Worldwide icon-chevron-right Europe icon-chevron-right Italy icon-chevron-right Milan icon-chevron-right The 20 essential things to do in Milan

The 20 essential things to do in Milan

Whether you’re into fashion or history, there’s something for everyone in our list of the best things to do in Milan

By Emma Harper |

Despite how Milan is portrayed on the world’s stage, the city is anything but flashy. Many of its most interesting sights and attractions are not readily apparent, so you’ll need to dig a little deeper to discover the gems that really make the city unique. Luckily, Milan is surprisingly walkable and at times feels more like a compact town than a major European metropolis. And once you start chipping away at its foreboding exterior, you’ll find untold treasures below the surface: priceless works of art, eccentric beautiful buildings, world-class restaurants and oases of calm. Explore the best things to do in Milan and remember: appearances aren’t everything.

Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere.

Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.

Best things to do in Milan

Fonderie Milanesi
Photograph: Courtesy Fonderie Milanesi
Restaurants, Italian

Partake in the tradition of the aperitivo

The aperitivo is considered an institution in Milan, and no visit would be complete without partaking in this pre-dinner ritual. The tradition got its start in the late-nineteenth century, when Gaspare Campari, intent on serving a drink that stimulated rather than spoiled the appetite, began serving his eponymous bitter aperitif. As more drinks were developed, more nibbles were added to the offerings; it’s common now to find bars with elaborate buffet spreads. Commonly enjoyed between 7pm and 9pm, it's not uncommon for the best spots to be completely packed – but that community spirit is exactly the aperitivo ethos.

Photograph: Deensel/Flickr

Go for a night out in the Navigli District

Constructed over hundreds of years, with input from da Vinci himself, Milan’s system of navigable and interconnected canals granted the landlocked city more access to the outside world. Today, the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese are some of the only canals still visible, and around them have sprung up a torrent of bars, restaurants and cafes that thrum with activity on weekend nights. Pull up a stool at Rita & Cocktails for a Gin Zen, or Rebelot for a sublime glass of wine. For astonishing views at a leisurely pace, join a boat tour and relax as you're swept around the city sights.

Da Vincis Last Supper painting in Milan
Photograph: Rex Hammock/Flickr
Attractions, Religious buildings and sites

Visit the Last Supper

Perhaps one of the most famous paintings in the world, Leonard da Vinci’s The Last Supper has been reproduced to death, but no tote bag or mouse pad or even large-scale reproduction can adequately capture da Vinci’s emotionally charged mural. Unlike frescoes, which are painted on wet plaster and thus must be completed rather quickly, da Vinci used tempera paints on a dry wall, after sealing the stone with dried plaster and adding an undercoat of white lead to achieve greater luminosity. It's astonishing and overwhelming - even despite the fact that Jesus's feet were lost in 1652 thanks to some ill-thought-out renovations.

Teatro alla Scala
Photograph: Anna & Michal/Flickr

Have a night out at the theatre

Since its founding by by Archduchess Maria Theresa in the late-eighteenth century, the Teatro alla Scala has remained one of the finest opera theatres in Europe. We'd highly recommend a night out at this grand auditorium, it's truly an experience like no other. But if you don't have time to sit through an entire night of opera, visit the museum instead, where you can at least lay eyes on the glorious red and gold interior.

San Siro Stadium
Photograph: Courtesy Nobbiwan/Flickr
Things to do, Sport events

Watch a football match at San Siro Stadium

This massive football shrine–it’s one of the largest stadiums in Europe and the largest in Italy–is a testament to the popularity of both AC and Inter, Milan’s two football teams. The stadium was consistently enlarged over the first half of the twentieth century to accommodate more and more fans, eventually reaching a capacity of around 80,000 people. It's also a prime spot for concerts too: contemporary musical greats that have played there include Beyonce, Jay Z, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, One Direction and the legendary queen of pop, Madonna.

Photograph: Brambilla Serrani/Courtesy Ratanà
Restaurants, Italian

Feast like a Milanese

Milan may be in Italy, but pizza and pasta aren't foods of the Milanese. After all, it didn't become the fashion capital by gorging on carbs. Of course, if you're after the classic Italian meal, you can get great pizza and pasta, but we'd suggest seeking out the traditional meat and rice dishes. Ratanà, a swanky restaurant in Isola, is especially good at this.

We found the 20 best things to do in Milan during your visit.
Photograph: Courtesy QC Termemilano
Things to do

Unwind at the spa in the shadow of the Spanish walls

Housed in a former tram depot, this spa has several saunas and an elegant tea room on the ground floor. But downstairs is where the magic happens: in this underground lair there is a warren of stone rooms featuring warm baths, cold baths, geyser pools, a Jacuzzi waterfall and more. Outside, in addition to the tram sauna, there are three warm pools spread out through the garden.


Track down street art in Isola

Formerly cut off from Milan, this neighbourhood has managed to retain a bit of its grit even as the nearby Porta Nuova building project has opened access to the area and paved the way for gentrification. But amidst this change, it’s still possible to explore the neighbourhood on foot and search out street art, which was mostly completed by commissioned locals.

Photograph: Courtesy Attilio Maranzano/Bar Luce
Restaurants, Cafés

Start your day in a Wes Anderson movie

Bar Luce, a café designed by Wes Anderson for Fondazione Prada, is the stuff of Instagram dreams. The vintage pinball machines and jukebox, the veneered wood wall panels and the bubblegum pink and powder blue Formica furniture are just begging to be photographed. They are also reminiscent of Italian popular aesthetics from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as many Wes Anderson’s sets, particularly for his film The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Photograph: Courtesy La Ravioleria Sarpi

Join a street food crawl in Chinatown

Milan’s Chinatown may not be large, but it certainly packs a punch. There are markets to peruse and restaurants to settle into, as well as street food joints and bars that lend themselves to a proper food crawl. Begin at La Ravioleria Sarpi, where you can purchase pork, beef or vegetable dumplings or a large delectable crepe, before crossing the street to Cantine Isola, a wine bar with a homey atmosphere and knowledgeable barmen. Finish off with a gelato at Chateau Dufan.

