Milan’s cathedral is the starting point for most, if not all sightseeing tours. And, of course, we’ve listed it here. But this city has more than just its glorious duomo to feast your eyes upon. Milan’s opera house and museums allow you to really dig deep into the city’s culture. Though sculpture, of all kinds, can be found across the city – from the financial district to parks and castle walls. Artistry of a different kind plays out in Milan’s football stadium every weekend and a stroll along the Naviglio Grande is the place to reflect on it all.
Duomo di Milano
As the first stop on most Milan sightseeing tours, this 45 metre tall cathedral will become central to your stay. You’ll find yourself using it as a compass point, wanting to dine with views over it and strolling past as you crisscross the city in search of more landmarks to fill your wanderlust quota. There’s little in Milan that can top the Duomo however, so be sure to take time to really do it justice. Nip inside for a guided tour that whisks you up to the rooftops for views over Milan’s cathedral and beyond, scout around the outside to spot ‘easter eggs’ hidden in the gargoyles and frescos and don’t miss the Museo del Duomo – home to 150 sculptures, models, casts tapestries and paintings that tell the story of the cathedral over the centuries.
La Scala Opera House
Italy’s home of opera might not be as show-stopping as the Sydney Opera House from the outside. But inside? La Scala Opera House is a dazzling arc of Baroque detail, beautiful balconies and scarlet velvet seats. Milan’s opera house is a timeless classic and has been wowing the opera world with performances since 1778. Though the city’s opera history dates back a little further. The original opera house was destroyed by fire, but its replacement – La Scala is a triumph by Giuseppe Piermarini – the architect responsible for creating a world-leading performance art venue. Catch an opera – or a ballet to really see the opera house at its best.
Art lovers. Are you in Milan for a peek at the Last Supper? Don’t get so caught up in the ticketing and queuing system that you miss Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. A Milan museum that’s home to the largest collection of sketches by Leonardo da Vinci is more than worth your time. Their masterpieces exhibit contains Portrait of a musician by Da Vinci, alongside a handful of other classics. Don’t miss Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit and Portrait of a Lady by Giovanni Ambrogio De Predis – an artist who collaborated with da Vinci on other works.
Orbzii tip: Rather helpfully, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana’s website lays out guides according to your time available. Got less than an hour spare? No problem – they’ll point you straight to the best bits.
San Siro Football Stadium
Fans of the beautiful game will make a beeline for the San Siro Stadium. Home to Milan’s two footballing rivals, Inter and AC Milan, this stadium has seen more than its fair share of victories. The stadium is electric on match day, but you don’t need a ticket to explore the stand and museum when there’s no fixtures in the calendar. Drop in to the museum to admire, or begrudgingly applaud, the silverware (depending on how your team fared last time they took on two of Italy’s biggest teams) take a tour of the stadium and appreciate Milan’s modern monuments to the sporting greats.
Somehow, everything in Milan connects back to Leonardo da Vinci in some way, and the Naviglio Grande is no exception. This stretch of waterway comes in at just under 50kms in length and, today, it’s almost more notable for its dazzling restaurants than its history. Understandable. After all, it’s far easier to get on board with cocktails and lite bites along the banks, rather than an i– depth look at da Vinci’s lock system. Swing by, soak up the aperitivo atmosphere that lands between 6 and 8pm, but do give those locks a once over. An integral part of the city – it opened up trade between Milan and countries just over the Alps.
If there’s a building in Milan that can rival the Duomo di Milan on sheer size, scale and sculptural adornments, it’s the Castello Sforzesco. Standing proudly in Sempione Park, the battlements, towers and turrets leave you in no doubt that this is a fort to be reckoned with. Built in the 14th century, the original castle couldn’t withstand the multiple attacks on Milan. Fortified in the 15th century, with a few adjustments over the centuries, it’s no longer fending off the hoards, but welcoming them with open coats of arms. Major events (think Fashion Week) and touring exhibits keep things fresh inside the castle grounds. Drop in for a tour – or time your trip to catch sight of the catwalks.
How do you feel about controversial sculptures? If that’s just the kind of content you drop into your Insta – or Pinterest, add Piazza degli Affari to your Milan sightseeing agenda. You’ll be looking at the L.O.V.E. sculpture in the centre of Milan’s financial district. And, well, let’s just say this single finger statue doesn’t hold back on the statement front. Created by artist Maurizio Cattelan, the marble gesture appeared after the 2008 financial crisis – and the positioning in front of the Milan Stock Exchange speaks volumes. In the years since the 2010 installation, the piece has become iconic. Grab a selfie or just admire the audacity from a distance.
Arco della Pace
Sempione Park should really have a listing here of its own. Home to the impressive Castello Sforzesco, it’s also got a few more monuments and landmarks tucked away in its green and gorgeous 95 acres. The pick of the bunch is Arco della Pace. The towering marble arch is likened to Paris’ L’Arc de Triomphe, but you’re likely to be more impressed by the Milanese version. The setting, for one, is rather more salubrious than the arc’s roundabout – and the sculptures, carvings and columns more ornate. Of course, it’s not about point scoring for this arch of peace, but if it were, Arco della Pace would romp home as the winner. No doubt adding a mini gilded trophy to its collection of adornments.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
You could visit every last museum in Milan and still not set eyes on the Last Supper. Not because it’s hidden away in a vault, but because it’s not exactly a movable feast. Da Vinci painted his most famous work directly onto the wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent. And, that’s where it’s stayed since 1495. Mostly. A misguided attempt at restoration meant that Jesus was missing some feet for a while, but the professionals have stepped in and an ongoing preservation task force keeps the painting from deteriorating further. This does make it a little more tricky to see. Visits are timed – and numbers are limited. So buy tickets for this one well in advance.