It’s an important question: is Milan worth visiting? Hopefully my complete guide to the city will help you make your mind up!
Is Milan worth visiting? The million-dollar question.
Well, first of all, there are plenty of locations around the world that other travel bloggers have said aren’t worth the trip… and I’ve wholeheartedly disagreed with them. And I’m pretty sure you will have done too.
Let’s be real: if you listened to every single person with an opinion on a place you’d probably never go anywhere. In fact, I was just reading some really negative views of the group travel tour I recently did in India… but it was all news to me because I loved every second of it! There’s always someone who’s jaded by the crowds or who wants to do something more off the beaten track or just thinks everything is so cliché.
So I just wanted to say to take this post with a hint of salt. It’s just my opinion, that’s all.
Did I like Milan?
For what it’s worth, I didn’t hate Milan. I just didn’t like it all that much. And truth be told, a lot of the reasons I didn’t like it are superficial at best, or entirely my fault. Yes, this is very much a ‘it’s not you it’s me’ conversation. Milan has a lot going for it and there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with it. But for me, we just didn’t click. I just wanted to be up front about that rather than pretending all the way through this post.
But… to address the title of my post. If you asked me ‘is Milan worth visiting?’ I would say yes. Why? Because even though it wasn’t my favourite European city there are ALWAYS things to enjoy about a new place.
Plus, even though I didn’t get the feels for Milan it doesn’t mean you won’t. I’ll dig into exactly what I didn’t like about Milan in a bit more detail throughout this post, but first up, a bit of an intro! Let’s take a quick look at the city and all the essential logistical information you need to know about it…
What is Milan known for?
First up, it’s known for being fashionable. Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world along with London, Paris and New York. It hosts Milan fashion week twice a year, which is one of the ‘Big Four’ fashion weeks and attracts all the biggest fashion houses from around the world to its streets.
It’s not only its style credentials that the city is known for. The business district is host to Italy’s stock exchange – thrilling, I know – and the HQs of various national and international banks are located in the city. Possibly not anything to include on the sightseeing list, but worth knowing all the same. So what else is Milan famous for? Well, if you’re a football fan you’ll definitely be familiar with Milan’s two football teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
And one final thing associated with the city is that little ol’ painting, The Last Supper.
Where is Milan?
Milan is located in the north of Italy in the Lombardy region. It’s the second most populous city after Rome with a population of 1.4 million in the city proper. The wider metropolitan city is much bigger with over 3.26 million people living there. That’s a lot of people!
Once you count the continuously built-up urban area and all the people living within that, it gets even bigger. In fact, there are 8.2 million people living in Greater Milan and that makes it the biggest metropolitan area in Italy and the third biggest in the EU.
So in short, it’s big and it’s busy.
What is the weather like in Milan?
Another really important question. I’m not going to lie, the weather did impact on my enjoyment of the city. We were there in March and it was cold! Much colder than I thought it was going to be. I’ll go into that more below, but first up, here’s the numbers…
|High temperature||Low temperature||Average|
|January||7°C / 45°F||-1°C / 30°F||3°C / 37°F|
|February||11°C / 52°F||1°C / 34°F||6°C / 43°F|
|March||16°C / 61°F||4°C / 39°F||10°C / 50°F|
|April||19°C / 66°F||8°C / 46°F||12.5°C / 55°F|
|May||24°C / 75°F||13°C / 55°F||18.5°C / 65°F|
|June||28°C / 82°F||17°C / 63°F||22.5°C / 73°F|
|July||31°C / 88°F||19°C / 66°F||25°C / 77°F|
|August||30°C / 86°F||19°C / 66°F||24.5°C / 76°F|
|September||25°C / 77°F||14°C / 57°F||19.5°C / 67°F|
|October||19°C / 66°F||10°C / 50°F||14.5°C / 58°F|
|November||12°C / 54°F||5°C / 41°F||8.5°C / 47°F|
|December||4°C / 45°F||1°C / 34°F||4°C / 39°F|
How do you get to Milan?
