Is Milan Worth Visiting? 11 Reasons That’s a Yes

You might be aware that Milan, Italy’s second-largest city after Rome, is also the fashion capital of the world. Boasting finger-licking food, a restless cultural life, and an iconic cityscape, it’s also a fascinating place in its own right.

Believe it or not, though, the question “Is Milan worth visiting?” is a tad controversial — even among Italians. That’s why I wanted to prove how, yes, Milan is definitely worth dropping by!

Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) in Milan. Milan Cathedral is the largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world. 

I lived in town for a study-abroad semester and fell in love with it the second I saw the city lights from the train station’s majestic porticoes.

Let’s explore it together and find out why Milan l’è on gran Milan (or “Milan is a great Milan” in the city’s dialect, as nonsensical as that may sound)!

Why some travelers avoid Milan

Visiting can be expensive

Getting around with public transportation or eating in Milan doesn’t have to make you bankrupt. In fact, the subway system is efficient and comprehensive.

Also, like in the majority of big cities across Europe, you can find amazing, typical finger food for cheap.

Accommodation, however, can be an issue depending on your budget. Milan is a dense city that hosts world-class events many times a year and has a huge college student population.

People eating at small cafe at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall in Milan.
Editorial credit: Yulia Grigoryeva / Shutterstock.com

So it’s almost natural that it lacks affordable accommodation options, at least near its main attractions.

I once remember paying €75 to stay in a 4-bed hostel room during the Milan Furniture Fair (the city’s second-most important event after Fashion Week).

Yet in case you’re willing to stay in a less central neighborhood and rely on public transportation to reach downtown, you can certainly make Milan fit in your pocket.

It’s not “typically Italian”…

The bulk of Milan’s building stock seems to date back to the early 20th century. That, coupled with the few medieval, Renaissance, and Neoclassical palaces and churches that have survived, should be enough for most of us to feel we’re in a historic city.

Yet, for non-Milanese Italians, it doesn’t work that way. Plenty of them sees Milan as a sort of nondescript place that only workaholics and the fashion-obsessed enjoy. They don’t think it’s particularly valuable architecture-wise either.

Milan, Italy with modern high rises in Porta Nuova at twilight.

While that’s obviously a narrow-minded take on Milan, it’s indeed true that no other Italian city has such a diverse mix of buildings from different eras.

Italians may have a hard time understanding why folks like me are genuinely interested in Milan, but the city’s charm is about far more than the homogeneous historic core that it lacks.

…Or particularly green

If I think of a palette that could define Milan, I’ll put in dark grey, mustard, ochre, brown, and maybe off-white to account for the massive cathedral. I won’t add green, though.

Very few Milan streets are actually tree-lined, and the largest park within the central boroughs (Parco Sempione) is about nine times as small as Central Park. That’s absolutely to blame for the city’s insufferable heat in the summer.

Milan buildings architecture

Granted, Milan’s outskirts are surrounded by many parks, but reaching them with the subway can be a real challenge in some cases.

Milan ranks 30th among Italy’s greenest cities, which is extremely underwhelming for such an innovative place. That said, you shouldn’t miss either Parco Sempione and the smaller Indro Montanelli Public Gardens within the city center.

Why is Milan worth visiting?

1. Fashion and design are kings

Living in a trend-setting city isn’t easy: you have to walk a thin line between what’s avant-garde and what’s just over-the-top. Locals can apparently tell one from the other almost instinctively.

Fashionable models, bloggers and influencers posing and walking on the street after Ermanno Scervino show during Milan Fashion Show.
Editorial credit: Creative Lab / Shutterstock.com

That doesn’t apply to what you wear only, but also to how you make places look bold and elegant at the same time. The thing is the Milanese seem to have the final word on what “beautiful” means in any given year.

Whether that’s fair or not, it’s not up to me to say. As it turns out, though, Milan does host the single most important design event on the planet (the Furniture Fair, or the Salone del Mobile), and — arguably — the world’s main fashion week too.

2. There’s old and new art everywhere you look

Art buffs of all stripes always have a field day when they visit Milan. You have both the timeless masterpieces like Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ and the modern classics like Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s The Fourth Estate.

