Milan, Italy is a big city… A huge city, actually. It’s roughly the size of Paris, France or Dallas, Texas. So you can imagine there is a lot to see and do in this Italian metropolis. Luckily, many of the popular tourist sights are located relatively close together, so if you only have one day in Milan, you can easily hit the high points. Although, fair warning: spending just 24 hours in Milan will leave you wanting to return someday to explore more of the 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 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.
Tips to make one day in Milan enough
The Duomo di Milano should be on everyone’s 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, so we had to pack a lot into our itinerary. Here are a few tips if you only have 24 hours in Milan.
- Don’t get lost, like we did. It’s easy to get lost in a big city, 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.
- 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.
- Purchase any necessary tickets to timed attractions in advance. This will not only save time, but will ensure you see everything you planned.
Itinerary for 24 hours in Milan
There are five main places I would recommend visiting in Milan if you only have one day. Here is the itinerary we used for 24 hours in Milan.
- arrive late morning by train at Garibaldi Train Station
- drop bags off at hotel (got lost)
- Santa Maria della Grazie (Last Supper)
- Sforza Castle
- Duomo di Milano
- Late lunch near Duomo
- Galleria Vittorio
- Quadrilatero d’Oro
- Dinner before heading back to hotel
What to see in Milan in one day
We were able to walk from our hotel to all of the five top sights in Milan. However, if you prefer to take the metro or subway, Milan has an excellent public transportation system.
Depending on what time you arrive in Milan, you will want to first head to see the Last Supper. It is located inside a museum next to Santa Maria della Grazie cathedral. 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 cathedral, head over to Sforza Castle, or Castello Sforzesco in Italian. 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 – 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.
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 relatively 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 terrace offers beautiful panoramic views around the Milan Duomo.
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. We found the scammers in Milan and Rome especially obnoxious and pushy. It can ruin the experience if you let it.
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. But even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s worth stepping inside. The beautiful archways are absolutely lovely as is the glass ceiling. 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.
After checking out the Duomo and the Galleria 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, Louis Vuitton, 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 through Italy, 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 just one day in Milan.
Where to stay in Milan
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.
Hotel Maison Moschino (Now NH Milano Palazzo Moscova)
Hotel Maison Moschino was a truly unique boutique hotel. 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 had 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.
The hotel 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.
The hotel is located within a five minute walk to the Garibaldi Train Station, and approximately 25 minutes away from the Duomo and main square. So if you only have one day in Milan and are looking for a convenient hotel, you may still want to check it out.
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Have you been to Milan, Italy? What were the highlights for you? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.