Having lived in Milan (via San Maurilio) about 4 years, I have many ideas on what to do in Milan. If this city were transplanted in North America, I’d say it’s a city so rich with culture and with so much to do that one could spend weeks there. However, in Italy it has a lot of competition, so when people came to visit us, I’d usually suggest spending two days in Milan and then using the city as a springboard to do day trips. (My recommendations for day trips from Milan are here.)
Here are my suggestions for the best things to do in two days in Milan
Milan’s Duomo or Cathedral
Definitely go see Milan’s stunning Cathedral, or Duomo. Don’t miss the roof, unless the weather is awful. I’d add my favorite Beyond The Obvious tip: if you’re taking the Metro (subway) to the duomo, while you’re still underground, orient yourself so that you exit the metro walking up the stairs which have you directly facing the cathedral. The Duomo is perfectly framed during the ascent, and – especially if you’ve never seen it before – it’s breathtaking.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Right next to the Duomo is a covered Galleria which connects Piazza Duomo to Piazza della Scala. It’s lined with some high-end and some touristy shops in addition to cafes and restaurants. In the middle of the Galleria you may see women turning 3 times on their heel on top of the well-worn mosaic “Bull’s Balls”. Allegedly this brings luck in love and happiness, so why not try it.
Don’t forget to stop at the intersection and look up to admire the glass dome, an architectural feat in its time.
La Scala Opera House
Milan’s opera house, which is at the other end of the Galleria, is world famous. If you’re there during opera season and you enjoy opera, try to get tickets! There are last-minute tickets to be had for many shows. Or, go visit the museum inside the opera house for a few euros.
The Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci
This painting, also known as L’Ultima Cena or more commonly, the Cenacolo lives inside the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It’s one of Milan’s major attractions, and visitors can only see the painting by booking a 15-minute slot in advance. Slots sell out months ahead of time so try to get a reservation early, which you can do online here. However, if there are no available reservations for your two days in Milan, try booking a tour with a local tour operator. Often, the tour operators buy chunks of tickets in advance in order to allow them to sell spots on their tours.
Spend some time on the pedestrian street of Via Dante, ideally on a Sunday afternoon. The Milanesi dress up in their best and walk up and down this street socializing. If you’re there in the winter, try some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, or get a cioccolata calda which is technically a hot chocolate, but tastes more like a liquid chocolate bar in a cup.
As long as you’re on Via Dante: walk to the end and snap a photo of the castle, the Castello Sforzesco. The most stunning part of the castle is its facade with fountain. You could go inside and see the museum, which houses a statue by Michelangelo. Or take a walk in the castle grounds and the huge Parco Sempione – but not after dark.
Go Shopping (or window shopping) in Milan’s famous shopping district, the Quadrilatero D’Oro
To find it on a map, locate Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone. I did a really fun History of Fashion tour with Context Travel in this district.
Spend the Evening in the Navigli District
The navigli are man-made canals which remain from the extensive network of canals originally built to transport heavy construction materials. For example they transported the marble used to create Milan’s iconic cathedral. Most of the canals have been covered up, so these days they don’t go anywhere, but they provide a nice atmosphere for restaurants, bars, and floating barges (which house restaurants and bars).
On the last Sunday of the month, the navigli district also has a huge antiques market.
And that covers it! If you have just two days in Milan, the activities and sights above are a great introductory overview and will give travelers a sense of the city. Like me, you’ll want to go back again and again.
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