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Updated: 4 May 2023
According to many travelers, Milan is one of … those controversial European destinations. What do I mean by “controversial”? As you research your trip to Italy, you’ll come across a lot of forum and blog posts suggesting that Milan is dull and skippable. The less time you spend in this industrial city, the better.
For example, I’ve seen Milan appear in essays about “overrated” destinations time and time again.
So, admittedly, I was a little nervous about spending two days in Milan when I was planning my own Italian adventure.
If I strictly went by my research, I probably dedicated way too much time to this city, and that instead I should have just used Milan for its international airport and spent more time elsewhere.
But, nope. My fears were unwarranted. I loved Milan!
I’ve already talked about “overrated” and “boring” European capitals on this blog. For example, I wrote a post about why Helsinki (another supposedly “skippable” destination) is still worth a visit.
The lesson? Don’t always believe the most common opinion on the internet. There are lots of reasons to go to Milan. Not all travelers are alike, after all.
Table of Contents
The Big Question: Is Milan Worth Visiting?
Personally, I loved Milan and think you should check it out, but at the same time, I’d completely understand why you’d skip the Fashion Capital under certain circumstances. Milan isn’t exactly in the same “must see” category as Florence and Rome.
Yet, in my humble opinion, I think Milan is worth visiting for its world famous art (um, hello, the Last Supper), many green spaces, view of “industrial real” Italy, wonderful day trips, and much more.
Milan is a great place for solo travelers in Italy since there are a lot of hostels available for good prices.
Don’t write off Milan simply because it isn’t an adorable Tuscan hill town. Tourists can still enjoy plenty of cool neighborhoods and attractions.
Should I Visit Milan?
Not satisfied with my above answer, huh?
Okay, then. Yes, visit Milan if it makes sense to include it as a stop in your Italian itinerary.
Take into consideration your transit time. For example, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Milan if you only have eight days and are flying in and out of Naples. In that case, you want to strictly focus on the south of Italy. Why rush through the country?
Having a strict time limit makes it harder to justify visiting Milan. It’s a much better city to visit on your second and third time to Italy. Save Milan for later if this is your first trip to Italy.
However, if you’re exploring the north of Italy, then it’s worth dedicating some time to Milan.
Sure, you won’t have as many historical sites as Rome (Milan was greatly bombed in World War II) or take photos of a unique background (let’s face it, there’s no place like Venice), but Milan is still a good time. And, hey, the train station gets you everywhere.
How Many Days in Milan?
I honestly think 1-2 days in Milan is the perfect amount of time. For example, with one day in Milan, you’ll still have a lot of sites to see and neighborhoods to explore.
Personally, travelers get into more trouble if they decide to spend an entire week chilling in Milan. I liked Milan, sure, but even I wouldn’t have enough things to see and do in a whole week. I’d get bored. Restless.
A short amount of time in Milan will give you the taste you need to fall in love with Italy’s fashion capital!
What is Milan Like?
Milan is a city. Unmistakably so.
As I’ve said, not to mention, much of Milan was relentlessly bombed during World War II, and plenty of buildings had to be rebuilt after the war came to an end.
There’s a lot of modern architecture in Milan, which puts off visitors who are expecting “medieval” Italy instead. Know what to expect ahead of time.
However, Milan’s great for people who love big cities. There are plenty of neighborhoods to explore and museums for you to visit.
Milan has a few very famous attractions, such as the Duomo Cathedral, La Scala Opera House, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, for tourists to enjoy.
Keep in mind that the main tourist area around the Duomo is very crowded. Overpriced restaurants are everywhere, too, so it’s not the best place to grab an authentic meal in Milan.
Milan is also, alas, expensive, especially during Fashion Week. You need to keep your eyes peeled for deals.
Why Visit Milan at All?
For this post, I’ve come up with a few reasons for why you should visit Milan, or at least give the city a fair chance.
As always, I’ve tried to make the list as diverse as possible, too. Keep in mind that I was only in Milan for two days (argh, why so little time?) so I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of cool things to see and do in this city.
For instance, Rick Steves offers great insights about this region and he has explored Italy more than I have, haha.
Feel free to share even more suggestions in the comments section!
Fantastic Shopping Options
Haha, you’re probably not surprised that fashion is the number one reason to visit Milan.
After all, Milan is The Fashion Capital of the World. So, if you’re obsessed with Prada and Gucci and Versace, then you need to add Milan to your Italian itinerary.
Milan has places to shop on every budget. While the Prada Flagship store is great fun, Prada isn’t exactly, uh, well, affordable for most travelers. Understatement of the year, right? Check out all the vintage boutiques if high fashion isn’t in the cards (or possible for your wallet).
And the people themselves are well dressed, too. Get styling ideas from them.
An Excellent Base for Great Day Trips
Milan is a wonderful place to base yourself for day trips. Remember what I said about connections? In particular, trains zip to almost every part of Italy, making Milan a day tripper’s dream come true.
Don’t feel nervous about taking public transit either! Most Italians speak great English. However, learning to say a few Italian phrases is still helpful in Milan’s train stations.
For example, Lake Como is only an hour (by train) from Milan, making it very easy to do a day trip. Lake Como is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places on earth with its mountains and colorful villas, and shouldn’t be missed!
A Lake Como day trip is always a good idea, trust me!
Another easy and gorgeous place to visit from Milan is the city of Bergamo. It sits in the hills and from pictures, the views are stunning! Swoooon.
Use Milan as a base to embrace the rest of northern Italy.
Brilliant and Beautiful Operas
Are you a fan of opera? Then Milan is the right Italian city for you, my friend!
