There are three things I love exploring when I’m in a new place – its unique culture, the local history, and the architecture. Milan is rich in all of those areas, and even though I only had a day in the city, I was determined to experience all I could.
About a week before I left on the trip, I booked a ticket to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, which is the famous painting on the wall of Santa Maria della Grazie church. The church limits the amount of visitors each day, so I highly recommend you buy tickets in advance. Each group is given a 15-minute viewing. If you don’t speak Italian, make sure you also purchase the audio guide. I didn’t, thinking I was just going in to see the painting, but the guide who takes you through speaks for quite a bit about — well I don’t really know cause I don’t speak Italian.
NOTE: If you’re in Milan on the first Sunday of the month, admission is free, though you still need to book a ticket in advance.
Santa Maria della Grazie became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Construction of the building began in 1463 and was completed by 1482. It’s a beautiful building, with a lovely courtyard you can get a glimpse of on your way through to see the painting. Even though the complex was quite badly damaged in WWII, it has been since restored and is continually renovated.
The Last Supper is painted directly on the wall of the refectory. The painting is large, measuring 4.6m x 8.8m. It has inspired conspiracy theories by many, including an Italian composer who claims to have uncovered a hidden musical score.
Da Vinci took 2 years to complete the painting, starting in 1495 and finishing it in 1497. Rather than using the traditional fresco technique, he opted for an experimental style, which gave him more time and creative freedom.
Unfortunately, this technique wasn’t an ideal one, and the painting has not stood the test of time. Ongoing restoration has brought life to the painting again, but most of Leonardo’s original brush strokes are gone. Still, it’s pretty amazing to see the work of art in person.
On the opposite wall is The Crucifixion, which was painted in 1495 by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano. Although beautiful, it’s admittedly a bit underwhelming after seeing ‘ The Last Supper’.
After my viewing of ‘The Last Supper’, I walked down the road to the train station and hopped on the metro to see the Duomo, Milan’s marble cathedral. The Duomo one of the world’s largest cathedrals, and the gothic-style building is a beautiful work of art. Construction first begun in 1386, with the finishing touches completed as recently as 1965.
I sat in the plaza for a while, admiring the architecture of the cathedral, but eventually the cold winter air got to me and I wandered across the plaza to the Camparino in Galleria for an apertif. The bar has a lovely enclosed patio where you can watch the crowds and the tables by the window give a fantastic view of the Duomo.
I exited the Campari bar into the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a shopping arcade that was completed in 1877. It’s a wonderful building to view from the ground, but for a more unique view you can gain access to the rooftop walkway for €12 via the Highline Galleria.
NOTE: As of December 2022, the Highline Galleria appears to have been closed. It is not clear if or when it will reopen.
Outside the Galleria and across the street from its Leonardo Da Vinci monument, is the La Scala opera house. From the street I was on, the building looked rather plain and I almost walked right past it. When I went in to purchase admission for a tour, I was told that my access to the theater would be limited due to rehearsals for an upcoming show. As I was only in town for a day, I bought a ticket anyway.
The cost of admission was still worth it – I was able to walk through the theater museum, view the current Maria Callas exhibit and watch rehearsals from a small box. Unfortunately they didn’t allow photography, so I have no photos to post here. I’ll go back eventually for the full tour – it’s a beautiful theater.
It was dark by the time I exited the opera house, and I was tired from a long day of traveling and walking so I didn’t have the chance to see all the things I wanted to see in Milan. But it was a great trip.
Next time I’ll be sure to visit the Civic Collection of Ancient Art at Castello Sforzesco and the Wes Anderson-designed Bar Luce.
Are you planning a trip to Italy?
Milan was one of many places that I only had a single day to experience. If you’re planning to visit with only a short amount of time, you can read my guide on planning a stopover for tips on how to organize ultra-short trips so you can make memories that will last a lifetime.
Make sure you check out my post on why you should visit Ischia, the small island off the coast of Naples. From an ancient castle to natural thermal pools, this small island near Capri is an absolute must-visit destination.
I’ve also created a printable travel planner that will help make trip planning a breeze. This 7-page PDF features spots to fill in hotel and flight details, emergency info, must-do activities and more. It is available as an instant digital download in the Onwards + Upwards shop.
*Please note that this article was written prior to the Covid-19 pandemic so some information may have changed.