Sforza Castle and Museums | Castello Sforzesco | Milan
Sforza Castle and Museums is an oasis of art and culture. This iconic destination is one of the landmarks in Milan. A favourite for visitors, it is home to some of the best museums that tells the stories of the city’s past. Surrounded by splendid grounds of lush green and tranquility, within minutes of Milan Cathedral, is a destination not to miss when visiting the fashion capital of Europe.
Why and When was Sforza Castle built
You will find Sforza Castle in Milan at:
45.4705° N, 9.1793° E
This iconic red brick fortress was built in the 14th century by the Visconti family who made it into a splendid palace. It was almost destroyed during the Golden Ambrosian Republic. Later, in the 15th century, it became the home of the Sforza family, who were powerful rulers of Milan. Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan built on the remnants of the 14th fortification. The castle was reconstructed with the involvement of several of the greatest artists of the times such as Donato Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci. It was one of the most magnificent residences in Italy as a result. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Sforza Castle was renovated and enlarged to be one of the largest castles in Europe.
During the next four centuries, the castle was dominated by foreign powers, French, Spanish, Austrian. The function changed as well, from a residence to a military complex. It was later used as barracks by the Italian army.
In 1905 the castle was completely restored to the way it was under the Sforza family by architect Luca Beltrami. The parade grounds at the rear of the castle was turned into a park.
During World War II, the castle was severely damaged. At the end of the twentieth century the Castle square was built with a fountain in the centre. In 2005, the restoration of the Cortile della Ghirlanda and the halls of the castle were completed.
Sforza Castle Milan
The Sforza Castle is of a square plan, with three inner courtyards dominated by four imposing towers on each corner. There are two round towers facing the city and two square towers at the other end. The round towers are known as the Torre di Santi Spirito and the Torre del Carmine. At the rear are two more towers, the Torre Castellana and Torre Falconiera.
The main entrance to the Sforzesco Castle is via the castle’s tallest tower, Torre del Filarete. It leads to an expansive inner courtyard. Exploring the castle grounds will bring you to the Torre di Bona di Savoia. Beyond this tower lies two smaller courtyards, the Cortile della Rocchetta to the left and the Corte Ducale to the right.
The Rocchetta was the castle’s stronghold and the last refuge in case of a siege.
Corte Ducale Sforza Castle Milan
The Corte Ducale (Ducal Courtyard) is elegantly designed in Renaissance style with a beautiful loggia, Loggetta di Galeazzo Maria. Some of the rooms around the Corte Ducale are decorated with magnificent frescoes from the fifteenth century, designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Sforza Castle today | An oasis of art & culture
The building alone is well worth a visit but within the walls of Sforza Castle is home to some treasure trove of Milan history.
The Museums at Sforza Castle
The Castle houses several distinct museums bringing together art, paintings, sculptors and musical instruments that tells the stories upon stories of Milan’s cultural and civic history. Watch the virtual tours through the links below, courtesy of Google Arts & Culture, and you will discover, as I, just how fascinating these museums are.
The highlights of the Museums are:
1 | Rondanini Pietà Museum
This museum features Michelangelo’s final and unfinished work, the Rondanini Pietà, now housed in the frescoed hall of the castle’s Ospedale Spagnolo (Spanish Hospital).
Michelangelo continued to work on this sculpture up until the last days before his death in Rome in 1564. It was just a few weeks before what would have been his 89th birthday.
Carved from a single block of marble, the sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Christ stands to a height of 74 inches.
The Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) hosts Lombard, Venetian and Flemish works. Made up of over 1500 works of art between the 13th and 18th century, it includes famous names such as Canaletto, Mantegna, Bronzino, Lorenzo Lotto, and Titian.
This part of the the museum is frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci,
8 | Egyptian Museum
Houses several objects from Egypt including statues, and mummies.
9 | The Archaeological Museum of Milan
This museum is home to objects from the main cultures that lived in Lombardy from the Neolithic period.
There are couple more exhibitions such as the Medal & Numistica Collection, and the engraving collection, “Achille Bertarelli”.
Practical information for visiting Sforza Castle, Milan
Hours and Admission
Castle Monday-Sunday 7.00-19.30
Museums Tuesday-Sunday 9.00-17.30 Last admission 17.00 (only for ticket holders)
Closed on Mondays, December 25th, January 1st, May 1st
Free entry to Sforza Castle
The Castle’s central courtyard is free at all times. It is Free entry to the museums on every first and third Tuesday of the month from 14.00
How to get to Sforza Castle
Location: Sforzesco Castle, Piazza Castello, 20121 Milan
On public transport
M1 and M2 (red and green lines) Cadorna FN M1 (red line) Cairoli M2 (green line) Lanza
For a comprehensive guide to using the public transport in Milan, read > Getting around Milan – A Complete Guide to Public Transport. This article has all the information you need to get around Milan with confidence like a local. Includes type of transit tickets you may require, costs and links to the official ATM websites.
