Salt & Wind Travel

Here’s What You Need To Know Before Traveling To Milan

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Milan is like a well-tailored suit: understated at first but striking at a second glance.

True, the city doesn’t come right out and reveal itself the minute you meet, but, put in a little time, and it’s clear that it’s one of the most interesting cities in Italy right now. Hence the reason we love to travel to Milan on the regular. 

From our boutique group trips to Lombardy to the fact that it’s one of the parts of Italy where we do the most travel planning for our concierge clients, we focus a lot on this corner of Italy.

Through the years we’ve gotten a lot of the same questions so we’re answering them all for you here.

What Is Milan Like?

Milan often gets written off as not being “Italian” enough — that the city is more European than Italian. But spend a few well-planned days there and we’re sure you’ll agree that Milan is a perfect mix of both modern Europe and old-school Italy.

With over 1 million residents, it’s a city that’s big but not too large. Milan is well organized with the city radiating out from the Duomo for miles. While the city has fewer Roman ruins than other parts of the country, it’s still Italian to the core with ferocious soccer fans, devoted coffee drinkers, and an unending love (and, to be honest, sometimes frustration) for their culture.

And, as home to many national treasures —  from La Scala and the Sforza Castle to Da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Duomo — it’s well worth a visit.

Why Travel To Milan?

Milan got flooded with the global spotlight in 2015 when it played host to the World Expo (a sort of modern-day “world fair”) and nearly 20 million people visited. That meant that Milan went into modernization high gear with all sorts of urban renewal projects (from the revitalization of the Darsena to the Isola area), the opening of new businesses, and it’s resulted in creative energy that shows the best of what Italy is right now. 

How Many Days In Milan Is Enough?

Most travelers budget too little time in Milan if you ask us. On average, most people travel to Milan for just over 24 hours but that’s not enough time to really see the city.

Plan at least three days and nights in Milan so you can not only shop and sightsee in the city center but also explore the less touristy but equally interesting outer neighborhoods.

Where Should I Stay In Milan?

Milan is not nearly as touristy as the other major Italian cities — Florence, Rome, and Venice — so the question of where to stay isn’t as hard. That’s to say you can stay in the center of town without feeling overwhelmed by crowds (even at the height of tourist season). 

If it’s your first trip to Milan, you’ll want to stay smack dab in the historic city center — that way you can see the most in the least amount of time. You don’t have to stay right next to the Duomo but definitely look for accommodations within the city walls. For more specific hotel recommendations, check out our Milan City Guide For Food Lovers.

If you’ve been to Milan before, consider staying farther afield but still close enough to the city center to walk there. Our picks are the Navigli area, Brera, or Corso Como.

Regardless of where you stay, make time to explore the less-central neighborhoods from the chic Brera shopping district to the quirky Chinatown and the just-renovated Isola area to the always-on Navigli neighborhood.

Should I travel to Milan or Venice?

Deciding on whether to travel to Milan or Venice is an apple to oranges situation.

If it’s your first trip to Northern Italy, we highly recommend making time to see both cities. You can easily train or drive between Milan and Venice and, if you have the time, you can get to know the region by visiting the Lake District, wine regions, and towns along the way. Speaking of, we specialize in food travel in this part of Italy, so, if you need specific travel advice from where to eat to where to stay, don’t hesitate to ask us

What are the best things to do in Milan?

Well, deciding on what to do in Milan really depends on the kind of traveler you are.

For culture and history buffs, you have the Duomo, the Museo del Novecento, the Villa Necchi, La Scala, and the Last Supper to visit.

For shoppers, you’ll want to visit the 5 Vie, Brera, and Quadrilatero areas for the best boutiques. And, for food lovers, you’ll want to visit the open-air markets (we’re partial to Papiniano and San Marco, shop the specialty food stores and eat at the best restaurants (more on all of that below). 

What Is Local Food In Milan?

For a full list of the local dishes to eat when you’re in Milan, check out of our full list of must-eat local Milanese food. But, to get into the Milanese spirit before you even arrive, make a few of these Milanese recipes before you leave!

  • Risotto alla Milanese: Made with saffron, butter, rice, and lots of stirring, this dish is simple yet so indulgent.
  • Basic Polenta: This is a classic cold-weather dish in this corner of Italy.
  • Negroni Sbagliato: Happy hour is practically a sport in Milan and our drink of choice is this twist on the Negroni where Prosecco replaces gin. 

What Are Must-Do Things In Milan?

  • Book ahead if you want to see opera at Teatro La Scala (FYI, the season runs from St Ambrose Day on December 7 through the Spring)
  • Book even farther ahead if you want to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper 
  • Wake up super early one morning to climb to the Duomo rooftop for an amazing view
  • Ride one of the classic streetcars at least once

What Are Easy Day Trips From Milan?

You can take a train, hire a driver, or get a rental car to head further afield from Milan. In our Milan City Guide we provide specific ideas of what to do as day trips from Milan but here are a few classic ones.

  • Make like George and Amal and do a day trip to Lake Como
  • Head to Piedmont to hunt for truffles, taste wine, or just to eat!
  • Head to Franciacorta for sparkling wine tasting

The truth is this is just the tip of the iceberg for all things Milan and Italy. For more information on Italy, check out our how not to stand out like a tourist in Italy, tips for dining etiquette in Italywhat to know before traveling to Italy, how to avoid a bad meal in Italy.

Also, you can check out the FAQs section of our travel site (scroll to the bottom!) for the questions we get asked about traveling in Italy.

Have Us Plan Your Italy Trip

Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in Italy travel planning? If you’re looking to plan one of the best trips to Italy, our Italy trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.

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