24 Hours in Milan: How to Spend One Day in Italy’s Fashion Capital

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Milan, Italy – the fashion capital of the world! A major metropolitan city, roughly the size of Paris, France or Dallas, Texas, Milano, as it is spelled in Italian, is practically synonymous with all things chic and urban. With high-end shops and trendy restaurants, Milan is a great holiday for city-seekers who long for the hustle and bustle of a busy urban area. So, you can imagine there are a lot of things to do in this Italian metropolis. But if you only have one day in Milan, a lot of the popular tourist sights are located relatively close together, so you can easily hit the high points in a matter of hours. Although, fair warning: spending just 24 hours in Milan will leave you wanting to return someday to explore more of the city.

How to get to Milan, Italy

Milan is located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. The region borders Switzerland to its north, and is also home to the famous and picturesque alpine resort area of Lake Como.  It is a great day trip from Milan, where you can experience the natural beauty of Italy, relax by the lake, or take part in some of the incredible hikes around Lake Como.

Getting to Milan by train

The Lombardy region is well-connected by trains, as is much of Europe, so it is easy to get to Milan by train is fairly easy from many parts of Europe. The main train station, Milano Centrale, is one of the busiest train stations in all of Europe, with more than 320,000 people passing through it each day. The central train station is nearly 2 miles from many of Milan’s famous tourist sites, but the city also has a well-developed metro system. So getting to Milan by train and subsequently getting around Milan using public transportation is somewhat simple and convenient.

Walking through the streets of Milan after arriving by train ready for our one day in Milan Italy
Walking through the streets of Milan after arriving by train.

Getting to Milan from the airport

If arriving in Milan for a day by air, you’ll likely be flying into the Malpensa International Airport, particularly if you are flying from an international destination. Although the city has two other airports, Malpensa is the largest and accommodates the most long-haul flights, like those from the United States. The city center of Milan is accessible by train from the airport, however the ride into the city will take roughly an hour. The train station is connected to Terminal 1. If arriving in Terminal 2 there is a shuttle that runs between the two terminals 24-hours a day that you can take to get to the train station.

Travel tips to make one day in Milan enough

We had exactly one day in Milan, so we had to pack a lot into our itinerary. Here are a few tips if you only have 24 hours in Milan.

Plan an itinerary ahead of time

Make sure you have your itinerary thought out and mapped out. Plotting each tourist attraction you plan to visit into Google Maps or another mapping program will help you gauge the distance between the sights. It will also help you plan out the order in which you will visit the attractions based on where everything is located. We do this on almost every trip, especially if we have a limited amount of time to spend in one place.

Buy tickets to attractions in advance

Purchase any necessary tickets to timed attractions in advance. This will not only save time, but will ensure you see everything you planned. With only 24 hours in Milan, you should strongly consider buying skip-the-line tickets for popular attractions like the Milan Cathedral. Not having to stand in long lines or queues will maximize your time in Milan. To make things easy for you, we have included links below to any of the attractions on our one-day Milan itinerary that sell advanced tickets or tours.

Use a map or GPS navigation app 

It’s easy to get lost in a big city, and it wastes a lot of 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, we’ve been there, and it’s not fun. We got incredibly lost in Milan. While we generally love to wander the streets of a new city and get a feel for its atmosphere, 24 hours in Milan is not enough time to leisurely explore by foot.

Familiarize yourself with the public transportation system and utilize it

Rather than exploring on foot, utilize Milan’s metro system to get around quicker. You can purchase a day pass for the metro and avoid having to purchase single tickets for every use. A 24-hour Milan travel card will cost roughly $5.40 USD (€4.50).

Beware of scammers!

One word of warning that applies to nearly every tourist site in just about all of Italy: You will come across panhandlers. A lot of them. Some of the tactics these scammers use are not as obvious as others. Some will try to stop you, offering you a free bracelet that brings good fortune or something similar. Say no thank you – FIRMLY – 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 advice I ever received because they tried to stop me several times while in Italy. In fact, the scammers seemed way worse in Milan than in Rome, Florence or Venice

Pack comfortable walking shoes

Even if you use the metro in Milan, you will still be doing a lot of walking. Milan may be a fashionable city, but if you are only spending one day in Milan, this is not the day for heels or chic shoes. A comfortable pair of flats or stylish walking shoes are better suited for exploring Milan.

Itinerary for 24 hours in Milan

There are seven main things to see and do on our one-day Milan itinerary. Here is our recommendation for things to do if you only have 24 hours in Milan.

  • Duomo di Milano
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • Piazza del Scala
  • Brera district + lunch
  • Sforzesco Castle
  • Santa Maria della Grazie 
  • Last Supper
  • Shopping at Quadrilatero d’Oro
  • Dinner before heading back to hotel

What to see in Milan in one day

Although it is a large city, many of the tourist highlights in Milan are within walking distance of each other. However, if you prefer to take the metro or subway, there are stops located near all of the top places to visit in Milan.