Recommended Resources to Use to Plan ahead your visit to Milan
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My thoughts on Sforza Castle
Sforzesco Castle, is not only a castle full of art but is also huge and beautifully landscaped with central courtyards that beckons a visit when you are in Milan. If you do not have time for the museums, visit this castle courtyards as it is open to the public and it is free. Moreover, ParcoSempione, Milan’s largest public green space is located at the rear of this magnificent landmark, so a visit through the courtyard is highly recommended if you are visiting Sempione Park.
You may also like to take advantage of the following superb tours while in Milan:
Your turn 🙂
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I love Milan! I don’t know how else to say it! I love the vibe, the flair, the pace, the rhythm, the monuments, the history, the colourful designer bags, the picturesque cobbled streets, and historic trams with wooden benches! My short visit to Milan turned out to be one of the best last-minute travel plans I ever did and ticked off a few experiences on my Milan bucket list.
Milan is a lively metropolitan hub often compared as just another city like London, Paris or New York but I think Not! The City of Milan is unique. Milan has Piazzas!! Milan has gelato! The city has Milanese Ossobuco! The city has all of the 19attractions listed in this Milan bucket list ideas which makes it incomparable to other metropolises. I am working through the list as I shall be returning to Milan on many future occasions and I share them here with you.
About Milan bucket list ideas
I have included a Google MyMap towards the end of the post so, you too can use it to design your visit to Milan. Along with this map, there are some suggested tours which you can book to maximise your experiences. To have an authentic experience like a Milanese, get around Milan on their public transport! Everything you need for your Milan bucket list experience is right here, in this post. Scroll all the way down to see all related posts. So, grab yourself a cuppa or an aperitivo – here is the ultimate 19 ideas on Milan bucket list for exploring the best the city has to offer.
1 | Milan Cathedral | An absolute Milan bucket list experience
Milan Cathedral, famously also known as simply the Duomo (DuomodiMilano), is a monumental structure and is one of the most visited sites in Milan. It’s sublime architecture took almost 600 years to complete. Construction began in 1386 and was officially completed in the 1960s but with the continuous presence of scaffolding, one may think construction is still very much present!
A combination of Gothic and Romanesque style, this pink and white facade is made of special marble from Val D’Ossola. The front facade is magnificent and is decorated with countless statues, spires and numerous carvings. A symbol of international effort by the many architects, sculptors and artists, this monument is top on Milan bucket list ideas.
Ways to experience the Milan Cathedral
Beyond its outward experience, a fast-track ticket for a guided tour via a separate entrance for internal viewing of the Duomo was money well spent for a memorable visit. A step inside the Cathedral and you will come to experience specially designed marble floors that rules the Cathedral, tall columns, stained glass windows and beautiful paintings placed all around the walls. In short, it is architecture worth exploring. With a tour guide who knows all the stories, this is one attraction you wouldn’t want to miss.
Then, to top off your experience at Milan Cathedral, with the same skip-the line ticket, go up to the terraces, either via lift or stairs at just before sundown to catch the golden hues turning into the velvety night sky.
2 | Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II | Milan bucket list
Sitting just steps away from Milan Cathedral is the opulent and grandest of shopping mall! Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was designed by GuiseppeMengoni and completed in 1877. With over 160 years of history, the Galleria Vittorio is one of the oldest shopping mall in the world.
The cross shaped mall covered via four glass panelled arms allows the sunlight in perfectly. So bright and airy! The walls and shop fronts are decorated with ornate panelling and beautiful stucco artwork. The Galleria exudes an air of luxury. There are a string of high-end designer names such as Prada, Versace and Louis Vuitton that line the mall.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza del Duomo | Accessible at all hours | Shops are typically open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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3 | La Scala Opera | Milan bucket list
Also known as “Temple of Opera”, the La Scala dates back to 1778. This historical opera theatre is one of its kind to have hosted as many great artists and composers in her time and continue to do so. One of the finest inthe world, La Scala is renowned for its acoustic qualities, opulence and grandeur of the seating.
Experiencing a show, seating in one of the 6-tiers of seats or individual boxes that frame the stage in a semi-circle amidst full of red velvet drapes and gold furnishings is surely a memorable occasion. This makes one of Milan bucket list ideas for many, me included. To experience the show, get your tickets from the official La Scala website here.
La Scala is located in the small town square of Piazza della Scala, north of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, accessible from Piazza del Duomo.
