Of Italy’s many cities, Milan is one of the most well known thanks in part to its role as a global capital of fashion and culture. What travelers might not realize though is that there are many other reasons why the city belongs on any ideal Italy itinerary.
With a broad range of attractions, no one can accuse Milan of being boring. The best places to visit in Milan highlight many sides of the city, from culture and art to history and nightlife. But with so much to cover in just a few days, you’ll want a guide to help you make the most of your time there. Following our Milan itinerary, you’ll have no problem experiencing a nice spread of Milan’s attractions and come away knowing exactly what to do in Milan in 3 days.
Best Time to Visit Milan
One of Italy’s most popular destinations, you’ll want to give real thought to when you visit.
You don’t want to plan a visit and end up having a bad time because you accidentally picked the busiest tourism period of the whole year. Waiting in long lines for attractions and paying high season prices for accommodation are surely hassles you could do without.
High season in Milan is the summer months of July and August. But in a place like Milan there’s never going to be a time when there are zero tourists around. Instead, the best time to visit Milan is either side of summer, in spring and autumn. Traveling in shoulder season, roughly May to June and September to October provides good weather and more reasonable prices.
If you’re looking to avoid other tourists and high prices, then visiting in winter is a good option, though it does have its trade-offs. Because it’s low season, you may find attractions have limited opening hours or are closed entirely. There are also shorter days and chilly weather, neither of which are great for outdoor sightseeing.
How to Get Around Milan
A city as big as Milan can be a bit daunting when you first look at it on a map. Many of the major attractions are on opposite sides of the city center with multiple kilometers between them. Sure, you could walk all around the city from one stop to another, but that isn’t just a lot of work and effort, it’s also a drain on your time.
While visiting Milan, it’s much better to make use of one of the city’s best assets, it’s public transport network. You have the choice of urban trains, the metro, trams, and buses to get around Milan. All four of these modes of transport use the same ticket system, with the most basic, single fare ticket costing €1.50 and lasting 90 minutes. For more information on ticket types and the different metro lines click here.
Milan is home to three airports, Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, and Milan-Bergamo, each in different parts of the city and its surroundings. Milan Malpensa is the city’s main airport but is unfortunately quite a trek from the city. Your quickest option to get into the city when arriving there is to buy a €13 train ticket for the 30-50 minute trip. The bus is an alternate option and takes around an hour but only costs €8. Milan-Bergamo is used mostly by low-cost carriers and is just as far out as Malpensa. It also takes about an hour to reach the city center from there, but buses only cost €5 and shuttles can cost as little as €4.
Lastly, there’s Milan Linate which is only used by Alitalia and is much closer to the city center. With either the 73 and X73 local buses you can reach the San Babila metro station and then make your way from there.
Where to Stay in Milan
Generally, the hardest question that travelers grapple with when planning a visit is where to stay in Milan to get the most from their trip. Choosing the right accommodation and also a nice neighborhood will lead to an easier and more enjoyable Milan experience. Ultimately, the best places to stay in Milan are ones that give you great access to attractions, restaurants, and public transport, while also showing you something about the city.
As far as neighborhoods go, you’ll want to look as centrally as possible. That won’t always be possible or within budget, so other neighborhoods to look at include Brera, Navigli, and Citta Studi. These tend to be the coolest parts of the city with vibrant student communities or well-off bohemian types. Going further out, you could look at San Siro and simply rely on Milan’s quality public transport network for getting around.
For a truly pampered stay in Milan, the luxurious Château Monfort – Relais & Châteaux is the way to go. This 5-star hotel boasts lavishly styled rooms fit for royalty, incredible staff, and is conveniently located just 10 minutes walk to the very center of Milan.
If you’re looking for both comfort and affordability, Armonia & Passione apartments are a great option for your visit. Kitted out with a full kitchen, balcony, and living room, you’ll feel truly at home in these apartments and have plenty of public transport options in the area to choose from.
Of Milan’s budget options, one you can’t look past is Madama Hostel. With great public transport connections to the city center, helpful staff, and great facilities, you’ll be happy to come back here after sightseeing. If you’re undecided, check out the rest of our Milan hostel recommendations.
For more accommodation options in Milan check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 3-Day Milan Itinerary
Since Milan is such an interesting city full of culture and character, you’ll have no problem finding things to do. That being said, the best of Milan isn’t always all that obvious and is scattered right across the city. The good news is that you’re not alone in planning your trip. You have this guide here to help you find all the best things to do in Milan. This itinerary takes you through many of the city’s neighborhoods, beginning with the city center and extending to districts further out, from Porta Nuova and Isola, to the Navigli District and beyond.
However, before we get to our Milan itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
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With that important note covered, it’s time to look at all the great sights included in this Milan travel itinerary. Following our guide, you should have no problem filling your 3 days in Milan with fun activities.