Duomo di Milano

The Duomo di Milano should be on everyone’s bucket list. If you need a reason to visit Milan, the Duomo is it. The Milan cathedral is truly the most spectacular cathedral, inside and out. The moment you see it you will likely stare in amazement. Pictures do not do it justice. The Milan Duomo is easily one of the most beautiful churches in Europe.

To beat the crowds, start your morning at the Milan Duomo. The Duomo is huge so you will want to take some time to truly appreciate it. There are more than 34,000 statues inside and outside the cathedral, which took more than six centuries to construct. There are three main areas of the cathedral to explore. 

The Milan Duomo - the absolute best thing to see during your 24 hours in Milan
The Milan Duomo is the absolute best thing to see during your 24 hours in Milan. – Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Interior of the Milan Duomo and Museum

The entrance fee to the Duomo is relatively inexpensive (between $5-10 USD). With its intricate, Gothic architecture and 55 stained glass windows, the inside of the Milan Duomo is just as memorizing as the exterior. The line to enter the duomo can be quite long, so if you only have one day in Milan, you will want to purchase skip-the-line tickets

Inside the 600-year-old cathedral, you’ll find sacred relics, statues and artwork that beautifully decorate the interior. Prominently on display in the main altar, the Milan Duomo is home to the largest organ in Italy, with 15,800 pipes encased in elaborate doors depicting scenes from the Bible.  

Inside the Milan Duomo as part of our Milan one day tour
Inside the Milan Duomo

Beneath the Duomo, you can access an archaeological area where the ruins of the Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti were found, the first octagonal-shaped Christian baptistery. 

Note: Sleeveless shirts and shorts are not allowed inside the Milan Duomo.

Rooftop and Duomo terraces

After exploring the cathedral’s interior, climb to the top terraces of the Duomo for panoramic views of the city. If visiting Milan with children, there is also a lift or elevator you can take to the top terrace, which may be easier than the staircase. 

The 26,250 square foot terrace offers beautiful views of the piazza beneath the Duomo, an up-close-and-personal look at the intricate spires and pinnacles that adorn the exterior, and on a clear day, you can even see as far as the Italian Alps!

View of the spires of the Milan Duomo from the terrace
View of the spires of the Milan Duomo from the terrace. – Photo by Christoph Schulz on Unsplash

Piazza del Duomo

The large piazza or square in front of the cathedral is where you will explore the exterior of the Milan Duomo. The area is always crawling with tourists, pigeons, and the occasional scammer. 

At one point while taking a photo of the cathedral, two men accosted me, took my camera, grabbed me by the wrist, and put bird seed in my hand. 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. Since I did not ask to be made into a pigeon stand, although I managed to maintain a smile like a pro, I did NOT give them money. It is a good thing I don’t have a phobia of birds or this experience would have been truly terrifying. 

Being attached by pigeons in the Piazza in front of the Milan Duomo during our Milan in 24 hours tour
Being attached by pigeons in the Piazza in front of the Milan Duomo

Regardless of this experience, the piazza can be a lively and fun place, and is best enjoyed early in the morning when it is not as crowded. 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is located directly adjacent to the Duomo. It is Italy’s oldest active shopping mall, and a landmark in Milan. The four-story, glass-vaulted, double arcade is a lovely place to stroll through, but I wouldn’t dare shop there. All of the major luxury designers are represented inside the posh galleria, named after the first king of Italy. The fashion influence is evident everywhere you look inside the Galleria Vittorio! While we were there we actually saw a modeling photo shoot taking place.

Inside the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a must see attraction during your 24 hours in Milan
Inside the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Image by Igor Saveliev from Pixabay

Unless you plan on doing some high-end shopping, plan to spend a few minutes walking through the galleria and enjoying the magnificence of the architecture before moving on to your next stop on your Milan itinerary. We prefer to spend our spare change on travel and rarely purchase luxury items. So, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the galleria. It is, however, a great place to stop for a coffee or breakfast inside one of the cafes within Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. 

Piazza della Scala

Piazza della Scala is another active pedestrian square just on the other side of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele from the Duomo. After passing through the galleria, you can stroll through the piazza, famous for its statue of Leonardo da Vinci, and the renowned Teatro alla Scala opera house. If time permits, you can take a guided tour of the La Scala Theatre, which is beautiful on the inside. 

However, if short on time, skip the theater tour and head to your next stop, the Brera District.  

Brera district

Brera is an artsy district of Milan with a great atmosphere, art galleries, street markets, and plenty of restaurants. This is a great place to stop for lunch, or even take a private food tour to learn about and indulge in some traditional Italian food and drinks. If you enjoy museums, Picacoteca Gallery, and The Astronomical Museum are both located in Brera, along with the Braidense National Library. 

Statue at the Picacoteca Picture Galley
Picacoteca in the Brera District – Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle)

After lunch, head over to Sforzesco Castle, or Castello Sforzesco in Italian. The castle is located directly adjacent to the Brera District, and just a short walk down Via Fatebenefratelli from Pinacoteca di Brera. Most people opt for a guided tour of the 15th century castle, which is now home to several historical works of art, as well.