Via Filodrammatici, 2, 20121 Milano MI, Italy | Guided tours available at specific times.
This 14th century building is one of the most famous landmarks in Milan. It looks very much like a castle and is set in extensive grounds and gardens. The original design had been modified over the years but still retains its elegance and status of power. It was home to the Dukes of Milan, the Sforza family.
These days, the castle is home to a number of small museums and collections containing a myriad of interesting artefacts and historical information about the castle and Milan.
There are a number of guided tours available where you can learn more of medieval Milan and the Dukes who once ruled this city. The 2-hour guided tour of Sforza Castle and the museum comes with skip-the-line priority giving you access to the grounds and all of the museums. The tours are timed for 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Ensure that you pre-book to secure your tour as soon as you work out your itinerary for Milan.
Castello Sforzesco | Piazza Castello, 3, 20121 Milan Italy | Opening times: Castle grounds free entry – 7.00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ; Museums – 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through to Sunday.
Parco Sempione is a large public space that sits behind Sforzesco Castle. This beautifully landscaped park covers about 38 hectares (95 acres) and offers a myriad of footpaths, bike trails, shaded areas, sculptures and ornate fountains. Flora and fauna abound here.
Walk through the park to see the Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace). There is also a little museum and Torre Branca, a huge watch tower that offers panoramic views of the city.
Parco Sempione is a perfect place to rest your feet if you have been on a walking-tour of the city or simply just to relax.
Address: Address: Piazza Sempione, 20154 Milano MI, Italy
The Arch of Peace (Arco della Pace) is one of the symbols of Milan and marks one of the city’s historical gates. This 18th century Neoclassical triumphal monument is a 23 metre marble structure at one end of the Simplon Road, Parco Sempione. This was the strategic route through the Alps taken by Napolean when he invaded northern Italy in 1800. Napolean later commissioned the arch to commemorate his victories.
Construction began in 1806 but was not completed until 1838, years after Napoleon’s death.
Torre Branca is a panoramic tower situated in Sempione Park. At 108.6 metres, Torre Branca is the 6th tallest structure in Milan after Unicredit Tower, Palazzo Lombardia, Pirellone or Pirelli Tower and the Breda Tower.
Constructed in 1933 and designed by Gio Ponti, the Torre Branca offers unparalleled views over the city of Milan. Ascend to the top by lift and step out to the top of the tower. If you are fortunate with the weather, you might see the snow-capped mountains in the distance. In any event, you will love the city’s skyline from here, which merits a spot on Milan bucket list ideas.
Address: Viale Luigi Camoens, 2, 20121 Milano MI, Italy
8 | Pinacoteca di Brera | Milan bucket list
The Pinacoteca di Brera, otherwise known as Breara Picture Gallery is housed in Palazzo di Brera, an 18th century Neoclassical structure. Pinacoteca is an art museum. Founded in 1809 by Napoleon I and is one of the most important of Italian museums. It is home to a large collection of Italian art.
The museum’s exhibits consist some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian paintings from the 15th century to the 20th century. It has especially rich collections of Venetian and Lombard paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. There are works such as the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, Pieta by Bellini, the Last Supper by Rubens and the Adoration of the Magi by Correggio. The works are displayed on the first floor of the building, where the Academy of Fine Arts is also located.
This amazing historical museum is conveniently located in close proximity to both the Sforzesco Castle and the Piazza del Duomo and warrants a spot on Milan bucket list ideas.
Brera is a charming and rather enchanting area of Milan that has many hidden gems to explore. A distinct Bohemian beauty and simple old-school charm, Brera often finds itself in the top of Milan bucket list ideas of many visitors.
The main attraction in Brera is the area itself. The district is full of art academies, galleries, a number of antique shops and well-to-do restaurants and bars. It is a good area to eat like a local, from traditional pasta to pizza and have your Italian beer along with your meal.
You can also go on a little high-end retail therapy, wander through its picturesque cobbled streets, explore the many hidden gems, perhaps stopping for a coffee or an aperitivo in one of its squares.
The vibe here is fantastic and is an experience that should not be missed.
Location: To the north of the Duomo di Milano, in-between Borgonuovo and Broletta. | 20121 Milan, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy |
The Braidense National Library is in the same building as the Pinacoteca di Brera museum and the Brera Academy, making it a perfect stop for a visit. It is a public library, which was created in 1770 by Maria Theresa of Austria.The library was open in 1786. I included the Brera Library as one of Milan bucket list attraction because of its historical significance and contribution towards promoting the book as an object of art.
