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Milan: One Weekend to Explore the City and a Lake

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy
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Usually relegated in favor of Rome or Florence, Milan has its fair share of interesting places, as well as beautiful surroundings.

Follow this guide and enjoy one weekend in Milan and beyond:

Day 1

Breakfast

Buongiorno, un cappuccino e un cornetto, per favore. 🙂

Kick-off your day with a typical Italian breakfast: cappuccino and freshly-baked pastries. Although you’ll find plenty of cafés around the starting point of our itinerary, I particularly suggest Cova or Marchesi, both on Via Montenapoleone. Pasticceria Cova (1817) and Pasticceria Marchesi (1824) are both traditional bakeries of Old Milan.

Alternatively, wait until you reach Piazza Duomo and have breakfast at the Marchesi branch at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

 

Morning Walk

Start at Piazza San Babila. From here stroll along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, part of a large pedestrian zone and one of the main streets of Milan, full of cafés, street performers, and the occasional street art exhibition. After some minutes, you’ll start glimpsing the spires of the Duomo.

Piazza Duomo, Milan, Italy

Piazza Duomo is expansive, so you’ll have a great front view of the cathedral. This is also where you’ll find Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the oldest active shopping mall in Milan. Architecturally stunning, with a glass dome, luxury shops, cafés and even a hotel, you cannot skip this landmark. While you’re there, look for the mosaic bearing Turin’s coat of arms. It should be easy to spot, surrounded by people. Legend says that spinning around backwards three times with your heel on the testicles of the bull will bring good luck!

From Piazza Duomo, head to the Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. This church’s exterior is unassuming but it hides a sumptuous interior, with paintings by some of the major sixteenth-century Lombard artists. No entrance fee.


Your next stop is Santa Maria delle Grazie. The refectory of this church’s convent houses Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Only 25 people are allowed each time and tickets are usually sold out, so try to book online in advance (aim for late morning). If you cannot, try to join a private tour but it will come at a higher cost.

The Last Supper is definitely the highlight here, so if you don’t have tickets, I’d skip it.

Lunchtime

If you don’t mind hopping on the subway for 3 stops, walk to Cadorna station, where you’ll get the M2 until Garibaldi. If you’re not yet hungry, explore the area of Porta Nuova, the modern heart of Milan. Just off Corso Como, reach Piazza Gae Aulenti, relax and admire the Bosco Verticale (a pair of residential towers with over 900 trees on all its terraces).

My absolute favorite place to eat here is Eataly, home to different restaurants, each focused on specific kinds of food. But not far away, you can have amazing, typical from Lombardy, risotto alla milanese con ossobuco at Ratanà; or gourmet pizza at Lievità.

If instead, you prefer to stay near the historical center, there are also plenty of tried-and-tested options in the map below:

See also: Great Places to Eat Like a Local in Milan

 

Afternoon Walk

If you went to Porta Nuova for lunch, get the subway back to Cadorna. If you stayed in the old center, either walk to Cadorna or look up where’s the nearest stop of tram line no. 1. This line still has the historical trams, with wooden interiors and decorated lamps. This is part of the transport network, so if you have the daily ticket, no extra cost.

Attention! This line is diverted during Aug ’18 for maintenance work.

Hop off at Arco della Pace. This is a triumphal arch decorating one of Milan’s city gates: Porta Sempione. There has been a gate at this location since the Roman Republic and Imperial times, although little of it survives to this day.

The arch is at the back of Parco Sempione. Within the grounds, if you are into it, you can find La Triennale di Milano, a museum dedicated to design. On the other end of the park, opposite the arch, there’s Castello Sforzesco, built on the 15th century. During Medieval times, it was the residence of the rulers of Milan but nowadays the complex houses several museums.

From Piazza Castello, head to the Brera District, the Milanese bohemian neighborhood. Full of bars, restaurants, antique and art shops and colorful street markets, just get lost in the streets. The most prominent building in the area is Palazzo Brera, which houses the Pinacoteca di Brera (the main public gallery for paintings in the city), Accademia (di Belle Arti) di Brera, a botanical garden, an observatory and one of the largest libraries in Italy, the Biblioteca di Brera.

Leaving Brera, you’ll cross onto Quadrilatero della Moda, one of, if not the most important fashion district in the world. You’ll find shops and boutiques for virtually all fashion houses, luxury hotels and luxury cars parked along the streets. But even if you don’t shop here, it’s certainly fun to walk around.

Evening

By the time you finish, it should be evening, the perfect time for aperitivo. There are plenty of options in the historical center, but I suggest heading to the city canals, the Navigli, to finish the day on one of the countless bars by the water.

Day 2

Milan is located right next to the Italian Lakes District. That means that Lago di Garda, Lago di Como and Lago Maggiore are all within 1h30 train rides away. So I’d use this second day of your weekend to skip the city and go relax by one of these.

I have already written about day-trips to Lake Como and Lake Garda. Soon (hopefully!), I’ll post about day-trips to Lake Maggiore and Iseo. But just a hint: if you take Stresa and Iseo/Monte Isola, respectively, as your bases, you’ll be on the right path 😉

See also:

Milan 101: Arriving & Getting Around

Great Places to Eat Like a Local in Milan

Milan: New Transport Tariff System

Day-Trip to Lake Como

Day-Trip to Lake Garda


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