The economic and fashion capital of Italy, Milan is a dynamic city with a unique vibe. This summer, we kicked off our 3-week Italy adventure with a weekend in Milan. If you live in Europe, however, you could easily visit the city for weekend getaway. In this article, I'll show you how we spent our fun, yet jet-lagged weekend in Milan. With tips for booking attractions and recommendations on where to eat, I hope it gives you inspiration for your trip to Milan.
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Brief Thoughts about Milan
Located in northern Italy, Milan is capital of the Lombardy region and is the second-most populous city in Italy after Rome. Home to Italy's stock exchange (Borsa Italiana), it's the wealthiest city in Italy and is one of the world's four fashion capitals. (Paris, London, and New York are the others.)
Perhaps because of its role as the economic and finance capital of Italy, Milan has a different feel than other Italian cities we visited. An energetic and industrious air permeates the city. And its systems, such as public transportation, seem to function efficiently. And though we encountered some crowds at the "sights to see," overall we did not feel overwhelmed with other tourists in every inch of the city.
How to Get to Milan
Flying to Milan
Milan is a great place to start a trip to northern Italy as flights into its airports are often cheaper than they are to other smaller cities. Based on your departure city, you'll probably fly to one of these airports:
Getting to Milan from Malpensa Airport
Coming from Hong Kong, we flew into Milan's Malpensa Airport. It's located about 50 km from central Milan. So, once you've arrived, you'll still need to make it downtown which takes about 50 minutes.
As long as you're able to handle your luggage, I highly recommend taking public transportation. We took the Malpensa Express which was easy to find following signs in the airport. You can buy your tickets at the machines or go into the office.
The train was comfortable and much cheaper than a taxi. Once we arrived at the Milano Centrale Station, a taxi to our hotel in the Brera neighborhood cost ~12 €.
Check out the Malpensa Airport website for more information on how to get to Milan.
Train to Milan
If you're coming to Milan from somewhere in Europe, you might consider traveling by train instead. Many trains run to Milano Centrale Station each day. Once in the station, it's easy to grab a taxi outside or hop on the metro.
Booking Train Tickets: On Rail Europe, I found it easy to check out train schedules, pre-book tickets, and choose seats for our train travel around Italy.
Where to Stay in Milan
Milan has a variety of places to stay so you should be able to find one that fits your budget. Since it was our first time to Milan, we knew we'd be jet-lagged. So, we wanted a place to stay that was close to the main attractions.
How I find great accommodations: To find the best deals, I generally look on several hotel websites (usually Agoda.com and Booking.com for Europe). As a frequent customer, sometimes I find flash deals or special discounts that can save me a nice chunk of money. Then, I also check on VRBO and Airbnb to see if I can find a cute apartment that might work better than a hotel.
B&B Hotel Milano City Center Duomo
After searching several sites, we settled on the B&B Hotel Milano City Center Duomo. This 3-star hotel was conveniently located in the Brera neighborhood and within walking distance of the Duomo and the Castello Sforzesco. The room's modern decor was clean and comfortable, despite how small the room was.
Although it was a B&B, we didn't pay for the breakfast since we wanted to try out some local cafes. Not that it was relevant to us, but this hotel is also pet-friendly. We saw a couple cute dogs on our way in and out, which always makes me happy!
If you're looking for an affordable place to stay in the heart of Milan, this is a great choice.
Start Searching for a Place to Stay in Milan
Trying to find the perfect hotel in Milan or to get idea of what to budget for accommodations? Use the map below to start your search. Filter by your individual preferences and input your travel dates to see what places are available and what their nightly rates are.
Getting Around Milan
Since our hotel was in a central location, we walked everywhere during our weekend in Milan. If you're staying further away from attractions or your feet are tired, you may want to consider other transportation options.
Public Transportation in Milan
Milan has an excellent public transportation network. It consists of a metro (5 lines), plus buses and trams. Check out how to use Milan's public transportation network here and download the ATM app before you arrive.
Taxis in Milan
Although Uber does operate in Milan (unlike most of Italy), only Uber Black is available, so it will be more expensive. We found it easy to use the local taxis instead. Either call the taxi company yourself or ask your hotel to call you a taxi and it should arrive within a few minutes.
Weekend Itinerary for Milan
Spending a weekend in Milan was a great way to kick off our Italy trip. Even though we were very tired and jet-lagged, we made the most out of our time. I'll take you through our day-by-day itinerary, sharing places we enjoyed visiting and eating during our 2.5 days in Milan.