Outside Sforzesco Castle one of the main stops on a one day Milan itinerary
Outside Sforzesco Castle

The grounds of the castle are free to enter, but admission to the museum or tours requires you to purchase a ticket. You can explore the inner courtyards of the medieval castle, walk around the exterior of the fortress, and admire the views from Parco Sempione, the largest park in Milan, located next to the castle. Parco Sempione is also home to Arco della Pace, a beautiful city gate built in 1807. 

Inside the courtyard of Sforzesco Castle
Inside the courtyard of Sforzesco Castle

Santa Maria Della Grazie and Last Supper

Your final afternoon stop will be Santa Maria della Grazie cathedral and the adjacent museum to see the Last Supper, Leonardo di Vinci’s original fresco painting. That is, if you purchased afternoon tickets to view the famous painting. 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.

Last Supper replica outside Santa Maria della Grazie
The closest you’ll get to the Last Supper during your one day in Milan if you don’t purchase advanced tickets.

Buy your tickets online in advance, or you will most likely NOT get in. Without advanced tickets, the closest you will get to viewing this famous piece of art is the replica behind bars on the outside of Santa Maria della Grazie. You can check ticket availability online, or book a guided tour that includes access to the Last Supper.

Even without tickets to the Last Supper, you can tour Santa Maria della Grazie, the original home to the work of art before it was moved to the climate controlled museum.  The cathedral and museum are roughly a five minute walk from Castello Sforzesco.

Inside Santa Maria della Grazie, the original home to the Last Supper
Inside Santa Maria della Grazie, the original home to the Last Supper

Quadrilatero d’Oro

Finally, after a long day of sightseeing, take the metro to Via Monte Napoleone for some window shopping and an evening coffee or gelato. 

gelato in Milan's shopping district
Stop for gelato at least once during your 24 hours in Milan.

Quadrilatero d’Oro or The Golden Rectangle, is considered Milan’s fashion district. All the major fashion houses like Prada, Armani, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Chanel have a branch or flagship store here. Even if you are not big shoppers (we’re not), when in the Fashion Capital of the World, it’s fun to walk among the posh. If you want to splurge and do some shopping, this is a great place to do so. But if not, it’s still a fun place to spend an evening before calling it a night. 

Where to stay in Milan for 24 hours

Like I mentioned, Milan is a big city, and with any big city, you have plenty of lodging options from budget hostels to extravagant luxury hotels. We tend to travel on a mid-range budget and look for hotels that are nice without completely blowing our budget.

If arriving in Milan by train, you will want to stay near one of the train stations so you can drop off your luggage before sightseeing. We arrived at Garibaldi Train Station, and stayed at NH Milano Palazzo Moscova, a beautiful boutique hotel about five minutes away from Garibaldi Train Station and approximately 25 minutes away from the Duomo and main square. If arriving at Milano Centrale, there are a lot of hotels conveniently located within walking distance from the main train station. 

SEARCH AND COMPARE ALL HOTELS IN MILAN

Is Milan, Italy worth visiting?

Although it wasn’t my favorite city in Italy, Milan is worth visiting. While we were able to spend a full and fun 24 hours in Milan, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much more time than that. It isn’t that the city is boring. In fact, there are a lot of things to do in Milan beyond those mentioned above, but when you think of Italy and it’s magical appeal, Milan just lacks that characteristic Italian charm. It is worth including on an Italian itinerary, but I wouldn’t want to spend an entire vacation in Milan. With so many other cities, like Venice, Florence, and Rome, there are so many other cities in Italy worth visiting and exploring for a

Have you been to Milan, Italy? What were the highlights for you? Leave us your thoughts on our 24-hour Milan itinerary in the comments below.

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This 24 hours in Milan post was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and current information. 

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20 comments on “24 Hours in Milan: How to Spend One Day in Italy’s Fashion Capital”

That is funny – we got lost coming out of the train station too for what should have been a 5 minute walk to our hotel. And you are right, photos don’t do it justice, the duomo is gorgeous!

I wish we had more time in Milan! What was supposed to be 6 hours turned into a panicked rush to see the cathedral (agreed, so spectacular!!) and back to the train station. We learned that you’ll get lost, and that the “luggage storage” and “ticket number lineup” can take HOURS, so plan for it in case!

You forgot to mention La Scala. The tour of the opera house and its adjacent museum are not to be missed. If you plan your trip well, you can attend an opera during the evening of your overnight stay. Also, La Rinascente is the famous department store chain in Italy. The elegant Milano version is right across the street from the side of the Duomo.

We also spend just 24 hours in Milan, on our honeymoon. Admittedly it was just because we were flying out from there, but it was still a pleasant stay! We only saw the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio, and the rest of the time went to eating and shopping 🙂
Good tips though, what you suggest is certainly doable!

I have been to Milan twice, and am going agin in October as part of a 3 week trip. We are flying in and out of Milan, and will spend the last 3 days in the city. You have highlighted all must see attractions. One I would add is the Monumental Cemetary. While it may seem crazy, the sculptures that personalize the tombs are amazing. Worthwhile!

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