“For every church in Rome, there’s a bank in Milan!”
Well, at least that’s what a famous Italian saying claims. After all, if Rome is the Italy of the past, Milan is its financial and industrial future.
Moreover, we also know Milan as one of the fashion capitals in the world.
But there is more to this city of industry, bankers, fashionistas and artists. That’s why it’s the type of city that you’d need a few days to explore. However, given our hectic travel schedule around Italy—which we needed to fit in 9 days—we found that we had no other choice.
We could only have one full day to spend in this city.
Then again, we had the option to skip it entirely since already had a very full itinerary…
Rome > Naples > Sorrento > Capri > Pompeii > Naples >
Venice > Florence > Pisa > Assisi > back to Rome
…still, we took it as a challenge to try and make the most of the one day that we could visit. So we then decided to sneak it in between our trip after Naples and before Venice. We found we had approximately 24 hours. So we thought to ourselves, why not try to hit all the highlights in one go?
Here’s what we managed to see in our one day in Milano:
1) Milano Centrale Railway Station
Stazione Milano Centrale (Milan Central Station) is the main railway station of the city. Covered in marble and steel as well as adorned with numerous sculptures, this majestic monolith officially opened to the public in 1931.
Like a lot of travelers, it’s the first thing we saw in Milan since we arrived via train from Naples.
TRIVIA: The train station’s massive size and majestic façade were purposely built to reflect the power of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. It’s designed to make you feel small, so small to question Mussolini, the state, and its power.
2) Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano)
The Duomo di Milano or Milan Cathedral is the third largest church in the world, and certainly one of the grandest. Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (St. Mary of the Nativity), this grand gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete — from 1386 to 1810.
Possibly the most beautiful gothic cathedral we’ve ever seen, we found this place to be so stunning, with its pristine white marble glowing in the morning light. In fact, we spent about half a day in the Cathedral!
The rooftop and terraces are a must-see. The views up there are spectacular and it was absolutely amazing to be up close to its neverending iconic rooftop spires.
TRIVIA: At the left of the altar, you will find the Duomo’s most famous statue, St. Bartholomew Flayed, made in 1562 by Marco d’Agrate. This remarkable marble sculpture shows the saint with his flayed skin thrown over his shoulders much like a stole.
3) Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Did you know that this splendid four-story double arcade is the oldest shopping mall in the world? Not only that, it also contains the world’s only certified 7-star hotel, Town House Galleria. It was opened in 1877 and was named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy.
Located right beside the Duomo, this place is a great introduction to lively Milan. We visited this place primarily to admire the splendid architecture and colorful mosaics lining the walls.
It’s also a great place to go window shopping at expensive luxury retail shops and also people watch as the stylish Milanese pass by.
TRIVIA: Under the Galleria Dome, there is a famous bull mosaic in the floor, integrated into the coat of arms of Torino. Superstitious folks have said that spinning your foot on the bull’s testicles brings good luck.
4) Tram Intersections
(Orefici Street or Cordusio Street)
Not exactly a traditional tourist spot, we love this picturesque location for its vintage charm and how all of the features of Milan street life intersect here — old-world style buildings, locals crossing the street, the trams, the banks and the Sforzesco/ Sforza Castle in the distance.
5) La Scala Theatre (Teatro alla Scala)
Opened in 1778, this world-renowned opera house was where many composers wrote and conducted works including such greats as Puccini, Toscanini, Verdi and Rossini. The greatest singers of the last 200 years have also performed at La Scala, from Maria Callas to Luciano Pavarotti.
This theater exudes such old world opulence and elegance–it easily transports you to the golden age of opera, when it was once exclusive to the elite. This wasn’t a planned stop for us, but we’re glad we decided on it last minute. We were lucky we caught the last theater and museum tour for the day and even saw a rehearsal of Cinderella the musical.
TIP: La Scala has a strict dress code during performances. In recent years, more and more people have not been following the rules so they now explicitly state this on their website: “people wearing shorts or sleeveless T-shirts will not be allowed inside the auditorium; in this case, tickets will not be reimbursed.”
6) Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco)
Built by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, the castle was completed in the 15th century on the remains of a 14th-century fort. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was later renovated and enlarged, turning it into one of the largest citadels in Europe.
We didn’t have time to walk around inside the castle. However, if you’re an art lover, you might enjoy visiting the grounds.
TRIVIA: Its museum features an extensive art collection, including works from Da Vinci, Bramantino and Michelangelo’s last unfinished sculpture — a different version of his famous “Pieta” at the Vatican.
7) Milan Stock Exchange (Borsa Italiana)
This is another “non-touristy” sight but we had to go see it out of curiosity. We stumbled upon a picture of this middle finger statue online, and we were flabbergasted at how any city council would let this stand in a public space!
After a bit of searching online, we found that it was located at the stock exchange. Officially, it is titled L.O.V.E., which stands for Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità (Freedom, Hate, Vengeance, Eternity), created in 2010 by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.
TRIVIA: The sculptor never commented on the deeper meaning behind the statue, but most locals assume it’s all about the economic crisis that affected Europe – and Italy in particular – from 2008 onwards.
BONUS: The Duomo at night
We stuck around until nighttime, just to see the Duomo and Sforza Castle lit up at night. Soon after, we headed back to the train station and caught a train to Venice that night.
Hope you enjoyed our quick list of the highlights of Milan — all of which you can tour in a day (trust us, we did it!)
One thing I know we missed is seeing Da Vinci’s original painting of the Last Supper. However, we were there on Sunday, when it’s usually closed to the public. Anyway, is there anything else we missed? Let us know in the comments!