Oh, Milan. If you remember my old post on how I spent 48 hours here, you’ll know I quite like this city! I had a chance to return before I went to a conference over in Trento, so I thought I’d write this little guide on how to spend 3 days in Milan.
When I first went to what’s considered Italy’s “ugliest” city and also its fashion capital, I was 20, on a study abroad budget, and it was late November. I literally booked the tickets for maybe 20 euros from Madrid without realizing I’d be arriving in the evening on Friday and leaving in the morning on Sunday, giving myself only one full day. Also, it was cold!
On my most recent trip, I met up with my friend, Milou, and had a much more leisurely time! Plus, we were there in early June, which I definitely prefer. Everything looked way more alive, and Milan looks much more cheerful with sunshine and blue skies instead of the gray skies of early winter!
Below is my recommended Milan itinerary based off of my experience as well as some places I’d like to visit on a future trip. Also please enjoy some photos from 2012 when my camera of choice was an iPhone 3 and my editing skills were limited to not just one but two Instagram filters at 100% lol.
How to Spend 3 Days in Milan
Map of Milan Sights
Day 1 in Milan
If you’re like me, you’ll probably fly in around lunch or early afternoon. I’d drop off your bags at your hotel (more on that below), and then head over to Navigli neighorhood. While “navigli” refers to a series of canals around Milan, the main one everyone goes to is Naviglio Grande.
It actually stretches nearly 31 miles (50km) beyond Milan and originated around 1157! To give you an idea of how different November and June are in Milan, here’s what the Naviglio Grande looked like when I first saw it:
Bleak right? Not only was it cold out, the canal was nearly empty and highly unromantic! Luckily, in the summer it’s a much prettier sight, and I imagine quite romantic at night when it’s all lit up with the lights reflecting in the water!
Lunch: La Prosciutteria
The first thing to do is to find a nice restaurant or cafe along Naviglio Grande to enjoy a nice, leisurely lunch outdoors! We stopped at one of the first places we saw, which happened to be this cute place called La Prosciutteria. Get the charcuterie board above; it’s delicious and you get almost all the best of Italy in one: meat, cheese, and bread.
Walk around Navigli
Once you’ve enjoyed your leisurely lunch, walk along the water and explore more of Navigli. Obviously, don’t miss getting some afternoon gelato ;). If you’re here on the first Sunday of the month, there’s apparently a huge antique market!
As for other things to do, I’d check out the main basilicas, Basilica Sant Eustorgio and Basilica di San Lorenzo. You could also do a mini cruise along the canal, especially if you can plan to go when the sun is beginning to set! Shopping-wise Pourquoi Moi Vintage looks like it has a lot of cool finds; you can see some photos on their Facebook page.
For a more guided experience, try a walking tour like this one.
Dinner: Osteria il Giardinetto
If you want something a little fancier, head over to Osteria il Giardinetto for dinner! Milou and I thought it’d be nice to splurge a little on our first dinner, and this place was nice and charming. Don’t go too early, though; it only opens back up for dinner at 7:30 pm!
Day 2 in Milan
Morning: Go to the Duomo
If you want to go into the Duomo di Milano and up to the terraces, I’d go right when it opens at 8am. Go to the square in front to enjoy it in peace before everyone starts bustling through, and then go right to the entrance. Even in dreary November, I remember the Piazza del Duomo being full of crowds:
It’s definitely one of my favorite cathedrals in Italy. Just something about the way it looks after you’ve been walking through the many different streets of the city is really unique. It actually took nearly 600 years to finish, first beginning construction in 1386 and only finishing in 1965!
Do a Walking Tour
Back in 2012, I got a walking tour via my friend who wanted to take me around and show me her home city. The second time, Milou and I signed up for a free walking tour with Walkabout Tours and wound up going to even more places! The meeting point is next to the Duomo, so you can come down, grab a cornetto at one of the cafes in the square, and then meet your guide easily.
Our guide’s name was Marco, if you get him! He was super cheerful. Also make sure to tip around 5 to 10 euros at the end. Here’s a quick overview of where we went:
San Nazaro in Brolo
With construction starting in 382 by St. Ambrose, San Nazaro in Brolo is one of the oldest churches in Milan.
