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I recently had a wonderful trip to Northern Italy and I’m excited to share my 2 day Milan itinerary in the hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
I wouldn’t say Milan is my favourite city in Europe or even Italy but I still had a fantastic time. It’s such a high-energy city that never stops, from the fashion scene to the nightlife. As the birthplace of the aperitivo, drinks begin before dinner and flow into the small hours… Although you may want to sleep early because it’s a busy city with lots to see!
If you have cash to splash, Milan is full of high-end restaurants and designer boutiques. Luckily for us backpackers, there’s plenty of diversity in a city this big. I’ll share my budget foodie finds to ensure that following this Milan itinerary won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Unlike some historical Italian cities, Milan feels like a mix of old and new. From Roman ruins to futuristic skyscrapers to rival Singapore, here’s what to do during 2 days in Milan!
How to get to Milan
Milan is a transport hub, making it easy to visit for a weekend or begin a longer holiday in Italy.
By air: there are three Milan airports: Malpensa (MXP) international airport known for long-haul flights; Linate (LIN) domestic airport and Bergamo (BGY) with flights to European destinations particularly the UK.
My exit flight was from Malpensa, 50km from Milan, and I booked a €10 transfer with GetYourGuide from Milan Central Station.
By train: Milan is well connected by train to other Italian cities and nearby European destinations. I use Trainline to find and book trains.
By bus: for the classic backpacker way to arrive in a city, take the bus. I arrived from Milan by Flixbus, my usual choice of bus network in Europe. Their departures are regular and affordable.
How many days in Milan?
In my opinion, two days in Milan is enough. You can explore the city centre during the first day, leaving the second day free for alternative neighbourhoods or a fun experience of your choice… I highly recommend a pasta-making class!
How to get around Milan
On foot: if you’re staying centrally, you can complete large sections of your Milan travel itinerary on foot. Just make sure you have enough sunscreen and water in the summer.
By metro: the affordable and regular underground trains make Milan an easy city to move around. Single tickets cost €2 and daily passes cost €7. There’s also a 3 day pass for €12 that may be worth considering even if you’re just staying 2 days in Milan.
Buses: there’s also a bus network in Milan, however the metro was so efficient that I didn’t need to take any. It’s worth noting that night buses run after the metro stops at midnight.
Trams: I didn’t take any either trams but, like the buses, several lines service the city after midnight. For a more scenic form of transport above ground, you may prefer riding them to the Metro.
Note – you can purchase single tickets valid for 90 minutes in the metro station. These can be used for metro trains, trams and buses.
Taxi: both Uber and FREENOW taxis operate in Milan; download the mobile apps.
Where to stay during a 2 day Milan
Backpackers hostel: YellowSquare Milan in Porta Romana is a great hostel with two restaurants, a bar and yoga classes. Although it’s a social place, the dorms (each bunk with its own light and plug socket) remain quiet at night. Check availability from €30 per night.
Budget hotel: BioCity near Centrale Station has Wi-Fi, TVs in each room, a free daily breakfast, biodegradable toiletries and easy access to all the Milan attractions. Check availability from €118 per night.
Splash out hotel – with a restaurant, bar and fitness centre, 21WOL Milano Centro is a luxurious venue with a continental buffet breakfast and beautiful, modern rooms. Check availability from €190 per night.
Budget apartment – if you don’t mind being a short Metro ride from the city centre, Residence Pian della Nav have private apartments with all your amenities. Check availability from €95 per night.
Served apartments (Navigli) Another great option is Easy Milano Apartments ideally located in Navigli canal neighbourhood. Many of the comfy studios and apartments have equipped kitchen areas. Check availability from €120 per night.
Day 1 Milan itinerary
I’d recommend beginning your 2 day Milan trip in the centre. Piazza del Duomo (Duomo Square) is right in the heart of the action, flanked by Milan’s most important buildings not limited to the majestic Duomo Cathedral.
What time to begin your sightseeing activities? Well, some enthusiastic travellers arrive for sunrise to see the Piazza (almost) empty and snap photos without the crowds. Personally, I like sleep far too much for this option!
Take a free walking tour
Free walking tours are my preferred method of handling the overwhelm of arriving in a new place. For a city with as much history, culture and cuisine as Milan, the best option is an overview from a local.
The City Walkers tour lasts 2 hours 45 minutes and offers a great introduction without bombarding you with too much information. I learnt so much about Milan from the 12th century Visconti era (the ‘golden age’ of Milan) to the invasion of France, then Spain, then the Habsburg Empire, then the unification of Italy.
Our guide was hilarious and gave us some great food recommendations. The tour departs daily at 10am from Duomo Square.
Duomo Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo
An attraction that no Milan itinerary would be complete without is the majestic Duomo, one of Europe’s most famous cathedrals.