Flights to Milan
If you’re me, you get to Milan via your incredibly cheap Ryanair flight! When I had a look on Skycanner, which is always my go-to when I book travel, the flights were dirt cheap. A Ryanair flight from Edinburgh to Milan was around £30 – and that’s for a round trip.
There are also numerous other airlines offering flights to Milan from cities across the UK and further to field. Basically, Milan is cheap and easy to get to, which is a win-win in my eyes!
Train to Milan
As the powerhouse of the Italian economy, Milan is very well connected when it comes to its rail network. You can travel from (or to) a number of other Italian cities and beauty spots from Milan quite easily.
Whether you’re arriving from Verona, Florence, Turin, Bologna, Rome, there are multiple trains that will get you to Milan. Other European cities are also very well-catered for, with trains running from Basel, Zurich, Paris, and many other cities.
I found this website incredibly helpful when looking for trains. I will definitely be heading back to it when I start planning my big Italian interrailing adventure helpfully later this year.
Bus to Milan
Catching the bus is also a cheap and budget-friendly way to travel to Milan. I found this website really useful for planning your trip to Milan by bus – again, it might be one that comes in useful for me when I finally make it back to Italy.
Where to stay in Milan
Well, I wouldn’t recommend staying where I did, as I didn’t love the hotel I was in. There are plenty of hotels in Booking.com that look lovely and, you know what, I’m also a fan of an Airbnb on a European break.
Is Milan an expensive city to visit?
No, I found Milan to be relatively affordable. It’s one of those cities that you can get flights to fairly cheaply and, for the most part, that’s where the biggest costs are incurred. Once you’re there you can live on street food, rather than dinners and lunches, to save costs. There’s plenty of ‘city’ to walk to soak up the vibe and a lot of the buildings and architecture can be enjoyed for free, which makes Milan a budget-friendly city to visit in my view. So if you’re wondering if Milan is worth visiting as a cheap city break then it very much is!
How many days should I spend in Milan?
We visited Milan for three days so I think three to four days in Milan is plenty. You definitely want to leave a day aside to visit Lake Como, which I’ll talk more about below. You can also make numerous other day trips from Milan – to Lake Garda, to Verona, and even to Venice.
So, just saying, if you don’t like Milan either there are options…
Is Milan a beautiful city?
Yes, Milan is a beautiful city. It’s one of the fashion capitals of the world for a reason, right? It oozes style and sophistication in that effortless, just-woke-up-like-this catwalk model kind of way. If you’re looking for mesmerising landmarks and stunning architecture then it’s here in spades. Just google Milan cathedral the Duomo, Sforzesco Castle, La Scala Opera and the Grand Gallery shopping area and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Beautiful.
What should you not miss in Milan?
When I ask the question ‘Is Milan worth visiting?’ it makes it sound very black and white. The reality is that there are a few things in Milan that make it absolutely worth visiting at least once. I’ve already mentioned a few above and there are plenty more. For me, the Duomo di Milano, the first ever Prada shop, The Last Supper, La Scala and Lake Como are five must-sees when you visit Milan, but that’s just my opinion.
Is Milan worth visiting?
What I liked about Milan…
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II is a nineteenth century shopping arcade and is the oldest active shopping mall in Italy. I’m not usually one to get excited by shopping malls, but this place is just beautiful. The architecture and magnificent glass dome is stunning and everything just feels imbued with elegance and history. It kind of feels like walking through another time period when you’re there – you’re transported to another century to walk in the footsteps of all the glamorous Italian shoppers way back in the 19th century.
It was built between 1865 and 1877 and was named after the first king of the kingdom of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. I guess in many ways it’s a blueprint for the modern shopping malls we all know and, erm, enjoy now. Just much more stylish, right?
The Galleria also has an interesting nickname, which is the ‘drawing room for the city’. I find that quite interesting as I live in the city of Dundee in Scotland, which is home to the V&A Dundee design museum. The architect for the V&A museum, Kengo Kuma, has referred to the museum as a living room for the city, so a pretty similar idea. I’m not sure if he’s riffing on the Galleria’s nickname or whether it’s simply a coincidence but I guess the meaning is similar: both these places are where people come to meet and gather.
