Milan is the largest city in northern Italy and the capital of the Lombardy region. Only the city of Rome is larger than Milan as well, and its metropolitan area is the 4th-largest in the European Union with over 5.27 million inhabitants.
Apart from being a large city, it’s also the leading city in various fields, including art, commerce, design, education, entertainment, and fashion. This also means that it’s home to some of the most fascinating buildings in Europe.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best things to do in Milan, tourist attractions that should definitely be on your bucket list of things to visit when you’re in this great city!
1. Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral, locally known as the “Duomo di Milano,” is the cathedral church of the city and one of the most amazing landmarks in the city.
The construction of this fascinating Gothic cathedral started in the year 1386 and lasted for nearly 6 centuries as the final details of its amazing façade were only completed in the year 1965.
Apart from St. Peter’s Basilica, which is located within the small papal enclave in Rome called Vatican City, it’s the largest church in Italy as well.
Another remarkable fact about the cathedral is that the city was built around it ever since Roman times when the city was called “Mediolanum.”
This means that this location has been the central point of the city for thousands of years and the perfect place to start your journey in Milan today.
Read more on Listerious: 12 facts about Milan Cathedral
Official website: Duomo di Milano
2. Sforzesco Castle
Sforzesco Castle, also known as “Castello Sforzesco,” is a remarkable castle in the center of Milan.
It was originally constructed by Francesco Sforza (1401-1466), Duke of Milan, in the 15th century on the ruins of an earlier fortification that dated back to the 14th century.
The castle was seriously expanded in the 16th and 17th centuries and was considered to be one of the largest citadels in Europe at the time.
It was again rebuilt between 1891 and 1905 and now houses various art collections owned by the city of Milan.
The most remarkable feature is the central tower called the Torre del Filarete, named after the architect who designed it in 1452.
Read more on Listerious: 12 facts about Sforzesco Castle
Official website: Sforzesco Castle
3. Santa Maria delle Grazie
Santa Maria delle Grazie is a remarkable church with a Dominican convent adjoining it.
This convent is world-famous for having one of the most fascinating paintings on its refectory wall, “The Last Supper,” painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
Not much of the original painting remains, however, as it deteriorated quickly because da Vinci used an experimental technique for applying the paint to the wall.
The church was constructed in the 15th century and seriously expanded in the final decade of this century by Duke Ludovico Sforza, the patron of Leonardo.
It’s also assumed that Donato Bramante, the original architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome had a hand in the design of the apse of the church.
Read more on Listerious: 10 facts about Santa Maria delle Grazie
Official website: Santa Maria delle Grazie on Unesco
4. San Siro
San Siro is the football stadium of the two rival clubs in the city of Milan, AC Milan and Inter Milan. It’s one of the biggest arenas in Europe, and at the time of writing this list (March 2021), it still stands.
That’s because the local government has approved the plans to demolish this magnificent and iconic sports temple and build a new stadium nearby.
The stadium is officially known as “Stadio Giuseppe Meazza” as it was named after a famous Italian football player who played for both clubs and who won two World Cups with Italy in 1934 and 1938.
He also played for both clubs. The stadium was originally constructed in 1925 and seriously expanded over the following decades.
Read more on Listerious: 15 facts about San Siro
5. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the oldest active shopping mall in Italy and is one of the most amazing landmarks in Milan.
It’s located right in the center of the city with one entrance being located on the Piazza del Duomo, the square in front of Milan Cathedral.
The shopping mall was named after King Victor Emmanuel II the first king of a united Italy since the 6th century between 1861 and 1878.
The shopping mall was also built during his reign between 1865 and 1877 and was designed as a four-story double arcade.
Read more on Listerious: 10 facts about the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
6. Royal Palace of Milan
The Royal Palace of Milan is another structure just nearby Milan Cathedral and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on the Piazza del Duomo.
It served as the official seat of the government of Italy in the city of Milan for many centuries.
Today, this amazing palace serves as a cultural center and hosts multiple art exhibitions every year with over 1,500 famous works of art on display annually.
Many parts of the Palace were destroyed during World War II and have been restored since, resulting in a fascinating palace for you to visit while you’re in Milan.
Official website: Palazzo Reale
7. Porta Sempione
Porta Sempione is the name used to describe the city gate of the historical center of Milan.
