Milan is an incredibly vibrant and beautiful city. Full of fashion, fantastic food, and amazing architecture, this unforgettable Italian destination is a must stop for any vacation itinerary through Italy. Whether you’re here for your honeymoon, a fashion lover looking for new finds and inspiration, or are flying in for a stop before visiting Lake Como, everyone is sure to love this city. Here’s our guide on the best things to do, see, and experience in Milan.
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGE
Italian is the national language. As a Latin language, some words might be able to be interpreted without previous knowledge of the language. We found most younger people and those who worked in hospitality spoke very good English. The only times where there was a lack of communication were among older Italian citizens or those further outside of the main tourist areas.
However, any language barrier can always be quickly remedied by using Google Translate. While you definitely don’t need to know Italian to enjoy Milan, here are a few words that are helpful to know while exploring this city:
KEY ITALIAN PHRASES TO KNOW
- Buongiorno – pronounced bwahn-joor-no – means Good day (said before sundown)
- Buonasera – pronounced bweh-nah-seh-rah – means Good evening (said after sundown)
- Arrivederci – pronounced ah-ree-vah-dehr-chee – means Goodbye
- Ciao – pronounced chow – means Casual hello/goodbye (Say only after someone says it to you first, otherwise, use the more formal greeting and goodbye of buongiorno, buonasera, and arrivederci)
- Grazie – pronounced graht-seh – means Thank you
THE BEST PARTS OF MILAN
- Seeing the grandness of the Milan duomo. There’s a reason everyone’s photos in Milan always highlight the duomo – it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous! It’s just as beautiful at night as it is during the day.
- Spending time wandering through the city. Wandering doesn’t sound like a “thing to do,” but it’s one of the best things to do in Milan to get inspired by the people, the fashion, and the buildings.
- Milan is the perfect launching pad for nearby trips. While you need at least a day or two in the city, you can easily take side trips to Turin, Lake Como, Genoa, Florence, and Cinque Terre from here.
HOW SAFE IS MILAN?
We always feel safe when visiting Milan. While you should always use wisdom and caution in life and traveling, we felt at ease in the city. You’ll find more panhandlers in the central plazas near the Galleria and the Duomo. Generally, people aren’t pushy. As always, in crowded areas where tourists are known to meander, watch your pockets and don’t keep valuables anywhere people can easily take them. We have never had any negative experiences with safety in Milan.
Italy uses the euro. If you’re wondering if you should bring cash or card, the answer is yes – both! Most nicer restaurants and larger stores accept cards. Still, you’ll almost always need cash for more local shops and smaller purchases of less than $30. I recommend using my favorite currency converter app to check the exchange rate when you go. This tool was also helpful when visiting smaller markets and asking the vendor, “how much?” (quanto? in Italian) They can type the number into the app like a calculator, and you can easily see the conversation rate there.
A helpful note about taking out foreign currency in cash:
The best practice (and cheapest) for having cash on hand in a new country is to go to your bank 5-10 business days before your trip and ask them for the new currency. Depending on your bank, this transaction will either be free or just a few dollars.
If you’re like us and realize the airplane tires hit foreign soil that we forgot to do this, then find an ATM to take out euros in cash! Yes, you can do this even with an international debit card and even some credit cards. There will typically be a small transaction fee along with the exchange rate. It’s still cheaper to take out cash this way than to go to a money exchange or Western Union.
ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO
As Milan is the fashion capital of Italy (as well as most of Europe!) there is plenty of shopping, art, and museums to discover. Here are a few of the can’t-miss attractions and best things to do in the area:
- Explore the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This stunning shopping arcade is one of the oldest in the world and houses luxury stores, cafes, and restaurants. You won’t be able to miss it, but don’t forget to look up and marvel at the impressive glass dome!
- Climb the Duomo. This Gothic cathedral is the symbol of Milan and one of the largest churches in the world. The climb to the top is well worth the effort for the stunning views of the city.
- Shop the street markets. While there are so many luxury and popular brands in Milan, the street markets are a must. Happening most Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can find them speckled throughout the city. The markets offer anything from vintage jewelry to clothes and homewares.
- See Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. This iconic mural painting can be found in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Be sure to book your tickets in advance as it’s a popular attraction.
