Is it possible to visit Milan in a day? Certainly not, but there is a lot you can see, eat, drink and buy in a full day. In this post, we present a guide to the best things to see in Milan. We include details of our itinerary and a map. So let’s start with the first question…
What’s the best area to stay in Milan?
That’s one of the first questions we had to answer. Our local friends all recommended Isola, which seems to be the hipster, coolest and trendiest neighbourhood in Milan. And so we did. And it was a great success.
We stayed at Isola Apartments. Excellent location, and a simple but very cosy flat. It is only a few minutes away from Garibaldi Station (metro and train) and from most of the best places in Isola. The owner is very attentive and organised, with passwords and links to get the keys and a storage room to leave your luggage pre-check-in or post-check-out.
The first night we arrived late and we only had time for dinner and drinks. A friend recommended “the best pizza in Milan” at a restaurant called Assaje, we went there and it was totally amazing. Extremely delicious pizza. They offer traditional, gourmet and contemporary pizzas, plus some traditional fried food.
We had one with buffalo mozzarella, tomato rocket and ricotta-cheese stuffed crust (see picture above); and a margarita with wholemeal dough. They also offer a complimentary glass of Prosecco before the food and 2 different types of limoncello, which they bring to the table at the end of the meal.
Mercato dell’Isola at Piazza Tito Minniti
Our day started with an excellent Italian breakfast at Momo. A traditional cappuccino, some Italian pastries, muesli and fruit bowl. They have many other options on the menu, and they offer a breakfast deal with a coffee + pastry + juice for €6.
And just opposite Momo, on Saturday morning we found an excellent street market (Mercato Comunale). High quality and varied groceries, food (fish, beef, chicken, fruit, vegetables) and also clothes. Prices vary a lot but more on the cheap/moderate side. We found Prosecco and wine bottles starting at €3. The clothes and household products are mostly on the side streets.
Bosco Verticale and Porta Nuova
Minutes away from Piazza Tito Minniti, and heading towards the city centre and the world-famous Duomo, we found an impressive modern building called Bosco Verticale. It is a pair of residential towers in the Porta Nuova district. They have a height of 111 metres (364 ft) and 76 metres (249 ft) and contain more than 900 trees (approximately 550 and 350 in the first and second towers, respectively) on 8,900 square metres (96,000 sq ft) of terraces [Wikipedia].
The building’s surroundings are quite nice and modern, as it is the heart of Porta Nuova district, which is now one of Italy’s most high-tech and international districts, containing the country’s tallest skyscraper: the Unicredit Tower (its higher tower looks like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai).
Italian design and food
So we kept walking south towards The Duomo and we passed by a few places worth visiting. We first entered to 10 Corso Como Cafe, a very chic shop and restaurant serving Italian coffee, food and cocktails, with a nice garden and next to a design and clothes store. Quite pricey though.
The next place is called Cargo & High Tech, a very cool design store offering unique home, kitchen, bath objects, stationery, geek gadgets, antiques and more.
And then we had a coffee at Eataly (Milano Smeraldo). Eataly is a large Italian marketplace with branches all around the World, and comprising a variety of restaurants, food and beverage counters, bakery, retail items, and even a cooking school. You will find all kind of Italian flavours, either ready to eat or to take home. If you want to eat something quick, I recommend the burrata and prosciutto focaccia.
We then kept walking south and we crossed Brera district, an area worth exploring as well.
Duomo di Milano
Our next stop was the main tourist attraction in Milan, and one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe, Duomo di Milano. It took nearly six centuries to complete, and it is the largest church in Italy (the larger St. Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City), the third largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.
We did not get into the church as we wanted to visit too many places in a day, but if you have time you should definitely do it. There are 4 different types of passes that you can buy on the official website. You can visit the crypt, the archaeological area, the museum, the church of San Gottardo and the rooftop.
On a side note, if you are a coffee lover but you are not a big fan of the machines, you may want to visit the Bialetti Store just opposite the cathedral.
