Milan is one of the coolest cities in Italy, and I’m not just saying it because it’s my hometown. Milan is the city of fashion and the economic capital of Italy, which are both quite clearly visible when you’re walking around. There are modern and trendy skyscrapers dotted here and there, surrounded by beautiful historical buildings all over the city centre. In this post I will show you what to do in Milan in one day, covering all the main tourist attractions that you have to see, where to eat and the best things to do in Milan. If you’re visiting Italy’s fashion capital on a limited time availability, this is the guide and 1-day itinerary for you!
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What to see in Milan in one day
Like most cities in Italy Milan is rich of history and culture, if you were to visit all the museums of Milan one day wouldn’t be enough. I’ve lived there for 18 years and can’t say I’ve gotten anywhere near seeing them all! However all the main attractions and famous buildings are all dotted close to the city centre, meaning that in one day you will be able to walk all around the centre of Milan and, even if only from outside, see all the main points of interest. These are the must-see places of Milan, the places that even if you only have one day in this beautiful city, you absolutely can’t miss.
Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo is both the most central square in Milan and also one of the most visited parts of the city, and not just by tourists but also locals hanging out on weekends. When I was in high school we often used to meet up in Piazza del Duomo with friends and then from there go explore the shopping streets around it. I have never personally been inside the Duomo and if you’re only visiting for one day I don’t think it’s an essential. In my opinion you should visit the roof of the Duomo cathedral instead. You get an amazing view over the roofs of Milan, and the detail of the architecture on the roof is also pretty incredible (visit at sunset for the best pink and pastel colours, both of the spiers and the sky)! Access to the rooftop only is 9 EUR if you take the stairs or 14 EUR if you take the lift. If you want to go also inside the cathedral it will be more expensive.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Right next to Piazza del Duomo is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Prepare to be amazed by the architecture and decorations of Italy’s oldest shopping mall. With its glass dome and fine details on the side of the walls the Galleria is an incredible place to walk around. Despite it being a shopping gallery I wouldn’t recommend buying anything here, as the prices are considerably higher than anywhere else in Milan. Fun fact about this place; on the mosaic on the floor there is a bull, tradition has it that you have to put your heel on the balls of the bull and spin three times for good luck. The tiles that make up the bull have had to be redone multiple times over the years since they get worn out quickly by how many people spin on them every day.
Piazza della Scala
If you enter Galleria Vittorio Emanuele from Piazza del Duomo and cross it you will arrive in Piazza della Scala, the second most famous and important square in Milan. Every side of this square has is historically important. If you’ve just come from the Duomo you will have Galleria Vittorio Emanuele at your back, on your left is Teatro alla Scala, Milan’s most famous opera house, next to La Scala and in front of you is the Palazzo della Banca Commerciale Italiana, one of Italy’s oldest banks, and on your right on the remaining side of the square is Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall. In Palazzo Marino they actually do temporary art exhibitions that you can access for free. The queue to go inside however is always crazy so unless you have plenty of time to spare or it happens to be quite empty, I wouldn’t recommend visiting it.
Brera is one of the trendy areas of Milan. The best route to go from Piazza del Duomo to Castello Sforzesco in my opinion goes through Brera. Some sections of these roads are entirely pedestrian, so that you can enjoy the atmosphere and walk around the stone cobble roads of Milan. This also where the famous Accademia di Brera is, the famous art academy where historically many of Italy’s artists studied. If you come here in the evening there are also lots of cool bars and restaurants where you can hang out.
Castello Sforzesco is where the Sforza family, the Dukes of Milan used to live. Today it is the home of multiple art collections and historical exhibitions. Quite bad of me to admit but I have never actually been to see any of the museums inside the Castello Sforzesco. You can go inside the courtyard of the castle for free, as it acts as passage between Piazza Cairoli and the inside of Parco Sempione, Milan’s largest park.
Where to eat in Milan
Coming from someone that lived in Milan for 18 years and has tried a lot restaurants in the city, I can say that the cuisine in Milan is pretty good everywhere. However if you’re only visiting for one day I understand that you might not want to travel around the whole city searching for the best restaurant. How convenient that my top three favourite restaurants are right by the Duomo!
The all time winner. This little shop was founded in 1888 and is specialized in “panzerotti”, which are basically like a small fried calzone. The prices vary depending on what stuffing you get in your panzerotto, but are never more expensive than 5 EUR and the classic mozzarella and tomato one starts at around 3 EUR. They also have sweet options with Nutella for the sweet tooths out there! There are no tables and chairs to sit at, it’s a small take away shop where you pop in, grab a panzerotto and eat while exploring the rest of Milan. My main tip here is to go slightly before lunch time since at noon on the dot the queue starts growing, they even have bouncers to manage it!
Not exactly the traditional pizza, since they do big thick slices instead of serving the classic thin round pizza, but it’s one of my favourite nonetheless! If you like thick pizza, this is the place to go. For a sit down meal with a slice of pizza and a drink it’s around 5.50 EUR (a 50p extra gets you a large slice, definitely worth it if you ask me)! There are quite a lot of Spontini around Milan, one of them being right next to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele so that you can pop in for a quick pizza while exploring the centre of Milan. This central venue has stand up tables so as to make it a faster meal, whilst the others have proper tables and seats for a sit-down meal.
Fresco & Cimmino
If you’re visiting the area around the Duomo of Milan in the evening and fancy a sit down dinner, this is the best place to go without breaking the bank and your holiday budget. It’s in the street parallel to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, so in a perfect central location. The restaurant owners are originally from Naples and this is reflected in the cuisine, their pizzas and desserts are really fantastic. A meal with starter, main and dessert will cost you around 25 EUR. They have some partner restaurants all around Milan, the one you see in the video is their other venue Camillo Benso.
Milan travel guides worth checking out:
Where to stay in Milan
Having lived in Milan for a large part of my life I never actually had any need for a hotel so there aren’t any I can recommend personally. I can however recommend what area of Milan to stay in to make sure you are well connected to public transport and close to shops and restaurants. The closer you stay to Piazza del Duomo the more central you are, but also the more expensive it gets. I would recommend staying in an area like the Navigli, from which you can easily get a bus, tram or tube to the centre and spend a little less. Plus it’s now the hip area to hang out at night, so when you get back after a long day of sightseeing you can relax with a good drink and enjoy the local nightlife. Public transport in Milan costs 1.50 EUR and will take you pretty much everywhere around the city.
Have you been to Milan before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! Milan is a city with plenty of things to do, however if you’re only visiting for one day the things I have listed here are in my opinion the must-see attractions that you can’t miss. If you have longer in Milan and wonder where to stay, check out this guide to the best areas to stay in Milan according to a local. If you’re staying longer and want to go on day trips outside Milan, Lake Como is a popular choice, find out more about it here.
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