- Walk through the Brera Art Gallery. This museum houses an impressive collection of Italian art from the 14th to 20th centuries, including works by Raphael and Caravaggio. The beautiful courtyard is also worth a visit.
- Take a stroll in Sforza Castle. This imposing fortress is now a museum complex, with collections ranging from ancient art to modern sculpture. The castle is also home to beautiful courtyards, gardens, and a lovely fountain.
- Enjoy an opera at La Scala. This world-renowned opera house has been hosting performances since 1778 and is known for its stunning acoustics. Catch a show or simply take a guided tour to see the lavish interior.
There are so many wonderful side trips to take from Milan. While you can reach several destinations nearby for a day trip, we actually don’t recommend you take any day trips from Milan, because the destinations you’d visit deserve so much more attention than a quick day trip! Instead, you should look at spending three nights in Lake Como, Florence, or Venice, and two nights in Genoa, Portofino, or Cinque Terre.
WHAT & WHERE TO EAT
While the fashion of Milan gets all the attention, the food in the city can’t be forgotten either! The city has a diverse and delicious culinary scene, from grab-and-go panini to high-end dining. For a quick bite, be sure to try a panzerotto from Luini, a Milanese institution that has been serving up the deep-fried pizza pockets since 1949. To satisfy your sweet tooth, head to Pasticceria Marchesi, a historic pastry shop dating back to 1824 that offers delectable pastries and cakes. And no trip to Milan is complete without sampling the city’s famous aperitivo culture; head to N’Ombra de Vin in the Brera district for an excellent selection of wine and nibbles.
DRINKS TO ORDER:
- NEGRONI SBAGLIATO – This twist on the classic Negroni is made with Prosecco instead of gin, giving it a lighter, bubbly taste.
- APEROL SPRITZ – the iconic cocktail of Italians during aperitivo (happy hour), we’re pretty sure it’s impossible to have a bad Aperol Spritz in Italy.
- CAMPARI – This bright red liqueur is a staple in Milan, and can be enjoyed on its own or mixed into a variety of cocktails including the Negroni, the Boulevardier, and the Garibaldi.
- ESPRESSO – need a caffeinated pick-me-up? You won’t see Italians sipping on large coffees. Instead, the typical way to order coffee in Milan is to walk into a bar (not like the bars in the States!) and order an espresso or doppio espresso (double espresso) to sip on quickly while standing at the counter.
FOOD TO ORDER:
- RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE – This creamy risotto dish is made with saffron and often topped with grated parmesan cheese.
- COTOLETTA ALLA MILANESE – Similar to a breaded and fried veal chop, this dish is a Milanese specialty and a must-try for meat lovers.
- PANETTONE – This sweet bread is a Christmas staple in Milan, but you can find it year-round. Look for variations with added flavors like chocolate or dried fruit.
- OSSOBUCO – This slow-cooked veal shank is often served with gremolata (a mixture of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley) and risotto.
- GELATO – a no-brainer, nothing beats relaxing with a gelato in hand. Need it dairy free? Order a sorbetto (sorbet). For tips on ordering the best gelato, check out our essential tips you need to know before visiting Italy!
WHERE TO STAY IN MILAN
While there are plenty of vacation rentals and hotels to choose from, we know you want nothing but the best in this spectacular destination. We recommend planning to stay 1-3 nights in Milan, Italy. Here are our top picks for the best hotels for your stay in Milan:
- BEST FOR: 4-star stylish boutique hotel featuring a rooftop with great views of the city
- LOCATION: Walking distance from the most popular attractions in Milan
- BEST FOR: 4-star streamlined hotel with friendly staff and great amenities
- LOCATION: Three blocks from the Duomo
- BEST FOR: 4-star modern and trendy hotel with a relaxed vibe and wonderful breakfast
- LOCATION: Steps away from the Duomo and Galleria
HOW TO GET AROUND MILAN
Get your walking shoes on! The only ideal way to navigate the city is by foot. In many historic areas, much of the city is blocked off to cars anyway. Alternatively, you can easily navigate much of the city by metro. Their underground subway system is very convenient and reminded us a lot of the metro system in Paris. The best way to get to Milan from other cities is by train or car. If you’d like to rent a car, remember that you will only use it for a little while in the city. The central train station in Milan (Milano Centrale Train Station) is about a 5-15 minute rideshare (Uber or FreeNow work just fine!) from almost everywhere in the city.