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Canal in Milan
Photograph: BalazsSebok / Shutterstock.com

The 22 best things to do in Milan that are actually worth it

From delicious restaurants to world-famous works of art, this is the finest stuff to see and do in Milan right now according to our local experts.

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Magnificent, marvellous Milan. Milano has an intangible quality that cannot be faked, an undeniable sense of style that permeates almost every neighbourhood and flows through the veins of those from here. Beautiful buildings and hotels are everywhere, the food is a triumph. Shopping? Oh, baby, get ready to splash the cash and flash the plastic because Milan is where people go to be seen. Oh and make sure you don't miss out on its incredible Airbnbs if you need somewhere to stay, too.

The best thing to do in Milan is to look your best and feel more stylish than ever before, but the city also packs in a fabulous number of more traditional tourist activities to sink your teeth into. Follow our guide and Da Vinci’s canals, and you’re in for a darling of a time.

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🏠 The best Airbnbs in Milan

Best things to do in Milan

  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites

Let us be clear: Milan’s Duomo is not just another church. It is the city’s most important landmark located smack-dab in the centre of it all. Building on this magnificent Gothic cathedral began in the late 14th century and lasted hundreds of years (even today, it isn’t unusual to see scaffolding on the façade or the back of the church as restoration is often underway). While there is plenty to see inside the cathedral, visiting the top – via stairs or an elevator – is an absolute must to see Milan’s ever-changing skyline.

Time Out Tip: Visit early – and check the dress code in advance! 

Sink some canalside drinks in the Navigli District
Photograph: Diego Bonacina / Shutterstock.com

2. Sink some canalside drinks 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 cafés that thrum with activity on weekend nights. 

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  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites

Perhaps one of the most famous paintings in the world, 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 the artist’s emotionally charged mural. Visit this incredible piece of history – even though Jesus's feet were lost in 1652 given some ill-thought-out renovations.

  • Theatre

Since its founding by Archduchess Maria Theresa in the late 18th 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’re not feeling like sitting through an entire night of opera, you can visit the museum instead. You’ll at least lay eyes on the glorious red and gold interior.

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Explore the Sforzesco Castle
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

5. Explore the Sforzesco Castle

Dating back to the 15th century, Milan’s Castello Sforzesco was once one of the largest citadels in Europe. Today, it houses various museums and numerous important artworks and relics, but it is also pleasant to wander through its courtyards and drink in the sense of history. Done exploring the castle? Walk out the back gate and straight into Parco Sempione, Milan’s “green lung” and one of the most beautiful parks in the city.

Check out spooky treasures at the Ambrosian Library
Photograph: Courtesy of Ambrosian Library

6. Check out spooky treasures at the Ambrosian Library

Stacked with masterpieces of Renaissance artists, including the most extraordinary collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s folios, Milan’s Biblioteca Ambrosiana is well worth a visit. And while Da Vinci is great and all, there’s one strange treasure here that outshines them all: a glass-cased reliquary containing a red-golden hair lock and two pendants. Both belonged to Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of the lascivious Pope Alexander VI. She was infamous for supposedly poisoning her lovers and for committing incest with both her brother and father. The lock bewitched men for centuries – the Romantic poets were known to pilgrim to Milan to worship the relic – and the fascination remains today. It’s said the library is haunted by Lucrezia’s crying ghost, who at night returns to brush her lost lock of hair.  

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Go on a chilling tour of the Crypt of San Sepolcro
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Go on a chilling tour of the Crypt of San Sepolcro

Tired of the crowd? Then go underground for a chilling archeological tour. The dark chambers of the crypt, right beneath the San Sepolcro church, rise on the ruins of the Ancient Roman forum. Yep – even Milan has a Roman soul. The forum was the main square of the Roman city of Mediolanum (Milan’s name during the empire), where civil and religious rituals took place. Walk on millennia-old white cobblestones and admire the frescoes and the vaulted starry sky, painted by persecuted early Christians who later took refuge in the crypt. For an even creepier sepulchral atmosphere, head into the crypt on a new night tour, led by a lantern-toting art restorer.  

  • Restaurants
  • Italian

The aperitivo is considered an institution in Milan, and no visit to the city would be complete without partaking in this pre-dinner ritual. Near Porta Ticinese, Fonderie Milanesi is the ideal venue to get stuck into the Italian tradition of sitting outdoors and snacking on light bites alongside your cocktail. The trend began in the late 19th century when Gaspare Campari, intent on serving a drink that stimulated rather than spoiled the appetite, started serving his eponymous bitter aperitif. Nibbles were added to the offerings and now it’s common to find bars serving up elaborate buffet spreads. Typically enjoyed between 7pm and 9pm, prepare for the best spots to be completely packed – but that community spirit is the aperitivo ethos.

