The Perfect Walking Tour In Milan

Follow in the footsteps of masters and marvel at Milan's magnificent monuments of art, faith, commerce and creativity.
Written By: Andrea Spallanzani
Reviewed by: Rick Orford
How & Why We Created This Article

This article has been written, reviewed, and fact-checked by Rick and I. We live in Italy and travel throughout the country to help you make the best choices for your trip. We wrote this piece to help you have the best trip possible on your next trip to Italy. Portions of this article have been written using assistive AI tools to help with tasks like research, spell-checking, grammar, and translation.

Last Updated March 22, 2024

In this article, you'll learn how:

  • Milan's iconic attractions like the Duomo, Galleria, and La Scala make great stops on a walking tour.
  • Fashion is a huge part of Milan's identity - don't miss the Quadrilatero d'Oro district.
  • Leonardo da Vinci left his mark on Milan, as seen at The Last Supper and the Leonardo Museum.

Are you visiting Milan for a couple of days? It may not seem like a long time, but there is plenty to see and do in Milan for a two-day private tour. 

Milan is located in northern Italy and is the second most populated city after Rome. The city is located near such places as Lake Como, Manarola, Lugano, Tirano, Brunate, and Bellagio. A day trip here, especially if you’re going on a wine tour, may not be enough to cover all that you need to see, so we suggest you allow two days for your trip. Milan private tours from local guides can cost a little, so here’s a list of the best sights for walking tours so that you can experience Milan on your own. 

Now let’s get to it!

The Milano Centrale Train Station — the starting point of your Milan tour

Unless you arrive by plane, the first leg of your Milan tour will likely start here. The great thing about the city is that even the train station is a tourist attraction. Milano Centrale is a massive station, second only to Romana Termini for the biggest station in Italy. The arched roof is lined with glass windows that let natural light stream into the station to highlight its gorgeous mix of contemporary Art Deco and Liberty-style architecture.

Milano Centrale train station

There are a lot of shops and restaurants here, almost like a microcosm of the city itself, and you can easily spend an hour or two enjoying the sights.

You can find the green and yellow lines of the subway system right outside Milano Centrale, as well as taxis and the Malpensa Express, which will take you straight to Malpensa Airport in under an hour. 

The subway system is your friend during your Milan walking tour

Getting around for your city tours will be a breeze with the city’s subway system. You just need to figure out which line your destination is. You can get a MilanoCard 3-day pass to visit all the sights along the subway lines. The easy access to transportation gives you more free time to explore the best attractions in the city. 

Duomo di Milano

Milan the Duomo

No day tour is complete without seeing the Duomo. The Milan Cathedral is one of the most magnificent and famous churches in all of Italy. It took almost 600 years to complete the cathedral, starting in 1386 and having the finishing touches done in 1965. It’s the largest cathedral in Italy and the third-largest in the world. Tourists can purchase tickets for a rooftop tour, where you can have an amazing view of the city and its intricate stonework. 

The place can be crowded — the cathedral alone can house thousands of tourists on any given day — so we suggest you get advanced tickets.  

Also, security is tight here. Glass objects, large luggage, helmets, drones, or anything that can be constituted as a security risk are not allowed, so keep that in mind. Our bags were searched thoroughly when we visited, but thankfully we didn’t bring anything that could be confiscated.

The star in Milan’s sky

Aside from that, you can check out the Duomo’s beautiful rooftop, with the world-famous Madonnina, or Little Virgin Mary, capping the Cathedral. The Madonnina is a golden polychrome statue of the Virgin Mary, built and designed by Giuseppe Perego in 1774.

Some people describe it as “the star in Milan’s sky.” It was the highest point in the city until 1950 when the Pirelli building was constructed. A smaller version of the Madonnina was placed on the structure as a respectful nod to the original. This tradition has been repeated every time a construction exceeds the previously highest point in the city. They do it this way so that the Little Virgin Mary always watches over Milan. 

Saint Bartholomew Flayed

“Saint Bartholomew Flayed” is one of the most famous statues in Duomo di Milano. This statue depicts St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, in a grisly testament to his martyrdom. Marco d’Agrate built the statue in 1562.

Legend has it that St. Bartholomew was skinned alive for converting King Polimius and twelve cities in Armenia to Christianity. The sculpture is noted for the almost-precise anatomical details on the saint’s skinless flesh, with clear lines between musculature, including blood vessels, and how his flayed skin wraps around his body like a robe. 

Beneath the Duomo Cathedral

You can also access the ancient subterranean spaces beneath the Milan Cathedral. You’ll get to see a series of snapshots of the city’s past, from its days as Mediolanum, an ancient Roman capital, to weathered frescoes, crypts, and ruins of old churches. Get your fill of ancient history before heading back to Milan. 