University of Milan
This building, known as la Cà Granda, was actually a hospital for the poor before WWII. It was built in the 1400s, and our guide said even Martin Luther visited!
Santuario di San Bernadino alle Ossa
Well if you didn’t know by the name, “ossa” actually means bones, so that should give you an idea of what this church’s ossuary is decorated with.
Marco actually told us to walk in with our heads down and to not look up until he said, just so we’d all get the surprise effect at once. Apparently, the reason they started decorated the ossuary with skull sin 1210 was because the cemetery ran out of room!
San Gottardo in Corte
San Gottardo is a chapel built between 1330 and 1336 by Azzone Visconti. Its unique feature is the octagonal bell tower, which holds the first public clock.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Honestly, as famous as the Duomo is, I’d argue the Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II, designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, is just as famous if not more. Good thing they’re both right next to each other!
The galleria is the oldest active shopping mall in Italy, having been built between in the mid-1800s. Before that, the area was more working class and housed quite a number of brothels.
Not only has the galleria inspired similar structures, like the Cleveland Arcade in the US, it helped popularized using “galleria” for in the names of other shopping malls.
It’s a pretty majestic on the inside, and I remember being awestruck by it on both visits!
Teatro all Scala & Piazza della Scala
This opera house goes alllll the way back to 1778 and has pretty much seen all the who’s who in the Italian opera scene.
There’s not much to see around the Piazza Mercanti, but it’s an interesting spot to stop by if you want to see a piece of Milanese history. The square was once the heart of the city in the past, so there’s a lot of stories in this one small space. I feel like this is one of those places where you’d really benefit being with a guide who can tell you more of the history.
How funny is this statue by Maurizio Cattelan? This was another surprise on our tour haha. The building behind the, ahem, middle finger is the HQ of the Italian Stock Exchange.
Marco said the message was that the stock market will always f*** you since the statue was built in 2011 during the financial crisis, though the artist has never said specifically what it means.
Other Tours in Milan
I will say one the downsides of this free walking tour is, of course, the fact that you’re in a rather large group, which isn’t my favorite way of sightseeing. So if you’d rather do a paid tour with a smaller group or solo, check out these tours.
Milan City Highlights Private Tour
This 2.5-hour tour is with a local, and starts in Piazza del Duomo. You’ll start with the Duomo and end at Castello Sforzesco, visiting the main highlights like Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza della Scala, and Piazza Mercanti in between. Check here for more details
Best of Milan Walking Tour
While I saved The Last Supper for Day 3, you could mix things up and visit while on this tour. It starts at Santa Maria delle Grazie, goes to Teatro alla Scala, and ends with the Duomo. Tickets for both Santa Maria and the Duomo are included, and the tour in all goes for about 3 hours. Check here for more details
Milan Fashion Walking Tour
If you’re more drawn to Milan for its fashion reputation, than you might get way more out of this tour than a general highlights one. Start at Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II, and then walk around the Quadrilatero della Moda district while learning more about famous Italian designers. Check here for more details
Lunch: Pasta Laboratorio di Pasta con Cucina
Once the tour is over, head over to this place for lunch! We found it looking for nearby pasta places, and it was my personal favorite. The dishes were fresh, cheap, delicious, and hearty, what more could you ask for?
Afternoon: Visit Castello Sforzesco
Are you tired yet? Haha, after lunch head over to Parco Sempione to stop in at Castello Sforzesco! On your way, if you can find it, there’s a really good gelato shop that I swear changes its name every time I go to recommend it to places. Right now it’s called Chocolat Milano, and I always remember it because my friend who studied here recommended it back in college and it really did have some of the best chocolate gelato ever.
Relax in Parco Sempione
After you’ve walked around Castello Sforzesco, time for a little relaxing! Bring a blanket and a book with you and just hang out in the park. It’s really quite a spacious area, and you’ll see other people hanging out as well.
I no longer remember the exact place we had apertivo, but it was near Arco della Pace, which is right at the other end of Parco Sempione! Apertivo is easily one of my favorite things ever, and I’m 100% experiencing it again on a future trip.