Day 1 in Milan
Upon arriving in Milan, there’s no better way to start your visit than with the city’s biggest sights right in the center. Then, you’ll finish off your day with one of the city’s hottest nightlife spots.
Piazza del Duomo
Let’s start our visit in Milan with one of the city’s most magnificent spots, the Piazza del Duomo. This great wide square sits in the heart of the city center and is a natural place to start your Milan adventure because of its glorious namesake, Milan’s Duomo. Not only is the Milan Cathedral one of the largest churches in the world, but its elaborate Gothic architecture makes it a true sight to behold.
Once you’re done gawking at the exterior of the cathedral, it’s time to see what it looks like inside. Spoiler alert: it’s just as spellbinding with pattern tiles on the floor and stained glass windows. You’re still not done with the cathedral though, as you’ll want to make the trip up to the roof for some incredible views past its countless spires.
Recommendation: Unless you are visiting in the low season it might be worth it to buy your skip-the-line ticket to the Duomo in advance. Lines can get super long and you don’t want to spend all of your holiday waiting in line. You can buy your skip-the-line tickets here.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
A short walk from Piazza del Duomo and you’ll find yourself standing inside the lavish Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This glamorous arcade is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls and is brimming with all the high-end fashion labels that people associate with the city of Milan. While you might not be able to afford the items in the windows, it’s free to window shop. You won’t just be looking at what’s in the stores though as you gaze in wonder at the grand buildings and the iron and glass domed ceiling.
Piazza dei Mercanti
Again not far from where you just were is the Piazza dei Mercanti, another of Milan’s scenic squares. Once the heart of medieval life in the city, the piazza was a bustling marketplace and home to the city’s merchants. Although it’s quieter now, visitors will still get a lot out of visiting this square. That’s because Piazza dei Mercanti is surrounded by beautiful architecture with buildings like the Palazzo della Ragione and the Loggia degli Osii.
On the northwest edge of the city center lies our next stop, the impressive Sforzesco Castle. This 15th century castle was once one of the largest citadels in all of Europe and is now one of Milan’s most recognizable attractions. Begin here by exploring the castle grounds which are open to the public and check out things like the huge castle gates and the medieval architecture.
Sforzesco Castle is also home to a surprisingly large collection of civic museums. Inside you’ll find museums on a range of different subjects from the Pinacoteca and its famed Renaissance art collection to the more unexpected Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Musical Instruments. Throughout the castle you’ll find works by such acclaimed names as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, and more. The good news is that all the different museums are included in one ticket so you can pick and choose which exhibits are of interest to you.
Sprawled out behind the castle is the expansive Parco Sempione, one of Milan’s most popular parks. There you’ll find endless lawns to lounge on, walking trails, ponds, and thickets of woods. For locals and tourists alike, it’s a great place to escape the chaos of the city. But it’s also home to the magnificent Arco della Pace, a huge triumphal arch that mirrors the one in Paris. Visiting the castle you’re already there, so why not spend a little time enjoying the nature and quiet that the park provides.
The Last Supper
Italy is home to many Renaissance works of art, many of which are in the galleries of Florence and Venice. But don’t worry, Milan isn’t left out, thanks in no small part to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. This 15th century church and UNESCO world heritage site is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece, “The Last Supper”.
You’re sure to have seen this painting in come replicated version, and it’s now time to see it in person. Perhaps of all the places in Milan, this is the attraction you most need to book in advance and purchase skip-the-line tickets for. But it is worth it to this see this large mural and take the excellent tour through the church. You can buy your skip-the-line ticket here.
Certainly the up-and-coming district of Milan, the Navigli District is the perfect place to spend your first evening. Named after the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Parvese canals which border the neighborhood, Navigli has gone through a rebirth of late. While you could come to just gaze across its canals and watch the sunset, you’ll be missing out on all the bars and restaurants peppered through the district. City trends are forever changing, but right now Navigli is the name on everyone’s lips.
Day 2 in Milan
We’ve only scratched the surface of the city after one day in Milan, so today we continue exploring different parts of the city and our cultural tour.
Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore
Kick off the day with another church, Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore. This basilica dates back to 402 A.D. and is one of Milan’s most important churches, as such, this is more than just an ordinary church. While the church’s walls aren’t extravagant, it has plenty of presence about it and quite the dome.
Outside the church you’ll find another historic landmark not to miss, the Colonne di San Lorenzo. This row of columns are ancient Roman ruins which were actually relocated here back in the 4th century. That they’re still standing in such good condition is a minor miracle and well worth taking a look at.
San Bernardino alle Ossa
But we’re not done, as here is another church that is definitely out of the ordinary. That’s because the church of San Bernardino alle Ossa hosts an ossuary, which is basically a place where the bones and skulls of people have been stored. When cemeteries were full, the remains of the buried were retrieved and moved into this special space. Walking into the ossuary it’s possible to see these bones and skulls on display, often arranged in deliberate patterns, like the huge cross that marks the middle of the room. If you’ve never seen anything like it before, it’s really hard to imagine until it’s in front of you.