Day 1 in Milan - Jet-lagged Saturday
After a ~20-hour trip from Hong Kong, we arrived bright and early (7:00 am) at Milan's Malpensa Airport. Immigration was a breeze and our luggage arrived promptly. Then, we made our way to Milan on the Malpensa Express train.
Arriving at Milano Centrale Station
Purchasing a SIM Card
Because Milan was our first stop on a 3-week trip around Italy, our first goal was to purchase a SIM card for our phones. We stopped at the TIM store in Milano Centrale Station and purchased 2 Tourist SIM cards. For both the SIM cards and the activation fee, the total came to 75 €.
Taxi from Milano Centrale Station to Brera Neighborhood
Once we were ready to leave, we followed signs to the taxi stand. Several taxis were waiting and it was easy to grab one. This wasn't the case in every city we visited, so we got lucky that day.
The taxi to our hotel - B&B Hotel Milano City Center Duomo - in the Brera neighborhood cost roughly 12 €. When we got to our hotel around 10:30 am, we weren't able to check in yet. But they stored our luggage for us so we could start exploring.
Breakfast at Princi Bakery Brera
By the time we reached Milan, I was hungry and under-caffeinated. So, we immediately found a café for a bit of breakfast. The Princi Bakery was my favorite breakfast spot. In addition to sweet pastries (a traditional Italian breakfast), Princi had savory options, as well as yogurt and fruit. Sweet pastries aren't really my thing in the morning, so I appreciate the variety.
Since we were sleepy and feeling a bit gross from air travel, we decided to explore the Brera neighborhood until we could check in to our hotel at 2:00 pm.
One of the most prominent attractions in Brera is the Castello Sforzesco - a medieval Visconti fortress. In the 15th century, it was reconstructed and became the home to the Sforza dynasty that ruled during Milan's Renaissance.
Today, you can wander the outside grounds of the castle for free during the day. To visit the museums and exhibits inside the fortress, there's a small admissions fee.
Since it was a beautiful day, we wandered the castle grounds and admired the architecture. The castle also seemed to be a popular spot for fashion photo shoots on the Saturday we visited.
If you walk through Castello Sforzesco, you'll end up in Parco Sempione which was historically where the dukes living in the castle would hunt. In 1891, it became a public park and seems a popular location for picnics and families hanging out on the weekends.
On a sunny day, we also found it was a great spot to get some shade. Plus, the park has several public water fountains around it where you can refill your water bottle.
At the northwestern end of the Parco Sempione, be sure to admire the triumphal, Neoclassical arch - Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace) - in the Piazza Sempione.
Grab a Pizza for Lunch
By the time we'd walked around the castle and park for a couple of hours, we were hungry again. What can I say, travel works up an appetite! Across from the Piazza Sempione, we found a spot called Taglialà to satisfy our pizza craving.
Though after consuming an entire pizza and sharing a carafe of wine, the jet-lag hit hard and we had to return to our hotel to check in and to nap!
Shopping in Milan
If you're not traveling to Milan from as far away as we were, then you could easily use the afternoon hours to shop. Being one of Europe's premier shopping destinations means you're bound to find something that appeals to you. On our way back to our hotel, Jeremy even managed to find a pair of dress shoes he liked.
Walking through Milan
After our afternoon nap and getting cleaned up, we decided to walk to the Navigli neighborhood in the south. Our route took us through central Milan where we admired many churches, colorful buildings, street art, etc.
Along our walk, we passed the cathedral and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II - two of the main sights to see in Milan. At that time of day (6:00 pm), they were quite crowded so we planned to return the next morning.
Aperitivo along the Canals
Although you may think of Venice for canals in Italy, historically, Milan also had its fair share of waterways. Today, you can see the last remnants of the canal network in Milan in the Navigli District.
A Bit of History on the Canals of Milan: Initial construction on the canals in Milan began in the 12th century. Throughout the 12th to 17th centuries, a network of canals (navigli) was developed. Eventually, the canal system was connected to the Ticino River and Adda River. This canal system brought goods and wealth to the landlocked city of Milan.
Wandering around the Navigli neighborhood today, you'll find artisan shops, cafes, and lots of bars and restaurants. It's a great spot for an aperitivo and people-watching, though it gets really crowded in summer.
