How to Spend One Day in Milan
Milan is a big city… A huge city, actually. It’s roughly the size of Paris, France, or Dallas, Texas. But the tourist sights are located relatively close together, so if you only have one day in Milan, you can easily hit the high points. Although, it will leave you wanting to return someday to see even more of this city.
We decided to stop for the night in Milan on our way from Switzerland to Venice, Italy.
If you are making the same trek from Switzerland, I would recommend stopping in the wonderful lakeside town of Lake Como, which is just 30 minutes away by train. It is a great day trip where you can really experience the natural beauty of Italy.
Check out this post from Born Globals to discover the best hikes around Lake Como.
Recommended itinerary for One Day in Milan
I had heard so much about the Duomo di Milano that it was a MUST SEE on my bucket list. If you do nothing else in Milan, visit the Duomo. It truly is the most spectacular cathedral I’ve ever laid eyes on.
We had exactly one day in Milan. My first piece of advice if you have a limited amount of time there: don’t get lost. It’s easy to get lost, and it only wastes time. With only one day in Milan, you can’t be wandering around aimlessly trying to figure out where you are. Trust me on this one, I’ve been there, and it’s not fun.
Depending on what time you arrive in Milan, you will want to first head to see the Last Supper. It is located inside Santa Maria della Grazie. The Last Supper is Leonardo di Vinci’s original fresco painting. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world, and because of the style of painting and its age, environmental factors such as humidity have destroyed much of the original painting. For this reason they only allow a certain number of visitors in the room to see it each day.
I would advise you buy your tickets online in advance, or you will probably NOT get in. If you are lucky enough to get in without advanced tickets, you will have to spend an eternity in a line or queue. We did not buy our tickets in advance and because of that the closest we got to viewing this famous piece of art was a replica behind bars on the outside of Santa Maria della Grazie. We were still able to tour the chapel, which is lovely, but please learn from our mistake and buy your tickets in advance. You can do so here.
After viewing the Last Supper and touring Santa Maria della Grazie, head over to Sforza Castle. This is located directly up the road from the cathedral, about a five minute walk. Due to our time constraints, we opted not to take a guided tour and decided to walk around on our own. The 15th century castle is now home to several historical works off art, as well. The grounds of the castle are free to enter, but admission to the museum requires you to purchase a ticket.
One word of warning that applies to this tourist sight and just about every other one in Italy: You will come across panhandlers outside the walls who will try to stop you, offering you a free bracelet that brings good fortune or something similar. Say no thank you and keep moving. Once they have you by the wrist, they will hit you up for money, or pickpocket you. I was warned of this in advance and knew not to stop… Best advise I ever got because they tried to stop me several times while in Italy.
Duomo di Milano
This. Cathedral. Is. Spectacular. Inside and out. The moment you see it you will likely stare in amazement. Pictures do not do it justice. After touring the Sforza Castle, take another short walk to the Duomo di Milano (Milan Duomo). The entrance fee to the Duomo is very inexpensive (between 5-10 Us Dollars) and the Gothic architecture inside is just as memorizing as the exterior. If time allows, you can climb to the top terrace of the Duomo for a great yet challenging experience. I would highly recommend this! For a few extra bucks you can ride a lift to the terrace instead, which would be well worth it if traveling with young children.
The piazza in front of the cathedral is always crawling with tourists and pigeons. Once again, be aware of scammers here. At one point I was taking a photo of the cathedral, and seconds later two men accosted me, took my camera, put bird seed in my hand, and suddenly I was swarmed by pigeons.
Luckily, the men did not steal my camera, instead they took my picture with it, then asked me for money. Ummm, no thanks, I did not ask to be made into a pigeon stand, although I managed to maintain a smile like a pro. (See picture below.) It’s a good thing I don’t have a phobia of birds or this experience would have been truly terrifying.
The Galleria Vittorio is located directly adjacent to the Duomo. It’s a neat place to stroll through, but I wouldn’t dare shop there, unless you plan to drop some serious coin. All of the major designers are represented inside the galleria. Because I am nowhere close to being rich enough to afford those types of extravagant purchases, I merely window shopped.
I prefer to spend my spare change on travel not shoes. In fact, I’m fairly certain I would have found shoes there that cost more than my entire European trip. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s worth stepping inside. The beautiful archways are absolutely lovely… and the fashion influence is evident everywhere you look! While we were there we actually saw a modeling photo shoot taking place.
After checking out the Duomo and the Galleria head back toward the hotel (read below for my recommendation.) But before turning in for the night, stop off at Quadrilatero d’Oro (The Golden Rectangle). This is considered Milan’s fashion district. This is where models and celebrities shop. It won’t take you long to figure out why… Prada, Armani, Versace, Chanel… all of your once again out-of-budget retailers are represented and many have their flagship stores here.
We stopped for some amazing gelato (because when in Italy one must eat gelato everywhere… and because it was basically all we could afford). That was the extent of our purchases in the Golden Rectangle. Like I said, for a woman, I am not a big shopper, plus we were backpacking it, so I didn’t have a ton of room in my luggage, anyway. Still, Milan is the Fashion Capital of the World so if you want to splurge and do some shopping, this is a great place to do so. Although, I could probably spend my entire life savings in one day in Milan.
Where to stay in Milan
Hotel Maison Moschino (Now NH Milano Palazzo Moscova)
This boutique hotel was truly unique. The lobby and dining area were very much fashion-themed, perfectly fitting for a hotel in the Fashion Capital of the World. The rooms all have their own unique theme. While ours appeared very basic with all white bedding, tables and chairs, it did have great little features like a tea cup coffee table and interesting light fixtures. Other rooms were much more elaborate.
Unfortunately, an online search for the hotel shows it was recently bought out and changed to NH Milano Palazzo Moscova. While it may still be a nice place to stay, much of the charm that made this place so perfect looks to have been changed. You can no longer sleep in a bed shaped like a giant ball gown and the rooms appear to all be very similar now instead of each having its own theme. I have no idea why they would have done that?!
The hotel is located within a five minute walk to the Garibaldi Train Station. So if you only have one day in Milan and are looking for a convenient hotel, you may still want to check it out.