The main landmark in the area is a magnificent triumphal arch which is called the “Arco della Pace” or the “Arch of Peace,” and which is situated on the “Piazza Sempione.”
Even though this triumphal arch was built in the 19th century, it was constructed on the location of a gate dating back to Roman times.
A Roman gate was part of the ancient Roman wall that surrounded the city of Milan back then.
8. Generali Tower
The Generali Tower is one of the most remarkable skyscrapers in the city of Milan, mainly because it has a twisting shape.
Ever since the Turning Torso in Malmö introduced this peculiar form, a lot of towers have followed its example, including this one.
This building was completed in 2017 and stands 191.5 meters (628 feet) tall which makes it the third-tallest building in the city as of March 2021.
It’s the home of “Assicurazioni Generali,” a famous Italian insurance company, and is part of a huge redevelopment program in the center of Milan.
Official website: Generali Tower
9. La Scala
La Scala is officially known as the “Teatro alla Scala” and is a famous opera house in Milan.
It was originally referred to as the “Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala” upon completion in the year 1778.
Apart from being the venue for the most important opera stars in the world, it’s also used for regular performances of some of the biggest stars in the world and a wide variety of other events.
The building was completely renovated between 2002 and 2004 and is one of the most enthralling venues you’ll ever come across.
Official website: Teatro alla Scala
10. Cimitero Monumentale
The Cimitero Monumentale di Milano is the second-largest cemetery in Milan after the Cimitero Maggiore di Milano.
It is, however, the most famous, mainly because it features a wide variety of artistic tombs, monuments, and sculptures.
The cemetery officially opened in the year 1866 and has been filled and decorated ever since with a wide variety of objects and architectural features
These include (but are not limited to) Greek Temples, obelisks, and even a scaled-down version of Trajan’s Column in Rome.
Official website: Cimitero Monumentale
11. Milano Centrale railway station
The Milano Centrale railway station is the city’s most important railway station and one of the largest railway stations in Europe by volume.
It’s a terminus station that is situated in the northern part of central Milan but has connections to countless cities in Europe.
Even though the cornerstone of the new central railway station in Milan was laid by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy on April 28, 1906, the building was only completed in 1931.
The main reason was the economic crisis in Italy caused by World War I.
Official website: Milano Centrale
12. Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio
The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is a fascinating church in the center of Milan, mainly because it was built on the site of an ancient church that was completed between 379 and 386 A.D.
Back then it was known as the “Basilica Martyrum” because countless martyrs of the Christian persecution by Romans were buried in this area.
Its name was changed in honor of the man who built this original church, Saint Ambrose, who was the Bishop of Milan at the time.
The current building dates back to the 12th century and was completed in the Romanesque architectural style.
13. Rotonda della Besana
The Rotonda della Besana is also known as the “Rotonda di Via Besana” and is a large Baroque complex that was constructed between 1695 and 1732.
The original purpose of the complex was to serve as a cemetery for the poor referred to as a “Foppone.”
The main architectural feature is a large colonnade portico in the form of a circle that encloses a garden. In the center of this garden, there’s a church called the church of San Michele ai Sepolcri.
The entire complex near the center of Milan covers an area of 7,100 square meters (76,423 square feet).
14. San Carlo al Corso
San Carlo al Corso is a fascinating church in the center of Milan that was constructed in the Neo-Classical architectural style.
It was completed between 1832 and 1847 to replace a structure dating back to the year 1290.
The original building was a convent founded by the Servite Order, one of the 5 original Catholic mendicant orders.
It was dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan between 1564 and 1584 and to commemorate the end of a cholera plague in the city.
15. Columns of San Lorenzo
The Columns of San Lorenzo are ancient Roman columns located right in front of the Basilica San Lorenzo in central Milan.
The colonnade consists of 16 tall Corinthian columns positioned in a row and they face a pubic square.
One of the most remarkable facts about this fascinating row of columns is that they were moved here in the 4th century, most probably from a pagan temple that was built 2 centuries earlier.
After all, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire by then. These ancient columns are quite a sight when you’re walking around in Milan, that’s for sure.
16. Velasca Tower
The Velasca Tower, known locally as the “Torre Velasca,” is one of the first modern skyscrapers built in the city of Milan.
It was built between 1956 and 1958 and has since been one of the most prominent structures of the Milan skyline with its peculiar shape.
The tower is located right in the center of the city and relatively close to the Milan Cathedral.