Dinner in the Navigli District
After enjoying an Aperol Spritz, we headed to dinner. Since we didn't have a reservation and it was a Saturday night, places were kind of full. As a result, we ended up sitting inside at El Brellin. Luckily, their air conditioning was better than many places we sat inside later in the trip, so it wasn't too stuffy.
At El Brellin, we tried a few of the Lombardy regional specialties: Osso Buco, veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine, and broth, as well as Saffron Risotto.
Walk through Milan and Admire Sights at Night
After we stuffed ourselves at dinner, we walked back the ~2.5 km to our hotel in Brera. By the time we finished eating at 10:30 pm, it was dark outside so we enjoyed seeing the churches lit up as we walked.
Day 2 in Milan - Sunday Sights
After sleeping like the dead, we awoke on Sunday morning feeling (mostly) refreshed. Luckily, I'd set an alarm, because jet-lag didn't wake me up early like I'd expected. We only had one full day in Milan, so we had to get started.
Beat the Crowds to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a gorgeous neoclassical 4-story shopping arcade and a famous landmark in Milan. Nicknamed 'il salotto di Milano' (Milan's drawing room), it's home to luxury brands, such as Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. You'll also find a number of (expensive) restaurants and cafes there.
If you want to admire the beautiful architecture and artwork in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, I highly recommend getting there early before the shops open. That way, you can appreciate the soaring glass ceilings and intricate mosaic floors properly.
Breakfast at Ravizza
After taking photos at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Duomo, we searched for a café for breakfast. The city felt quite empty at 9:30am on a Sunday morning.
Eventually we stumbled upon a place that seemed popular with locals - Ravizza 1871. They had a great sweet pastry selection. Unfortunately for me, I didn't see any savory options.
Duomo di Milano - Highlight of Milan
Once we finished breakfast, we headed back to the Milan Cathedral - Duomo di Milano. For me, the beautiful and architecturally fascinating duomo was the star attraction of Milan.
Construction on the cathedral began in the 14th century by Giangaleazzo Visconti. However, many of the pinnacles, arches and buttresses were added much later, in the 19th century. Made of Candoglia marble, the cathedral has a pearly white façade with a pinkish hue which I found especially impressive at night.
Purchasing Tickets for the Duomo di Milano
Although you can pre-purchase tickets online, we did not for this particular cathedral. As it turned out, we only had to wait ~10 minutes in line at the ticket office at 11:00 am on a Sunday.
When you purchase your ticket, you can decide how many parts of the cathedral you'd like to visit. We purchased the combo ticket - Duomo Pass - Stairs (15 € pp), which includes the cathedral, archaeological area, rooftop (stairs), plus the museum.
If you're not up for climbing stairs but still want to see the view, you can purchase the Duomo Pass Lift (20 €). They also sell individual tickets if you only want to visit certain parts of the cathedral.
Visiting the Milan Cathedral
Upon entering the Milan Cathedral, we realized that Mass was in progress. Visiting a cathedral during Mass has its pros and cons. On the positive side, it's a cultural experience to see how Mass is conducted in another country. Plus, it's a more sensory experience as you listen to the organ and smell the incense.
On the other hand, since it's a worship service, it's important not to be disruptive. This means that you cannot tour the entire cathedral or get close to the altar during the Mass. In the Duomo di Milano, you can still walk most of the way up the side aisles and admire the smaller chapels on the sides of the cathedral.
What to Wear: In order to enter the cathedral, you'll need to make sure you're respectful and wearing appropriate clothing - shoulders covered and no short shorts. Easier to observe in winter, I'm sure. We noticed they were stricter about the shoulders. Many men entered wearing shorts and ladies in short(ish) dresses (no short shorts though). I carried a scarf to throw around my shoulders whenever we entered a church and wore knee-length dresses.
Duomo di Milano Rooftop
Next on our tour of the Duomo di Milano, we climbed the stairs to the rooftop. It wasn't a bad climb and the stairs were not too steep. Once we got to the top, we admired the intricate spires surrounding us. The Milan Cathedral has 135 spires and pinnacles, each one adorned with a saint or symbolic figure.
It was quite toasty on the rooftop since we visited at midday and temperatures were in the 90s (low 30s Celsius), but the views were beautiful.
To finish our tour of the Duomo, we descended into the archaeological area. When construction began on the "new" Milan Cathedral in 1386, they decided to build upon the remains of the ancient basilicas - Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Tecla.
It was fascinating to see the ruins of these old churches along with the Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti hidden beneath the cathedral.
