: Metro red line, Duomo station.
La Scala admission fee: 9€, for the over-65 ticket is 6€, for under 12 and disabled free of charge.
La Scala opening hours: Daily 9 am-5.30 pm (last entrance 5 pm), closed on December 7th the afternoon of December 24th, December 25th and 26th, afternoon of December 31st, January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, August 15th. For information tel. +38 02 88 79 74 73.
La Scala website: http://www.teatroallascala.org/en/museum/visit.html
Santa Maria delle Grazie church and The Last Supper. If you are still wondering what to visit in Milan city center, this red-tiled church can make it for a fascinating stop during your trip.
UNESCO-listed Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is an important example of Renaissance architecture, and to make it even more priceless, on the northern wall of its refectory is the immortal mural painting by Leonardo Da Vinci The Last Supper painted between 1495 and 1497.
Started by Guiniforte Solari in 1463, the complex was consistently modified in the 15th century by Donato Bramante, architect and painter, one of the most important artists of the Italian Renaissance, as requested by Ludovico Il Moro, who wanted the church to become their family’s mausoleum.
The Last Supper, the only mural painting by Leonardo Da Vinci still visible today, is based on the Gospel of John and is aimed at representing the very moment when the Christ, portrayed almost pyramid-shaped with open and stretched out arms, pronounced the words “One of you will betray me” surrounded by his surprised Apostles. In 1943, the Anglo-American shelling hit the complex and razed the refectory, only a few walls were spared, including the one where is the famous painting.
Santa Maria delle Grazie address: Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2, along Corso Magenta.
How to get there: Metro red line, Conciliazione station; Cadorna FN station, red and green lines; tram 16, Santa Maria delle Grazie stop.
Santa Maria delle Grazie admission fee: 10€ (+ 2€ for pre-booking rights). Booking is mandatory, the first Sunday of every month entrance is free of charge but booking is still mandatory. Click here for a 3-hour Milan tour with The Last Supper included.
Santa Maria delle Grazie opening hours: 7 am-12 pm and 3.30-7.30 pm (4-7.30 pm in summer); holidays 7.30 am-12.30 pm and 4-9 pm. The Last Supper opens Tuesday-Sunday 8.15 am-6.45 pm, closed on Mondays; the visit lasts 15 minutes for a maximum of 30 people per time.
Santa Maria delle Grazie website: http://legraziemilano.it/.
Pinacoteca di Brera. The Pinacoteca di Brera, built on ancient convent of the religious order of the Humiliati suppressed by Papal bull in 1571, is an art gallery displaying a huge collection of ancient and modern art. Covering an area of more than 24,000 square meters, it’s one of the largest museum complexes in Milan, hosting important paintings especially from Veneto and Lombardia schools.
The Accademia delle Belle Arti of Brera was founded in 1776 with a decree by empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and responsible of the construction works were architect Giuseppe Piermarini, pupil of Luigi Vanvitelli, and artist Giocondo Albertolli. The statue of Napoleon I in the middle of the Accademia’s courtyard is by sculptor Antonio Canova.
Among the masterpieces displayed at the Pinacoteca of Brera palace, you can admire artists such as Donato Bramante, Raffaello Sanzio, Piero della Francesca, Caravaggio, Tiziano Vecellio, Tintoretto, Bramantino, Correggio, Perugino, Andrea Mantegna, Giambattista Tiepolo, Canaletto, Bergognone, Barnaba da Modena, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Lorenzo Veneziano, Niccolò di Pietro, Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Veronese, Padovanino, Moretto da Brescia, Gentile da Fabriano, Carlo Carrà.
Pinacoteca Brera address: Via Brera 28.
How to get there: Metro green line, Lanza station.
Pinacoteca Brera admission fee: 10€, free on the first Sunday of every month except for temporary exhibitions with a separate ticket; every first Thursday of the month opens in the evening 6-10.15 pm and entrance is 2€; every third Thursday of the month Pinacoteca di Brera hosts live music with young musicians and entrance is 3€. Audio-guides in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German.
Pinacoteca Brera opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8.30 am-7.15 pm (ticket office closes 8.40 pm), closed on Mondays, January 1st, May 1st, December 25th. Every first and third Thursday of the month 6-10.15 pm (ticket office closes 9.40 pm).
Pinacoteca Brera website: http://pinacotecabrera.org/en/.
Navigli. A walk around the Navigli, the city’s scenic canals, including of aperitivo or dinner is definitely one of the best things to do in Milan at night.
Romantic and trendy, the very inception of Milan’s Navigli construction dates back to the 12th century. The first canal to be inaugurated in 1179 within Milan’s canals system has been the Naviglio Grande, the big canal that takes its waters from the Ticino river, used for irrigation purposes first and then for ship travel in 1272.
Apart from the Naviglio Grande, you can also walk along the Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Martesana, built along the ancient Roman road as requested by Ludovico Il Moro in 1496 and where many residential villas were erected so that noble families could enjoy the convenience of traveling by water.
A narrow niche along the Naviglio Grande is called Vicolo dei Lavandai, roughly translating into “washermen alley”, where women used to wash clothes and linens and an old washtub and spin dryer have been preserved, giving the place a traditional, vintage look.
How to get there: You can reach the Navigli area by metro, red line, area around Porta Genova station, or by bus n. 94 and 3.
Navigli tours: To better explore the history and the life in Milan’s Navigli, you can take a lovely evening walking tour and enjoy some wine and local treats.
Click here for more information on booking and prices of Navigli Canal Evening Walking Tour.
Where to eat: Restaurants in Milan
Manna. Delicious, satisfying, high-quality and affordable, this restaurant serves traditional cuisine in a modern twist. One of those rewarding treats we deserve after a long day spent sightseeing. Open Monday-Saturday lunch and dinner, closed on Sunday. Address: Piazzale Governo Provvisorio 6, tel. +39 02 26809153, http://mannamilano.it/.
Serendib. If you fancy Indian and Sri Lankan spicy flavors, this is your place. A sensory overload served in cozy sub-continental surroundings. Open daily only for dinner, or lunch upon request. Address: Via Pontida 2, tel. +39 02 6592139, http://www.serendib.it/.
I Capatosta. Serving an absolutely delicious pizza strictly prepared in a wood-fired oven on the bank of the Navigli, I Capatosta is a great place for an alternative evening in Milan. Address: Alzaia Naviglio Grande 56 (Moscova metro station, green line), tel. +39 02 89415910, http://www.icapatosta.it/.
Osteria dei Vecchi Sapori. The Italian for “Tavern of Ancient Flavors”, here you can enjoy truly yesteryear and homemade flavors for tavern-like prices in a minimalist rustic interior. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and every day for dinner. Address: Via Carmagnola 3, tel. +39 02 6686148, http://www.vecchisapori.it/.
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