The tower stands 106 meters (348 feet) tall and was designed in such a way to resemble a modern version of an Italian medieval castle.
17. Pinacoteca di Brera
The Pinacoteca di Brera is the main public art gallery in Milan which houses one of the most prominent collections of art in Italy.
The collection originally started as a cultural program of the Brera Academy, a state-run academy of fine arts.
The collection is housed in the Palazzo Brera, a fascinating palace that is also the home of the Brera Academy itself.
The building was originally constructed as a convent of the Jesuits in 1572 but was completely rebuilt between 1627 and 1628 and further expanded in the late 18th century to house the academy.
Official website: Pinacoteca di Brera
18. Palazzo Litta
The Palazzo Litta is also known as the “Palazzo Arese-Litta” and is one of the most fascinating Baroque palaces in Milan.
It was built during the Spanish rule in the city between 1642 and 1648 after being commissioned by Count Bartolomeo Arese (1590-1674), a prominent member of the House of Arese of the Milan nobility.
While the original version of the palace was completed in 1648, the palace was not finished until the 18th century as the façade of the building was completed between 1752 and 1761.
The palace is now used as an art exhibition center and also features a theater.
19. Leonardo da Vinci’s Vineyard
Leonardo da Vinci’s Vineyard is another mark left on Leonardo’s stay in Milan between 1482 and 1499 where he became the favorite of his patron, Duke Ludovico Sforza, also known as “Il Moro.“
The Duke liked da Vinci so much that he gifted him a vineyard to play around in, and as we all know, he simply had to put it to use to produce the best wine possible.
What’s even more intriguing is that this wine has been reproduced after detailed scientific studies, and we can now drink the same wine da Vinci did over 500 years after the man passed away!
Official website: Leonardo da Vinci’s Vineyard
20. Casa Campanini
The Casa Campanini is one of the most famous Art Nouveau landmarks in Milan.
It’s located on the Via Vincenzo Bellini which is situated just to the east of the city’s historical center.
The building was named after architect Alfredo Campanini, the man who designed it and later lived in it as well.
It was constructed between 1903 and 1906 and one of its most prominent features is the two large concrete caryatids (female sculptures) near the entrance.
21. Gallia Excelsior Hotel
The Gallia Excelsior Hotel is one of the most fascinating luxury hotels in the city of Milan. It was built in the year 1932 and completely renovated to its former glory between 2010 and 2014.
The hotel is also located on one of the busiest squares in the city called the “Piazza Duca d’Aosta.”
Here you can find the central railway station of Milan and several skyscrapers including the Pirelli Tower.
Official website: Gallia Excelsior Hotel
22. Santa Maria della Passione
Santa Maria della Passione is a church that was constructed in the Renaissance architectural style and completed in the year 1496 after being commissioned by the Order of Canons Lateran.
The church was expanded several times in its history with the nave being seriously lengthened in the late 16th century.
The most remarkable features of the church are the monumental frescoes painted by Ambrogio Bergognone between 1510 and 1515.
23. UniCredit Tower
The Unicredit Tower is an enormous skyscraper in Milan that was completed between 2009 and 2012.
The tower stands 231 meters (758 feet) tall which makes it not only the tallest building in Milan but in all of Italy as well.
The tower was designed by world-renowned Argentine-American architect César Pelli (1926-2019), best known for designing the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Building this fascinating structure came at an enormous price because the estimated cost by 2015 was about €4.8 billion (US$7.2 billion)!
24. Sempione Park
Parco Sempione is one of the largest city parks in Milan and covers an area of about 38.6 hectares (95 acres).
It’s also situated right in the historical center of the city, making it a great place to relax while visiting the most famous landmarks in Milan.
The park adjoins the gardens of the Castello Sforzesco and is bordered by the monumental triumphal arch called the “Arch of Peace.”
Other landmarks in the park are the “Arena Civica,” a stadium that first opened its doors in the year 1807, and the Civic Aquarium of Milan.
25. Branca Tower
The Branca Tower, known locally as the “Torre Branca,” is an iron observation tower located within the Parco Sempione.
The tower was originally built during the fascist era in 1933 in honor of the 5th edition of the Milan Triennial.
The tower stands 108.6 meters (356.29 feet) high and is open to the public.
Because of its central position in the city, it’s one of the best spots in the city to get an amazing view of Milan and its surroundings!