Furthermore, the Biblioteca Braidense is the third largest library in Milan. This Neo-classical library is home to a collection of 1,500,000 books, including 2,000 manuscripts, 350 of which date back to medieval times, and 25,000 sixteenth-century editions. The collection also includes catalogues, religious books housed in the reading room, a rare collection of letters and first editions by Alessandro Manzoni.
The reading rooms feature the library’s original wooden shelves and furnishings, crystal chandeliers, frescoed ceilings and a collection of antique paintings. A spot in Milan bucket list is highly merited, I think.
11 | Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie | Milan bucket list
Santa Maria delle Grazie (Holy Mary of Grace) is located in the heart of Milan. An outstanding architecture, with a certain charm and grace, is an emblem to the Catholic religion.
The Santa Maria delle Grazie was built between 1466 and 1490 to a design by architect Guiniforte Solari. The church features a Gothic style using red bricks and a large rear basilica.
Inside the church, more precisely the refectory, on the wall is one of the greatest artistic masterpieces in the world – The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. The mural depicts the scene of the Last Supper as described in the Bible. Throughout the years, this piece of artwork has been scrutinised and analysed for its hidden meanings and content. It only seems fitting that Santa Maria delle Grazie is included in Milan bucket list of ideas.
Address: Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie, 20123 Milano MI,
Pro tip: This is a top rated attraction and tickets are sold out months ahead of time. Pre-book your tickets to secure your visit.
Secure your visit and pre-book one of the following 3 ways to visit to see this miraculous piece of art
Sant Ambrogio (Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio is a church in the centre of Milan. This ancient building is one of Milan’s most important churches. Named after the city’s patron saint, Saint Ambrosius (Ambrose) who consecrated the church in 386 AD during his tenure as bishop of Milan. The church was built in 379 AD and was a focal point for the people, as the city of Milan was built around it.
The architecture is of a simple Romanesque style. Two large towers frame the front facade. The central courtyard is pretty, decorated with a series of ornate arches. The interior of the church features beautiful mosaics and artwork including the ceiling of the Oratory and the delightful depiction of Christ on one of the domes.
A visit to this church is highly recommended, meriting a spot on Milan bucket list ideas as it will provide an insight into the history of Milan and its religious importance.
Address: Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, 15, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
13 | San Bernadino alle Ossa
San Bernardino alle Ossa is a church but a very different kind of church from the rest of the churches in Milan. The church walls are completely covered in bones and skulls! Even the door knobs! Therefore a visit to San Bernardino may not be suitable for everyone.
According to its history, in 1145, a hospital was built near the Santo Stefano Maggiore Church, Milan. The graveyard,became overfilled with bodies from the new hospital, so in 1210 a little chamber was built to collect the bones from the hospital. In 1269 a small church was added near the bone chamber.
Today, you will find San Bernardino alle Ossa located at the end of a short corridor to the the right of the church’s entrance. The vault is decorated with frescos from Sebastiano Ricci, dating from 1695.
If you are interested in visiting an unusual church, visit the San Bernardino. Entrance is free.
Location: Piazza Santo Stefano, Milan, 20122 Italy | Entrance is Free | Closed on Sundays
14 | Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology
Leonardo da Vinci was a legendary man of true genius and amongst the most influential artists in history. He left a significant legacy not only in the realm of art but in science as well, each discipline informing his mastery of the other.a painter, an architect, an engineer, a theatrical producer. Therefore, it stands to reason that a museum named after him contains many of his works and a huge collection of other important scientific and technological displays.
As one of the most important museums in the world, one can expect to find collections of model cars created from da Vinci drawings, reconstructions of his flying machines, and a plethora of his drawings, blueprints and sketches.
Address: Via San Vittore, 21, 20123 Milan MI, Italy
The Archaeological Museum of Milan is housed in the former convent of the Monastero Maggiore and the Church of San Maurizio. Both buildings were founded in 8th and 9th century. Dedicated to the history of ancient Milan, the museum features archaeological finds from several periods. This includes the Middle Ages, influences from the Etruscan civilization and also the ancient Greeks.
Address: Corso Magenta, 15, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
16 | Naviglio Grande
Navigli is fast becoming one of Milan’s most popular neighbourhoods, but there’s more to do here than seeing the canals.
The Naviglio Grande is one of the two canals in Milan. It stretches from the Porta Ticinese to the Ticino river some 50km to the west. Constructed in 1177, the canal was worked on for many years and continued to expand into what it is today.
The canals are busy, especially during the summer months where tourists are ferried up and down the water. The boat tours depart every hour from Alzaia Naviglio Grande. For a bucket list experience, you can choose to cruise the canal on Milan’s first (and only) Venetian Gondola, owned by the Canottieri San Cristoforo – they even offer gondolier lessons. Or you can just grab an aperitivo and sit along the harbour banks and soak in the lively vibe.