Pinacoteca di Brera
Palazzo Brera has a complex story to it, throughout time it has been a convent, national library, academy, before finally becoming what is now the Pinacoteca art gallery. Full of fine art by Italian masters and other contemporaries, you’ll find works by such names as Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rubens. While you may have seen paintings elsewhere in Milan, this is the art gallery for Milan and is considered one of Italy’s finest.
Moving away from the city center, we come to the fascinating neighborhood of Isola. Up north past the Milano Porta Garibaldi train station, this neighborhood is a place of alternative spirit and gentrification. Wandering from corner to corner you’ll see plenty of street art, mixed among the many thrift stores, boutiques, and other hipster-associated establishments. Regardless of how you feel about all that, it’s hard to say no to the local vibe of the area, especially after stopping in at some of its cafes and eateries.
Just on the edge of Isola stands one of Milan’s coolest new additions, the Bosco Verticale. These twin apartment towers are just as much vertical hanging gardens as they are residential buildings. It’s an extremely cool concept and one that looks even cooler in real life, with lush greenery bursting from the white balconies of these two looming towers.
Teatro alla Scala
To finish your second day in Milan, why not class things up a little with a night at the opera at Teatro alla Scala. This 18th century opera theater was actually founded by the Archduchess Maria Theresa back when Milan was part of the Habsburg Empire. While you could go during the day to take a tour of this grand establishment, it’s not quite the same as seeing people fill its glorious balconies and witness a world-class performance in person.
Day 3 in Milan
To round out your 72 hours in Milan, it’s time to look beyond the city limits to other great destinations close to Milan. Even though you could spend more time in the city, it’s best not to give up the chance for a day trip from Milan to see more of northern Italy.
1. Lake Como
The lakes of northern Italy have become synonymous with the rich and famous, and maybe none more than Lake Como. This lake has become best known as a setting in the James Bond film Casino Royale, and as one of George Clooney’s many homes. Not only can you catch a glimpse of the high life, but there’s plenty of breathtaking scenery to marvel at as well.
Begin your time at the lake in the town of Como at its southern end. Take a walk through the town’s narrow streets before bursting out onto its wonderful waterfront, Lake Como stretching off into the distance in front of you. A pleasant walk around the lake’s edge will bring you to Villa Olmo, an 18th-century villa known for its splendid formal gardens.
Moving away from the town of Como, you’ll want to take the funicular up to the hilltop town of Brunate. From there you can enjoy sweeping panoramic views of the lake and into Switzerland. You’ll also want to actually spend some time out on Lake Como, taking a boat ride round to other towns on its shore like Bellagio, Griante, and Varenna.
One of the easiest places to visit from Milan has to be the small city of Bergamo, and not only because it is convenient, but also because it is a fantastic place to see. Divided into a historic upper district and a modern lower district, Bergamo is a well-rounded destination that is enjoyable to discover on foot.
Visitors will likely want to start with Città Alta, Bergamo’s historic quarter. Passing through its cobblestone streets, you’ll be able to stop in at the city’s many monumental landmarks, starting with the beautiful Bergamo Cathedral. After a stop at the city’s main square, Piazza Vecchia, find your way to the Torre Civica bell tower so that you can appreciate the stunning views from the top. There’s also Viscontea Fortress which has a wonderful history and views to discover.
To reach the modern half of the city, known as Città Bassa, you’ll first have to head through the city’s old Venetian walls and take the city’s funicular down. Once you’re down you’ll be able to experience city life in Bergamo. Wander the city streets and check out local boutique stores and art galleries. Finally, find the Torre dei Caduti, a tower honoring the fallen soldiers of WWI.
The region of Lombardy is much more than just Milan, which is plain as day when you head out to Pavia for the day. This university city south of Milan is a nice change of pace for travelers, but rest assured there’s plenty of attractions to keep you occupied during your day trip.
Before reaching the city proper, you’ll want first to stop at the Certosa di Pavia. This monastery complex is found 8km outside Pavia but seeing the monastery’s incredible sculptural and fresco decorations is well worth the stop. After you’ve seen the striking cloisters inside the monastery, it’s time to visit Pavia, starting with the grand Pavia Cathedral. Next to the cathedral you’ll find the Civic Tower, one of several medieval towers which grace Pavia’s cityscape.
There’s plenty more to see in Pavia, beginning with the Cupola Arnaboldi arcade which may remind you of Milan’s Galleria. Something that can’t be found in Milan though is the long-standing University of Pavia which you can learn more about at its University History Museum. From there you can either head north to the medieval Castello Visconteo and its Civic Museum or journey south to the Ticino River to see the covered Ponte Coperto bridge.
You really can see so much of Milan in 3 days and with this guide you’ll be able to pack as much in as possible! But why stop your Italian adventure here? There are plenty of other awesome cities to explore from Florence to Bologna, Rome, Venice, and beyond.