Milan travel guide

Milan in Italy

Milan is the second largest city in Italy and the capital of Lombardy. The city has a population of approximately 1.25 million, while its urban area is one of the largest in the European Union (EU) and the largest in Italy. Milan is a very industrialised city with an urban area expanding to the neighbouring regions of Piedmont and Veneto. The city is very popular for being one of the most important fashion cities and for its attractions. Milan played a critical role in the Italian economic boom in the decades of 1950s and 1960s, when many people from the south of Italy relocated there. Nowadays, Milan is still a great financial and cultural centre in Italy, as it was in the past.



Milan, like most of the cities in Italy, has a very ancient origin that traces back to the Insubri Gauls, who founded the city in 590 BC. The city was conquered by the Romans in 222 BC. Due to its strategic position, the city took on great importance for Caesar’s military operations in Gaul (from 58 BC to 50 BC) and later it became a crossroad for trade. Increasing its economic development, Milan became first a municipium, and later Imperial colony. The beginning of the fifth century was the start of a complicated period of barbarian invasions for Milan. In AD 402 King Alaric and the Visigoths attacked the city, which resisted. The Roman emperor decided to leave Milan for Ravenna, which became the new capital of the Empire. Then, the city of Milan was firstly sacked and devastated by Attila, King of the Huns, in AD 452, later occupied by Odoacer and his Herulians in AD 476 and finally by Theodoric and his Ostrogoths in AD 489. In AD 774 started the Franks' domination of the city under Charlemagne, who did not improve its fortune and Milan became a county seat. When the Carolingian Empire disintegrated in 887, the political power was held by Counts and Bishops. In the eleventh century Milan became a city-state governed by a democratic rule; this was an expression of the new political power of the city and its will to fight against all feudal powers. The city became wealthier and its population increased drastically thanks to the trades of metalworking, textiles, crafts, agriculture and animal breeding. The city-states that had formed in the meantime in the area, started to fight against each other and the German emperor Frederick I "Barbarossa" joined the war attacking Milan. His troops were defeated by the Lombard League at Legnano in 1176 and the city could benefit from a period of pace under the rule of the Visconti Family. They remained in power from 1277 to 1447. In 1450, Francesco Sforza, mercenary captain at the service of the Visconti, attempted to restore the power of the city-states, marking the rise of the Sforza Dynasty. A period of rapid growth followed. Milan was the biggest and wealthiest city in Italy, as well as a lively centre of culture and arts. The year 1500 was a turning point: while under rule of Ludovico il Moro, the city fell under the attacks of the army of Louis XII of France. After that, the city was contested by France, by the Hapsburgs of Austria and Spain, who eventually prevailed. The Spanish domination (1535-1713) marked a period of cultural and economic oppression. In 1713 the rule of Milan passed from the Spanish to the Austrians who gave rise to a long period of reforms and cultural and economic reawakening. Finally, in 1796 Napoleon Bonaparte expelled the Austrians. The city was ruled by the French and became the capital of the Cisalpine Republic (from 1796 to 1799) and later capital of the Kingdom of Italy, led by the Napoleonic dynasty (from 1805 to 1814). In 1848 with the Five Days of Milan, the Italian Independence Wars (First War 1848–1849, Second War 1859–1861, Third War 1862–1871) started. They were the main moments of the Italian "Risorgimento", the period that led to the Italian unification in 1861 when the Kingdom of Italy was founded under King Victor Emanuel II.


Milan offers many things to visit and do. A non-exhaustive list of the most popular attractions in Milan follows.

  • The Cathedral: Milan's Cathedral is a Gothic church dedicated to Saint Mary Nascent and is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. It was started in 1386 and took almost six centuries to be completed. On its main spire, the so called "Madonnina" statue is located. This is a statue of the Virgin Mary and it is the symbol of Milan. A small red light bulb in the dome above the apse marks the spot where one of the nails reputedly from the Crucifixion of Christ has been placed.
  • The "Navigli": the Navigli is a system of artificial canals developed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1482 to allow the navigation of the Lake of Como up to Milan. In the past the Navigli hosted small shops and little markets, but nowadays the area is quite exclusive and populated by fashion models, artists and wealthy people.
  • The Sforza Castle: the Sforza Castle was rebuilt in 1450 when Francesco Sforza took the power and gave his name to the structure. For centuries the castle was seen as the symbol of the oppression of the Lords of the city as well as of foreign kings. Nowadays, it hosts several museums.
  • The "Pinacoteca di Brera": this gallery was born in 1776 in the 300' Palace of Brera. This palace was originally a Jesuit convent that soon became a school. In 1773 the palace became patrimony of the State and hosted several events at the time of the Habsburg. In the gallery many paintings acquired by the French army guided by Napoleon are located included several pieces by twentieth century's artists such as Modigliani, Morandi, Carrà and Braque.
  • The "Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci: the "Cenacolo" or "Ultima Cena", as it is called in Italian, is a very well known work-of-art by Leonardo painted on the northern wall of the refectory's main room in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie between 1494 and 1498. The work has suffered damage through the centuries, but in 1999 its original colours were restored. Nowadays, it can be visited in groups of up to 25 people per time.
  • The "Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II" is the oldest shopping mall in Italy, housed within a four-storey double arcade. The Galleria is named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was originally designed in 1861 and built between 1865 and 1877 to imitate the urbanist constructions of the biggest European cities. Nowadays the place is rich in shops and bars, in which one can rest and taste a good coffee.
  • La Scala: the La Scala Theatre is the famous opera house of Milan. It was built in 1776 at the place of the church of Santa Maria della Scala, from which it took its name. Nowadays, it hosts La Scala Theatre Museum which contains a collection of paintings, drafts, statues, costumes, and other documents regarding La Scala's and opera history in general and the "Accademia d'Arti e Mestieri dello Spettacolo" (Academy for the Performing Arts).


Like all the Italian cities, also Milan has its own special gastronomy. The real king of the "Milanese cuisine" is butter, which is used in the majority of dishes. The most popular Milanese dishes are the "risotto alls milanese" which is a risotto with saffron and the "cotoletta alla milanese" (breaded cutlet). Other typical main dishes are the so called "busecca" made with stewed tripe and the "cassouela", a filling dish made with various parts of pork meat (tail, ribs, rind, feet and ears) cooked with green cabbage and other vegetables. As for sweets, Panettone is definitely the most famous; it is a type of sweet bread with raisins, candied citrus fruits, and anise, and it is the traditional Italian Christmas cake. Finally, typical of the Milanese area are some cheeses, such as stracchino, mascarpone (known for being used in Tiramisu), and the king of all Milanese cheeses, gorgonzola.


Milan is very well-known as a fashion city. One can find everywhere interesting shops and products to buy. For sure, Via Montenapoleone is the shopping street in Milan and considered one of the most expensive and luxury streets in the world. In this labyrinth of streets surrounding Via Montenapoleone the shops of the most renowned Italian and international designers are located. For those interested in fashionable but less expensive shopping, the boulevard Corso Vittorio Emanuele is a very good alternative.


Map of Milan with hotels

The blue pins with the letter H indicate the location of various hotels in Milan. Click on the blue pin for more information about a specific hotel.