The Navigli area is popular as well for good bars and restaurants.
Address: 21015 Milan Italy
17 | Piazza dei Mercanti
Piazza Mercanti (Merchants Square) was once the heart of the city in the Middle Ages, a hub for many merchant activities and trade markets.
It is one of the most picturesque squares in Milan that still preserves an authentic Medieval atmosphere. Notable buildings are Pallazo della Ragione, the Pallazo delle Scuole Palatine and the Loggia degli Osii. There are some important statues and monuments here, some of which have Roman origins.
Pro tip: The loggia dei mercanti, an open air space beneath Pallazo della Ragione is a whispering gallery, Speak softly to some of its columns, and its archways will whisk your whispers to a well-placed listener on the opposite side of the portico.
Piazza Mercanti is located between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Corduiso | Address: Piazza dei Mercanti, 20123 Milan MI, Italy
Visit this easily accessible square (just 3 minutes walk from Piazza del Duomo) to admire its ancient origins and beautiful architecture.
18 | Porta Nuova
Porta Nuova is the modern face of Milan, making it one of Milan’s most contemporary and trendiest places to visit. The area is characterised by flagship stores, boutiques, residential skyscrapers and landmarks such as Gae Aulenti Square, the towering UniCredit Tower and Bosco Verticale.
Porta Nuova literally means “new gate” and is one of the six main gates to the city of Milan. It was originally built between 1810 and 1813 during the Napoleon era. Today, the Porta Nuova district is a popular attraction for commercial investments, tourists and locals.
A vibrant, futuristic, “must-see” district that stand their own ground alongside to the more famous of the historical attractions like the Duomo or La Scala masterpieces.
Address: Piazzale Principessa Clotilde, 37, 20121 Milano MI, Italy
This is completely different from a modern tram! In Tram #1, wooden benches are placed along the sides, wooden steps to get onboard, folding doors and sash windows. How cool is that! What is really special about this tram is that it is a vehicle with over 100 years of history, which means that there were many generations of Milanese who rode this tram to and from from work, shop or everywhere else.
Discover Milan by tram – join a two-and-half hour tour that will take you through the city of Milan. Some of the highlights include:
1 | Learn the history of the Dukes of Milan at Sforza Castle;
2 | Enjoy panoramic views of Napoleon’s Arch of Peace;
Practical information for planning your Milan bucket list experience
Here are some practical information to support your planning and visit to Milan.
1 | Map as a guide
Firstly, using a map as a guide – from the map below, you will note that most of the attractions are all within a cluster of walkable distance. Experiencing all 19 attractions on Milan bucket list idea may take more than a day and/or more than one visit depending on how long your vacation is for. The information in this post along with the map will support you in designing your itinerary and how best to experience these attractions.
How to use googlemymaps above: Click on the arrow at the top left corner of the map. You will see the places next to numbered markers of 1-19. Click on the individual places to learn more through information provided by google. Enlarge the map by clicking on the + for better views and reduce it by clicking – when not needed.
2 | Culturally beautiful places to stay in Milan
Milan as a major European hub has a number of districts that cater for specific interests. There are 9 districts in Milan and these are sub-divided to neighbourhoods. Each neighbourhood offer every visitor something special to experience, beautiful places to stay that caters for millennial lifestyle, families, backpackers and budget travellers. The accommodations in these neighbourhoods are conveniently located and easily accessible to attractions you might want to visit.
Below is a summary of suggested tours that you can participate in to learn more of the Milanese culture and the city’s history. Some has been mentioned above and also listed here for purposes of completion. Pre-book your tickets to secure your visit as some of these attractions are sold out months ahead of time. As bucket list attractions. you wouldn’t want to miss them! Stay flexible with easy cancellation up to 24 hours before the activity commences. Get your tickets downloaded to your phone for seamless skip-the-line visits.
To navigate around Milan, you may want to purchase the 48-Hour City Pass: Discover Milan With One Card, giving you free access to museums, transport options and discounts with affiliate restaurants. Just so you know, if you are selecting this 48-hour pass and wish to use the dining options, you need to plan ahead and pre-book your favourite restaurants. Milan is a tourist hotspot, and the best restaurants along with the best time slots are usually taken at least a month ahead of time.
For a detailed guide to Milan’s transport system and ticket options – a complete resource to everything you need to know about getting around Milan like a local – navigate to > Getting around Milan like a local.
