How to enjoy the best of Milan in one day
Last update April 24, 2022
Exploring Milan in One Day may seem impossible given its enormity and possibilities that it affords but it is certainly doable. I share with you my best experiences which I enjoyed during my visit to Milan in one day.
Milan is one of the major hubs in Europe, and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Given it’s enormity, it is impossible to experience everything the city offers in one day. Therefore, this article will take you through possibilities of shopping experiences, a little exploring and a little adventure. You will find a list of the best places to visit, how to maximise your time in this city, and how to obtain tickets for some popular sights where tickets are sold off months ahead – in essence this article is an ideal guide to how you can enjoy Milan in one day.
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An Overview About the City of Milan, Italy
Milan is a city where “I could become someone here”
Milan is a true metropolis: strong and fearless but welcoming, too. Little by little, I came to realize that I could become someone here.”Giorgio Armani
A quick overview of my Milan in One Day
As a visitor to Milan, you will note that it is a City that is easy to get to, both by air and land. Exploring Milan will undoubtedly require a few days, or multiple visits or just a weekend getaway but my planned visit to this City was a brief one – a little shopping, a little exploring and a little adventure.
My list of places to visit in Milan in one day were:
Parco Sempione, and the
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Although armed with a list, I realised it was an ambitious itinerary. If there was one thing I wanted to do in Milan, it was to visit the iconic landmark of the Duomo which took centuries to build and to Walk on the Rooftop of the Duomo during sunset. I was happy to accomplish both and cross them off my Milan bucket list. However, I was disappointed at not being able to experience one other which had been on my bucket list.
While it was a short visit, I discovered that Milan has so many hidden treasures that ought to be explored besides the main touristy spots, and for this reason Milan remains firmly on my return list.
With so many impressive places to see, Milan in one day will be a long one but it is certainly doable. Luckily for me, the one day when I visited was a glorious day of sunshine in the cool month of November. My experiences were amazing and will surely stay with me forever.
Where to begin the day in Milan
Typically, Piazza del Duomo, the main square in Milan should be the starting point of any itinerary. Most of the popular places are easily reachable from the Piazza either through a walking route or via metro.
Arriving at Piazza del Duomo
Arriving at Piazza del Duomo and coming into direct contact with the magnificent majestic Duomo in white and pink marble was an indescribable awe-inspiring moment. I took many photos of the Duomo from all angles, each being unique in the sunlight. The carvings on the exterior walls were of all kinds which ignited my curiosity.
Milan in One Day — What to See and Do
Here is how you can enjoy the best of Milan in one day for memories that will last a lifetime
1 | Milano Centrale Railway Station
The Milano Centrale Railway Station is no ordinary railway station. It is huge! It is magnificent! It is the largest railway station in Europe by size and the main train station in Milan.
The station depicts various architectural styles and art deco. The only thing you must not forget to do is to look up!
1.1 | Know before you go – practical information on Milan Centrale Station
Opening hours: Milano Centrale train station is open every day from 04:00 to 01:00.
Address: Piazza Duca d’Aosta, 1, 20124 Milano MI, Italy
Recommended read: Milan Centrale Station | An Overview
2 | Piazza del Duomo | Milan in One Day
The Piazza del Duomo is the one place you do not want to miss. This is the main square in the city centre where the locals and visitors love to meet. It is vibrant, large, rich in history and culture. One reason why this is a popular meeting point is because it gives access to the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), the symbol of Milan and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
The Museum of 900, an incredibly beautiful museum of modern art is located on the side of the Piazza. Nearby is also the Royal Palace of Milan, home to Museo del Duomo, a cultural centre and home to international art exhibitions.
From Piazza del Duomo, you can admire the magnificent architecture of the Duomo and the incredible Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Unfortunately, the Piazza is always busy with people, as one can imagine. Therefore, there will not be a moment where you can quickly take a people free snap. Nor will you be able to take a shot without the people friendly pigeons! Unless perhaps at 5 in the morning!
3 | Statue of Victor Emanuele II
With everything that goes on at the Piazza del Duomo, one can easily miss (if you don’t look up!) the iconic monument in the centre of the Piazza. The monument was erected in honour of the first King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II in 1896.
The Statue of Victor Emanuele II is an equestrian statue set on a marble pedestal. It shows the king leading his troops to battle, flanked on either side by a large lion. On the sides of the pedestal, are soldiers ready for combat. The monument, which is set on a massive plinth, was created by Ercole Rosa, an Italian sculptor.
The Piazza del Duomo gives you easy access to Milan Cathedral.