Fun facts about the Duomo:
- It took 600 years to be completed. Makes the Sagrada de Familia look like a quick build, right?
- Adorned with 3,500 statues, it has more than any other building in the world
- A local law prohibiting any Milan building to be taller was only recently lifted
- According to our tour guide, the architect behind the Statue of Liberty visited the Duomo and was potentially inspired by a certain statue of a woman with a spiked headband. See if you can spot her and see the resemblance!
How to visit the Duomo
There are several ways to see the Duomo but I would recommend getting a ticket that includes the beautiful rooftop walk, accessed by stairs or the lift.
- Duomo + museum = €7
- Culture pass (interior, museum and archaeological area) – €10
- Duomo pass with stairs (rooftop, interior, museum and archaeological area) – €15
- Duomo pass with lift (rooftop, interior, museum and archaeological area) – €20
If your mobility is good, I would suggest the third option including the rooftop via the stairs, saving €5 compared to taking the lift. Buy your skip-the-line ticket in advance.
As of 2022, you’re required to book your ticket in advance to manage the crowds. Although you have to pick a time slot, I was told this is an estimate and not to worry if you visit outside of it.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Even if you’re not a shopper (or millionaire!), you’ll want to stroll through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and marvel at the decadence. Since the 19th century, this arcade has been an iconic feature of the city. From Prada to Gucci and Louis Vuitton, all the big names are here.
If you fancy a treat, there are some famous restaurants inside like Café Biffi. Alternatively, peruse the menus and wince at the prices… Then eat elsewhere (keep reading for my suggestions)!
From the carvings to the elaborate tiles, keep your eyes peeled for details including the bull on the floor. Legend says those who stand on it and spin around 360 degrees will receive good luck. Either that or the architect liked watching people look silly!
Piazza Della Scala
Beside the famous shopping mall is Piazza Della Scala, a historical square home to a statue of Leonardo da Vinci and the world-famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala. Unless you have tickets for a show, there’s not much to do in the square but it’s worth ticking off as a major Milan attraction.
The next stop on your Milan itinerary should be Merchant’s Square. Not far from Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Della Scala, here you’ll see typical architecture including the Palazzo della Ragione used as the old courts of justice.
In my opinion, the most interesting thing about Piazza Mercanti is the secret ‘telephone’ our walking tour guide showed us. If two people stand at opposite sides of the courtyard and talk directly to the wall, the person at the other side will hear their words perfectly! I thought the guide was winding us up but it really worked.
You have to find the right points along the wall for it to work. See if you can see anyone else doing it!
Stop for a famous sandwich at All’ Antico Vinaio
Break up your Milan itinerary with some delicious local food. One of the best things I ate in Italy was this enormous sandwich at All’Antico Vinaio. It has 3,000 Google reviews and almost as many people queuing out the door at lunchtime!
The line is worth it. The sandwich menu is scrawled on a handwritten board but there are several ‘off menu’ combinations. I asked a man leaving what he’d ordered and he told me it was a sandwich named ‘the boss’. It came with black truffle spread, prosciutto, hard cheese and rocket.
Another guest on my walking tour ordered a sandwich with ham and pistachio cream. Both were absolutely divine and only €7 each. A cheap eat for Milan!
Foodie visiting Italy? Read my Verona food guide!
Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa
A bizarre and slightly sinister attraction to add to your 2 day Milan itinerary is Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa, a church with an ossuary adorned in human bones and skulls.
The history dates back to the 13th century when the church cemetery was full. The ossuary was built as a hall to store remains. Although it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s a captivating attraction I was eager to visit. It didn’t disappoint!
Entry is free.
Milan tip – the only place I found with free toilets, Wi-Fi and water fill-ups in central Milan was Starbucks. Although I’m not a fan and wouldn’t choose to spend my money there, it’s easy to pop in and use the facilities for free.
Afternoon – Sforzesco Castle
For the afternoon of your Milan itinerary, swap the bustling city centre for the castle and park located just 10 minutes from the city centre on foot.
Sforzesco Castle is a large complex, once one of Europe’s largest citadels. Built in the 1300s and destroyed, it was refurbished by the wealthy Sforza family into one of Italy’s grandest palaces. Under Napoleon’s orders, it was largely destroyed but later restored… Only to be destroyed again during WWII!
As you can probably guess, it was restored one more time. Now it’s a key tourist attraction that can be wandered through for free. Alternatively, buy tickets for any of the museums onsite.
There are collections dedicated to archaeology, Ancient Egypt, art from the Antiquity, Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, and even ancient musical instruments! You could easily spend a whole day here. Alternatively…
Relax in Sempione Park
If you’re walking from central Milan, you’ll reach Sempione Park after walking through the castle complex. This 38-hectare park has been the largest green space in the city since the late 1880s, offering playgrounds, picnic areas and ponds to locals and tourists who visit.