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On a final note about Milan bucket list
Having a Milan bucket list is a good way to compile all the things you want to do and experience in this city. My bucket list comprises of 19 attractions and places to visit to learn more of Milan’s rich history and culture. My visits these days are not geared towards ticking off a list anymore. I spend more time in the moment and enjoy what I see and experience. By doing so, I have a more meaningful takeaway. I have left off food experiences in Milan as it warrants a whole post in itself. My sincere hope is that you have enjoyed reading this post and some of the attractions will find its way to your bucket list as well.
How about you 🙂
So, what do you think? Is this post valuable to you in planning your visit to accomplish your Milan bucket list ideas? Would you add a few more to the list? If so please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you. Your suggestions may be added as ‘Reader recommendations’ so readers could be aware of greater choices.
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Have a splendid time exploring the beautiful city of Milan.
Milan Cathedral – How to make the best of your visit
The Cathedral’s white and pink marble façade glistening in the autumn sun is a sight to behold and the one landmark not to miss. This amazing piece of architecture is located in the heart of the City of Milan.
Milan Cathedral is a mesmerizingly beautiful masterpiece that stands in Piazza del Duomo.
What to expect from this article
If you are planning a visit to Milan Cathedral while on a trip to the City of Milan, then this is the best guide for you. I have listed the main attractions within the Cathedral so you don’t miss them. As well, the various choices on how to get the best value for money tickets for a memorable and timeless visit.
Visiting Milan, Italy
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 a metropolis such as Milan will undoubtedly require a few days, or multiple visits. However, a weekend getaway is just as good if that is all the time you have. My planned visit to this City was a brief one – a little shopping, a little exploring and a little adventure. Above all, if there was one thing I wanted to do in Milan, it was to visit the iconic landmark – Milan Cathedral. The Duomo took centuries to build and I wanted to experience the magical Walk on the Rooftop of the Duomo.
I share my experiences here in the hope that it will support you in designing your itinerary.
How to make the best of your visit to Milan Cathedral
There are many reasons to visit this masterpiece! There are so many interesting and fascinating “spots” to explore and to delve deeper in this Cathedral of over 600 years old but I limited my curiosities to the ones listed in this article – Top 10 Highlights. I hope my list below will inspire you to visit this iconic building (if you haven’t already) and act as a guide to make the best of your visit to Milan Cathedral.
Some factual information on Milan Cathedral
Before I take you through the highlights, here are some factual information to the Cathedral which may guide you to make the best of your visit here.
1 | Milan Cathedral is the fifth largest Cathedral in the world
Standing at 515 ft (157 metres) long and 302 ft (92 m) wide in Piazza del Duomo, Milan Cathedral can house up to 40000 people. It is the fifth largest Christian church in the world following St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and Seville’s Cathedral.
This large Cathedral has seen a lot of history pass her by because it took almost 600 years to complete this masterpiece. Construction began in 1386 and the final pieces were laid in 1960s but seeing the scaffolding on the roof of the Cathedral, something tells me that the work is not quite complete yet!
The construction of the Cathedral involved many thousands of workers (as one can imagine!) and a new canal system in its many waterways to transport the special marble from Val D’Ossola. During its construction, many architects, sculptors and artists contributed to its fabric, making it an international creation, creating a unique and an impressive piece of architecture, merging the Gothic and the Romanesque style.
2 | Milan Cathedral is a unique majestic structure
The Cathedral’s splendour of white and pink marble (sourced from the Candoglia quarry in Val D’Ossola) can be admired from many corners of the City. Its 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. I understand that over the years the Madonnina has become the symbol of Milan.
Forest of spires
From the floors of Piazza del Duomo, looking up to this majestic structure, Milan Cathedral’s forest of one hundred and thirty-five spires seem to touch the sky and I felt a tingle of excitement and amazement as I approached this imposing Cathedral. Its rich decorations are a sight to behold and truly gave meaning to what Mark Twain had said of this wonder back in 1867:
“What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems in the soft moonlight only a fairy delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath! How sharply its pinnacled angles and its wilderness of spires were cut against the sky, and how richly their shadows fell upon its snowy roof! It was a vision! —a miracle! —an anthem sung in stone; a poem wrought in marble!”
MARK TWAIN, INNOCENTS ABROAD
However, not all may agree with me or Mark Twain! For even back then in 1875, there were differing opinions on the Duomo. Oscar Wilde visited Milan Cathedral and wrote of his disappointment on the Cathedral to his mother in June of 1875. He described it as “an awful failure”. Here’s the extract I found:
“The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution.“
I shall let you make up your own mind whether it is a beautiful structure or a failure – in the meantime though, please read on and find out what it is really like on the outside and inside of Milan Cathedral.
3 | Other facts that you may wish to know
There are about 3200 to 3400 statues in total, both inside and outside of the Milan Cathedral but no-one really knows the exact figure;
The central porch of the Cathedral dates back to 1800 and was sculpted by Ludovico Pogliaghi.
