Milan is mostly known as one of the best places to travel in Italy for shopping, with its diverse selection of stores and malls.
The heart of the city contains the high-end fashion shops with designer clothes while nearby neighbourhoods have many small artisan shops and standard commercial shopping malls.
Of course, there is more to do than shopping with just one day in Milan. It’s a metropolis that is dynamic and as fast-paced as it is fashion-forward. The central part of the city also contains a lot of history. If you walk the downtown streets, you’ll pass many examples of 18th and 19th-century architecture.
Milan has an engrossing history that begs further exploration. It’s stood for centuries as an industrial and cultural centre and boasts enviable art collections that celebrate both old masters and fresh faces.
The city is also experiencing a bit of a tech renaissance with startups and innovative giants like Google, Microsoft and Apple calling the city home.
Don’t know where to start? Plan your trip with this complete 1-day Milan itinerary…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Milan in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
- View the city from the top of Duomo di Milano
- Browse shops located inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
- Explore the medieval buildings surrounding Merchants Square
- Tour the Museums Located Inside and Around Sforzesco Castle
- Discover priceless works of art at Museo Poldi Pezzoli
- Browse designer fashions on Via Monte Napoleone
- Grab drinks near the canals at Naviglio Pavese
- Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Milan
What to do in Milan in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
As with most of our city itineraries, we’ve filled this Milan itinerary with fun things to see and do. You’ll get to visit the famous historic sites, such as the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and a medieval fortress. You’ll also have the chance to taste local dishes and shop at a wide variety of stores.
Due to the size of the city, 24 hours in Milan isn’t enough time to see it all. You’ll spend most of the day walking around the central area and venturing out into some of the surrounding districts.
View the city from the top of Duomo di Milano
If you only have 24 hours in Milan, start at Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral). The cathedral is the most recognisable landmark in the city, thanks to its terraces. The top of the cathedral features 135 spires with intricate carvings and architecture, along with over 2,000 different decorative statues.
The rooftop is one of the more stunning sights, and the view from it is spectacular. Start your day at the cathedral to avoid the crowds and work your way to the top to see the city from above.
From the rooftop, you can see quite a bit of the downtown area and the mountains in the far distance. However, the real benefit of travelling to the top of the cathedral is to see the network of staircases connecting the various towers.
The cathedral opens at 9 a.m., but you may want to arrive a little earlier and get your tickets in advance. Arrive even earlier to walk around the courtyard and snap a few photos of the towers before the doors open.
Browse shops located inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Some of the top things to do & see in Milan are a short walk from the cathedral, including a trip to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It’s a popular shopping centre with a wide selection of shops.
The Galleria is also the oldest active shopping mall in the country and considered one of the main landmarks. It’s housed inside a four-storey historic building that was built between 1865 and 1867. Most of the shops are modern, selling everything from clothes to electronics.
A lot of the shops in the complex are luxury retailers. You’ll find jewellery, antiques, and haute couture threads. However, a few of the shops are among the oldest in the city, including Biffi Pasticceria, a local pastry shop.
Of course, the building itself is part of the reason for visiting. The historic site features a massive central octagonal space with a glass dome overhead. By the time you arrive, the morning light should be spilling through the dome and lighting the main hall.
Everything in the shopping centre is expensive, from the goods to the food. It also becomes crowded by midday. Spend an hour or two browsing the shops and admiring the architecture before moving on.
Explore the medieval buildings surrounding Merchants Square
After some indoor shopping, it’s time to visit the historic Merchants Square located just down the street from the Galleria.
On the way, stop at one of the cafes or bakeries for a quick bite. Granaio and Panini Durini are two popular options located across the street from the public square. You’ll find various baked goods to fuel the rest of your Italy itinerary.
As you finish your food, start walking to Merchants Square. It’s a small public square found directly between the cathedral and Sforzesco Castle. Hundreds of years ago, this was the main public market space. You’d find the area full of vendors selling all types of foods and goods.
It’s no longer an active marketplace, but it’s an important historic site. Four medieval buildings surround the square, including one structure built in the 13th century. Located on the north-eastern side of the square, Broletto Nuovo was the original administrative headquarters of the city.
Unfortunately, the buildings aren’t open to the public, but you can walk around the square and check out the oldest architecture in the city.
Tour the Museums Located Inside and Around Sforzesco Castle
If you look northwest from Merchant Square, you may see parts of Sforzesco Castle in the distance. The historic site is just a few blocks from the square.