Meanwhile, temporary exhibitions at the Royal Palace and the Museum of Cultures (MUDEC) display pieces by the likes of Gustav Klimt, Joan MirĂł, and Andy Warhol.

Sculpture of Cattelan's finger in front of the Milan Stock Exchange. The Milan Stock Exchange building in Piazza Affari with the work of Maurizio Cattelan.
L.O.V.E., aka “The Finger”, placed by artist Maurizio Cattelan right in front of the stock exchange building. Editorial credit: MyVideoimage.com / Shutterstock.com

Plus, there’s plenty of contemporary art too at HangarBicocca and the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea.

But it’s the windowless building walls and train station underpasses like that of Porta Garibaldi that will amaze you the most when you least expect it. Milan has street art galore, which is a more than welcome contrast to an otherwise sober cityscape.

3. The cuisine is to die for

Italian cuisine is all about centuries-old traditions, and Milan is no exception. The city is the birthplace of a handful of all-time favorites like saffron risotto, breaded steak, gorgonzola, and panettone (a dried-fruit-stuffed Christmas cake).

As with other aspects of its culture, though, what distinguishes Milan from the rest of Italy when it comes to food is that it honors its past and welcomes change and innovation to the same degree.

Italian risotto
Editorial credit: Ivan Lattuada / Shutterstock.com

Here you’ll find bike-friendly cafés, cocktail bars specializing in molecular gastronomy, Brazilian-Japanese fusion sushi bars, and even a café designed by none other than Wes Anderson.

The more demanding of you can pick between 15 Michelin-starred restaurants across Milan.

4. Happy hour is unique

I’ve talked about this before, but happy hour is such an essential part of Milanese culture that it’s certainly one of the reasons why you have to visit the city.

Everywhere else across the country, you’ll get comped a plate of peanuts or chips with your cocktail or wine come happy hour. In Milan, however, most places will set up buffets with 5 to 10 dishes you can help yourself from as much as you wish.

spritz aperitivo

Blame this unusual tradition on Milan’s obsession with productivity if you want — after-hours business meetings had to involve some food because this is Italy, but 6 pm is still too early for dinner by local standards.

But don’t give it much thought and enjoy the free food before happy hour’s over!

5. There’s always a lot going on

While Fashion Week and the Furniture Fair may be the high points of Milan’s busy year, the city hosts a ton of other events like the Food Week in spring, La Scala’s opera season, as well as matches of both the Italian and the UEFA Champions League at the legendary San Siro stadium.

People visit Fuorisalone, set of events distributed in different areas of the town during Milan Design Week
Editorial credit: Tinxi / Shutterstock.com

Music, film, visual arts, and literary festivals take over Milan year-round. Yet even if you land in town at those rare quieter seasons, there’ll always be a new bar, restaurant, or nightclub worth discovering, an art exhibition worth seeing, and a great deal of street musicians worth listening to in between.

6. Yet no crowds will bother you

Sure, Piazza del Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are usually pretty busy. And unless you book The Last Supper a few months in advance you probably won’t get to see it (I didn’t). 

Yet in Milan you can forget about those massive groups of clueless tourists led around by a flag-waving guide that stand in your way at every Roman or Florentine square. 

Dante street (Via Dante) in the center of Milan.
Editorial credit: k_samurkas / Shutterstock.com

Most folks visit Milan not to check a place off their bucket list, but for a more meaningful reason — even if that’s “simply” buying high-end clothes. 

Regardless, the fact remains that Milan hasn’t been swallowed up by overtourism like its more popular sisters, which allows for a far more relaxed and enjoyable visitor experience overall.

7. It once served as the capital of the Roman Empire

That attests to Milan’s extraordinary historical significance. The city was founded by a Celtic tribe in 590 BCE and subsequently conquered by the Romans. It went on to become the informal capital of the empire for over 100 years starting in 286 CE.

Before joining the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, Milan had been ruled by the Houses of Visconti and Sforza, then the Spaniards and the Austrians. Each era left its own cultural and architectural mark on the city.