Especially during the summer months, this is a lovely place to relax under a shady tree and regain your energy. It’s open until 9pm in the summer months so it could double up as an evening picnic spot.
Arco della Pace
After walking through Sempione Park, you’ll come to Arco della Pace, the 25m structure that Napoleon ordered to celebrate his victories. He wouldn’t have been happy with the outcome, however, because after his fall from power it was finally completed with images from his defeat in the Battle of Leipzig (1813).
The next two activities are suggestions for your Milan itinerary depending on your interests…
Activity for art lovers – The Last Supper
Fans of Leonardo da Vinci’s work won’t want to miss the world-famous Last Supper painting found inside Santa Maria delle Grazie church. However, you will miss it unless you’ve been organised enough to book your ticket weeks if not months before.
Tickets (€15) are released 3 months in advance and you can book up to five, a maximum of twice per calendar year. If you’re not able to get any via the official channels, your best bet is a guided tour with a third-party company. These are more expensive, around €45, but may be your best (and only) option last-minute.
Activity for shoppers – Quadrilatero della Moda
If you didn’t have your fill at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, there’s another place in Milan that’s bound to excite and bankrupt you in equal measures. Quadrilatero della Moda isn’t a shopping mall but an area centred around Via Monte Napoleone, a street known for its designer boutiques.
If the prices are beyond you, do a spot of window shopping and people-watching instead!
Finish your day in Brera neighbourhood
For an upscale dinner, Brera is a cool area to explore. Its alternative boho days may have ended due to gentrification but it’s still worth strolling the colourful streets lined with romantic architecture, fancy cocktail bars, galleries and designer boutiques.
If it’s an affordable drink you’re after, Bar Brera is the best place to sit outside with a spritz and watch the world go by. They serve affordable pasta and pizza dishes along with a happy hour buffet.
More things to do in Brera:
- Pinacoteca di Brera – inside an old 14th-century convent is the largest gallery in Milan full of classic works of art, many of which were stolen from Venice by Napoleon! Braidense National Library and the Astronomical Observatory can be found in the same cultural complex. Entry is €12.
- Jardín Botánico de Brera – although the botanical garden is owned by the university, anyone is welcome to visit for free.
- Shop – not only are there countless boutiques, but on the third Sunday of every month, there’s an antique market with jewellery, books and vintage items on sale.
Day 2 Milan itinerary
Now you’ve seen the highlights of the city centre, your second day in Milan can be used to explore alternative neighbourhoods and attractions or pursue your interests. Since Duomo Square can be busy and touristic, you’ll probably be glad to escape.
The second day of my Milan itinerary began in a VERY fun way. For foodies with a bit of cash to spare, this will be the highlight of your trip. It was for me!
Pasta & tiramisu class
Can I rave about this experience enough? No. Am I going to try anyway? Yes!
From the second I booked my Milan trip, I had my heart set on a pasta and tiramisu class. A friend had told me she’d taken one and I saw plenty advertised online. I’ve taken cooking classes in Mexico, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India, South Africa and, most recently, made my own pastéis de nata in Porto. I love learning to make local dishes, even if I’m a rubbish cook!
I took an Airbnb Experience with a wonderful Milan local, Pietro, who uses passed-down family recipes during pasta-making classes at his funky apartment. He takes a genuine interest in every guest, making you feel right at home.
We made two types of pasta:
- Tortelli made from scratch, sent through a press, stamped into circles and sealed at the corners with a mix of ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan inside. These were served with butter and cheese.
- Cavatelli – cylinder-shaped pieces of dough are rolled on a dented board with a paddle to give them their distinctive shape. These were served with a simple tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.
- I believe Pietro mixes it up so perhaps you’ll make these types, perhaps you’ll make something different. Either way, I know it’ll taste amazing!
As well as pasta, we also made tiramisu from scratch. Eventually, we sat down as a group and enjoyed our meal together. I learnt a lot from Pietro, not just about Italian food but also regional differences and Italian culture. It was such a fun experience and a real highlight of my Milan itinerary!
After a busy two days in Milan, you’ll probably want to relax with an Aperol Spritz! The cool neighbourhood of Navigli is the ultimate place to do this. Walking from the centre takes less than 20 minutes, passing notable attractions like Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore and the Columns of St Lawrence (more about these below).
Navigli is Milan’s canal district and part of the reason the city became prosperous. At one point, the whole city was connected by canals (much like Venice) to connect with Switzerland’s main river and ensure trade with Europe. Without them, the marble used to build the Duomo Cathedral may have never reached the city.
Later, the city was paved for roads and the canals removed… Apart from Navigli!
Aside from wandering beside the canals and soaking up the ambient neighbourhood, you can enjoy the many cool cafes and bars. For evening drinks, Navigli is one of Milan’s top nightlife areas.