Top 10 highlights of Milan Cathedral
Inside of the Cathedral is spectacular as you will see from the highlights below. The rooftop terraces are even more so, given the incredible views it offers over the City of Milan. Walking on the rooftop of the Duomo was an experience I longed to cherish, and I was very happy to be able to tick that experience off my list. Catching the sunset when I visited, well it was the icing on the cake, an exquisite experience that will last a lifetime, an experience which I strongly encourage you to go for if you can. Have a look at both the videos below on my rooftop experiences.
Outside Milan Cathedral
1 | Walking on the rooftop of Milan Cathedral | Duomo di Milano
The rooftop, without a doubt is the highlight of the Cathedral’s experience. There are two ways to access the terraces of the rooftop of Milan Cathedral – by stairs and by lift.
If you wish to take the stairs, there are about 250 steps, not many but they can be narrow. If you wish to take the lift, and avoid climbing altogether, you need to purchase a ticket that includes this option.
The rooftop offers an incredibly beautiful, slender pinnacles of intricately carved marbles holding a saint or a statue. There are so many towers, spires and statues that you would be totally lost in counting them if you tried! There are 135 spires and 2000 decorative marble statues on the rooftop alone. The close-up of the spires is an impressive sight. Looking at the statues and spires just made me wonder at the incredible talent of the masons to carve something so intricate and beautiful.
I was totally taken into the distant views of the snow-capped mountains of the Alps – I was fortunate as the day was clear and sunny, although the autumnal chill and the breeze on the rooftop saw me with my coat and scarf all the time.
Watch these videos and you will see what an amazing sight and experience it can be.
From the outside of the Cathedral, though huge, I did not really feel how mega-huge it is until I stepped in. Inside of Milan Cathedral is vast and elegant. The marble floor is captivating from the moment you step in. There are three aisles.
NB: Dress Code – Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter the Cathedral.
2 | The uniquely designed marble floor of Milan Cathedral
The marble floor just rules the Cathedral! You can set your watch by it and it has a legend. So here goes…
2.1 | Sundial on the floor of Milan Cathedral
Along the left wall runs a long-gilded brass strip broken up by the twelve zodiac signs. It is a watch and a solar calendar – you could set your watch by it. The brass strip is the meridian and is also a sundial. Sunlight from a hole on the ceiling allows the sun to shine through and leave a mark on the zodiac sign., the bronze strip on June 21st (the summer solstice), and on December 21st (winter solstice), the sun reaches the Meridian which is on the opposite wall.
At one time, Milan’s City’s clock was set by it and the Italians also used it as the prime reference for their astronomy. This ancient meridian and sundial were placed in 1768 by astronomers from the Accademia di Brera.
The Meridian at Milan Cathedral
The Meridian at Milan Cathedral was the astronomical reference for the Prime Meridian until it was replaced by Greenwich Meridian, England in 1884.
“Being a watch and a solar calendar perfectly working, it had required over centuries of several checks and restores. One of these was made in 1827 and it was necessary because of the lowering of the floor plan.
A second test was made in 1929 by astronomer Louis Gabba on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Observatory of Brera.
The last check was made in 1976 as the excavations of the first subway line and the lowering of the phreatic aquifer caused a further lowering of the Cathedral floor. The gnomic hole, site at the first vault of the first bay of south aisle, was also widened.”
DUOMO DI MILANO
Unfortunately for me, the sundial was presently not working because of work being carried out on the roof of the Cathedral. The use of scaffolding blocked the sunlight coming through the vault.
2.2 | The legend
Although the Cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent) and associated with Christianity, legend has it that it was also associated with pagan spirit which explains the unusual find of zodiac signs in a Christian place of worship.
3 | The marble columns of Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral has large sculpted marble columns or pillars if you prefer, that reach the ceiling. There are fifty-two columns, one for each week of the year and they are very high. Really high. Majestic, impressive and somewhat portrays a stately feel. Looking up, the columns seemed to lead to heavens above!
4 | Paintings on the wall
There are large paintings on the walls, representing scenes from the bible.
5 | Private Chapels and places to reflect
There are private chapels where you can have a sit and reflect. Very quiet, peaceful and a sense of calmness all around.
6 | Stained glass windows at Milan Cathedral
Walking around the Cathedral, there are large, rich stained-glass windows. Each of the stained-glass windows has a history associated with it such as the historical moment or the artists who created them. The Cathedral is lit-up by sunlight seeping through these stained-glass windows that gives a sort of enlightening charm. Windows are also lit from the inside to aid visitors to appreciate the details that these windows depict. A number of larger windows are located at the oldest part of the Cathedral also.
