Are you in the process of planning a trip to Italy, and wondering if Milan is worth visiting?
With so many stunning cities with historical landmarks, charming small towns and villages, breathtaking countryside views and over 9000 km of shoreline to explore in the country, it’s natural to want to make the most of your time and visit the places that will truly wow you.
Milan may not immediately strike visitors as a cultural destination due to its industrial history and functional urban design. As a result, at first sight the city may not offer the same views and charm as other parts of Italy.
However, Milan has its own unique identity that can be found in the intricate details of its buildings, as well as the gardens and courtyards that bring a touch of nature to the city.
In this post, we’ll explore the main attractions and potential drawbacks of visiting Milan, so that you can make the best informed decision about your trip to Italy.
Is Milan Worth Visiting?
Long story short, the answer is absolutely yes! And there are so many reasons why you should include Milan in your trip to Italy.
So let’s go and start with listing all the reasons why Milan is worth visiting.
Reasons why you should visit Milan
1. Learn about Milan’s rich history, told by the city’s architecture
Milan’s reputation for elegance goes beyond the impeccable style of its inhabitants. As you wander through the city, even on the lesser-known streets, you will be struck by the beauty of its architecture.
The aristocratic families that ruled over the Duchy of Milan were eager to demonstrate their power and wealth by improving the city with grand buildings. The Sforza family, in particular, played a significant role in shaping Milan’s architecture during the Renaissance.
They renovated the Castle giving it more Renaissance garb, while also developing the architecture of the city in Renaissance style.
They also commissioned other impressive buildings, such as the Ca’ Granda, which is now home to one of Milan’s public universities.
It’s worth noting that public universities are open to everyone, so the Ca’ Granda and other such buildings can be visited for free every day.
If you are on a budget, you might be interested in our curated list of the best things to do in Milan for free.
During the Renaissance, Milan reached its peak as a cultural and artistic center under the rule of Ludovico il Moro, who attracted talented figures such as Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante to the city.
These masters left behind some of Milan’s greatest attractions, including Leonardo’s iconic painting, “The Last Supper,” which can be found at the Santa Maria delle Grazie.
The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie hosting the last supper is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its cultural and artistic importance, and can be visited for free.
The church itself is a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture, with a simple and elegant exterior and a grand and ornate interior.
Later on, during the 1600s, the Borromeo family left their mark on the city with their Baroque buildings, like the Senate Palace and the Ambrosian Library.
The Ambrosian Library is a treasure trove of historical and cultural artifacts. It was one of the first libraries to be open to the public, opening its doors in 1609. Today, it holds an impressive collection of over 750,000 volumes and 35,000 manuscripts.
The library is open to the public and houses works from the collection of Federico Borromeo, as well as other notable collectors. Its rooms are filled with masterpieces, and some of the most notable works in the library include Botticelli‘s “The Madonna of the Pavilion,” Caravaggio‘s “The Basket of Fruit,” Leonardo da Vinci‘s “Portrait of a Musician,” and Raphael‘s Cartoon for the ‘”School of Athens”.
2. Admire Milan’s Historical Landmarks
Did you know that Milan was the capital of Italy for more than 100 years, until 1859?
With such a rich history, the city is home to many iconic landmarks that serve as reminders of its past.
One of the most popular places to start exploring Milan is the iconic Cathedral, or Duomo.
Milan’s Cathedral is a stunning Gothic-style church that should not be missed during a visit to the city. It is the largest cathedral in Italy and one of the largest in the world. Construction of the cathedral began in 1386 and took nearly six centuries to complete, with the final details being added in 1965.
The exterior of the Duomo is decorated with intricate marble carvings and sculptures, including the famous copper and gold “Madonnina” statue, the virgin Mary standing at the top of the tallest spire, which is said to protect the population of the city.
The interior of the cathedral is just as impressive, with a huge and soaring space that can host up to 40,000 people.
The main nave features stained glass windows and frescoes, and the cathedral also has a number of important artworks, such as the statue of Saint Bartholomew flayed.
One of the most unique features of the Duomo is its roof, which can be accessed by lift or stairs. From the roof, visitors can get stunning views of the city and see the intricate details of the cathedral’s architecture up close.
The Duomo is a popular tourist destination and an important symbol of the city, attracting millions of visitors each year: click here to learn everything about Milan’s Duomo before your next visit!
Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a shining example of Milan’s sophisticated and fashionable atmosphere.
Built in the mid-18th century, this grand structure was created to connect the Piazza del Duomo with the Teatro alla Scala, one of the world’s most important opera houses, and was dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel II who united Milan with the rest of Italy.
The metal and glass building is adorned with stunning frescoes and a central mosaic depicting the coats of arms of Italy’s former capitals.
