24 hours is not enough time to pay anywhere justice, let alone a fabulous city like Milan, Italy. We all have to work with the time we have though, and it’s better to have a short visit to Milan than no visit at all.
You can spend 24 hours in the city just by shopping. Those with a fondness for brand names will find no shortage of merchandise here. Milan is a really fancy city. From poodles in tutus to diamond adorned storefronts, the destination practically drips glamour.
If you only have 24 hours to spend in Milan, or a long 12 hour+ layover, you should make the most of it and explore some highlights of the area. Here’s how!
All Roads Lead to the Duomo
Take a train into the city center straight from the airport. The ride takes about 40 minutes and leaves from Terminals 1 and 2 so it’s easily accessible no matter your incoming flight. Head to Piazza Cardona or Milano Centrale–both stops are within a 10 minute walk of the Duomo.
You can purchase a train ticket at the kiosk at the terminal or from a live attendant. The kiosk I used had problems accepting foreign transaction cards so if your credit card isn’t working, check with an attendant first before panicking.
Once in the city, you can easily walk or take a taxi towards the Duomo, where you’ll begin and end your day. For all intents and purposes, this is the center of Milan. You can access all major sites by walking, taking public transport or taking a taxi from here.
Best food in Milan
You’re going to want to get a good base down before your exploring. Stop by any small cafe for lunch. I had an amazing prosciutto pizza just minutes away from the Duomo. Despite being in the center of all tourist activity, this was a quality meal. It’s very hard to find bad food in and around Milan.
Note that the promised wifi was only available indoors, and there are weird water dispensers in Italy so when you go to wash your hands, look for a foot pedal.
Things to Do in Milan in One Day
Head straight to Piazza del Duomo. Once there, you’ll find a swarm of other tourists. If you’re not careful, you will find dry pasta placed in your hand without prior notice and a swarm of pigeons flying your way–there are many “assistants” around the plaza who will later insist on a 5 euro handful of dry pasta fee.
Avoid the main line and head to the side, by the market and stalls, to buy your ticket there. That move alone will save you at least an hour in wait times.
Make sure you buy a ticket that includes Duomo rooftop access. You can get to the top by lift or by walking 250 steps. It’s a bit claustrophobic taking the steps but a cool experience and good exercise.
Please note, you need to buy tickets months ahead of time to visit Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” This is Milan’s most popular attraction by far. Unfortunately, the TripAdvisor page is filled with 1 star reviews by visitors who made it all the way there and could not get in. Don’t fall victim to the impromptu trap!
You can also spend time strolling the city to see different areas of interest, like the ironic L.O.V.E. statue in front of Milan’s financial building (pictured below), Sforza castle and the nearby Porta Sempione, which looks like the Arch de Triomphe in Paris but is regarded as the Arch of Peace.
Solo travel v. group tour
If you’re short on time, you might consider taking a tour to see the city’s main sites. Also, if you don’t book with enough time, a tour may be your only option to see “The Last Supper.” I would only recommend a tour during the summer months. I went in January and it was freezing. As a lot of attractions are outdoors, this made the experience uncomfortable but obligatory since I had to stick around till the end to gain admission to Santa Maria Delle Grazie, the church in which “The Last Supper” stands.
While the information provided on a tour is interesting, it’s nothing that can’t be learned with a guide book or audio guide. If you’re able, Milan is a city best left to explore on your own schedule.
Shopping in Milan
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (pictured above) is located right next to the Duomo so it’s hard to miss. It is a strip of high end stores, and one ridiculously expensive hotel, but the architecture alone makes it worth a visit. It also provides shelter from the elements in case you need a break during your day.
All the major stores are located here, including Luis Vitton, Armani and Swarovski. During Christmas time, Swarovski sponsors a light display and decorations, pictures above. You can enjoy unique tile designs on the floor and murals dedicated to the four corners of the world. You’ll also find a line of people waiting to spin around 3 times in a divet on the floor for good luck. You may as well join them. After all, when in Milan…
Immediately adjacent to the Galleria is La Rinascente Milano, and indoor high-end shopping mall that’s reminiscent of the 8-floor Macy’s in New York City. The top floor has a cafe where you can enjoy freshly made pasta and gelato, not to mention get a killer view of the Duomo. There are also a ton of free samples for high end perfumes and goodies so it’s worth your time just to walk through.
Little-known facts about Milan
You’ll notice a gold Madoninna on the top of the Duomo. She watches over Milan, and no building in the city is allowed to stand taller than her.
Today, if a building is going to be permitted to extend past a certain height, a Madoninna replica is erected on top of that building to ensure that she remains the guardian of the city.
Where to stay in Milan
If you have an early stay out of Milan, your best bet might be to stay at an aiport hotel. The MOXY Malpensa Airport is in terminal 2 and is an affordable and chic option for those who need a place to spend the night. The staff is young and friendly, the facilities are newly renovated and the rooms are comfortable.
Most importantly, it’s located right across the street from the terminal and there’s a shuttle bus available 24-hours to take you to your gate. Most flights leave out of Terminal 1 but the connecting shuttle is complimentary.
In sum, should you explore Milan during a layover in the city? Absolutely! If you have a few hours, you can easily fit in an authentic Milanese experience in a short time.
Till next time, safe travels!
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