Pro Tip: When you are in the middle aisle, marvel at the central window in all its glory with the mysterious sun that seems to illuminate the nave and the enlightening charm will have you in awe.
The central stained-glass window depicts the scenes of the Apocalypse. The side windows tell the stories from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
You may wish to know: Stained glassmaking is an art that developed along with the Milan Cathedral over the many centuries that had taken to complete this majestic structure. It began in the early 1400s and the most recent stained-glass window at Milan Cathedral was made in 1988.
7 | The statue of Bartholomew the Apostle, patron saint of the tanners
You will find him behind the altar. Saint Bartholomew is depicted with his skin hanging off his shoulders as a reference to the martyrdom he suffered.
8 | Home to one of the precious objects in Christianity
I learnt that the Cathedral is home to one of the most precious objects in Christianity and it is situated in the dome above the altar. The spot is marked with a red light bulb. This is where one of the nails used during the Crucifixion of Christ is placed. The public can only see it once a year, on the Saturday closest to 14 September when the nail is exhibited at the altar until the Monday after evening prayers.
Pro tip: If you want to see this precious object, Plan your travels around the Saturday closest to the 14th September. Also, to bear in mind, it will be one of the busiest times at the Cathedral.
9 | Crypt
You will find the crypt through a mini stairway and it is in the Chapel of Saint Charles Borromeo, where his remains are buried since 3rd November 1584.
Photography was not allowed here, understandably but I did find the ceiling of the entrance to be rather attractive. I was allowed to take photos of this.
10 | The Baptistry
I did not see the Baptistery. I am informed that visitors can climb down under the Cathedral to the archaeological remains to see what is left of the Basilica di Santa Tecla and the ruins of a Christian baptistery from the fourth century. Legend has it that Saint Ambroise baptised Saint Augustin in 387 in the large octagonal baptismal font which is in the centre of the building.
My conclusion on Milan Cathedral
I think you know what I think of Milan Cathedral by now! It was an incredible visit and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Cathedral at a reasonable pace. Though it was off-season, it was still busy with visitors. The 10 highlights or “spots” that I have listed above are the ones that you should not miss when visiting this iconic structure. If you were to ask me, what’s the one highlight that stood out, then it is without a doubt is the Sunset on the rooftop of Milan Cathedral. May I also add, that the one landmark that should not be missed when in Milan, this must be the Milan Cathedral.
Travel tips and Practical information when visiting Milan Cathedral
1 | Opening hours of Milan Cathedral
The Cathedral and the Rooftop is open Everyday.
Cathedral – 8 am to 7 pm | Rooftop – 9 am to 7pm | Last entry is at 6pm
For further details on their daily activities and prayer times, please check their official website here.
When visiting/entering Milan Cathedral, ensure you are dressed in a manner where Shoulders and knees are covered.
Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter the Cathedral. You may be refused entry if not appropriately dressed even if you have fully paid ticket.
3 | Duomo Museum
The Duomo Museum is located next to Milan Cathedral. The Museum showcases three exhibitions that tells the story of the Cathedral of over 600 years.
4 | Ways to experience Milan Cathedral
There are more than one way to experience Milan Cathedral for memories that will last a lifetime. If its worth exploring, you will find them here – below are your choices:
The Fast-Track Milan Cathedral and Terraces Guided Tour offers you a complete tour of Milan Cathedral, with skip-the-line entrance and access to the terraces. The ticket includes access to the archaeological area under the cathedral. Afterwards, you can explore the Duomo Museum as well. This tour comes with a full money-back guarantee if you do not enjoy the experience. Check T & C and
To experience all areas of Milan Cathedral plus the terraces, museum and the archaeological area, take a look at Milan Cathedral and Rooftop Ticket which gives you the opportunity to explore at your leisure. This ticket is valid for 3 days. Includes audio guide. Non refundable. Buy your ticket here.
If you don’t have much time and your visit to Milan is a hurry, you still visit Milan Cathedral Terraces by Elevator Fast-Track Options – this fast-track ticket save precious time and you can ride the dedicated elevator to get stunning views from the Milan Duomo terraces.
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.
Get around Milan like a local
How to get around the City of Milan is the ultimate resource to everything you need to know about public transportation in Milan. The article includes information on the best tickets to purchase to supplement your moving around the city.
6 | Planning your trip
Here is a 6-step guide to create a stress free vacation Your Way!
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6.1 | Flight or Train
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6.5 | Type of vacation – an all-in-one?
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What do you think? Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to Milan Cathedral? If you have visited the Milan Cathedral, should more be added to this list? If so, please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you. Your suggestions could be added as ‘Reader Recommendations’
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