4 | Milan Cathedral
No trip to Milan is complete without a visit to the Duomo di Milano — the symbol of Milan. For many, a trip to Milan is primarily a visit to this impressive Gothic and Romanesque architecture. It is the most visited site in Milan.
4.1 | View of the Duomo from the floors of the Piazza del Duomo
Mystical, magical, majestic or an awful failure – just some of the descriptions thrown at this old Cathedral that stands proudly in the centre of Piazza del Duomo. For me, the Duomo is a mesmerising beautiful masterpiece in pink and white marble facade. The walls are adorned with intricate carvings, when taken a closer look left me with more questions than answers. It is so beautifully crafted that each tells a story of exquisite craftmanship and tales.
No doubt the Duomo has seen a lot of history pass her by in the 600 years or so that has taken to construct her. Some say there is work still continuing with the ever presence of the scaffolding on the roof of the Duomo. Nevertheless, she stands, in all her glory to be admired by the hundreds of thousands that flock the city each year.
Given that the Duomo was a bucket list destination for me, I could not resist snapping away. I tried taking photos from different angles of the Cathedral, the front, the side and every time I looked up, the spires seemed to lead to the clouds! However, later in the afternoon I came to experience the view that I was most comfortable in – the view from across. (picture below).
Whichever way one looks at it, I think we will all agree that it is huge!. Afterall, it is the fifth largest cathedral in the world. A visit to this iconic structure, either external or internal viewing including a visit to the Duomo Terraces does not disappoint.
Recommended read: Milan Cathedral – How to make the most of your visit
4.2 | Sunset on the rooftop of the Duomo
The terraces of the Duomo was an incredible experience. I visited the terraces at sunset and I would encourage and highly recommend a sunset visit on the rooftop of the Duomo. The roof is covered in openwork slender pinnacles and spires crowned with almost 2000 sculptures that overlook the city.
Apparently, this Gothic Cathedral has the most statues than any other building in the world! On the highest spire of the Cathedral, you will find the Madonnina, a gilded bronze statue of Mary, which was sculpted by Giuseppe Perego in 1774.
Exploring the rooftop via narrow interconnecting stairways and, sometimes standing on slippery rooftops trying to get the best views and “clicks” was indeed exciting and fun as I reflect on these moments.
Recommended read: Best of Milan – sunset on the rooftop of the Duomo
What would you go for?
Half an experience or in its entirety
To visit the internal and the rooftop, you may have to consider the time factor. You need to allocate at least an hour for the Cathedral and an hour for the rooftop, meaning two hours in total at the very least. If you are planning on the sunset at the rooftop, you may well need an hour and half. Then, there is the queuing time to purchase your tickets. For this reason and given that you only have a day, some may suggest that you forego the internal viewing altogether.
However, I would disagree with this view. I suggest that it all depends on you and the question need asking is – “When you visit Milan, would you want to experience the Duomo in its entirety?
As a person who travels often, who juggles one too many things at a time, I like to visit a landmark or a building and explore it in its entirety. I do not like to return home and feel that I should have done it or I should have done better. Moreover, I love history and enjoy exploring monuments and historical architecture, therefore whenever there is an opportunity for me to experience a monument in its entirety, I grab that opportunity.
For me, the Duomo was on my bucket list of things to do in Milan, therefore it was not going to be just half the experience.
4.3 | How to maximise your experience while saving time and money
If you want the whole experience of the Duomo, here is how you can save time and maximise your experience when visiting the Duomo:
To save time queuing for tickets, you can fast-track your visit and skip-the-line by purchasing your tickets before hand. You can do so prior to arriving in Milan or even as late as on the day, which is what I did. Purchasing the skip-the-line tickets are super easy through a link. then you download the ticket on your phone, show the mobile voucher at the door, and walk right through, hence allowing you to maximise your experience.
4.4 | Know before you go – practical information on Milan Cathedral
5 | Museum of the Duomo | Museo del Duomo | Milan in one day
Described as “a living place, a place to discover to learn the history of the monument,” the museum showcases all of its work on and about Milan Cathedral. A visit to Museo del Duomo helps one to appreciate the unfolding stories of it’s six hundred years of history. You can enjoy close-up of the sculptures, colours of the marble, details of its unique art and so much more!
5.1 | Know before you go – practical information on Museo del Duomo
The Museo del Duomo is located inside the Royal Palace, next to Milan Cathedral.
Opening times: Everyday except Wednesdays | From: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
The last ticket is sold at 5:00 p.m. | Last admission: 5:10 p.m.
The tour includes the Church of San Gottardo in Corte.