Lunchtime: The Best Panzerotti in Milan
After taking many pictures from various angles to the iconic cathedral, we were ready for lunch. And we wanted to try one of the most popular traditional dishes in Milan: Panzerotti. “It is a savoury turnover which resembles a small calzone, both in shape and dough used for its preparation”. It is normally fried, but you can also find baked ones, and also sweet ones.
We went to Luini, the place were most locals and foreigners recommend, and which is around the corner from the Duomo. We haven’t tried enough panzerottis to agree on this nomination, but we can confirm that Luini’s are quite good, and for sure popular. There is always a queue but it moves quickly. Actually, there are two queues, one to each side, but they are organised and are used to handle all the tourists.
They offer both savoury and sweet, baked and fried. One of them a plus a Peroni and we were ready to continue the journey.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittoria Emanuele is Italy’s oldest active shopping mall and a major landmark of Milan, the most popular after the Duomo. It is a four-story double arcade in the centre of town, named after Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was designed in 1861 and built between 1865 and 1867 by architect Giuseppe Mengoni.
The structure consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. On the ground of the central octagonal, there are four mosaics portraying the coat of arms of the three capitals of the Kingdom of Italy (Turin, Florence and Rome) plus Milan’s. The Galleria connects two of Milan’s most famous landmarks: The Duomo and the Teatro Alla Scala [Wikipedia].
Inside the gallery, you will find high-end shops, restaurants, gelaterias and souvenir stores. Prices are quite high as you may expect from a place like this. There is an excellent gelateria opposite Luini, just outside the gallery.
Our next stop was Navigli district. The centre of the area comprises boathouse (Darsena) and two canals: Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese (it was originally a system of 5 navigable and interconnected canals).
The neighbourhood has become multicultural, trendy and artsy. The area offers charming boutiques (vintage and modern), galleries, cafes, restaurants, bars, boat tours, street stands (for food and aperitivo) and an indoor market called Mercato Comunale Ticinese. The latter offers a variety of fresh food but also groceries stores so you can buy a snack and something to drink and seat in the common area. I recommend trying a beer called Ichnusa Non-Filtrata.
There are plenty of places all around, so better to walk it out. Especially in Naviglio Grande, which can be considered the main canal. Sunsets are quite famous in Milan’s canal. Some recommended restaurants are Brellin and Trattoria Madonnina, and bars (for aperitivo and/or cocktails) are Capetown Café and Ringhiera.
At this point in the day, we way over 20,00- steps, so we decided to come back (to Isola) by metro. But we made one extra stop in the way to see Milan’s castle, Sforza.
It was built in the 15th century on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. And that’s what it looks like, more like a fortress than a castle. It now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.
Back in Isola for the evening
And we finally got back to our area, the hipster district of Isola. We had our aperitivo at Frida, one of the most popular bars for locals. Aperol Spritz, Ugo and beer.
We later had dinner with a Milanese friend at Ghe sem Borsieri. It is a very original concept as they offer dumplings with an Italian twist. They were quite tasty and the cocktails generous and well prepared. For a more traditional meal, I would recommend Osteria Dal Verme, La Coccinella or Anche Ristorante. In terms of pubs, Vinyl, Bar bah and The Botanical (gin specialists) are some that worth visiting.
Appendix: What is “aperitivo” in Italy?
An aperitivo is a pre-meal drink (and snack/nibble) specifically meant to whet your appetite. Italians go to their favourite bar around 7 pm to get it. These places offer a nibble with each drink, which could be cheese, olives, crisps, quiches, vegetables, cured meats, pizza and even pasta.
The “aperitivo protocol” establishes that during the appropriate time range, the free appetizer is served together with the drink. You may notice that some cocktails are a bit expensive, and this is because of the food. You normally need to “opt-out”, or they will bring the food for you.
The legend has it that “Aperitivo was born in the late 18th century in Torino with Antonio Benedetto Carpano who created the first aperitivo drink: vermut” [italyfoodculture.com].
Recommended drinks for aperitivo are vermouth, Aperol spritz, Campari with orange juice, Negroni, Americano, Amaro.