View of the Colonne di San Lorenzo, roman historical colonnade, in Milan, Italy.
Editorial credit: Libero_Monterisi / Shutterstock.com

It’s true that Milan lost much of its oldest buildings due to early-20th-century urban renewal initiatives and to heavy WWII bombings.

Yet there’s still a lot to wonder at around town, from the ancient Columns of San Lorenzo (pictured above), to medieval Piazza Mercanti, to spooky, Late-Renaissance Casa degli Omenoni.

8. Milan is close to everything else in Europe

It’s no coincidence Milan was fought over by powerful families and empires alike throughout history.

After all, the city stands at the heart of Europe’s richest area, at the crossroads between the western- and the easternmost parts of the continent and between the Alps and the whole of Italy southward.

Milano, Italy. Malpensa International Airport.
Editorial credit: John_Silver / Shutterstock.com

Today, you can find cheap and short flights from Milan to basically anywhere in Europe.

I once flew to Budapest for €20 and to Prague for €30, roundtrip. Now you can even board a high-speed train from €19 and be in Paris in less than seven hours.

9. It’s where Italy meets the world

With almost 280,000 foreigners, Milan is Italy’s most multiethnic town. That’s about 20% of the city’s population, one of the highest rates in Europe. 

Milan’s also the only Italian city to have a historic Chinatown of its own, along Paolo Sarpi street.

While the biggest expat community in town hails from the Philippines, you’ll see a large number of Middle Easterners, South Americans, Southeast Asians (that is, other than Filipino), and Eastern Europeans in Milan as well.

 Chinatown district in Paolo Sarpi Road Milan with red Chinese lantern and Feltrinelli building

That, coupled with the thousands of tourists from all over the planet, will show you just how cosmopolitan Milan is. 

And you know what the best thing about a multicultural city is, right…? The endless options of authentic foreign food, of course! I mean, you’ll eventually get sick of so much god-tier pizza and pasta — or will you?!

10. It’s a very walkable city

Depending on your point of view, this can be another of Milan’s flaws: the city is extremely flat. You’ll have to rely, then, on vantage points like the terrace of the Cathedral or one of the countless rooftop bars across town to watch Milan from above (not too shabby, though, huh?).

Yet that also means that exploring the city on foot is easy as pie. In case you’ve ever been to San Francisco or Seattle, you know how a hilly city can take a toll on the most resilient street wanderer. 

Brera streets in Milan

Milan isn’t a huge city either, especially considering it’s home to 1.4+ million people. All in all, chances are the longest distance you might cover is that between the Milano Centrale train station and the nightlife district around the Naviglio Grande canal.

That’s a 5-km (3.1-mi) stretch — and you’ll have passed through the entire downtown, including Via Montenapoleone fashion district and Piazza del Duomo, in the meantime.

Cyclists should love Milan as well, except for those who can’t stand cobbled streets (they’re all over the place).

11. The trams are such a charm

Milan owes a great deal of its elegant and romantic vibes to the (predominantly) yellow streetcars that wind through it.

The most famous trams, which you can also spot on the streets of San Francisco, have stunning wooden interiors and have been around since 1928. 

Trams in Milan
Editorial credit: Alexandre Rotenberg / Shutterstock.com

Like in many cities across the globe, car culture seriously threatened the survival of Milanese trams after WWII.

Yet because Milan never really spread out like, say, American cities, the streetcar system remained the most efficient way of connecting downtown to neighboring districts. 

You might not need to hop on a tram to get around Milan, as you can easily cover most of the central routes on foot. But you should definitely book a one-of-a-kind lunch or dinner on a repurposed tram

Conclusion

So… Is Milan worth visiting after all? 11 reasons why it is later, hopefully you’re already with your tickets half-booked and browsing accommodation options!

Pink sunset over Navigli in Milan city with long exposure
Editorial credit: Diego Bonacina / Shutterstock.com

I’m not sure what exactly made me fall for Milan, but I do think it was chiefly the fact that it won’t let its rich yet troubled history prevent it from looking ahead every single day and going after the new new thing.

Milan might not be an open-air museum like Rome, Venice, or Florence, but that’s precisely what makes it so special. Italy’s least Italian metropolis is up for grabs: build your own story with it as you help shape it into something always brand new.

Leave a Comment