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Milan, Italy’s second-largest city, is known as the fashion capital of Europe and as a hub for banking and finance. But beneath the shiny skyscrapers and Haute Couture showrooms, Milan is brimming with gorgeous historic sights and colorful attractions. The highlights of Milan can easily be explored in two days, so it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
// Updated May 2021
When Ulrik got four days off in April we immediately looked online for the most affordable flights we could find. Milan turned out to be the best option with flights to and from Norway every day at prices as low as $20 one way. The fact that we would be traveling during easter didn’t even register with me at that time, so accommodation ended up being super expensive.
I made grand plans that we would spend one and a half-day in Milan, one in Bergamo and then take a day trip to Lake Como. Which because of Milan’s great public transport and train systems would have been totally doable if I hadn’t gotten the flu. Spending half the day in bed meant that I, unfortunately, had to cut Lake Como from our itinerary. I did, however, manage to explore the center of Milan quite thoroughly during the two days I was up and about. So here we go: How to spend 2 days in Milan – one of Europe’s most fashionable cities.
Best time to visit Milan
Milan can be very hot and humid during the summer months and winters are often rainy and foggy. It can even snow during the coldest winter months of January and February. Spring and fall are generally off-seasons, except during Fashion Week in February/March and September/October. The prices of accommodation skyrocket during these two weeks and it gets crazily crowded so try to avoid them if possible.
As mentioned above, we visited in April and had lovely weather. We were able to sit outside and enjoy some food and drinks in the sun on several occasions. The weather can, however, still be quite moody in April, so I would say the best time to visit Milan is in May and October.
Top things to do in Milan in two days
Duomo di Milano, the majestic and incredibly detailed gothic cathedral in the heart of the city, is without a doubt Milan’s most famous attraction. It opens to visitors at 8 am, so try to get there at around 7 am for a chance to get a photo in front of the Duomo without the crowds.
Although the cathedral is super impressive from the outside, the terraces are where the magic is at. So many intricate carvings and the most amazing views of the city. There are two different duomo passes, the most affordable one at 12€ gives you access to all areas and the terraces by stairs. For an extra 4€ you get access to the lifts which open at 9 am. If you aren’t in the best shape opt for the lifts as there are quite a few steps, 500 of them to be exact.
This highly-rated guided tour of Milan will take you to some of the city’s most beautiful landmarks and it also includes a skip-the-line Duomo ticket.
When facing the main entrance of the Duomo you’ll find Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping mall, to your left. Luxury boutiques like Gucci and Louis Vuitton will tempt you with amazing window displays, but unless you have a big budget you’ll have to settle for some window shopping as I did. But it’s definitely worth a visit anyway. Be sure to look up at the gorgeous ceiling. You can even spend the night there. TownHouse Galleria is one of the hotels that offers sleek and modern accommodation inside the mall, but it will cost you. The most affordable room starts at $450 a night.
If you’re an art lover you don’t want to miss one of the world’s most famous murals, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. Due to the fragility of the painting, entry is only allowed every 15 minutes with a maximum capacity of 30 people at any given time. Be sure to book your tickets way in advance or book a guided tour which will guarantee you access. Weekend in Italy offers tickets along with quite a few combo packages so be sure to browse through their page!
Just up the street from Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II you’ll find Via Montenapoleone, one of the most important fashion districts in the world. Big fashion houses like Balenciaga, Gucci and Dior call this area home, so be sure to swing by for some window shopping and outfit spotting.
Arco della Pace “The Arch of Peace” is one of Milan’s most recognizable landmarks. Located in the district with the same name, the arch is surrounded by elegant buildings and Parco Sempione, the largest park in Milan. It’s the perfect place to go for a relaxing stroll and maybe have a picnic. Construction of the arch started in 1807 to celebrate Napoleon’s victories but after his defeat at Waterloo, it was decided that the arch should be a monument of peace. Prior to our trip I only knew about the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, so I was quite surprised that Milan had an impressive arch of their own.