Built in the 15th century, the castle covers a large portion of central Milan. The castle complex is an interesting place to visit, mostly thanks to the various museums found in and around the grounds.
You could visit the Museum of Musical Instruments to see over 700 early examples of guitars, harps, and other old instruments. Nearby is the Antique Furniture & Wooden Sculpture Museum and the Egyptian Museum. However, the most popular spot is the Museum of Ancient Art.
The Museum of Ancient Art holds a large collection of late antiquity sculptures and paintings from the medieval period. You’ll also see hundreds of swords, firearms, armour, frescoes, and tapestries.
Located behind the castle is the massive Sempione Park. It’s a massive public park with gardens, a tower, a theatre, and an aquarium.
Unfortunately, touring Milan in 24 hours doesn’t give you enough time to see everything. For your one-day itinerary, you’ll need to skip the park and start walking to your next stop.
Discover priceless works of art at Museo Poldi Pezzoli
After walking around the castle, it’s time for a trip through Brera and the Museo Poldi Pezzoli. While Brera is in the city centre, it has its own atmosphere. It was once the hipster part of the city. It’s now more upscale and has a wide assortment of high-end shops and smaller boutique stores.
The main reason to pass through this part of the city is to reach the museum. Museo Poldi Pezzoli holds priceless works of art from famous European masters, including notable Italian painters.
Along with famous paintings, the museum has a large collection of jewellery, ceramics, weaponry, and glassworks. If you want to know more about the pieces, consider taking the guided tour. The tour takes about two hours, taking you through each of the collections inside the small museum.
The only drawback is the crowd. By the time that you reach the museum, it should be packed with tourists. You may even want to purchase tickets in advance to cut down on the time in line.
Browse designer fashions on Via Monte Napoleone
When you finish viewing priceless artwork, you’ll travel to nearby Via Monte Napoleone to browse some of the world’s most expensive clothing. Via Monte Napoleone is the epicentre of fashion in Milan, making it the centre of fashion for much of the world.
As you walk this street, you’ll discover designer clothes from leading designers. Almost every major designer maintains a boutique shop somewhere along this street.
Unfortunately, some of the fashions come with price tags in the thousands. It’s still a fun experience, walking past the high-end shops and people watching as you go.
Along with ready-to-wear fashion, this street is known for its shoes. Some of the most respected Italian shoemakers have boutiques on Via Monte Napoleone.
Unfortunately, the street doesn’t have a lot of options for food. Nearly every store window contains clothing, jewellery, or shoes.
When you tire of browsing the expensive clothes on Via Monte Napoleone, walk to the nearest metro station to grab a ride to nearby Navigli and the Naviglio Pavese canal. When you’re trying to see all of Milan in one day, it’s easy to skip over the districts surrounding the city centre. Navigli is where you’ll find the city’s nightlife scene, providing the perfect spot to end your trip.
Navigli contains several canals that cut through the neighbourhood and connect Milan to Pavia. In some of the older quarters, you’ll find footbridges and streets that face the canal, resembling a smaller version of Venice.
Naviglio Pavese is one of the more popular canals, located just south of the city centre. Depending on the time of the year, you may come across summer concerts or flea markets as you walk the streets.
As you stroll the canal, look for a restaurant, bar, or club that doesn’t look too crowded. Many of the establishments have outdoor seating near the edge of the canal, allowing you to sit and watch the boats go by as you enjoy drinks or a late meal.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Milan
As the second-largest city in Italy, choosing where to stay in Milan isn’t always easy. For most travellers with a quick layover in Milan, the areas in & around the city centre offer the best selection of accommodations close to many of the top attractions. Here are a few ideas to start your search…
- Hotel Gran Duca Di York: Set in a former 18th-century palace, this lovely boutique hotel offers rooms soaked with classic European charm. The hotel is within a quick walk of some of the top stops on this Milan itinerary.
- Hotel Spadari Al Duomo: As the name implies, this mid-range hotel is located just steps away from Piazza del Duomo and Milan Cathedral. The soft-palleted rooms are ultra-soothing and perfect for a relaxing stay in the busy centre of Milan.
- Hotel Manzoni: A top-rated 4-star hotel that’s one of the best luxury picks in Milan’s city centre. Besides offering elegant rooms decked out in rich wood grains and marble finishes, the hotel is within a 10- to 15-minute walk of some of the city’s main attractions including Sforzesco Castle and Milan Cathedral.