Milan is the most livable city in Italy and its second largest. But when it comes to visiting Milan, most tourists don’t know where to start.
Unlike Rome with its ruins and Venice with its canals, Milan doesn’t have an predictable travel theme. There’s the magnificent Duomo…and then what?
A reader recently asked me where to go on a first trip to Milan and these were my recommendations. My choices are a bit spread out, both chronologically and geographically. But luckily Milan has quality public transportation, with trams and an extensive subway network. This guide to Milan by Wanted In Milan is useful for planning your itinerary.
Sightseeing in Milan: 3 of My Favorites
1 – Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio
Most travelers gravitate to Milan for its modernity, forgetting that the city has, like most places in Italy, ancient roots. One of the best places to get a sense of old Milan is at the 4th century Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio. Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, is entombed here and you can see his (rather frightful) skeletal remains in the crypt below the altar of the church. In addition to paying respects to Sant’Ambrogio, the basilica is an oasis of calm in an otherwise fast-paced city.
2 – Pinacoteca Brera
Another oasis of calm but decidedly more fashionable, the Pinacoteca Brera is one of the best art galleries in Europe. Its origin story is quite interesting:
Brera become [sic] a museum to host the most important works of art from all of the areas conquered by the French armies. So unlike other important museums in Italy such as the Uffizi, Brera did not start out life as the private collection of a prince or nobleman but as the product of a deliberate policy decision.The history of the Pinacoteca
The Brera features a well-curated collection of mostly Italian, mostly religious art, including pieces by Mantegna, Caravaggio, Raphael, and Piero della Francesca. It also contains a massive painting by Bellini, which I wrote about previously.
3 – Navigli District
Sometimes traveling means just hanging out and watching people go by. And there is really no better place to do this in Milan than in the Navigli District. Looking like a little slice of Amsterdam but (usually) with better weather, the navigli, or canals, are lined with restaurants, cafes, galleries, and boutiques and give off a cultured, laid back, bohemian vibe. Go to Navigli for lunch, between sightseeing. Or finish off a long day with an aperitivo in view of the Naviglio Grande. Turismo Milano has more about Quartiere Navigli, its history, and what to see and do there.
What are your favorite places to visit in Milan?
A great and timely article. My wife and I are planing on going to Milan soon and this will help guide us through on what to see. Love spending time sitting and people watching, but most of all submerged into the culture and my heritage.
As I write this, I can look up at a photo of the Cuomo that hangs on my living room wall with many other Italy photos I have taken. So I would definitely have to visit it again. Also I love Sforza Castle. There is so much there. I would love to stand in front of Michelangelo’ Pieta and see its newly designed “home.” Whichever of his three is my favorite when I’m with it! Yes, I love San Ambrogio too. I would have to dig out journals from several trips to keep on. Milan is so worth a visit!
To our horror, we discovered the existence of the Navigli District after we returned home from our Italian holiday. It took us 6 years to right that wrong when returned to Milan this last summer.