The warm golden hues of the frescoes, inlays, and floor mosaics give the gallery a regal and luxurious feel. It is especially breathtaking to visit at dawn, dusk, or at night when it is elegantly lit.
The Galleria has always been home to Milan’s most refined cafes, boutiques, and bookstores, earning it the nickname “the drawing room of Milan.” Today, it continues to attract the city’s wealthy bourgeoisie with its designer stores and historic cafes.
High-end designer boutiques like Prada and Louis Vuitton can be found here, as well as prestigious cafes like Marchesi, where you can enjoy a pastry and a view of the gallery from the upper floor.
Even if you’re on a budget, a leisurely stroll through the Galleria and some window shopping is a must-do experience that allows you to take in the beauty of the building and its surroundings.
Teatro alla Scala
The La Scala Opera House in Milan is a temple of music, with a rich history of performances by some of the greatest musicians of all time, including Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, and Arturo Toscanini.
The opera house is open to visitors, and hosts a museum offering a fascinating look at the history and culture of this iconic institution.
You can explore its halls, marvel at its extensive collections, and visit the Livia Simoni library.
You’ll also have the opportunity to get a sneak peek behind the scenes of the theater, with special guided tours that are available by reservation only. These tours offer a unique and intimate look at the inner workings of the opera house, and give you the chance to experience the excitement of being “behind the scenes.”
The Sforza Castle
The Sforza Castle is located a short walk away from Duomo. Built in the 15th century, it was originally a defense fortification for the ruling Sforza family.
Over the years it has served as a royal palace, a museum, and a cultural center. The castle is a blend of different architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque, which reflect its long history and the various influences it has experienced.
Today, the Sforza Castle is home to the Civic Museums, which house a wide range of collections, including ancient art, ceramics, musical instruments, and furniture.
Particularly impressive are the guided tours of the castle’s secret routes, including the patrol walkways and the ancient “Garland Covered Road” underground.
Arco della Pace, the most beautiful old gate to the city
Milan’s city walls are a testament to the city’s long history of defense and protection.
These walls were built over time to keep out invaders, and they feature various types of openings, including arches carved into the wall, fortified gates, and even monumental openings.
Today, six of these gates are still visible in the city, and they are identified with the relevant neighborhoods in which they are located.
One of them was built during the Napoleonic era: the Arco della Pace (“Arch of Peace”, or Porta Sempione), was initially built to celebrate the wedding of the viceroy of Italy, who was the adopted son of Napoleon.
It is located in the bustling square facing the Sempione Park, a few minutes from the castle, which is surrounded by numerous clubs and bars that are popular with young people at night.
3. Discover Milan’s magnificent palaces, reminders of its bourgeois past
In addition to the grand public buildings commissioned by the city’s rulers, local nobles also built lavish residences as a symbol of their power and influence.
As you wander through the streets of Milan, you’ll be struck by the beauty of the city’s many palaces and mansions.
Some of these buildings are open to the public and offer guided tours, while others are used for private events and are only visible from the outside.
Some of the most impressive palaces in Milan include the Palazzo Clerici and the Palazzo Morando, both of which are owned by private organizations and regularly open to the public offering free guided tours (we talked about them in our article about all the things you can do for free in Milan).
Stunning examples of Art Nouveau and Liberty Style
As the capital of Italy in the late 1800s, Milan underwent a period of rapid growth and development. The city’s wealthy bourgeoisie sought to beautify the city and bring it back to its former glory by building elegant palaces in the new Art Nouveau style.
These palaces were adorned with colorful ceramic tiles and intricate wrought iron decorations, creating a unique and distinctive aesthetic. Some of the most notable examples of Milanese Art Nouveau include the Palazzo Castiglioni, known for its decorative concrete sculptures, and the Casa Galimberti, with its stunning ceramic decorations.
The Casa Ferrario is also worth a visit, with its beautifully crafted wrought iron balconies.
4. Explore Milan’s Fashion and Design Scene
Milan is Italy’s most fashion-forward city, a place where the latest designs, trends and styles are born. It is home to some of the world’s most renowned fashion brands and designers, such as Armani, Prada, and Versace. The history of fashion in Milan is long and vibrant and has been a major influence in the fashion industry for centuries.
From the famous shops of Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga to the main Fashion Weeks held at the city’s Milan Design Week, Milan is a hub for all things fashion, design and style
The streets of Milan are also a must-see when it comes to fashion. Whether it is the stylish window displays of the many boutiques or the fashionable Italian people walking by, exploring the fashion scene in Milan is a great way to experience the culture of the city.
Milan isn’t just all about high-end designer labels, you can find plenty of budget-friendly fashion choices if you look around. Touring the different designer outlet stores in the city and browsing the vintage second hand shops for unique pieces are great ways to fulfill your fashion cravings without overspending.
