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One day in Milan: highlights for your first visit

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Here’s a guide to help you make the most of one day in Milan, covering most of the city highlights for a first-time visit.

Milan's Duomo square with the cathedral, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II
Here’s a guide to help you make the most of one day in Milan. It covers the majority of the city highlights for a first-time visit.

Is Milan worth visiting? Many of you ask me this question when planning your trips to Italy, and I always advise you to include at least one night there because there are lots of exciting places to explore beyond its iconic cathedral.

Traditionally, Milan has a reputation for being all about business, foggy sky, and fancy clothes, but it’s finally emerging as a vibrant, cosmopolitan center. See, the thing with Milan is that it’s pretty shy and reveals its beauty only to the curious traveler. Seriously, I’ve been studying and working in Milan for years, yet I’ve never fully appreciated its charm up until recently. It’s amazing how our perception of a place can change as soon as we venture into a side street!

I hope this little guide to what to do in Milan in a day will help you make the most of a totally underrated destination that just keeps getting better and better. At the end of the article, you’ll also find all the transport options for traveling to Milan and a couple of tips about where to leave your luggage in Milan. 

One day itinerary in Milan: the map

Here’s a quick overview of your day in Milan. Use this map to keep track of the itinerary, as it contains all the spots presented in this post. I’ve also included some tips for possible food and drink stops along the way; they’re highlighted with a green star icon. 

One Day in Milan itinerary

There is definitely more than one way to spend a day in Milan and what I’m sharing below is the route I usually use when friends are in town for the first time. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a good introduction to the city.

I suggest hitting the road early in the morning and wearing comfy shoes because there will be a lot of walking (ladies, leave your high heels at home). Also, make sure to buy a one-day travel card from the vending machines or newsstands in any metro station. It’s valid for 24 hours and allows unlimited travel in the city center at the cost of €7. Another great option is the Milano Card, which includes public transportation, audioguide, and free or discounted entry to lots of attractions (€11 for one day).

Now, the starting point is Milano Centrale, the city’s key transportation hub and the first thing most people see when they arrive in Milan. It’s a beautiful train station, the second-largest in Italy in terms of size and traffic, and behind its massive concrete facade hides beautiful marbles and architectural details. You’ll find yourself snapping pictures as soon as you hop off the train!

Piazza Gae Aulenti

Take the green metro line from Milan central station to Garibaldi FS and reach Piazza Gae Aulenti, the modern heart of Milan and a tangible reflection of its forward-thinking culture. Expect spending most of the time your nose up, as there are some pretty cool skyscrapers here, including the Unicredit Tower, the tallest building in Italy.

All around are shops, places to grab a bite, and lots of green spaces. Not to miss are the Library of Trees, a contemporary botanical garden with over 130,000 plants, and the Vertical Forest, a pair of skyscrapers beautifully covered in trees!

Milan’s Monumental Cemetery (optional)

A 10 minutes’ walk from Piazza Gae Aulenti is Milan’s impressive Monumental Cemetery. Ok, it may not be the usual tourist sight, but trust me, this complex is a fantastic open-air museum where graves are truly amazing works of art (by the way, if you’re a fan of cemeteries like me, take a look at this post on Italy’s most famous cemeteries).

On the cemetery’s website, you can find a handy map with a 20-minute trail covering some of the most beautiful spots. But if cemeteries are not really your thing, jump straight to the next stop: Parco Sempione and the Castello Sforzesco.

Parco Sempione and Castello Sforzesco

From both Garibaldi FS and the Monumental Cemetery, you can use tram no. 10 to reach Parco Sempione (hop off at the “Arco della Pace” stop). You’ll find yourself in front of a beautiful triumphal arch that is of the symbols of Milan and marks the entrance to Parco Sempione, the city’s green lung. This was created in the 19th century with an English design and is home to the first iron bridge ever realized in Italy.

A lovely 10-minute stroll through the park will take you to Castello Sforzesco. Originally built as a fortress by the Visconti family in the 14th century and later used as the home of the Sforzas’ sumptuous court, this castle was one of the largest strongholds in Europe. Today, it’s home to a number of interesting museums and art collections, but since you have a lot to cover during your day in Milan, I suggest just strolling around the courtyards and admire the complex from the outside. However, with a bit more time, don’t miss Leonardo Da Vinci’s frescoes in the Sala delle Asse, Michelangelo’s Pietà Rondanini, and the Pinacoteca museum showcasing works by Canaletto, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, and Titian.

Brera district

Next on the list of things to do in Milan in one day is a visit to Brera, one of Milan’s prettiest neighborhoods. Here, charming little piazzas house cute outdoor cafés, and narrow streets are lined with historic shops and period palaces that hide beautiful inner courtyards. But before delving into the old heart of Milan, make sure to stop by the lovely Piazza del Carmine and pay a visit to the statue of St. Expeditus inside the Church of Carmine. This guy is known as the patron saint of urgent causes that need quick results!

The rockstar of the neighborhoods is Palazzo Brera, a 17th-century palace that became Milan’s leading cultural hub under Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and today is home to several interesting institutions. If you have time, make sure to visit the Pinacoteca di Brera museum and its collection of fabulous paintings by the likes of Raphael, Caravaggio, and Picasso.

