Best things to see in Milan

I visited Milan in mid-February, during Milan Fashion Week 2020 and the a few days before the travel ban for coronavirus. It was a birthday treat for my mum as she loves European city getaways with the family. 

I never suspected a thing during my time in Italy. Everyone was out as normal, right up to the day of my departure. I only understood the gravity of the situation the day before we were about to depart. All of the famous monuments, restaurants, bars and cafes were shut because of the Covid-19. When we went from pharmacy to pharmacy to try and find face masks, everything was either shut or sold out.

The fashion capital of Italy is full of lovely little cobblestone streets, amazing churches, great restaurants and the best shopping places in Europe. You can discover the city by foot which is great as the monuments and iconic locations are not far from each other. You could also take the reliable tram service around the city if you need to. 

There are three airports in Milan – Malpensa, Bergamo and Linate. Malpensa is by far Milan’s most popular airport, Linate is closest to the city and Bergamo is a train ride away from central Milan. 

We spent 4 full days in Milan but with two day-trips – one to Lake Como and the other to Bergamo. Watch our travel video here:

Along with attending a fashion show, here are a few of the top things to see and do in Milan!

Cathedral

You can’t miss Milan’s magnificent Duomo. The cathedral is gothic and majestic. You can also visit inside the cathedral and go up to the top for spectacular panoramic views. With over 3,500 statues, 135 spirals and 5 bronze doors, it’s not surprising that it looks 500 years to complete the Duomo. I believe entrance is 9 euros if you walk up and 13 euros if you use the lift. We were planning on going up the cathedral but unfortunately due to the coronavirus, it was the first day the government ordered it all to close. 

Beware there are lots of pigeons all over the square – it doesn’t help when your parents are feeding them bread while you’re trying to run away from them :l The entire square was flooded with people, as expected. We really enjoyed walking around the square, entering the shops and tasting local food in the area.

If you wanted some good views of the cathedral without being in the cathedral – you could try going into Terrazza Aperol which is right next to it. We actually went to the 7th floor of La Rinasente shopping Centre which has free entrance and you can just order coffee/lunch to sit on the terrace. 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This is one of the most beautiful shopping centres in the world with all of the top luxury Italian designers you can imagine – from Prada, Gucci and Armarni. The galleria opened in 1877 and is named after the first king of united Italy and is built in a classic neo-renaissance style with marble, iron and glass. The architecture is impressive and it combines wall paintings, mosaic floors and high glass ceiling. I was just mermerised whilst walking around the shopping centre. If you want a more affordable shopping option, try going to via Montenapoleone, one of the most famous streets for shopping.  

There are exorbitant restaurants and bars but I wouldn’t recommend going in them as they’re overpriced and you can probably find better food elsewhere. 

On the left-hand side of the Galleria, you’ll find a small crowd around a mosaic bull on the floor. It’s a Milanese tradition to spin on the bull’s balls three times with your heels – so much that the bulls but are periodically retiled – nice. 

Go to Italy’s ONLY starbucks

We came here as my sister read about it online and wanted to try out their coffee. The Milan Starbucks Reserve Roastery is the only roastery in Europe, and one of only five into the World. Its also Europe’s largest Starbucks being 2400 metre squares, found in Milan’s Piazza Cordusio, minutes away from the Duomo. We walked here from the Duomo to Sforzcesco Castle. It was so beautiful inside and so i’m not surprised it was labelled by the company itself as “the most beautiful Starbucks in the world”.

we enjoyed a coffee from here and it was SOO good. There’s 115 different types of coffee blends to choose from but no Frappuccinos frappuccinoas Italians are very specific with their coffees.

Parco Sempione

This wonderful park is Milan’s best park by far and a great place you can laze on the grass and have a picnic. It is home to the Sforzesco Castle, an aquarium, a design and art museum, Branca Tower and a few bars and cafes. 

Make sure to head over to the Arco della Pace (the big arch at the far end of the park) for some people watching and for aperitivo. It was actually when we were sitting here we realised the seriousness of Covid-19 as my sister got a call from her summer job saying that the Italian group from Verona whom she was meant to be looking after are no longer allowed out the country. My sister, not wanting to tell them she’s in Milan tried subtly ask her if anyone was currently allowed to leave the country. We were starting to worry about not being able to get back home!

Sforzcesco Castle

Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, the castle now houses 12 museums and a vast archives of artefacts. This impressive building used to be the home of Milan’s rulers in the 15th century and the one of the largest citadels in Europes in the 16th century. Leonarda da Vinci also lived here for a while, working on the Last Supper and some of his Codexes.

The castle entrance is free, but admission to all of the museums costs 10 euros.  We just walked around the castle, looking at the imposing towers and moat all around it. 

Last Supper

This Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece resides in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. The painting is well preserved and historians still hasn’t resolved all of its mysteries (does the spilled salt in front of Judas symbolize his betrayal?). We didn’t get a chance to see this because it was closed due to the Coronavirus – but If you do get the chance to check it – I definitely recommend you doing so, but book in advance! 

Navigli

This canal district is so beautiful, especially in the evening where the locals come out for their aperitivo. There are plenty of bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants to go along the canal and has a lively atmosphere. Don’t go too late as places get full very quickly. Every last Sunday of the month there is a huge vintage market named Navigli Grande Antique Market, where you can find second hand items of all kinds. 

On the way from the Duomo to Navigli, walk via Pizza AM for a snack/dinner – the pizzas there are sooo good! 

Self-guided Day Trip From Milan to Lake Como

If you’re visiting Milan and want to escape the busy city streets for the day – then the day trip from Milan to Lake Como is perfect for you. I knew that I wanted to experience its mountains and fresh air from the moment I step foot in Italy. Even though there are numerous organized day trips that can take you to Lake Como and back to Milan in a day, take a self-guided tour is much more rewarding and super easy!