La Scala, one of the most famous opera houses in the world, is located smack in the middle of Milan. Prices for tickets vary, and common sense dictates you want to book in advance for popular shows. Do your research ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
However, if your budget or itinerary doesn’t allow a show, then La Scala has a lovely museums where you learn all about the establishment’s history.
And, yes, you can still peek inside the opera house itself even if you’re not seeing a live performance. The stage crew was setting up for the evening’s show on my own visit. It was very cool seeing all the props!
So, music lovers, don’t skip La Scala. It’s awesome. I would go visit even if you only have one day in Milan, because La Scala is so, so, so elegant and beautiful.
Green Spaces Galore
I’m a huge fan of public parks, especially in larger cities such as Milan, and on a bright sunny day, you couldn’t have picked a better destination.
One of my favorite green spaces in Milan was the Library of Trees, which opened in 2018. This park contains more than 100 species of trees.
Go in the morning and see yoga classes in full swing. And don’t forget to take pictures of the Vertical Forest.
For those of you ready to sightsee, you also don’t want to miss the public park in Sforzesco Castle.
You might need to pay money to enter the museums, but the park itself is free for your use. Since this is a popular tourist site, this green space is always bustling with interesting characters and makes for great people watching.
If you want to get out of the main tourist hub, pack a small guide book for Milan and roam off the beaten path.
More Fun Things to Do in Milan
Are you still asking yourself is Milan worth visiting? Don’t worry. I have more ideas up my sleeves. There are plenty of fun things to do in Milan for a (reasonable) low price.
Fun and Milan in the same sentence? Yup. You bet!
Even solo travelers in Milan can find plenty of enjoyments lurking around every corner.
Walk on Top of the Duomo
The Duomo is a famous Gothic cathedral located in Milan. What’s so special about it? As far as I know, the Duomo in Milan is the only cathedral where you’re able to take a stroll on the roof. I totally felt like a spy, haha.
Believe me, strolling on the roof of a cathedral is a totally cool experience! Reserve your tickets in advance so you’re not turned away or unable to go.
Understandably, there’s a limit to the number of people who are allowed to trek on the roof at one time, haha. The limit on tourists gives you plenty of space to take scenic selfies and panoramic shots of Milan’s skyline.
Stay at a Social and Fun Hostel
Are you traveling to Milan alone? Then you might want to consider staying in a hostel. Milan is home to one of the best hostels that I’ve ever stayed in: Ostello Bello Grande!
This hostel is located steps from Milan’s Centrale Station, which makes it easy for day trips or quick departures to a new city.
As a solo female traveler, I felt perfectly safe in the surrounding area. I know being close to the train station isn’t always … savory, but I had zero problems staying at this hostel.
Furthermore, I especially loved Ostello Bello Grande’s rooftop terrace! The views were so lovely and peaceful, providing an oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Very cool.
Additionally, the free dinner is delicious and saves a ton of money. You easily meet a lot of travelers over food, which is beneficial for anyone who is visiting Milan alone.
Ready to Book Your Accommodation?
- Babila Hostel & Bistrot: This beautiful design hostel is right in the heart of Milan’s Fashion District. What could be classier? Not much! See prices on Expedia.com or Booking.com
- Ostello Bello Grande: Where I stayed in Milan! I loved how close this hostel was to the train station. Very easy to go to other areas in Northern Italy. See prices on Expedia.com or Booking.com
- Ostello Bello: This hostel is owned by the same entity as Bello Grande, except this hostel is smaller and close to Milan’s iconic Duomo. See prices on Expedia.com or Booking.com
Check Out Some L.O.V.E
Haha, wanna see something very funny and kindasortamaybe crude? Then you want to take pictures of the L.O.V.E. statue located outside of Milan’s Stock Exchange. Needless to say, this big middle fingers send an, ahem, rather clear message.
The artist, Maurizio Cattelan, is known for “pushing the envelope,” and while a lot of people were initially offended at L.O.V.E., the statue gained great popularity after the financial crisis of 2008. Let’s be real. I can understand why that was the case.
Go visit L.O.V.E. Even if you disagree with message, you have to admit this piece of art is worthy of a laugh … or two or three. Take some ridiculous pictures.
Get Lost in Milan’s Best Neighborhoods
Like any other city, Milan has some really lovely neighborhoods for you to explore when you’re not busy sightseeing.
Put the camera away and simply breathe life in the streets. The most rewarding aspects of travel appear by getting lost and ignoring your itinerary.
For instance, go to Navigli with its large student population and charming canals. Or the Brera district with its historical tangle of cobblestone streets. You have many options at your disposal.
Don’t limit your trip to the immediate area around the Duomo. You’ll miss out on the gems that Milan offers visitors (and locals).
Conclusion: Is Milan Worth Visiting?
Short answer is “yes.”
Longer answer? Ultimately, I think Milan is worth visiting if your itinerary is limited to northern Italy.
For example, if you’re flying in and out of Milan’s airports to see Lake Como, then I don’t think it would hurt spending a day or two in Milan to see an industrial and modern side of Italy. You’ll come away from your trip with a more balanced perspective of the country.
However, I wouldn’t rush to see Milan if you’re flying in and out or Naples or Rome, or if you have a short itinerary that focuses on “the big three,” which are Rome, Florence, and Venice. In those cases, Milan is better situated for a return trip to Italy, which will help you avoid feeling disappointed.
Have a great time in Italy and Milan!
What do you guys think? Is Milan worth visiting? Have you ever been to Milan? What were your first impressions? Share all your thoughts in the comments!