6 | Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II | Milan in one day
On the other hand, when a visit is limited to one day in Milan, you may want to explore and experience the Galleria at your own quick pace. As the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is home to luxury shopping, it hosts many exclusive and prestigious labels and brand shops to feed the desires of the Milanese elite. There are several cafes and restaurants here which have been visited by the rich and famous such as Verdi, Puccini and Frank Sinatra. There are several roof top bars giving you exclusive views across to the Duomo and over Milan. Some of these shops, cafes or restaurants have been here since 1867.
Sitting next door to the Duomo di Milano and a few steps away from the Piazza del Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II makes an ideal stop either before or after a visit to the Duomo. I stopped here briefly on my way to Piazza della Scala and looped back later in the afternoon for a longer experience.
What to experience at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II when visiting Milan in one day
Here are the highlights of my visit which you can experience at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan when on a quick visit.
6.1 | Cafe Biffi
Cafe Biffi is the oldest cafe at the Galleria. Biffi’s main specialities are Ossobucco with Milanese risotto and the Milanese cutlet. Although there are many choices, the menu has remained largely unchanged for the last twenty-five years. To enjoy a meal at Cafe Biffi will require a booking well in advance. More info below in Food & Drinks.
The oldest cafe was established here in 1867 by Paolo Biffi. Described as a “meeting place for artists, writers, and musicians frequented by Luigi Capuana, Emilio de Marchi, Giovanni Pozza” where the chatter of the evening concerts, the noise of the cutlery, and wordliness often raising the curiosities of passersby.
6.2 | Enjoy a direct view of the Duomo di Milano from the open terraces of the Galleria over a Campari
As I wanted to experience the sunset from the terraces of the Duomo, a little downtime on the fifth floor of the Galleria over an aperitif was a perfect intervention. We were able to get a table on the open terraces, of Terrazza Aperol, giving us a perfect view of the Duomo.
Piazza Duomo Angolo Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan, Italy
6.3 | The Dancing Bull of Turin
This dancing bull mosaic attracts hundreds of visitors daily, because of a legend associated with it. One only need see the queues of curious visitors and their giggles as they pose for an instagrammable shot on the spot!
Would you like to know what the legend is? Here goes…
6.4 | Legend of the Dancing Bull of Turin
Well, according to legend, apparently if you place your heel on a particular spot, between his two hind legs, and turn around three times, it will bring you good fortune. Millions of visitors must have done this over the years because there is a hollow on the spot.
Regardless of whether one believes in the legend of the dancing bull of Turin or not, it seemed a fun attraction to watch.
6.5 | The best views are above!
You need to look up! The incredibly beautiful iron and glass ceiling is a must see attraction – so you need to pause for a moment and look up! Easily missed when you are busy shopping, or looking at the window displays.
6.6 | Shopping at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Photo credit to respective official websites
Milan in one day
Last but not least is the shopping experience at the Galleria – here are some suggestions for you to consider. Even if you do not have time to do the usual browsing, unrushed shopping (because this is Milan in one day schedule), take a peek inside these shops and experience the grandeur of the top brands such as Giorgio Armani, Prada, Gucci, Versace and Louis Vuitton. I must admit, I did spoil myself with a little gift from LV.
6.7 | Know before you go – practical information on Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria itself is accessible all hours.
The shops are typically open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.
Restaurants & bars are open from 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. [Check individual restaurants and bars as some stay open longer]
Piazza del Duomo, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
7 | Piazza della Scala
Milan in one day
Piazza della Scala is a small town square. It is pedestrianised and quieter than Piazza del Duomo. The main attractions here are the statue of Leonardo da Vinci which is located in the centre of the square and La Scala Opera House, one of the world’s most popular opera houses.
8 | Teatro alla Scala – La Scala Opera in Milan
Milan in one day
Teatro alla Scala also known as “Temple of Opera” is one of the most famous theatres in the world. It dates back to 1778 and has seen many composers who wrote and performed here including Rossini, Puccini, Verdi and Toscanini. The building itself has often been described as unimpressive from the outside, but I thought it was nice. Perhaps, it was being compared to the opulence of the interior (picture below).
Milan in one day
I did not plan to watch a performance or do a full guided tour of the La Scala Opera House. I wanted a quick preview of the area because it is so close to Piazza del Duomo (about 6 minutes walk) and it would be a shame to miss it. In any case, tickets for performances were unavailable during my visit as these are sold out months ahead of time. I am saving the full experience for my next visit to Milan.
However, if La Scala is in your bucket list on Milan in one day, then you could join a one hour private tour to learn about its history or go a little further, explore the La Scala museum as well. If you intend to fit this experience on your visit to Milan in one day itinerary, you may want to book the tickets before hand, well in advance of your visit to ensure your place.