We came here for my mother’s birthday and it was her favourite day from our entire trip to Milan. We absolutely loved Lake Como, and we know you will, too.

Watch our travel vlog here: 

The Route

On a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, you’ll have time to explore a few of its beautiful villages and towns dotted along the lake. 

Here’s the route you should take between Milan, Como, Bellagio and Verenna: Milano Central train station –>  Varenna-Esino train station –> Ferry to Bellagio –> Bus to Como –> Como San Giovanni train station –> Milano Central training station

Each town is special and stunning in its own way. Luckily, they’re all close enough to each other to visit all three in one day. 

Purchasing Tickets

Train tickets

You could purchase your train tickets online in advance, but as went in off-peak season in February 2020, we didn’t book in advance. We just went (ran) to the train station and bought out tickets. We literally caught the train by a millisecond and my mother and i had to try and force the train doors open while my father and sister caught up with us – literally the story of our lives. We bought a single from Milan to Varenna which was roughly £6 (7 euros) pp and the journey takes about an hour. It was a very scenic train journey as you had glimpses of the beautiful clear turquoise waters.

We also bought the train ticket back from Como to Milan which was slightly cheaper.The whole experience was super easy and reliable! 

If you are going in peak season – you should purchase your tickets online and in advance from TrenItalia. You can simply keep your tickets on your smartphone; no need to print them out. 

If possible, take one of the earliest trains into Como, and one of the last trains back to Milan. If you do that, you can easily spend three or more hours in each town!

Ferry tickets

Once you arrive in Vernna, its easy to navigate between the different towns around the lake using the ferry system. Again, we purchased the ferry tickets once we got to Verenna to go to Bellagio from a person at the terminal. If you get stuck, they will be able to advise you to which ticket you need to get. You cannot purchase ferry tickets online. However, check the ferry time tables before you arrive, so you have a plan. The ferries seem to be regular so you don’t have to plan timings too much, as you could always catch the next one. The ferry from Varenna to Bellagio takes just 15 minutes and costs 4.60 euros. 

Bus tickets

As I went with my entire family, there was an option to catch the ferry from Bellagio to Como but it would have turned out really expensive (£15 pp). we decided to catch the local bus from Bellagio to Como which was only £3 pp. This option isn’t advertised much around Bellagio but to purchase these tickets you need to go to a local newsagent to buy it. It’s a lot more economical for a group. 

Things to do

Varenna

I absolutely fell in love with Varenna. So much so, that it’s probably my favourite town in Lake Como. It was just so pretty walking around the quiet and delicate town. We walked along the cobbled streets and found a café with the most stunning views to have coffee and a snack. The harbour is very pretty and is lined with outdoor cafes and gelato shops. 

After we got some energy, we continued walking down the steep cobblestone alleyways and exploring the churches and houses. The best thing to do is to get away from the main street and wander around the backstreets for a real sense of the place. I just loved the brightly coloured buildings and ornate balconies and all the beautiful flowers. It was so picturesque! You can walk around the small town in less than an hour, if you wanted  to move fast. 

Make sure you walk down the wonderful path called the Passeggiate Degli Innamorati (The Lover’s Walk). It hugs the coast and allows for the most peaceful walks and great views. The cobblestone streets and alley ways will eventually lead you to the historic centre of Varenna and the Church of San Giorgio with its clock tower rising above the town. Its definitely worth checking out! 

If we had more time, I would have loved to explore a few castles and villas around the area. Especially, Castello di Vezio – an 11th century partially ruined castle. This can be reached by climbing to the very top of the mountain – roughly 45 minutes steep walk from the base of town. The climb would be worth it with the effort as you are rewarded with a panoramic view from the top. 

I would have also loved to go inside Vila Montastero as I only saw it from the outside. This once inhabited villa on the lakefront is now used a conference centre attracting visitors to it botanical gardens. 

Bellagio

After a morning exploring Varenna, you can take the short 15-minute ferry to its more famous neighbour – Bellagio often referred to as the “pearl of the lake”. Whilst roaming the streets, we paid attention to the details – the pretty pink flowers and beautiful lanterns.

It had lots of tall mountains, cypress trees, grand villas (including George Clooney’s villa!) and cute little cafes. Bellagio definitely has its own character and charm.  

We walked the shoreline, climbed up the hill to the heart of town, explored ancient churches, browsed and shopped in boutiques found in narrow alleys (and bought a few Italian silk scarves!) and had a fantastic lunch. Make sure to visit the famous street for the iconic postcard shot of Bellagio – Salita Serbelloni (pictured above). We also savoured some fruity Italian gelato next to the lake while watching the sun dip behind the mountains as the sky turns pink. 

Its easy to see why so many tourists flock to Bellagio. At 5pm, we caught the bus to our final stop – Como.

Como

Como is the largest of the three towns you’ll visit during your day trip. Its not as pretty as the other two, but still worth checking out. We roamed the quaint streets and shops around the area. We arrived just in time before the sun completely set so we had some beautiful shots of the lake. You can take the funicular up the mountain to Brunate, but we didn’t have time to (or were that bothered).

From here, we took the train from Como back to Milan, which took about 37 minutes. Once we got back to Milan, we were so hungry but still wanted to try Miscusi as we researched about it and it had brilliant reviews. We saw the pasta being made in front of us and OH MA GAWDD it was so good.

Unfortunately my sister couldn’t really appreciate it as she was feeling slightly ill and had a block nose. It was at this point she was getting paranoid that she had the coronavirus (luckily she was tested and was fine!).

Have you been to Lake Como before? Which town is your favorite? Did you stay over night, or take a day trip from Milan?