Milan Duomo Roof || creative commons photo by David Davies

Milan Duomo Roof || creative commons photo by David Davies

Milan has a reputation – it’s busy, it’s not as charming as other parts of Italy, and it’s completely obsessed with fashion. Some of that is true. And Milan is still an excellent place to visit, if you approach it with the right attitude.

Time in Milan is ideal for shopping (window- or otherwise), cathedral-visiting, opera-going, and Leonardo-gazing. It’s home to one of Italy’s busiest international airports, so if you’re already flying in or out of the city you might as well enjoy what it has to offer, right? The good news is that it has quite a bit to offer, and the sights are fairly close together.

How to Get to Milan

As mentioned, Milan is home to the second-busiest international airport in Italy (behind Rome), so it’s a common entry point for international visitors. There are two airports in Milan, and a third in a nearby town that is often considered a third Milan airport.

  • Milan-Malpensa Airport (MXP) – This is the biggie, located well outside the city center and your most likely gateway.
  • Milan-Linate Airport (LIN) – This airport is smaller and closer to the city center, typically served by airlines flying from other European cities rather than overseas.
  • Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport (BGY) – Bergamo isn’t even a Milan suburb, but this airport is served by some of the discount European carriers, so you may find a steal of a deal on flights into BGY. Just be aware that you’ll then need to get to Milan via train from there.

If you’re traveling from within Italy, Milan has a few train stations, including the very well-connected Milano Centrale, and is served by both Trenitalia’s high-speed trains and the newer Italo fast trains.

Read more details about how to get from Milan’s Malpensa Airport into the city of Milan.

What to Do & See in Milan

Milan isn’t on most must-see lists in Italy, but it has some definite must-see sights. Luckily, the bulk of what travelers want to see in the city are located fairly close to one another, so you can successfully check them off your list with a well-organized day. Stay longer for an opportunity to take day trips to Bergamo or the lakes nearby.

Here’s an incomplete list of some of Milan’s most popular attractions:

  • Duomo (including climbing onto the roof)
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”
  • La Scala Opera House
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • Quadrilatero d’Oro Shopping District
  • Castello Sforzesco
  • Parco Sempione
  • Navigli Canals

That’s not even close to an exhaustive list of the things to do in Milan, but it will get you started. Keep in mind that if you’ve only got a day, you’ll want to book tickets to “The Last Supper” well in advance – sometimes many months. A visit is timed and lasts only 15 minutes, but they get booked up quickly.

Guided Tours in Milan

Where to Stay in Milan

Being a business-centric city, Milan is overflowing with hotels. Since many cater to business travelers, however, they’re not always budget-friendly – or, for that matter, located near the city’s attractions. If you’re sightseeing, try to find lodging near the center of the historic part of the city – it’s a bit like a wheel that radiates out from the Duomo in the middle. That way you’ll be able to get around easily on foot, or have access to the Metro and trams if you don’t want to walk.

Keep in mind that business hotels can be booked during the weeks (when their rates go up) but empty out on weekends (when their rates go down) – exactly the opposite of what most leisure hotel schedules look like. If there’s a big trade show or event going on in the city, even if it doesn’t impact your trip, you may know it about when you find hotels booked up well in advance. And if you’re not on a tight budget, consider staying in one of the chic Milan hotels run by Italy’s fashion houses.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Milan accommodation:

  • Star ratings for hotels in Italy don’t correspond to the ones you may be familiar with. Historic buildings that have been converted into hotels naturally have smaller rooms, and this means they have fewer stars – even if they’re top quality and have a good location. Don’t be afraid to check out two- and three-star hotels if the location looks good.
  • There are hostels in Milan as well as hotels, and some have private rooms, which is another great way to save money on lodging.
  • For those staying longer than a few days or traveling with a group, you might want to consider an apartment rental instead of a hotel room. These can be an especially good idea if you’re keen on having your own kitchen – either to experiment with Italian cooking or to save money by making some of your own meals.

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