Recommended activity: La Scala Guided tour
Pro tip: There are no access when rehearsals are on. Plan your day well if La Scala is your bucket list experience. Tours are usually scheduled for after 2 pm. Check timings when purchasing tickets
If you want to skip the guided tours and purchase opera tickets, take a look at their official website and buy your tickets there.
9 | Castello Sforzesco | Milan in One Day
About 15 minutes away (I’m a slow walker!) from Piazza della Scala is Castello Sforzesco. Built on a 14th century fortification, this ancient building looks very much like a medieval castle. It was once home to a series of Duke of Milan, the Sforza family.
Today, the castle is home to many art museums and a library. In addition, it houses a beautiful fountain, Fontana di Piazza Castello.
Milan in one day
Access to castle grounds are free, so you get to enjoy Castello Sforzesco even if you are in a rush.
Although I love to spend time visiting museums, I could not do so on this occasion as it may have involved a good part of half a day or two hours in the least. However, if you plan to include the Castello Sforzesco in your itinerary and learn more by visiting it’s museum, you may want to rework your itinerary and allocate sufficient time for a memorable experience. Purchase your tickets for a live guided tour before hand so it is not sold out or select to do a 2-hour guided tour of the castle and the museums.
9.1 | Know before you go – practical information on Castello Sforzesco and its museums
Opening hours: 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. | Grounds of the Castle are free to explore
Opening hours of the Museum: 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. | Tuesday through to Sunday
There are various guided tours offered by third-party companies which I generally use to design my experience of a destination. In my experience they turnout to be such good value for money and I learn so much more from the tour guides. There is a 2 hour guided tour of Sforza Castle and Museums which may appeal to you. Please note that these activities are timed to take place at 10:30 a.m. and at 2:30 pm.
Recommended read: Sforza Castle and Museums
10 | Parco Sempione Milan
Milan in one day
Adjacent to Castello Sforzcesco at the rear exit is a large park, Parco Sempione. It is the largest park in Milan and one of the prettiest I had seen. It has a large lake, cycle and jogging paths with a lot of shaded areas.
I did not venture too far to explore Parco Sempione as it was time to head back to Galleria Vittoria Emanuele for a late lunch and a little shop, before my amazing experience at the Duomo di Milano (see 4 above)
Recommended read – Parco Sempione and 5 highlights not to miss
Places to experience food and drinks when visiting Milan in one day
Well, you can’t go to Milan and leave without experiencing their best Risotto, pizza and their best Campari.
1 | Pizza
Milan in one day
Not sure about you but I like my pizza really thin and crispy. Check out Superpizza when you are in Milan.
Superpizza is a family run business committed to using locally grown, all organic ingredients and therefore I can be sure of its highest quality at all times. Moreover, they serve super-thin, crispy pizza – low on oil, light and yeast-free. With an extensive flavourful combinations on their menu, you are sure to find one to suit your palate.
Milan in one day
2 | Risotto alla Milanese
One of the simplest, yet most luxurious rice dishes, this creamy risotto gets its vivid color and flavor from saffron.
According to legend, the dish was first created sometime in the 16th century, during the construction of Duomo. However, the first recipe under the name risotto alla Milanese was found in Giovanni Felice Luraschi’s 1829 cookbook Nuovo Cuoco Milanese Economico, and over time, this saffron-flavored classic became a traditional accompaniment to ossobuco, another signature dish of Milan.
Biffi’s main speacialities are Ossobucco with Milanese risotto and the Milanese cutlet. Although there are many choices, the menu has remained largely unchanged for the last twenty-five years.
Open: 12:00 – 24:00
If you are lucky to get a reservation at Biffi, you can dine in style in one of the oldest restaurant in Milan – details on Biffi are above, 6.1
Milan in one day
3 | Vegan Kitchens
A plant based diet is no longer seen as strange but it is becoming a healthier choice where people are incorporating it into their everyday diet. Milan has a plethora of restaurants and cafes that offer a wide choice of vegan treats. You may want to look up Flowerburger and Joia Kitchen.
Milan in one day
4 | Drinks
Whether it’s a perfect Negroni you are looking for or wanting to try something new, Milan has it all. If you are looking for an authentic no-frills Milanese experience, then look-up Rita & Cocktails or if you want to experience something British with a Milanese soul, then head over to Kilburn Cocktail Bar.
But if you are looking for a refreshing cocktail during the day, look no further than Camparino in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – the reputed trendy venue since 1915 for an authentic Milanese aperitivo. You can have it whichever way you prefer, in a glass packed with ice and a slice of orange or without.
