However, if you’re in Italy for 2 weeks (or longer), I think Milan deserves at least a day of your time. Here’s why (and how) I’ve come to feel this way.
It’s taken me many years to discover what makes Milan worth visiting. I first visited the city in 2007 and I wasn’t a massive fan, largely because of terrible weather and the fact that I only spend a couple of days there. I didn’t visit again until 2012, by which point I had seen dozens more countries and was a much more seasoned traveler with a better idea of what I liked.
On that trip and every once since it, I’ve peeled back a layer of Milan, and dug deeper into the subtleties of Italy’s most subtly awesome city. On my latest trip to the city (in August 2021, as of this writing), I took my longest and most profound trip to Milan, enjoying the city literally from the top of the Duomo to the lowest point of Parco Sempione, and from the subtle flavor of saffron risotto to spicy sips of campari spritz.
5 Reasons to Milan
The City Center is Compact & Easy-to-Explore
Milan’s Duomo, while it’s the city’s most famous attraction, is not the only game in town. However, most of the city’s top attractions are within walking distance of the cathedral. These include adjacent Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle shopping mall, Parco Sempione and the attached Sforzesco Castle and the Colonne di San Lorenzo area. One notable exception is Navigli canal, which is a short tram or metro ride away.
The Culinary Scene is Fantastic
Another reason Milan is worth visiting? The food is outstanding, in spite of not being as famous as the cuisine from other cities. I personally love the cotoletta Milanese, a thick friend pork cutlet, particularly when it’s served with sunny saffron risotto. Which is not to say you only have to eat Lombardian cuisine in Milan: You can enjoy famous dishes from all over Italy, from northern classics like tagliatelle Bolognese, to southern Naples-style pizza.
Locals, Not Tourists Walk the Streets
I won’t exaggerate and say that no tourists visit Milan at all. At the same time, Italy’s financial capital is a real working city—you’re at least as likely to walk past a group of locals as you are a throng of tourists. And even the tourists you see are much more likely to be from elsewhere in Italy than they are to be far overseas. I find this imparts of effortless authenticity onto your experience, even if your itinerary focuses on tourist attractions.
It’s a Hot-or-Cold, Rain-or-Shine City
I know I cited shitty weather for the reason I didn’t like Milan the first time. However, these days I think that Milan is worth visiting because there are so many all-weather things to do, particularly if it only rains (or, in winter, snows) for part of the day. Between shopping galleries, museums, churches or restaurants, you can easily entertain yourself completely indoors, either for a few hours or even for the whole day.
It’s the Gateway to Northwestern Italy
While there’s plenty to love in the city-proper, day trips from Milan greatly add to the love I feel for this place. The most obvious ones are the nearby city of Turin and celebrity-filled Lake Como, but other options exist as well. You could head south to the underrated coastal hub of Genova, or through Genova to La Spezia, gateway to the five colorful villages of Cinque Terre.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Milan?
I can personally attest that if you don’t spend enough time in Milan, you probably won’t get the city’s full effect. At the same time, don’t be dissuaded from visiting just because you can’t spend two or three nights in the city. If you have a well-planned itinerary and set the intention of exploring to the deepest extend possible, even a day in Milan is worth the trouble of getting there.
Indeed, a big part of what makes Milan worth visiting is that it will almost certainly exceed your expectations, no matter what they are. Unlike, say, Venice, people generally don’t dream about visiting Milan for years, or have a concrete idea of what awaits them there. As a result, the sights, sounds and flavors that await you in Milan will surprise or at least delight you.
Why is Milan Worth Visiting?
Milan is worth visiting primarily because its compact city center makes its key attractions (which are eclectic and immediately satisfying) easy to explore. You’ll also find a variety of unique and delicious culinary delights—and if you’re staying a while, many satisfying day excursions, including to Lake Como and the city of Turin.
Milan is a beautiful city, though not in the more obvious way Italian tourist hubs like Florence and Rome are. Part of Milan’s beauty is in the diversity of its cityscape. Architectural treasures like the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle are interspersed between ordinary buildings, which make them pop by contrast. Likewise, the ruins of Colonne di San Lorenzo and lush Parco Sempione offer texture and color to otherwise drab, flat parts of the city.
You can see a lot with a day in Milan—particularly if you spend the night. With one day in Milan, you can ascend to the roof the Duomo in the morning, spend the afternoon in Parco Sempione, have an apertivo in Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle and have dinner either along Navigli Canal or in the youthful Colonne di San Lorenzo area.
The Bottom Line
The answer to the question “is Milan worth visiting?” is an emphatic yes, assuming you have time to spend here. In other words, if you’re spending two weeks in Italy (or longer), there’s not much of an excuse to leave Milan off your itinerary. Between a compact, captivating city center, delicious cuisine and the opportunity for a variety of interesting day trips, Milan punches above the weight of a city that is often a punching bag for travelers to Italy. No matter what you’re expecting—or if you’re expecting nothing—before you travel here, Milan will surprise and delight you.