Tour strategy 

Guided tours usually help you out with skip-the-line access and day visiting, but here’s a pro tip for those wanting the Milan experience on their own: the tour is going to take you an hour and some change, so we suggest you schedule it before lunch, or any time after. You wouldn’t want your hunger distracting you from the beautiful sights in the Duomo. 

The second tip is for people with mobility issues. They don’t usually tell you this, but the guides offer an elevator ride to the top of the cathedral. However, you will be directed to a set of stairs going down. You’ll need to let the elevator personnel know that you have mobility issues and must get a ride up and down the cathedral. 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II — the perfect shopping stop during your Milan walking tour

The best tours in Milan are incomplete without stepping into Italy’s oldest shopping center, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. First opened to the public in 1877, the affectionately nicknamed il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room) is named after the first king of Italy and is the prime shopping destination in the city.

Milan Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The structure is shaped like a cross, with all four passages converging beneath a magnificent iron and glass dome. Each storefront is built in a Neo-classical, almost Baroque style, with gold-and-black themes that invoke a sense of opulence and majesty.

You’ll find many stores and boutiques in the Galleria, including high-fashion brands such as Chanel, Prada, Dior, Gucci, Armani, and coffee shops and restaurants so you can try out Milan foods. We particularly like Pasticceria Marchesi. They make amazing desserts, and you can stay for lunch, but just know that the portions may be smaller than what you’re used to, and it is a bit expensive due to the location. You must also make reservations, but it will all be worth it once you’ve tasted their pastries. 

The Milan Bull

Many Italians are superstitious — it comes with their massive respect for their country’s history and traditions. You’ll find an example of this in the Galleria, where on the floor, among the countless murals, there is a mosaic of Turin’s coat of arms, the great bull.

You don’t need to look closely to know there is a worn-out hole where the bull’s genitals should go. This is because people believe that placing your right heel on the bull’s sensitive bits and spinning brings you good luck. Tour guides often tell this story to tourists during their Milan excursions. Even if you don’t believe in superstitions, it’s still fun to experience. 

Leonardo Museum

At the end of the Galleria, you will find the Leonardo3 Museum, one of Milan’s proudest legacies, where you can see replicas of Da Vinci’s machines as they were sketched in his notes. You’ll find the likes of the Mechanical Lion, the Mechanical Submarine, the Rapid-fire Crossbow, and other inventions directly taken from Leonardo’s notes and sketches.

You might be wondering why Milan would host such a museum. That’s because Leonardo Da Vinci spent some time in the city in the service of the Duke of Milan, designing art and architecture. This is also where he painted The Last Supper, one of his most famous works. 

La Scala Opera House 

Teatro alla Scala and the adjacent Piazza della Scala are absolute must-sees in Milan, as it is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It was built in the late 1700s by Giuseppe Piermarini for the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Famous composers, singers, and conductors like Giuseppe Verdi, Arturo Toscanini, and more recent talents like Lucianno Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo have performed within its majestic hall. The place is hallowed ground for opera singers and composers, and performing in La Scala is considered to be a crowning career achievement. The theater can seat up to 1,800 people across all six levels.

Milan La Scala opera house

La Prima della Scala — one of Italy’s premier cultural events

One more thing you should know about Teatro La Scala is the La Prima, or “Opening Night,” held on December 7 of every year, and it is one of Italy’s largest parties. This cultural event marks the start of La Scalla’s performance season. You’ll get the chance to rub elbows with anyone from Italian celebrities to the Prime Minister of Italy or the king of some country. Be warned that tickets for such occasions sell out fast and are very expensive. They also enforce strict punctuality and stringent dress codes. 

Milan’s Fashion District

You can also visit the city’s premier fashion district, known as the Quadrilatero d’Oro or the Golden Rectangle. Four main streets surround this fashion capital district, and it is the home of countless houses of fashion where you can see the best Italy has to offer. Like in the Galleria, you’ll find boutiques for Armani, Gucci, Versace, and much more. There are also affordable shops here, some offering significant discounts for world-renowned fashion brands. There are also stores like the Gap or Urban Outfitters, so there is always something for everyone. 

Still, if you’re looking to do some damage on your credit card and get great clothes in the bargain, this is the place for you. But if you haven’t had your fill of all things fashion, consider dropping by this next location on your Milan walking tour.

The Brera District

Near La Scala is the entrance to the Brera District, one of the city’s most chic and elegant places. The small neighborhood has the usual tourist attractions like restaurants and other sights, but what sets it apart from everywhere else is it’s home to Italy’s smaller boutiques and up-and-coming fashion designers. This is also the home of Pinacoteca di Brera, one of Europe’s most important art galleries. You will find works from such masters as Carravagio, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Andrea Mantegna, dating back from the 14th century all the way to the 20th. 