An Afternoon of Wandering and Eating
By the time we finished our tour of the cathedral, we were ready for more sustenance. Since we'd visited the main sights we wanted to see, we basically spent our afternoon wandering, shopping, and eating. Not a bad way to pass the time! I'll list a few spots below where we ate and that I'd recommend.
After a few hours of wandering, we also had a brief nap and refresh at the hotel because, well, jet-lag + summer heat = sleepiness.
Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina Sorbillo
Right around the corner from the Duomo, you'll find this hugely popular street food place. Serving deep fried calzone pizza with lots of yummy cheese, sauce, and meat for only ~4 €, it's a delicious option for a cheap lunch. Though be prepared for a wait.
We shared a calzone and sat behind the Duomo to people-watch. It was super messy, but delicious. Just be sure to have napkins or tissues on hand.
De Santis - Paninis
This panini place has been around since 1964 serving delicious sandwiches with fresh ingredients. We ate in the original De Santis location on Corso Magenta - a cozy space with original furnishings and loads of charm.
Ciacco Gelato Senz'altro
Is it true that when a place has queue, then it has to be good? I don't know, but it was true of Ciacco Gelato Senz'altro. One of the more flavorful gelatos we tasted in Milan, I highly recommend a stop for a refreshing snack.
What We Missed - The Last Supper
One of the sights many visitors want to see when visiting Milan is Leonardo da Vinci's painting - The Last Supper. Located in the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie, it portrays the last dinner Jesus had with his disciples and is one of the world's most iconic images.
In order to preserve the painting, only 25 visitors may enter the room, spaced in 15-min increments. As a result, tickets sell out quickly and you must purchase your ticket online weeks (or months) in advance.
Guided Tour to See The Last Supper
By the time I started purchasing tickets for museums and such, tickets for The Last Supper were already sold out. If this happens to you, you might consider taking a guided city tour like this one, which includes entry to The Last Supper.
Alfresco Aperitivo in a Courtyard
For our second evening of aperitivi, we wandered through the charming cobblestone alleys in Brera. Eventually we stopped at Rosso Brera for an Aperol Spritz and a Negroni. The drinks were great, but when they brought me olives with my drink they won me over completely.
Dinner at Salsamenteria di Parma
Despite being in Milan, the restaurant we chose for dinner focused on products from the Parma region, such as parmesan cheese and cured meats. I'm one of those Americans that dumps parmesan cheese on all the pastas I make (sorry, not sorry). So, Salsamenteria di Parma was the perfect restaurant for me.
Milan by Night
To walk off our dinner, we revisited some of Milan's attractions to see them lit up at night. The Duomo and the Castello Sforzesco are as beautiful at night as they are by day.
Day 3 in Milan - Monday Morning Delights
Although we left Milan on Monday, we had most of the morning to enjoy. It was our first time seeing Milan on a work day and it was interesting to feel the shift in the city. Despite the summer heat, we noticed many locals dressed in full suits commuting to the office. Sweating in my t-shirt and shorts, I didn't envy them.
After eating a quick breakfast at Princi Bakery, we explored a new area of Brera. Our goal was to make it to the Orto Botanico di Brera (botanical garden), located behind the Palazzo Brera.
Palazzo Brera and the Orto Botanico di Brera
The Palazzo Brera is a monumental palace located in the Brera neighborhood of Milan. It was a Jesuit college for 200 years, but now houses several of the city's leading cultural institution, including the Accademia di Brera (art academy), Pinacoteca di Brera (art gallery), and the Orto Botanico di Brera (botanical garden).
To get to the Brera Botanical Garden, we had to walk through courtyard of the Palazzo Brera. Although a bit austere, I found the columns, archways, and balconies impressive.
Once we reached the garden, we found ourselves in a lush and verdant oasis in the heart of the city. Beware the mosquitos in the summertime though!
Leaving Milan by Train
Milan was only the beginning of our 3-week trip to Italy, so we got a taxi back to Milano Centrale station to catch a train to our next stop - Cinque Terre.
Read the next post on our Italy trip -> 2 Days in Beautiful Cinque Terre, Italy
Milan is a dynamic city with an energetic vibe, plenty of charm, and delicious food to enjoy. It's a great spot to start a trip to Italy, but could also be a fun weekend getaway. For me, Milan was a great transition from the face-paced Hong Kong lifestyle to the some of the laid-back places we'd visit later in Italy.
Have you visited Milan? What were your impressions of it?
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