Known for fashion and design, Milan is located in northern Italy and is the country’s second largest and most cosmopolitan city.
Offering top-notch art, culture, history and food, Milan is the perfect spot for a weekend of urban exploration.
Before you head out on your first day in the city, we recommend signing up online for Milan’s bikesharing program, BikeMi. The program features thousands of bikes at more than 200 bike stations placed strategically near highly trafficked spots, including tourist attractions and metro stations. BikeMi enables travelers to see the city at their pace while also saving the environment and money — daily passes cost €2.50.
No trip to Milan is complete without a visit to Piazza del Duomo (“Cathedral Square”), the city’s main square. There you’ll find the city’s Gothic cathedral, the Duomo — it is the largest cathedral in Italy and the fourth largest in the world. The architecture inside and out is worth a close look. Ladies, make sure you cover your shoulders and legs (above your knees), or you won’t be permitted to enter the cathedral. If you happen to be wearing a sleeveless shirt, there are a number of vendors in the piazza taking advantage of the opportunity by selling scarves and shawls.
Also in the main piazza is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, home to a number of luxury shops — including Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton — and some of Milan’s oldest bars and restaurants. Scope out a lunch spot in the Galleria and stop by Zucca in Galleria afterwards for a cup of coffee or an aperitif. Opened in 1867 along with the inauguration of the Galleria, Zucca was the first to offer Campari, a popular brand of Italian bitters.
For an afternoon stroll, head over to Parco Sempione, a beautiful city park ornamented by the Porta Sempione (“Arch of Peace”) and the 14th-century Castello Sforzesco (“Sforza Castle”). The castle’s fountain, nicknamed the “Torta degli Sposi” (“wedding cake”) for its design, is a magnet for children in need of a quick splash in the summertime.
Just a few blocks from the castle is Milan’s largest art collection, Pinacoteca di Brera, which houses Giovanni Bellini’s “Madonna and Child” and Francesco Hayez’s “The Kiss.” The gallery closes at 7:15 p.m., so you’ll have plenty of time to browse.
After visiting the art gallery, make your way towards Milan’s trendy Navigli neighborhood, noted for its charming canals and vibrant nightlife. The oldest canal, Naviglio Grande, is lined with restaurants and pubs, as well as old barges fitted out as bars. You’ll be able to find dinner and drinks in the area, a great way to wrap up your first night in Milan.
Start off your second day in Milan with a chocolate croissant and cappuccino. If you’re staying near Navigli, Noir Café (located at Corso di Porta Ticinese, 106) is a great choice.
After breakfast, head to the Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore (“Basilica of Saint Lawrence”). This 4th-century church has endured a number of renovations and demonstrates artistic and architectural traits from the early Byzantine period all the way through the 17th century.
In front of the church stands the Colonne di San Lorenzo, Milan’s best-known Roman ruin. Dating from the 2nd century, the columns were moved to their current location during the 4th century.
A large mural of Elvis Presley is also located in the church’s vicinity. The mural, called “Elvis, Elvis,” was painted by American Pop Surrealism artist Ron English and was inspired by Andy Warhol’s “Double Elvis.”
Navigli is worth a second look, as its beauty isn’t limited to the night hours and it offers a completely different vibe during the daytime. Strolling along the canals in the afternoon, you’ll encounter specialty boutiques and shops, rather than neon-lit bars.
Stop by retro-styled Rinomata Gelateria (Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 1) for crepes or ice cream and continue your stroll along Naviglio Grande, as Gelateria doesn’t offer seating.
Make time to visit Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church and former monastery with a beautiful façade and interior. The church is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century masterpiece, “The Last Supper.” In order to see the painting, you will need to book a tour at least a few days in advance, as it is only shown to small guided tours for its protection.
While in the Magenta neighborhood, stop by Pasticceria Marchesi for the best sugar-coated croissants (called brioche) in the city. Circa 1824, Pasticceria Marchesi is one of the oldest pastry shops in Milan.
Don’t forget to spend a few hours exploring on your own — after all, that’s when the most exciting discoveries can take place.
If you’re staying in Navigli, end your day with dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Sant’Eustorgio, a restaurant and pizzeria that features simple dishes, a wide wine selection and terrace seating overlooking Piazza Sant’Eustorgio.
Which Milan spots would you visit if limited to two days of travel? Let us know in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Erica Swallow, xiquinhosilva, Valentina_A, bryangeek, querin.rene, Antropsicosociopatologico, scalleja, Roystan, Bernt Rostad & Groume