Milan in one day
Where to stay when visiting Milan in one day
If you considering staying overnight when visiting Milan in one day, I would highly recommend the Millennium and the Radisson Blu because of their consistent high customer service and quality globally.
For more choices on accommodation, take a look at the carefully selected hotels according to neighbourhoods suitable for budget travellers, solo, couples and family.
For last minute deals on places to stay in Milan:
How to get around Milan in one day
You could move around the city of Milan in one day by using the taxi, metro, tram and the bus.
Taxis are often in high demand and the best way to get one is to go to a designated taxi rank.
Milan has an extensive bus and tram network, along with the Metro that cuts through the city. Tickets are sold at electronic ticket machines in the station, or at tobacconists and newsstands.
For a comprehensive guide to moving around Milan in one day, read my post on: Getting around Milan like a local – A complete Guide
Airports near Milan
Milan in one day
Milan is served by two airports – Malpensa and Bergamo
From Malpensa Airport to Milan
The Malpensa Express runs every 20 – 40 minutes and takes 50 minutes to reach Milano Centrale. Learn more about Malpensa Express, their routes and ticket prices from their Trainline official website here.
From Bergamo to Milan
There are no direct trains from Bergamo to Milan. From Bergamo airport take the ATB bus to Bergamo train station. Trains depart every 30 minutes to Milano Centrale.
Milano Centrale Station
Milan in one day
From Milano Centrale Station:
To get to the Cathedral, you will need the Piazza del Duomo. The distance between Milan’s Central Station and Piazza del Duomo is 2 miles / 3.2 km. There are Three ways to get to Milan Cathedral from Central Station. I took a taxi and it was 10 Euros. Have a look at the following and you can decide what suits you.
1 | Quickest
If you are looking for the quickest way to get from Milan’s Central Station to Piazza del Duomo is to take a taxi. It takes 7 to 10 minutes depending on traffic. It costs around 10 Euros.
2 | Cheapest
If you are considering the cheapest way to get from Milan’s Central Station to Piazza del Duomo, then it is the line 3 subway which costs 3 Euros and takes 15 min. It is located right in the Piazza del Duomo.
3 | By bus
You can take a direct bus departing from Central Station m2 m3 and arrive at via larga. It is about 7 to 9 minutes walk to Piazza del Duomo, The bus services depart every two hours, and operate every day. The journey takes approximately 13 min. Costs 3 Euros.
How to save time and maximise your experience when visiting Milan in one day
Milan is one of the busiest cities in Italy and a tourist hub which means it will be busy at any time of the year. Having said that, my visit was in November, and considered off season but we could not get tickets to the Last Supper. I realised then that even if off season, it does not mean popular places are not sold out. My tips to you, if you want to save time and maximise your experience when visiting Milan for a day is to plan ahead! If you are wanting to experience Leonardo’s Last Supper Mural, book tickets well ahead of time.
Consider an off-season visit
Although I could not get tickets to the Last Supper viewing through third-party providers, but my experience in Milan was lovely and pleasant. I pre-booked the skip-the-line tickets to the Duomo, on the day and it was easily obtainable. The Duomo was not crowded so it was nice to walk around at my own pace. Exploring the Castle and the park were also enjoyable. I was fortunate with the weather, perfect for sightseeing.
Comfortable walking shoes
Attractions in Milan are conveniently located and are within easy reach through walking routes. Whether the weather is kind on the day of your visit or it is not, you will be walking a lot. So, pack yourself a pair of comfortable walking shoes! .
Join a tour in Milan
Group tours are highly popular in Milan. Ensure you reserve your place If you wish to participate in any of the activities.
Consider day trips from Milan if longer than a day visit
In retrospect — Milan in one day
In retrospect, my visit to Milan in one day was a busy full-on day with some respite in between. I did not rush through the places I visited.
At the Galleria
I had seen an item of clothing in the shop windows of Louis Vuitton that morning and I wanted to return to have a closer look. Also, I wanted to enjoy a late lunch and a Campari from the open terraces of the Galleria across Milan Cathedral. I chose both of these experiences instead of a rushed visit to Brera District, and San Bernardino alle Ossa.
At Milan Cathedral
I am confident that this post gives you the flexibility to design your itinerary and is the ultimate guide to enjoying Milan in one day
My sincere wish is that this post has been valuable to you in designing your visit to Milan. If so, use the links embedded in this article and related articles to book your flight, train, accommodations and activities. TTS earns a commission from qualified purchases and stays at no cost to you at all. As always, we appreciate your support.
Have a splendid time exploring, discovering and experiencing Milan when you visit.
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How to enjoy the best of Milan in one day first published at timelesstravelsteps.com and is regularly updated. Last update April 24, 2022