How to spend two days in Milan? There is much more to see and do in Milan than fashion shopping. Milan is an ancient city with beautiful churches, squares, museums and private houses. If you’re here for a weekend trip, we’ll have the best itinerary for you, filled with the finest art, ancient culture and impressive history. But you can always pick and choose if you have less time or add some other stuff you would like to visit such as the San Siro football stadium.
Day 1 in Milan
On the northwestern edge of the city center lies the Castello Sforzo from the 15th century. It was built by the Duke of Milan Fransesco Sforza on the site of the destroyed castle of the city’s previous rulers, the Visconti family. The castle is decorated wih several frescos by Leonardo da Vinci. The castle houses 9 different civic museums ranging from prehistoric archeology to wooden sculptures and from paintings to tapestries.
San Maurizo al Monastero
Walk from the castle into the old part of Milan and after a couple of minute you’ll reach the Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. This beautifully painted church used to be attached to the next door benedict monastery. The church is a 16th century baroque little gem.
The cities archaeology museum is housed in the former monastery which was built on top of and reused many building materials of the nearby Roman ruins. So it’s an excellent place to explain the different time periods and how they interlink. The main focus is on the Etruscan and Roman period, the museum has some nice finds on display. You can also visit an old polygonal tower which belonged to the Maximian Roman walls.
Leonardo da Vinci
The highlight of many people’s visit to Milan is Leonardo’s huge fresco painting of the Last Supper. If you also want to see it make sure to reserve tickets in advance. Tickets are sold out weeks in advance so plan carefully. If you manage to get tickets, be sure to be on time for your timeslot of 15 minutes and enjoy. It’s a beautiful work of art and you can admire it in relative quietness with just 30 other people at the time.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
The last supper is located in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie but you’ll need separate tickets for both. The church served as a burial site for the Sforza family. The church was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in World War II, but the wall with Da Vinci’s fresco was protected by sandbags and survived without any major damage.
Basilica Sant Ambrosio
To the southeast lies the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, one of the oldest churches in Milan. Built by St. Ambrose in 379, although almost everything you see today dates from the 12th century. The basilica is surrounded by a monastery which dates from the 8th century. The monastery housed two different orders, that division is still visible today by the two different towers, one from the 9th century and the other from the 12th century. This church was another victim of the allied bombing raid of 1943 and has been heavily restored. The crypt houses the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis II.
Duomo di Milano
The most famous church of Milan is its duomo or cathedral. It is the largest church in Italy and took six centuries to complete. Work started in 1386 and was not completed until 1965. This results in a very eclectic style of the building, originally a French-style gothic building, but now a mix of that with all the later styles and whims of the rulers and builders during the ages. The roof of the cathedral provides marvelous views over the city but it can be busy, so it’s not ideal for those with fear of heights.
Housed in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the pinacotea has a good collection of renaissance art with some masterpieces by Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rafael. The library houses several manuscripts by Da Vinci.
Santa Maria presso San Satiro
Santa Maria presso San Satiro is a nice little church built at the end of the 15th century. The main draw is the false apse at the backend of the church. Due to a limited amount of space, the apse is painted by Bramante with a perspective illusion choir. One of the first examples of trompe l’oeil in the history of art.
Basillica di Lorenzo Maggio
The Basillica di Lorenzo Maggio is one of the
oldest churches in Milan and its origin dates back to Roman times. The building
of the basilica started somewhere at the end of the 4th century. In
1071 the basilica was ravaged by fire which destroyed most of the original
interior decorations and made new restorations necessary. In 1573 the dome of
the basilica collapsed, which was subsequentially rebuild. It’s a great example
of a Roman basilica church although heavily reconstructed throughout the ages.
It still houses an original 4th century mosaic of Christ the
Day 2 in Milan
Pinacoteca di Brera
Start your day early with a visit to the Pinacoteca di Brera which is housed in the Palazzo Brera. The pinacoteca is the best gallery to view Italian paintings in Milan. In its collection are works by the likes of Raphael, Belinni, Tintoretto, Caravagio and Titian.
Villa Reale / Galleria d’Arte Moderna
The Villa Reale houses the Galleria d’Arte Moderna. This relatively small museum has a collection of 18th until 20th century works. Principal works in the collection include works by artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and Gauguin.
Also visit the opposite Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea if you like contemporary art.
Villa Necchi is a beautiful villa from the 1930’s. Some of the rooms are still decorated with furniture from this era. The villa and its surrounding garden form a quiet repose from the busy city. The villa is part of the 4 Case Museo di Milano network and you can buy one entrance ticket for all four houses. Depending on the amount you want to visit this can be a good deal, but beware that Case Boschi de Stefano is free to enter anyway.
Case Boschi de Stefano
Case Boschi de Stefano is a historical residence once inhabited by the couple Antonio Boschi and Marieda Di Stefano. They were huge art collectors and their collection includes more than 2,000 works of art. Over 300 of those works are on display in this house that is packed with paintings. No wall is free of art, maybe not the best way to display this many works of art but it’s a great collection of mainly 20th century Italian art which you wouldn’t see elsewhere. And since the museum is free, there is no reason to skip this gem.
Basilica San Nazaro in Brolo
Basilica San Nazaro in Brolo is another church founded by St. Ambrose. This church was built at the end of the 4th century but not much remains of the original building. The old façade is obstructed by the Trivulzio Mausoleum from 1512.
The Navigile Grande is the biggest of the canals dug in Milan. Its origin dates back to the time of Frederick Barbarossa and was one of the biggest engineering projects during the Middle Ages in Italy. Nowadays it’s a good place to go for a walk, have a drink and have dinner.
Day trips from Milan
There are a lot of beautiful places around Milan. We can recommend going to Turin to be closer to the mountains, get some royal history, a superb Egyptian museum and several other great museums.
Another good day trip is to Pavia, this city lies just a half hour south of Milan and is very compact and has kept much of its medieval atmosphere. Don’t forget to stop at Certosa de Pavia, this monastery is beautiful..