The Galleria is also home to the first ever Prada shop, which opened in 1913, which is pretty cool to see. There are also a number of other designer shops in the Galleria, including Gucci, Versace, Armani and Louis Vuitton. So if you’ve got money to burn, do it here!
Duomo di Milano
Is Milan worth visiting to see the Duomo up close? Definitely!
One thing I definitely can’t be meh about in this city is Milanese cathedral, the Duomo di Milano. It really is as spectacular as you’ve heard. It’s a gothic-style cathedral created out of pink and white marble, and it’s vast. 157 metres high by 92 metres wide kind of vast.
It also took a whopping six centuries to build – it began in 1386 and wasn’t fully completed until 1965 – which seems totally wild to me. However, if you get a chance to see the cathedral up close you’ll be able to see why. It’s spectacular at a distance, but up close you’re able to see all of the intricacies and details that really make it so special. So when we’re talking about ‘Is Milan worth visiting?’ I would say that seeing the Duomo is one of the iconic buildings that really made the trip worthwhile. It’s amazing, no lie.
You can go inside to get a closer look, and there’s even a rooftop terrace that provides incredible views of the city. If you do decide to go inside the Duomo you’ll have to dress modestly, which means wearing something that covers your shoulders and your knees.
Find out all the key information about the Duomo di Milano here
We visited opera house La Scala as part of the walking tour we did on our first full day. This was something we signed up to as part of getting a ticket to the Last Supper, but more on that later. A number of very famous operas have had their first production at La Scala in Milan; Madame Butterfly had its premiere at La Scala in 1904 for example. I remember there was a whole exhibit about Madame Butterfly when we were there.
However, the most exciting part of visiting La Scala is getting to have a nosy around the box seats in the main auditorium of the opera. They’re ridiculously glamorous with their red satin and ornate gold detailing and they’re where the toast of high society would go to see in the opera. None of the cheap seats at the back for them thanks very much!
Opening hours and ticket prices for La Scala can be found here
The charming canals of Milan
A confession: I didn’t know that Milan had canals. But it does, and they’re pretty fricking beautiful. The area of the city that they’re found is called the Navigli district and it’s as charming it comes. I was surprised by how different a feel it had to the rest of the city.
There are five interconnecting canals in the city of Milan, which include:
- Naviglio Grande
- Naviglio Pavese
- Naviglio Martesana
- Naviglio di Paderno
- Naviglio di Bereguardo
The neighbourhood dates all the way back to 1179, when the canals were built to ship in key deliveries to the centre of the city, including the marble they used to build the Duomo. It’s also rumoured that Leonardo da Vinci helped to plan the renovation of the canals in the 15th century, and there’s even a dam named after him on the Naviglio Pavese canal.
The Navigli area in Milan a lovely peaceful place to walk along and spend time in. It felt really tranquil in comparison to the rush and bustle of the rest of the city, which is maybe why I liked it so much. That’s not to say there isn’t anything to do either, as there are plenty of cafes and bars lining the canals for you to enjoy. I seem to remember us going to get something to eat and we even went so far as to sit down in a restaurant. But no one spoke to us or took our order, so we just left. Another disaster on my great trip to Milan, right?
Don’t let that put you off though – the canals are definitely worth seeing!
Lake Como was the stand-out place to visit when I went to Milan. Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, home to renaissance and neoclassical architecture, and one of the locations for James Bond film Casino Royal, it’s dramatic with a capital D. Oh, it’s also where George Clooney has a holiday home and films those Nespresso adverts.
I think all of us in our group had the best time there out of the whole trip to Milan, which says it all really. The most enjoyable part wasn’t actually in Milan. Terrible, I know!
We almost didn’t even get to go, though. I remember we tried to book the all-day Lake Como tour through the hotel and it had sold out. We were all like, noooo, we can’t go, until we realised we could just make the trip ourselves. And for a fraction of the price too! I would highly recommend this over any overpriced coach trip from Milan.
What to do at Lake Como
We got the train in the morning, had a lovely day at Lake Como, and then got the train back later. It was so much better going by our own timetable rather than having to be back at the coach at a certain time and all that caper. Definitely take the train to Lake Como!