Teatro Alla Scala

A delightful stroll along Via Brera and Via Giuseppe Verdi will take you to Piazza Della Scala, just behind the Duomo. It’s a nice little square overlooked by the city’s famous opera house, La Scala, which occupies its north-western side. This was the very first public building in Milan to be equipped with electric light and You can take a tour of the theatre and visit the museum, here you find all the details.

Other lovely buildings ring this square, including Milan’s City Hall, and the Galleria Degli Italiani. Right in the middle of it stands the statue of Leonardo Da Vinci, ringed by a handful of benches, some trees, and a little fountain – a welcome respite on hot summer days!

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

Piazza Della Scala sits right at the entrance to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the beautiful glass-and-stone gallery dedicated to the first King of Italy. It was built in the 19th century and quickly became the city’s grand living room, filled with luxury design shops and high-end cafés and restaurants. There used to be also some apartments on the upper floors, where today stand luxury hotels, including Europe’s first 7-star hotel!

The décor is grandiose, with mosaic flooring representing the coats of arms of the Savoia, as well as the symbols of the four cities that were in turn capitals of the Kingdom of Italy: the wolf for Rome, the red cross for Milan, the lily for Florence, Rome and the bull for Turin. If you look up, you’ll also see four lunettes right underneath the central octagon, with the allegories of four continents, emphasizing the international role of Milan.

Ritual things to do in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele include three twists on the balls of the bull (they’re said to bring good luck) and a drink in the historic Bar Camparino. You can also climb to the rooftop of the Galleria (the experience is called Highline Galleria), but it’s quite pricey, and honestly, the views are so much better from the Cathedral’s rooftops.

Piazza Duomo and Milan’s Cathedral

Time Time to finally enjoy Milan’s grand dame, the Duomo Cathedral! The Duomo is a grandiose structure of Gothic spires, pinnacles, beautiful stained glass windows, and thousands of fabulous statues that was developed over six centuries under the watchful eye of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, the institution that Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti founded in 1387 to coordinate the construction works. Today, the Duomo represents the largest church in Italy – wait, I know what you’re thinking, but remember that Saint Peter’s is in the Vatican State, so technically, it’s not Italian! 

Make sure to climb up to the rooftops for some fabulous views over the city. The best time to do it is right before sunset, and if my calculations are correct, by the time you are here, it should be late afternoon already. I recommend going for a Fast Track Pass, which is a bit pricey (26) but allows you to beat the long queues. I grans access to the Cathedral, the archeological area, the museum, the Church of San Gottardo, exhibitions, and the rooftops (by lift). All ticket options are available on the Duomo website

Darsena and Navigli district

If If you’ve managed to cover all the sights listed above, well done! You must be exhausted, but it’s no time to rest yet because there’s no better way to end a day in Milan than spending the evening in the Darsena and Navigli district. From the Duomo square, take the metro line 1 to Cadorna, then line 2 to Porta Genova and you’ll easily arrive in a quaint corner of Milan where the hectic life of the big city seems far away. Here you can see the two of the waterways that formed the city’s ancient canal system used to transport passengers and goods (including the marble blocks for the construction of the Duomo) and the old dock where they meet.

The Darsena and Navigli district is the perfect place to experience a traditional Milanese aperitivo and indulge in some people-watching. The Navigli cobbled pathways are lined with quirky cafés, cool shops, hidden art galleries, and case di ringhiera (typical Milanese houses with access from a shared balcony and overlooking an internal courtyard). The Darsena, on the other hand, is considered Milan’s “seafront.” Perhaps a bit too much, I know, but still, it’s a great place to stroll and enjoy the sunshine 

That’s the end of your day in Milan! If you have more time to explore the city further, take a look at some hidden corners of Milan, the Branca Museum and Distillery, plus some of the best day trips from Milan

How to get to Milan city center?

Milan is served by two international airports, Milan Linate (LIN) and Malpensa (MXP). Linate is close to the city center and very well connected to the Duomo metro stop in Piazza Diaz through tram no.73 (it takes about 45 minutes). Malpensa is bigger and located about 50 km northwest of Milan. In this case, the best way to get to Milan city center is by train (check out the Malpensa Express line).

If your flight lands at Orio al Serio (BGY), you’ll have to catch a bus to Milan Central Station. All options are listed here.

Milan Central Station is very well connected to rockstars like Rome, Florence, and Venice but also to many other beautiful towns across Italy. For those a bit more adventurous and with more time on their hands, Flixbus connects Milan to many parts of Italy and Europe.

Finally, a couple of tips about where to leave your luggage in Milan if you’re time in town is strictly limited: the super handy luggage storage at the Central Station (look for the blue and yellow sign with the name KiPoint). Alternatively, Stasher offers a network of luggage lockers and manned left luggage offices across the city.

Pssst… Pin this article for future reference and get in touch if you have any questions in preparation for your trip to Milan!

Ciao for now,

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2 thoughts on “One day in Milan: highlights for your first visit”

  1. It’s been so long since I’ve been to Milan and you make me want to do it all again. The library of trees is so beautiful and innovative. I definitely want to see that up close.


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