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Spot pink flamingoes in ‘The Silence Quadrangle’
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Spot pink flamingoes in ‘The Silence Quadrangle’

Escape Milan’s flashy streets and buzzy aperitivo bars with a peaceful afternoon at the ‘Quadrilatero del Silenzio’. This quiet square right next to the fashion district is enclosed by Via Serbelloni, Via Mozart, Via Cappuccini and Via Vivaio. As you stroll, you’ll see Liberty-style villas covered in mosaics, scary statues, secret gardens with flamingo-filled ponds, and plenty of quirky architecture, including a huge ear-shaped bronze doorbell and a mansion somewhere between a castle and a space shuttle. There are sculptures throughout the space, including of fishes, lions, and dogs – some of which are completely overgrown with ivy. It’s a neighborhood frozen in time that feels like its own quaint village within the city. 

  • Things to do

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. The gem here is the Underwater Museum, a mesmerizing crystal-walled tub built around ancient archeological ruins. Outside, in addition to the tram sauna, there are three warm pools spread out through the garden.

Time Out Tip: Enjoy a jacuzzi ‘archeo-aperitif’.

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(Window) shop at the the golden quadrangle
Photograph: Kokophotos / Shutterstock.com

11. (Window) shop at the the golden quadrangle

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 quadrangle’, or ‘fashion quadrangle’, an area encompassing Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Montenapoleone. Here, you will find all the luxury brands, Italian – Prada, Versace, Armani and Dolce e Gabbana – and foreign, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.

  • Restaurants
  • Italian

Milanese locals might not eat regional delicacies on a daily basis – after all, sushi and ramen are as easy to find as local cuisine. But when they do crave the city’s iconic dishes, locals flock to Ratanà, a swanky restaurant in Isola, which in the 1930s was a tavern run by a shaman priest. Chef Cesare Battisti makes the one and only real risotto alla milanese (cooked the Milanese way) as well as risotto allo zafferano (cooked with saffron). In local dialect, it’s simply called risott giad (‘yellow rice’). He uses only locally-grown rice and serves it with bone marrow, gremolata (a lemon zest, parsley and garlic sauce), roasted meat sauce, and a piece of ossobuco to enhance the flavour. 

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Breweries

Despite 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 opened, they had a capacity for 150 litres per batch and had two types of beer on tap at their pub; today, they have a capacity for 2,000 litres per batch and operate both a pub and pub-restaurant. Fussy drinker? No problem. Birrificio Lambrate touts a spectacular array of beers, so there's something for everyone to get quaffing.

Cycle along Naviglio della Martesana
Photograph: Courtesy Roberto Venturini/Flickr

14. Cycle along Naviglio della Martesana

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.

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Check out Isola’s street art

15. Check out Isola’s street art

Formerly cut off from Milan, this neighbourhood has retained 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 area on foot and look out for street art, mostly created by commissioned locals.

  • Restaurants
  • Italian

Train travel is romanticised, and rightly so: there’s just something about watching the world go by from a train window. The transportation authority in Milan has capitalised on this idea with ATMosfera, 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. You can now also book a whole tram for exclusive private events such as birthdays and weddings. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés

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 of Anderson’s sets, particularly for his film The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

Time Out Tip: Remember that TikTok Wes Anderson trend? There’s nowhere better to do one of those than here. 

  • Shopping
  • Designer

Nina Yashar is one of Milan’s top design dealers, having made a name for herself collecting and selling 20th-century Italian furniture. She has operated her gallery on Via della Spiga since 1979, but it was only in 2015 that she opened her depot, Nilufar, a massive warehouse showcasing her collection of vintage and contemporary design pieces that she has assembled over the years. Expect pieces that are quirky and eclectic, and showcase à la mode Milan style.

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  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries

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 by the elegant, old-world shop to purchase a full cake (which, unlike most other pastry shops, Cucchi sells not just at Christmas but year-round). Or, if you can, grab a curbside table – hot property on weekend mornings – and order a slice of the fluffy masterpiece to go with your morning cappuccino. Delicious.

Go on a big night out at Tunnel Club
Photograph: Courtesy Tunnel Club

20. Go on a big night out at Tunnel Club

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. Check Tunnel Club’s website or social media to find out what’s going on when, as the calendar changes frequently.

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  • Things to do
  • Cultural centres

This sprawling 18th-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 featuring produce 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 creatives and families for aperitivo.

  • Restaurants
  • Italian

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.

More great things to do in Milan

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