How to Spend One Day in Milan

BySteven I. Green

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Known as the fashion capital of Italy, Milan’s impressive array of architecture, boutique shopping, and delicious food (it’s Italy, after all!) all make it the perfect start to a Northern Italy adventure.

If you’re trying to pack as much into your Italian adventure as possible and only have a day to devote to Milan, then we have something in common. I landed in the late afternoon with about 24 hours to spare before leaving for my other destinations. In order to make the most out of my short time in Milan, I packed in as much of the best of the city as I could.

Here is my epic Milan itinerary for just 1 day, perfect for first-timers:

1. Sunrise at Duomo di Milano

If this is your first time visiting Milan, make it a point to visit Duomo di Milano. The most iconic cathedral in Milan that took nearly 6 centuries to complete is worth fighting that snooze button for! I arrived at Duomo around 7am, set up my trusty tripod and took as many travel selfies as I wanted. The early morning peaceful ambience also made admiring the architecture from the outside that much more enjoyable. When I walked past Duomo again later in the afternoon, it was jam-packed with people struggling to get a selfie with the majestic building, which would have ruined the experience for me.

2. Breakfast at Ravizza 1871

… or any other restaurants or cafes that are open at this hour! You will see locals ordering espresso, having a quick chat with the baristas and rushing to go to work. I had a sweet pastry while waiting for the Duomo rooftop entrance to open at 9am.

To avoid long lines as I had a full day ahead of me, I booked a skip-the-line entrance ticket in advance. When I arrived at the entrance at 8:50am, there was already a long queue at the ticket office. With a skip-the-line ticket, I was one of the first few people on the roof top. My ticket included entrance to both the roof top as well as the cathedral. If you plan on visiting the cathedral church, you are required to cover up your shoulders and knees. Wear comfortable shoes as you will have to exit via the staircase even with an escalator entrance. There are options if you prefer visiting only the roof top or only the cathedral:

3. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

You can’t visit Milan without taking in the fashion scene! The photo above was taken early in the morning, before the shops are open. Expect to see way more people throughout the day! The oldest active shopping mall in Italy is adorned with high-end boutiques from Gucci, Louis Vuitton to Prada. Personally I found more interest in the intricate details of the building, and was also entertained by Tik Tokers working it in the mall’s center.

The only boutique I visited was Prada, where they supposedly retain all of the furnitures from day 1. It was quite the experience strolling through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, imagining the footprints of legendaries from the past decades that have been made in here. Once you are done marveling, exit the mall and make your way to Piazza della Scala to check out the iconic statue of Leonardo Da Vinci. Teatro alla Scala, the most iconic opera house in Milan, is right across. If I had more time, I’d have loved to join a guided tour!

4. Join a Milanese Walking Tour

Since my time in Milan was short, I figured the best way to have an immersive experience was to join an alternative walking tour. I learned where the locals hang out, districts that are not exactly a tourist attraction but are popular with the locals, as well as the story behind certain statues, artwork and buildings including the ones shown here.

As a solo female traveler, it was also a great way to meet other travelers and I ended up having lunch with another attendee from the tour.

Other walking tours available:

5. Lunch at Trattoria La Rava Ela Fava

Oh, how I loved this place! A recommendation from a local, Trattoria La Rava Era Fava is a fuss-free restaurant with friendly waiters and an Italian-only menu.

I did the classic point-and-shoot (i.e, look around and see what people are having and ask for the same), and filled my tummy with delicious — and I really mean delicious — carpaccio with burrata and strawberry cheesecake that I inhaled in less than a minute.

6. Wander the Streets of Brera District

You are in the capital of fashion, after all! Digest all that food you had with a walk around Brera district, a cute area with high-end, street fashion as well as vintage boutiques. There are also plenty of art galleries and unique gift shops.

7. Visit Sforza Castle and Sempione Park

I wanted to go people watching at Sempione Park, and decided to check out Sforza Castle since it is on the way. Entrance to the castle ground is free, whereas a ticket is required to enter the museums in the complex. Leonardo Da Vinci was among the artists who were commissioned to decorate the castle.

It was a hot summer day and there were lighter crowds at the park, but I enjoyed watching kids running around and the greenery. I ended my visit with Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace).

8. enjoy an aperitivo

What’s a summer in northern Italy without an aperitivo?! An aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink, which typically comes with a cocktail and some light snacks like nuts and cheese.

Many websites recommend pairing your aperitivo experience with the view of the Duomo at one of the fancy rooftop bars, but I find that overpriced (and the service is less than great, from what I’ve heard), and very much prefer a local spot where I can people watch while sipping on my drink. To identify a local bar, walk a couple blocks from the main street. A drink and a snack buffet should cost about 7-10 euros.

9. Dinner at A Pizzeria

Pizzeria Capuano’s came as a recommendation by my Airbnb host, and it did not disappoint. The patrons were mostly local families, which is always a good sign. It’s a norm to order an entire pizza for one person, and the portion is pretty big!

10. Night Stroll at the Navigli District

If you are not too tired by now, end your evening in Milan with a stroll at the Navigli district. Here you will find more bars and a younger crowd. You can rent a bicycle (more on that below) if you’re tired of walking.

Where to Stay in Milan

I stayed at a lovely Airbnb near Chinatown, and I highly recommend it! The neighborhood felt local and safe. Getting around was easy with buses and trams. As a solo female traveler, I also appreciated the opportunity to stay with a local couple, who were happy to share their favorite local spots. There are plenty of hostels and boutique hotels in Milan if that’s your preference!

How to Get Around in Milan

Milan’s metro system is well connected in the city and you can get to all major landmarks mentioned in this itinerary easily. A 90-minute ride on any trains, trams and buses costs 2 euro, though you can purchase a 48 hour ticket for 8.25 euro, or a 25 hour ticket for 4.50 euro. If you have a large suitcase, you will have to pay an additional 1.50 euro for a luggage ticket.

Taxis are very expensive, as is the case in most parts of Europe.

An alternative way to get around is through bicycle and scooter sharing apps. Try to download the apps and set up your payment method prior to arriving in Milan so you can make sure that you will be able to rent:

Solo Female Safety in Milan

I never once felt unsafe during my time in Milan, even when walking alone in the evening (note: I visited Milan in the summer, when the sun sets around 9pm. I do not think that walking alone when it’s dark is a good idea anywhere). I chatted with people at restaurants and bus stops, and find that people were friendly and sociable. English is widely spoken. Overall, traveling alone in Milan as a solo female traveler felt awesome, though you should always exercise the same cautions as you would back home!

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