I still remember my very first night in Milan. When my friend finished work that Friday night, she gave me specific instructions to get on Tram 19 and ride it to Arco della Pace to meet her. As I got off the tram, I saw the arch at night and thought it was absolutely incredible:
She then led me to a nearby bar, where she ordered me an aperol spritz, and I encountered the most beautiful sight ever: a buffet of all the best Italian food (so many pastas), and all it cost us was the 10 euros for our drinks. Definitely one of my favorite memories from studying abroad!
Of course, a more popular place to experience aperitivo is by Naviglio Grande. This is where many apertivo food tours go to, like this 2 hour one. If you’re staying near there, you may want to save your aperitivo until you get back.
Dinner: Get some pizza
If you’re still hungry, this is the time to just get some pizza near where you’re staying. We’re in Italy! If you have bad pizza, something is very wrong.
Milou and I just grabbed a nice pizza somewhere near our apartment, and I don’t even remember the name! We literally just walked down a street and stopped at the first pizzeria that look good and had outdoor seating haha. If you can’t tell from the photo above, this plan worked out perfectly for us.
However, I feel like good bars have excellent food choices with their aperitivos, so you shouldn’t be too hungry afterwards!
Day 3 in Milan
Visit Santa Maria delle Grazie
First things first, get yourself to Santa Maria delle Grazie located along the Corso Magenta. Well before your trip, you should reserve tickets to see The Last Supper. If you missed reservations for your date, either try calling or just book a tour. The church itself is worth a little visit even if you were too late to reserve. It was built in the mid-1400s under the Duke of Milan’s orders.
Lunch: Around Brera Area
From what I’ve read, Brera is the bohemian artist district of Milan, and one I’d like to spend some time in on a future visit! Since I have yet to be here, I can’t offer any specific restaurant recommendations for lunch, but this guide looks promising. Knowing me, I’d probably find the closest place serving tagliatelle, yummm!
You could also do this nice food tour around Brera.
You could then spend your afternoon wandering around Brera to see what makes it the artists’ district. The main thing to see is the Pinacoteca di Brera, an art gallery that features quite the collection of Italian paintings. Other spots I jotted down to see were the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Museo Astronomico, and Giardino Botanico. There’s also this nice tour if you don’t want to think about planning out what to see on your own.
Dinner & Apertivo in Brera
And to top off your day in the district, why not check out some spots for dinner, apertivo, and maybe one more gelato before your trip is over?
Milan Travel Tips
Where to Stay in Milan
I think your best bet for such a short trip would be to stay near Stazione Centrale, which is the main train station (and quite a gorgeous building on its own). This way you can walk with your suitcase without needing to get a taxi and the other districts are relatively close. The two places I have experience with were a hostel that I think was renovated to be a hotel and an Airbnb that wasn’t quite central.
Getting into Milan
There are two airports for Milan. The main one is Malpensa Airport (MXP), but, actually, I’ve never flown in or out of here! I’ve always flown a budget airline coming from Madrid, so instead I fly into Bergamo Airport (BGY), which is around an hour from Milan.
There are plenty of shuttles from Bergamo to the Stazione Centrale, and you can either walk to your hotel if you stayed nearby or hop onto the metro from where they drop you off. I’ve always just gotten off and gone to a shuttle in the Arrivals area, but you can always book ahead here.
Of course, the next easiest way to get in and out of Milan is by train! Milou and I took the train from Milan to Verona. I have tips on taking the train in this post Elissa wrote on traveling Italy by train.
Getting Around Milan
Milan is actually quite doable by foot, especially as all the big attractions are in one area. I took the tram back when I first came to Milan and took the metro both times, and both are pretty self explanatory once you’re there!
Elissa wrote about her one day in Turin here if you want to add it into your trip! It’s a very charming city that feels almost off the beaten path and boasts an incredible Egyptian Museum.
If you’re in the middle of a tour of Italy, then a good next step is spending 2 days in Verona. Yes, that Verona of “Romeo + Juliet” fame. It really is quite the romantic city, even if you take out its Shakespeare connections!
And there you have it! All the advice I have for anyone visiting Italy’s “ugliest” city. Have you ever spend a few days in Milan? What did you think?