The Grand Hotel et de Milan

The Grand Hotel is one of the most famous lodgings in the city. This is where Maestro Giuseppe Verdi, a beloved Italian composer, died in 1901. The story goes that the Milanese loved Verdi so much that, during the last few days of the composer’s life, they littered the streets outside the hotel with straws to minimize traffic noises and help preserve peace and quiet for the dying composer. 

The hotel is known to preserve the look and feel of a classic Milan household, and Verdi’s aforementioned rooms are kept just as it was when the composer died. The hotel has undergone renovations, such as adding modern utilities, and suffered some damage during World War II. But if you want to get a taste of Milan, this is a great place to stay in

A Milan tour is incomplete without seeing Castello Sforzesco

Sforza Castle, or Castello Sforzesco, is one of the must-see destinations when you explore Milan. Duke Francisco Sforza built this magnificent fortress over the ruins of an earlier 14th-century castle. It houses several sections showcasing ancient art collections, musical instruments, furniture, and archeological artifacts. 

Milan Sforza Castle

Sforzesco also houses Parco Sempione. The park was built at the tail end of the 1800s and is quite spectacular. You can see the magnificent bulk of the Arco de la Pache, or the Arch of Peace, from its verdant grounds. The arch was built in 1815 to mark the success of the Congress of Vienna, a series of meetings between various European countries and powers to establish international peace after the end of the Napoleonic wars. 

The castle entrance is free to the public from 7:00 am to 7:30 pm, but the entrance to some museum sections and exhibitions cost three to five euro. Make sure to book your tickets in advance to avoid lines and inconvenience. 

The most beautiful Starbucks in the world — and the very first in Italy

Starbucks in milan

The first Starbucks location in Italy is in Piazza Cordusio. The store was built in 2018. The structure has an imposing, almost Gothic facade, but the inside is completely reminiscent of ornate Art Deco. It’s a famous landmark, not only in Milan but in the rest of the country. Many vloggers and other content creators have dubbed this place ‘the most beautiful Starbucks store in the world.’ With those kinds of promotions, the location has gotten a lot of traction, and you can expect long queues and lots of tourists at any time of the day, most especially during rush hour.

Porta Garibaldi

One of the city’s most famous city gates is Porta Garibaldi. From here, you can see more modern, avant-garde architecture like the Bosco Verticale or the Vertical Forest. The title refers to two towers that were completed in 2014. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more distinctive modern building in Milan; as the name suggests, the Vertical Forest is two towers with balconies filled with plants and trees.

Upon its inauguration, the structure received wide acclaim and is celebrated as a symbol of nature conservation. Any local tour guide in Milan would be remiss not to showcase this architectural wonder.

Santa Maria delle Grazie and one of the most famous paintings in the world

Santa Maria delle Grazie belongs to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, or Holy Mary of Grace, is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. It is one of the city’s top attractions and home to Da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. The painting has been seen in countless museums as replicas and in other forms of media. Robert Langdon, intrepid scholar and protagonist of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, frequently references the painting. 

Filming the painting is not allowed, but you can take photos. Only a few people at a time are allowed to view The Last Supper due to its age and state of deterioration. As such, tickets to see it can be sold out months in advance, so it’s better to ensure you get your tickets a long way ahead of time. 

The Navigli District

Milan the Naviglio

Milan was once a city of canals, much like Venice. Today most of them are gone, but their pathways can still be seen. However, some channels still exist and can be seen in the beautiful Navigli District. The waterways here were built in medieval times to help supply goods to the city of Milan. Seeing these relics from the past against the backdrop of the city’s more metropolitan skyline gives the place a magical, almost disconnected atmosphere. Like in Venice, you can get gondola rides in the Navigli district. 

Bonus destination: Chiuse Vinciane

Leonardo's Locks

Da Vinci’s lock is one of the most notable parts of that canal system. This revolutionary piece of science and craftsmanship is made of wooden planks, braces, and iron sheathing and works by sealing off water from the nearby rivers. The famous inventor’s method uses the water’s own force on two gates, pushing them to self-seal whenever the current hits it and giving the city an efficient way to regulate its waterways. These types of locks are used in various parts of the world, like Venice and the Panama Canal. And to think that the concept was invented more than 500 years ago! You can find the lock at the end of Via San Marco.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is the weather in Milan? 

The city’s weather can be temperamental — it can be sunny one moment, cloudy the next. Make sure to prepare suitable clothes for any weather so you can experience the best of Milan. 

Are there any other places you can go to after your Milan tour?

A few mountain resorts are nearby, and you can also cruise Lake Como. The lakeside near the city of Como offers a stunning panoramic view of the Alps. 

Closing thoughts

So that’s it for our tour of Milan. We hope you enjoy your day trip! Feel free to drop any comments or questions; we’ll see you in our next article.