Milan is a place where tourism means fun. There are so many sites to visit, but come on a tour to see Milan’s must-see places in a different light.
Start with the Duomo di Milano. During the Expo’s six-month run, entry is €2, and includes a visit to the Duomo’s museum and the right to take as many photos as you please. You may notice something strange at the site. When you arrive, take a look at the statue above the central door, standing on the balcony just under the words “Mariae Nascenti.” You will see a woman with a spiky crown standing with her right arm raised. Does this remind you of anything? The sculpture was created in 1810 by Camillo Pacetti, half a century before the Statue of Liberty was completed, and titled: The New Law. It’s not too far-fetched to think that this statue in the Duomo might have given French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi his inspiration for the famous New York landmark. If it isn’t misty, it’s worth making the trip up to the terraces to enjoy the breathtaking view. The 200 or so steps are easy enough if you’re fit. (But if you aren’t, then there’s always the lift, which is quick and convenient, though not quite as romantic.)
The other church you shouldn’t miss is the Romanesque Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, named after the city’s patron saint. It is a place of beauty and spirituality, and is as modest and quiet as it is huge and extravagant. The two buildings are so different that it is impossible to compare them, but when it comes to bell towers, Sant’Ambrogio wins easily over the Duomo. It boasts two impressive towers because, for a long time, the church was shared between the canonical clergy and the Benedictines, each with its own bells. In comparison, the Duomo, which took hundreds of years to build, doesn’t even have one.
Castello Sforzesco is also among Milan’s must-see places. You can visit the castle itself, and also walk through its gardens and courtyards. You will find a number of museums on the castle’s grounds, including an art gallery, the Egyptian Museum, and an exhibition dedicated to musical instruments. A recent addition is the Pietà Rondanini Museum, housed in rooms within the old Spanish Hospital, which gives you a 360-degree view of Michelangelo’s masterpiece marble sculpture.
One attraction that’s likely already included in your itinerary is the La Scala theater. Don’t be confused if your phrasebook tells you that scala means staircase. The site gets its name from Santa Maria alla Scala (which, in turn, was named after the Italian noblewoman who commissioned it), the church that stood on this spot before it was demolished at the end of the 18th century to make way for the theater.
If you’re a fan of 19th- and 20th-century art, the Gallerie d’Italia is another of Milan’s must-see places. The gallery is located in Piazza Scala, at No. 6, and showcases an art collection owned by the Intesa Sanpaolo banking group. On display are over 400 works ranging from Canova to Guttuso. Cross the gallery and you get to the Arengario palace, where the Museo del Novecento, another museum of 20th century art, is housed. The architecture is not unlike New York’s Guggenheim, and inside over 400 works from the last century are on display.
A visit to Milan wouldn’t be complete without a look at some of the places associated with one of the city’s most illustrious residents. A genius who gave so much to Milan, Leonardo da Vinci was busy at the court of the Sforza family from 1492 to 1500. Seeing The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie may prove difficult. But if you book well in advance, you can see the master work. Other exhibitions explore his art and his scientific works.
Finally, you will want to turn your attention to Milan’s waterways, finishing your journey with a trip along the canal banks and over its bridges. Milan is proud of its canals, or naviglios, as they are known locally, and rightly so. Recently, the city completed the restoration of its inland port, the Darsena. It’s a particularly interesting area, with Piazza XXIV Maggio at its center, and attractions including Vicolo Dei Lavandai, Sant’Eustorgio church, the Parco Delle Basiliche, and the San Lorenzo church and colonnade.