To get a cheaper flight back to Bristol from a recent trip to Munich, we decided to go via Milan. A long weekend of history and pasta was right up my alley! We only had three days in the city, but we managed to see quite a bit, so I thought I’d share our itinerary so you can get the most out of your time there.
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‘Duomo’ is actually the Italian word for ‘cathedral’, but when you say ‘duomo’ in Milan most people automatically think of the huge cathedral in the centre of the city. The Duomo di Milan is the third largest cathedral in the world and certainly the tourist spot in Milan – the square in front of it is packed full of people taking photos, pigeons, buskers and people selling trinkets. If you get a bit frustrated with crowds, you can easily skirt the outside of it.
What you’ll see
It will take you at least a morning or afternoon to explore: there is nothing plain about the Duomo di Milan. Aside from being a place of worship, it’s a work of art. Every part of the church is a detailed masterpiece with works dedicated to a long list of saints.
While you’re in the cathedral, it’s worth taking a look at the archaeological area. It’s not a huge space, but it’s a really cool way to see what came before the Duomo di Milan, especially if you’re into archaeology.
The ‘Terraces’, or the roof of the Duomo, is definitely worth your time. Not only can you see the stunning spires of the cathedral up close, you’ll also get a good view of the surrounding area.
Then go on to the museum – you’ll see working models, art and lots more history. Keep in mind however, that it’s closed on Wednesdays!
When you get there, it’s not like the Notre Dame in Paris where you can just walk in – you will need a ticket. If you don’t get one online (which is highly recommended as there are queues everywhere), you’ll need to go to the ticket office.
The ticketing options are quite confusing, but the Duomo Pass is a very good option at €12 and includes the main cathedral, the museum, archaeological area, the San Gottardo Church and access to the roof by foot (you can get the €16 version if you want to take the elevator). Then you’ll need to join the queue outside the church to start your Duomo di Milan experience.
Something to eat near the Duomo
When you’re done (or before you go), join the locals for a bite to eat and head to Luini on Via Santa Radegonda for panzerotti – freshly made dough, filled and then fried. They have a range of fillings, including cheese and spicy salami, and courgettes and mozzarella. I can highly recommend the cheese and spicy salami. I also came across an interesting tour company, called Emilia Delizia, that does a lot around Italian food – it’s well worth checking out their website.
In Parco Sempione you’ll find quite a few sights including Castello Sforzesco, the Torre Branca, and the Arco della Pace. It’s a lovely park for a stroll as you take in the sights scattered around.
You’ll need 2-3 hours in the park, but if you can get into a few more of the museums and galleries it might take you a bit longer.
The Sforza Castle was a bit surprising for me; the style just doesn’t match my mental idea of ‘castle’. It was originally built in the 14th Century and renovated in the 16th and 17th centuries and certainly has a different style to other European castles. It’s now home to museums and art galleries, including The Museum of Ancient Art and The Antique Furniture and Wooden Sculpture Museum. Sadly, the museums I was most interested in –The Egyptian Museum and The Archaeological Museum of Milan — were under renovation, but the whole precinct is another brilliant spot for history lovers.
There is a charge, but it’s only €5!
The Branca Tower doesn’t look like much, but it’s the place to go if you love a good panorama of a city like I do. This attraction has a €5 entry fee, but it’s worth it because you don’t have to scale 100 metres of stairs by foot! When you get to the top, you’ll have around 15 minutes to admire the breathtaking view.
Arco dello Pace
The Arch of Peace can be found at the opposite end of the Parco Sempione to the Castello Sforzesco. It was originally known as the Arch of Victory and will remind you of another Italian city – Rome; because it’s design is based on the Arch of Septimius Severus at the Forum Romanum. It’s a gorgeous example of neoclassical design and in the late afternoon, it’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by.
Grab a drink near Parco Sempione
Aperitivo is officially now one of my favourite things! As always, before I travelled, I did my research and found aperitivo – what Italians do before dinner; they head to bars after work with friends, have a drink and a few snacks. The snacks come with the drink, so the price seems high initially, but you’re getting a drink and food, so really it’s not too bad. There’s two ‘formats’ when it comes to aperitivo: the bar gives you a range of small bites or they provide a buffet.
While sitting at the Arco della Pace at around 6pm, I Googled ‘best aperitivo’ and Deseo popped up. At Deseo, they had the buffet option; everything from pasta dishes, to bruschetta, fried potatoes, salads and desserts. Plus, the negroni I ordered was huge, so it was great value at €11.
You can escape from the hustle and bustle of the city by heading to Lake Como for the day. We took a meandering route and enjoyed a relaxed day taking in the Lake.
We took an early morning train to Como (it’s about €5 per person) – less than an hour away. Como is a quiet town and during the non-peak period there isn’t a lot happening, but you can take a trip to Brunate via the funicular. You’ll get a stunning view of Lake Como and there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat and explore.
From Como, you can take a ferry to Bellagio (€12 per person) – there are fast boats available, but the two-hour version will allow you to chill out and watch the scenery. You’ll also get a good view of George Clooney’s house!
Bellagio – or the ‘Pearl of Lake Como’ – is another quiet town to explore. In small streets, you’ll find shops selling local produce, leather goods and clothing. We didn’t stay long, but you can spend at least a couple of hours here enjoying the atmosphere.
From Bellagio, there’s a ferry to Varenna where you can get a train back to Milan. In Varenna, you can wander the winding streets, do some shopping, grab a bite to eat, and take a hike up to Castello di Vezio where you can get even more stunning views of Lake Como. I can also highly recommend relaxing by the water with cool drink, watching the boats float by.
When you’re ready to leave, head to the train station and you’ll make it back to Milan in time for dinner.
Explore more – The Italian Alps
If a trip to Lake Como takes your fancy, or you have more time then we highly recommend a trip further afield to explore more of the region and in particular the Italian Alps. There’s so much to see and do and if you’re after some inspiration you’ll want to read Anywhere We Roam’s 10 breathtaking reasons to visit the Italian Alps.
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This post is by Karis from But first, we eat!, an occasional Ladies What Travel contributor.