Finally, when it comes to the realm of design, Milan is home to some of the most innovative design and architecture companies and thought leaders .
Salone del Mobile is one of Milan’s most popular and highly anticipated design events, held annually in April. Designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and creatives of all kinds gather to share the latest in design trends and innovation from around the world.
With inspiring talks, exhibitions, workshops, and installations, the event serves as a platform for exploring the potential of design and its impact on everyday life.
5. Visit the world’s most renown museums
Milan is a city rich in culture and history, with a number of world-class museums and cultural institutions to explore.
If you’re interested in art and design, be sure to visit the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of the most important art galleries in Italy. Housed in a beautiful 16th-century palazzo, the Pinacoteca di Brera is home to an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the 13th to the 20th centuries.
Another must-see museum in Milan is the Triennale, a design and art museum located in the heart of the city. The Triennale features a wide range of exhibitions and events focused on contemporary art, design, and architecture. You’ll find everything from cutting-edge installations and exhibitions to workshops and lectures here, making it a great place to learn about the latest trends and innovations in these fields.
Read more about Milan’s most important museums here.
6. Be pampered in the most posh city in Italy
Milan is known for its luxurious hotels, fine dining, and upscale nightlife scene. Being Italy’s fashion capital, it’s no surprise that the city attracts a high-end crowd looking for the best in style and luxury.
From elegant five-star hotels with rooftop pools and lavish spas, to chic restaurants serving up gourmet dishes and craft cocktails, Milan has it all.
And when the sun goes down, the city comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene that includes trendy clubs, live music venues, and cozy wine bars.
Whether you’re looking to indulge in the finer things in life or just enjoy a night out on the town, Milan’s upscale hotels, dining, and nightlife scene is definitely one of the top reasons to visit this stylish Italian city.
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7. Explore Milan’s nearby towns and neighboring areas
As you see, Milan is a busy city with lots to do and see, but if you want to take a break from the city, there are many charming towns near Milan that can be reached easily by public transportation, especially trains.
Milan has great connections to its surrounding areas, making it easy to travel without a car.
Some of the places that are easily reached from Milan include:
- Lake Como, which is known for its stunning landscapes and charming towns along its coast.
- Lake Garda, which is also home to beautiful villages, like Sirmione
- Verona, a historic city that is famous for its Roman amphitheater and the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
- Bergamo, a city with a rich cultural heritage, delicious cuisine, and beautiful medieval architecture.
- Mantova, a gorgeous medieval town built on the shores of two artificial lakes, with a rich heritage which played a big role in the region history
- Liguria and Cinque Terre, a region known for its stunning coastline and charming villages
If you want to learn more about all the day trips you can take from Milan, read our full article here.
Drawbacks of visiting Milan
Now that we have listed all the amazing thing about Milan, let’s talk about the downsides.
Indeed there are also some drawbacks to visiting this beautiful city, which are worth considering before planning a trip. From the cost of living to the crowds, here are some of the downsides of visiting Milan.
1. High costs of living
Milan is generally considered to be a more expensive city to visit compared to other places in Italy, especially when it comes to accommodation, food, and transportation.
2. Crowded and busy
Milan is a very populous and bustling city, which can be overwhelming for some tourists. This can lead to long lines and crowds at popular attractions and tourist sites.
3. Unfavorable weather at times
Depending on the time of year, the weather in Milan can be unpleasant. During the winter, it can be cold, grey, and rainy, while in the summer it can be extremely hot and humid.
4. Limited natural beauty
Milan is not known for its natural beauty or landscapes; it’s far from the coast and the mountains, and it’s located in the flat Po Valley, which notoriously does not offer great natural views.
Despite the presence of some beautiful parks and gardens (such as Sempione park), the city itself is also not rich in green areas and trees, and may not be the best destination for those looking for picturesque views or outdoor activities.
5. Comparisons to other Italian cities
Milan played an important role in the history of Italy and it definitely has its own identity and share of important cultural sites. Today Milan is Italy’s financial and economic hub, and the top choice for many Italians looking for a career and high standard of living within the country.
However, it may not have the same level of historical or cultural significance as cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice, which are known for their iconic landmarks. As a result, Milan may not be as highly regarded or desired by tourists seeking a more traditional Italian experience.
Despite the drawbacks, Milan is still an incredible city that is worth visiting and including in your Italian tour.
Its reputation for fashion, design, and cultural attractions make it a unique and exciting destination.
However, if it is your first time visiting Italy, you may want to consider spending less time in Milan and allocating more time to other cities, so, you can fully appreciate and explore the diverse beauty and culture that Italy has to offer.