At the edge of Sempione park, you’ll find the grand Castello Sforzesco, a 15th-century castle now housing several museums and art exhibitions. The castle is closed on Mondays and on Tuesdays you get free entrance after 2 pm.
Navigli, Milan’s oldest district, is known for its canals, pastel-colored houses, vintage stores and the Sunday market. If you’re into vintage clothes, jewelry and Italian antiques you’ll love the market held on every last Sunday of the month. Hundreds of stalls line the narrow streets so it does get super crowded, but in my mind, this market together with Sempione Park and the Duomo, are the highlights of Milan. I would spend at least half a day wandering around Navigli and be sure to catch the sunset when all the pastel-colored houses lining the canals light up with a warm glow.
These are all the attractions we managed to cover within a space of two days. It’s a slow pace itinerary so you’ll have time for a lot of gelato breaks in between.
Popular Milan tours
Milan off the beaten track
To get off the beaten track check out Leoncavallo, a space dedicated to music, art and politics, the center of Milan’s underground culture. Throughout the year they host concerts, debates, exhibitions and a wide variety of other cultural events. Check their Facebook page for upcoming events.
Another place you should check out if you’re interested in the underground art scene is Macao, an independent center for culture and art. They aim to conceive new ideas of what culture can be beyond a financial institution. That art and culture should be available for all citizens to enjoy. Macao first occupied an abandoned skyscraper but was later evicted, they are now based in a former butchery.
If you’d like to explore Milan off the beaten path, you can book this popular 3-hour walking tour. Together with a local guide you’ll head away from the touristy areas and discover the hidden gems of Milan’s medieval commercial district.
I’m an avid penny souvenir/pressed penny collector and this time I found one in Sempione Park. I get so excited every time I see one of the machines and queue up behind seven and ten-year-olds. In my eyes, a penny souvenir is the perfect travel memory as they’re cheap and takes up no room at all. You can even get a collector’s book to sort them in, I know I’m getting myself one of those.
Where to stay in Milan
A bed in a six-person dorm at the super cool Ostello Bello Hostel will set you back about $45 a night. They score an incredible 9.2 out of 10 and people are especially happy with their cleanliness and the bar. Duomo di Milano is only a 10-minute walk or two tram stops away.
If you’d rather have a room for yourself you should check out Ibis Milano Centro, which is a modern and affordable hotel a little further out from the city center. There is a metro station close by and you have the central train station just a 5-minute walk. It’s the perfect location if you want to go on a day trip to Bergamo or Lake Como like we had planned.
The most affordable accommodation option in Milan other than a hostel is to stay with a local in their home. For about $70 a night you can stay in a private room in this cool apartment close to the gorgeous Parco Sempione.
A little further out from the city center the same budget will give you an entire apartment to yourself. This traditionally Italian decorated apartment is located in the pretty Navigli area, where I would choose to stay the next time I’m in Milan.
Or if you have around $270 to spend a night you should check out this amazing apartment with spectacular views of the Cathedral.
Where to eat in Milan
As a foodie, my favorite thing about Italy is not surprisingly the food. The best restaurant experience we had during our two days was at an Italian place called Il Tavolino, close to the central train station. I had some delicious, perfectly cooked gnocchi with pesto and cherry tomatoes. The only thing I could put my finger on is that the portion was small, so I had to sneak some cheesy pizza from my boyfriend. Yum! The cherry on top is that you get a complimentary glass of Prosecco.
Le Striatelle is another cozy, unpretentious Italian restaurant I can highly recommend. I had some super tasty penne pasta with pesto and eggplant. This place is a must whenever you are in the Navigli area.
Like I mentioned above, if the weather allows it I would recommend you to buy some bread, cheese and wine or maybe some takeaway pasta and go for a picnic in Parco Sempione.
For another affordable lunch option, check out Mr Panozzo. This casual, family-style restaurant serves some delicious pizzas and sandwiches for only around €5-6 each!! Does it get any better? Mr Panozzo is a hidden gem!