Photograph: Courtesy Roberto Venturini/Flickr

Rent a bike and ride down the canals

Milan and cycling go hand in hand, and with numerous bike-sharing schemes, such as BikeMi and Mobike, now available, it’s never been easier to hop in the saddle. One of the most scenic routes is along the Naviglio della Martesana; the bike path on this smaller canal, located northeast of the city centre, passes by meadows and farms, and eventually reaches the town of Gorgonzola, where you can take a break to indulge in the buttery, soft, Italian blue cheese that residents claim originated in the area.

Photograph: Courtesy Gabriele Barni/Flickr
Restaurants, Italian

Dine on the rails

Train travel is romanticised, but rightly so. There’s something about watching the world go by from a train window. The transportation authority in Milan has capitalised on this idea, turning two of the city’s historic trams into restaurants on wheels that offer lunch and dinner runs. It’s pure joy to eat your way through a five-course menu as the tram rumbles around Milan.

Photograph: Ted Eytan/Flickr
Restaurants, Italian

Bocce it up with the locals

Bocce clubs used to be considered démodé, a place where retirees gathered to play cards, drink, socialise and play bocce. Recently, though, they have been embraced by younger generations, many of whom are attracted to their throwback appeal. Housed in a former railway station, La Balera dell’Ortica offers plenty of space for games and dancing, and you’re bound to see people of all ages letting their hair down. 

Photograph: Courtesy Tunnel Club
Nightlife, Clubs

Groove to electronic music

Housed in a former railway shed situated beneath the tracks of Milan’s Central Station, Tunnel Club has been in the vanguard of one of the most robust electronic music scenes in Europe since the 1990s. Despite setbacks in the early aughts, the venue has recently asserted itself as a trendsetter in Milan’s clubbing scene with its techno, trance and house DJ sets. The vibe is more underground than upmarket, and people come here almost exclusively for the music rather than to see and be seen.

Photograph: Jason Paris/Flickr

Window shop in Milan’s ‘golden triangle’

You can’t visit the world’s fashion capital and not at least window shop. The best place to do so is the so-called “Golden Triangle,” an area that encompasses the Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Montenapoleone. There you will find all the luxury brands, both Italian–Prada, Versace, Armani and Dolce e Gabbana all set up shop for the first time in Milan and have maintained their presence in the city–and foreign, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.

Photograph: Courtesy Birrificio Lambrate Adelchi
Bars and pubs, Breweries

Sip on some hometown brews

In spite of the incredible and varied wines Italy produces, the country has fallen hard for craft beer. One of the most popular breweries in Milan is Birrificio Lambrate, which got its start in 1996, before the craft beer craze hit. When they first began, they had a capacity of 150 liters per batch and had two types of beer on tap at their pub; today, they have a capacity of 2,000 liters per batch and operate both a pub and pub-restaurant. Fussy drinker? No probs. Birrificio Lambrate tout a spectacular array of beers, so there's something for everyone to get quaffing.

Photograph: Courtesy Rossana Orlandi
Shopping, Designer

Brush up on the latest design trends at Rossana Orlandi

Rossana Orlandi has a reputation for plucking young designers from obscurity and launching their careers. An arbiter of taste, she is renowned for her interest in new ideas and offbeat design. So exhibiting work at her 19,000-square-foot shop-cum-gallery, located in a former tie factory in Sant’Ambrogio, has become a rite of passage for many of today’s top designers.

Photograph: Nilufar Gallery
Shopping, Designer

Explore the treasure trove of Milan’s top design dealer

Nina Yashar is one of Milan’s top design dealers, having made a name for herself collecting and selling twentieth-century Italian furniture. She has operated her gallery on Via della Spiga since 1979, but it was only recently, in 2015, that she opened her depot, a massive warehouse showcasing her collection of vintage and contemporary design pieces that she has assembled over the years. Expect pieces that are quirky, eclectic and showcase à la mode Milan style.

Photograph: Nicola Delfino/Flickr
Restaurants, Bakeries

Munch on panettone

Pasticceria Cucchi in Porta Genova has been baking panettone in its humble kitchen for over 70 years and the results have been consistently excellent. Stop in their elegant, old-world shop to purchase a full cake, which unlike most other pastry shops Cucchi sells year-round. Or if you can, grab a curbside table–hot property on weekend mornings–and order a slice of their fluffy masterpiece to go with your morning cappuccino. Delicious.

Photograph: Courtesy Cascina Cuccagna
Things to do, Cultural centres

Go to the countryside without leaving the city

This sprawling eighteenth-century farmhouse is a little strip of countryside in the big city. Restored in 2002, the Cascina Cuccagna property now houses a restaurant, Un Posto a Milano, with a seasonal menu–all produce is supplied by local farms. There is also a garden, farmers’ market, guest house, communal spaces and a bar, which has become a favourite spot among young creative and families for aperitivo.

Worked up an appetite?

Un Posto a Milano
Un Posto a Milano

The best restaurants in Milan

The key to finding a good meal in Milan is to search out those chefs who forgo the pomp and circumstance, and instead make it a practice to select the best ingredients and let them shine using traditional techniques.

More to explore