I’m going to be writing a stand-alone blog post on visiting Lake Como but in the meantime, here are the things to do at Lake Como that I would recommend…
- Take a boat trip at Lake Como
- Go on the funicular to Brunate
- Soak up the stunning views
- Eat lunch al fresco
- Check out the public art
Is Milan worth visiting just to go to Lake Como? To be honest, yes.
The street art
I always love finding interesting pieces of street art when I’m exploring new cities and Milan was no exception. However, as with most things on this trip, I found out that we probably didn’t see the any of the really iconic examples of urban and street art in Milan. I guess we didn’t exactly seek it out. If we did, we would have found some real treasures.
One of the coolest examples of street art in Milan is a 40m mural right next to San Lorenzo church, which was commissioned by the church itself. It tells the story of the last 2000 years of the city’s history and includes everyone from Napoleon to Leonard da Vinci. There’s also street art on the railway underpasses, on gable ends, on bridges, around the canals and in about every nook and cranny you can think of in the city. This article here gives a great flavour of what you can expect in the way of urban art in Milan.
British sculptor Alex Chinneck also ‘unzipped’ a building as part of an incredible piece of installation art in Milan, which you can view here. I would have been gutted if I missed this, but fortunately for me at least it was only in place for the duration of Milan Fashion Week in 2019.
What I didn’t like about Milan…
I must be British, because here I am talking about the weather! We travelled to Milan in March and, to be frank, the weather was shit. It was cold. It rained. I had to buy an ugly umbrella on the first day because I’d forgotten to bring mine. The weather also led to some terrible tourist decisions that I still feel a hot flush of shame about… like when we ended in one of those tourist trap restaurants underneath the plastic covers because the heavens decided to open and anything was better than standing in the rain with nowhere to go.
One of my most lingering memories of seeing The Last Supper was freezing my toes off standing outside waiting to be let inside the building, because only half our group could go in at once. You really don’t want that to be your most prominent memory of The Last Supper, right?
But that’s the thing – the weather can really put me in a bad mood. So when it was cold and wet in Milan it really impacted how I felt about the city. Silly really, but there it is.
If I haven’t put you off visiting Milan yet then I’d recommend going a little bit later. It is in the north of Italy after all. An extra five degrees could have been game changing!
Seeing the Last Supper
The first thing you need to know about seeing The Last Supper in Milan is that it’s actually bloody difficult to see The Last Supper in Milan. Tickets to see the painting sell out months in advance. Months! That means the only option you have if you’re rocking up to Milan the day before without a ticket (i.e. me) is to book a ticket on a guided tour.
Yes, if you book a ticket on a guided tour of Milan or a walking tour of Milan with Last Supper access you’ll be able to see the painting. We booked one of these the day before and got tickets with no issues, so it’s perfect for the last minute dot com travellers!
There’s definitely a sense of occasion created by The Last Supper. There’s the small groups you’re split into. The stringent security measures in place. The shadowy gloom of the location where the painting is located – so that it isn’t damaged by the light any more than it is already. All of these things add to the intrigue and the suspense of seeing it up close.
It would be tricky for anything to live up to that. As someone who studied History of Art at university, I’m not going to say I was underwhelmed by the painting. For me, it is one of those iconic pieces of art that’s always going to be magical to see in the flesh. But I’m sure not everyone will feel the same as that. So just manage your expectations is all.
Shopping in Milan
Is Milan worth visiting for the shopping? You’re probably speaking to the wrong person…
I’ve already mentioned that Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world. I mean, that’s cool and all, but unfortunately, I’m not really into fashion… and I’m certainly not into expensive designers. However, when you type ‘shopping in Milan’ into Google there are lots of guides on all the go-to shopping destinations in the city. People are super excited about shopping in Milan!
The main shopping street in Milan is known as Montenapoleone and it’s home to a number of those familiar names such as Gucci, Valentino and Prada. It’s also where you’ll find lots of Italian leather goods if that floats your boat. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t all that interested.
