Milan is a pretty big city that is best known as the fashion and design capital of the world, and also a major European business hub. This often means that Milan is outshined by its more showy cousins like Rome, Florence, and Venice. However, despite its size and reputation, Milan manages to give off that sweet small-town feel.
Just steps away from the main square, you’ll find charming neighborhoods, quaint cobblestone streets, inviting boutiques and trendy cafes. After visiting the majority of Italy’s mainstream cities, my expectations for Milan weren’t too high. However, I ended up loving this city much more than I had anticipated!
Curious to find out what makes Milan, Italy so wonderful?
Keep reading to discover why this city should be added to your Italian bucket list and how you can make the most of a 48-hour visit.
48 Hours in Milan, Italy: Day 1
The first stop on your first day in the Italian metropolis is the magnificent Duomo. Taking entirely six centuries to construct, this gothic-style cathedral is utterly spectacular.
Start at the Piazza del Duomo and take in the jaw-dropping views from every angle, before making your way to the cathedral’s rooftop for a birds-eye-view of the city.
There are several variations of tickets you can purchase for the Duomo. Some of them include a guided tour, entrance to the cathedral or just the rooftop terraces. At the time of our visit, the line to enter the cathedral was so long that it formed a maze across the entire piazza, so we purchased tickets for the rooftop terraces only. You can also buy your tickets online in advance which is a great option to save some time and money. Check out ticket options here.
Tip: I highly recommend getting there as early as possible to enjoy this remarkable piece of architecture before the crowds arrive.
Getting up to the rooftops is a relatively quick trip. You just go behind the cathedral to a separate entrance where an elevator will take you right to the top. What makes this impressive cathedral truly unique is knowing that it’s been touched by the hand of Da Vinci, and walking around the myriad of statues, gargoyles, gothic spires and stone carvings is truly magical. There are over 3,000 sculptures and carvings that decorate the Duomo!
The paths across the Duomo’s rooftop terraces are clearly marked, making it fairly easy to navigate. Plan to take lots of photos and enjoy the dazzling views of the piazza below, as well as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Once you’re back on the ground, take a walk through Italy’s oldest (and still active) shopping mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This major Italian landmark houses luxury retailers selling designer clothing, jewelry, paintings, and more. There are also a number of cafes and restaurants that line the inside, just be aware that you will be paying for sitting in a top location.
Santa Maria della Grazie – The last supper
After some window (or real, depending upon your budget) shopping, head over to Santa Maria della Grazie church to marvel at one of Da Vinci’s most famous works of art – The Last Supper. If you want to see Leonardo’s masterpiece, you’ll want to purchase your tickets now. Tickets for admiring The Last Supper in person go on sale through the church three months in advance. However, the majority of tickets are snagged by tour operators as soon as they become available, so you’ll have to be quick. Unfortunately, we weren’t fast enough and were unable to see the painting during our visit.
Take a break from sightseeing and wander the charming streets of the Brera District. This area is the artistic heart of Milan whose narrow cobblestone streets are filled with fine arts, fashion, design and chic sidewalk cafes.
Spend some time enjoying the enchanting atmosphere the way the locals do – by stopping for a cappuccino at one of the neighborhood’s cozy cafes.
The best time to explore the Navigli District is in the evening, when the widespread network of canals come to life. Happy hour usually begins at 6:00 PM and lasts til 10:00 PM, making the second half of the day prime time for a visit. Milanese happy hour typically means that when you order a drink, you get access to a buffet with a wide selection of food. What more could you ask for?!
We skipped out on happy hour the first night, but were not disappointed with our decision. Instead, we stumbled upon La Prosciutteria, one of the many restaurants along the canals, that was buzzing with locals. Seduced by the aging prosciuttos and wines hanging from the restaurant ceiling, we just knew we had to walk in. They have a number of sharing options available, so we opted for a platter and wine for two. It was the epitome of the most perfect Italian evening imaginable.
48 Hours in Milan Italy: Day 2
Leonardo’s Vineyard is one of Milan’s best-kept secrets. Though it’s not actually a secret, most visitors flock to the city to see The Last Supper, but few know that Da Vinci left behind another extraordinary treasure just a short distance away from his famous painting. Secluded in the private residence of Case degli Atellani, the lush gardens provide a rare chance to experience the Milanese renaissance. History tells us that the Duke of Milan (Ludovico Sforza) gifted a small vineyard to Da Vinci as a gesture of gratitude for the many projects he completed for him over a span of twenty years. Leonardo, coming from a family of winemakers, tended to the gardens as he composed The Last Supper.
Teatro alla Scala
La Scala is one of the most famous theaters in the world! Don’t let the modest exterior mislead you, the inside of the theater is very impressive. You can take a tour of this world-famous opera house, visit it on your own, or enjoy the beautiful Piazza della Scala that it sits on. The piazza features a statue of Leonardo Da Vinci surrounded by gorgeous architecture, making it one of the most iconic squares in all of Milan.
Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, the fortress is the ancient seat of the Sforzas, the rulers of Milan. Today, the castle sits in all its glory housing many collections of sculpture and art from the Middle Ages all the way up to the 18th century. Even if you’re not interested in seeing the exhibits, you can walk through its beautiful park for free.
Okay, it might not be a famous landmark, but it is the dish that Milan is best known for.
On our second day in Milan, we actually returned to the Navigli District because we adored it so much. While wandering the canals, we stopped into one of the busy restaurants for a taste of the town’s famous risotto Milanese and osso bucco (another famous Milanese dish consisting of veal shanks braised with vegetables). It was quite a delicious way to end 48 hours in Milan, Italy!
Milan, You Had Me at “Ciao”
There are so many things to see and do in two days when visiting Milan! What would you add to the list if you were visiting the city?
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