You won’t find better cannoli than those at Cannoleria Gourmet. They have OTT flavours like white chocolate raspberry and tiramisu. I got the latter which was delicious but so indulgent I almost couldn’t finish it. Afterwards, I enjoyed an al fresco Aperol Spritz and watched the world go by.
Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore & the Columns of St Lawrence
Between Navigli and central Milan, the Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore is one of Milan’s oldest churches, dating back to the fourth century. Built from the stone of Roman ruins, it has several impressive features including Byzantine mosaics in the separate Chapel of Saint Aquilino. The grounds are a pleasant place to sit and picnic on a sunny day.
Outside, the Columns of San Lorenzo are a distinctive Milan monument consisting of 16 ancient Roman pillars.
Day 2 afternoon (OR day 3 for a more relaxed itinerary)
If you don’t take the pasta-making class, you could see the following places on your second day in Milan. I chose to visit them before my afternoon flight on day 3 and spent the second afternoon of my trip relaxing in Navigli.
Whichever day you see them, consider adding these quirky attractions to your Milan itinerary…
Like the alternative Zagreb attraction I visited the previous month, Milan’s Monumental Cemetery is an unusual attraction that many tourists miss.
If you’re simply keen to tick off the highlights, it might not be for you. However with over 2 days in Milan, I enjoyed the chance to wander this enormous cemetery filled with some of the most impressive and decorative tombs I’ve seen.
Like an open-air museum, the complex displays countless architectural styles from Art Nouveau to Gothic. Many of the graves (presumably home to members of wealthy families) were designed by notable Italian architects. You could spend hours spotting details from mosaics to carvings.
The nearest Metro stop is Monumentale which is within walking distance to…
Isola / Porta Nuova neighbourhood
Another quirky area of Milan is Isola and Porta Nuova, largely put on the map (or at least our Instagram feeds) by the Vertical Forest. The two skyscrapers that make up Bosco Verticale were designed by architect, Stefano Boeri, at a cost of €65 million!
Home to 800 trees that would cover 30,000 square metres of woodland, the project focusses on architectural biodiversity and explores the relationship between humans and other species.
Take some time to wander through the area. Porta Nuova is largely a business district but as you cross to Isola, you’ll find quirky street art, thrift shops and boutiques mixed with traditional, family-run eateries.
Teatro alla Scala
To end your 2 day Milan itinerary on a high, catch a show at Teatro alla Scala, Italy’s premier opera house dating back to 1776. You can watch opera, ballet and concerts, or browse costumes and props at the Theatre Museum. Even simply admiring the foyer and gallery – awash with red velvet – will take your breath away.
As one of the city’s most famous attractions, tickets are best purchased a couple of months ahead of time if you want the best seats. Many reviews complain that the cheaper ones only offer 20% visibility of the stage.
Browse shows and buy tickets from €22 on Teatro alla Scala website.
Best cheap eats in Milan
If the fancy restaurants aren’t your scene, I feel you! Here are some affordable places I found to eat:
- All’Antico Vinaio (centre) – €7 for enormous sandwiches packed with quality Italian ingredients.
- ALDENTE Pastabar (multiple locations) – a budget cafe where you can get pasta, a dessert, soft drink AND coffee for €10! Yes, really.
- Panzerotti Luini (centre) – these tasty morsels are similar to empanadas filled with cheese, meat, spinach and other ingredients.
- Milano Roastery (Porta Romana) – this is where I drank coffee and ate croissants stuffed with pistachio cream each morning. What a life!
- Il Trapizzino (Porta Romana) – this restaurant serves pizza cones oozing fresh ingredients. I liked the aubergine marina one as well as the burrata and anchovy one.
- Pastamadre (Porta Romana) – I had a tasty pasta meal here for €10 near my hostel.
- Dongiò (Porta Romana) – just across the road from Pastamadre, this is another affordable and authentic pasta restaurant.
Is Milan good for solo travel?
As you can see from the lack of photos of me, I was alone in Milan. I can confirm it was a great city for solo travel with lots of hostels and tours/activities to meet new people.
Safety-wise, it can’t rival the super safe statistics of Croatia or Slovenia (where I’d been travelling solo previously) but it’s no less safe than most European capitals. Walking alone in the evening felt safe in the centre and Porta Romana, the location of my hostel.
Whether you’re travelling solo or not, my only safety warning is to watch your belongings around the Duomo. Pickpockets operate like they do in other European cities. Wear a secure bag and don’t flash your valuables.
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING ITALY
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in Italy (and all around the world).
Confused about visas? I use iVisa to check visa requirements and apply for visas online.
For trains, both RailEurope and Trainline offer excellent service in Italy. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.
For buses, I use FlixBus. Find journeys from €1!
Use Omio to compare trains and buses in one search. It’s so handy!
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide.
Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.
For Italian food experiences from cooking classes to market visits hosted by locals, use EatWith.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!