As I mentioned I travelled to Milan with Ryanair, so this was very much a budget trip. You also know what they’re like when it comes to their baggage policy – I definitely had no extra room for stuffing my suitcase with designer shopping splurges! When I travel somewhere I actually want to see the city, not just spend my time wandering around the shops. I could do that anytime, right? So in a nutshell, shopping on holiday isn’t really for me, and I think the prominence of that in Milan impacted my enjoyment of the city as a whole.
The hotel was only OK
I mentioned above that I didn’t really love the hotel we stayed in. We booked the Best Western Plus Hotel Galles and it definitely wasn’t awful… it was just a bit meh.
I remember looking at the pictures before we arrived thinking it looked quite nice and, in fact, it gets four stars on Booking.com. It even has a swimming pool for goodness sake! But I just remember pushing open the door to our hotel room when we first arrived and just feeling this sense of underwhelm. I don’t know what it was… everything just felt a bit old fashioned and tired. So it was fine, but definitely not something to get excited about. Even the pool didn’t win me over because it was so crowded you could hardly get a look in!
The other thing I didn’t like about the hotel was the district. It was in the heart of the shopping district which would be great if that was what you were into, but we weren’t. It also meant that there weren’t that many restaurants close by for dinner in the evening. I just remember being starving and pounding the streets looking for somewhere to eat.
Definitely not what you want to be doing when you’re exploring a new city!
The cat café was closed
Remember I said that some of the reasons I didn’t enjoy Milan were entirely self-inflicted? Well, here’s another one. There’s a cat café in Milan called Crazy Cat Café. I love cat cafes, as you can probably tell from this post I wrote about the amazing cat café in Edinburgh. I saw this cat café mentioned in a blog about Milan or something and was immediately like: we have to go.
So we did. We traipsed all over town to get there… only to find that it was closed. Yes it turns out that the only day of the week the Crazy Cat Café is closed on is a Monday, and that was the day we decided to go. The emotional devastation was real.
So don’t be like me. Check the opening hours and don’t go to the cat café on a Monday.
If you’re asking yourself ‘is Milan worth visiting?’ then one of the big reasons has to be the food. There isn’t much in the world that beats Italian food, right? I remember I spent ages daydreaming about all of the delicious pasta, wine, pizza and tiramisu I was going to eat when I was in Milan.
And I did. I had a few lovely meals when I was there – with the gnocchi eaten al fresco at Lake Como being the runaway winner. However, I also had a couple of disappointing meals or times when I felt like we ended up in a restaurant just because we were hungry or there was nothing else close by.
Basically, it all boiled down to not doing enough research about good places to eat near the hotel or the locations we were visiting. More on that below…
Not doing enough research
There’s a photo of me and my friends sitting on the outward leg of our lovely Ryanair flight, and we’re all clutching a pocket-guide to Milan book or similar. I can’t remember if we all bought them at the airport but even if we hadn’t, I probably hadn’t read much about what was good to see and do in Milan beforehand – at least since we’d decided where we were going and booked the flights.
What I’m basically saying is: we weren’t prepared for the trip. We hadn’t done enough research. We hadn’t done enough planning. In short, we were winging it. And while I’m quite happy to do this most of the time I felt like, with Milan, a little more preparation might have been a good thing. Even a nice restaurant recommendation could have swung it!
It’s all good being a fly by the seat of your pants person when it all works out. Sometimes you can even stumble on a great place done a side street that you’d never have been on if you’d planned everything out. But, on the flipside, sometimes it means that you can come away from a city feeling like you haven’t seen the best of what it has to offer. And the reason for that is your own lack of planning. That’s my regret about Milan.
A bad hair day (or week)
This one comes with a warning – this is nothing to do with Milan at all. However, I remember I got my hair cut just before this holiday and I HATED it. It was too short and dark and I just remember really not liking it the whole trip. So when I look back on the photographs of Milan that’s all I see: this horrible haircut that I didn’t like.
As I said, it’s nothing to do with Milan, but it’s definitely something I’ve learned from. Now I like to get my hair done a couple of weeks before I go on holiday to allow it to ‘settle’ and look how I want it to look. And there we go, the most random reason not to like Milan!
Have you ever had a bad haircut before you went on holiday? Tell me it’s not just me.