The word “milliner” — whose definitions include selling hats and dresses to women — derives from the city name Milan. That, in and of itself, should give you a clue as to just how seriously this city takes fashion. The street called Via Montenapoleon is home to many flagship stores from the world's best designers, and Milan's Piazza Duomo is arguably the planet's oldest shopping mall. Milan's annual Fashion Week is on par with those held in Paris and New York. Sightseeing in Milan includes people-watching as much as anything else, and if you want to do it right, you'll be looking through a pair of stylish sunglasses yourself — both during the daylight hours and in the nightclubs after dark.
There is history and great art here, too, including the impressive Duomo di Milano cathedral, the La Scala opera house, countless museums, and Leonardo da Vinci's masterwork The Last Supper. You could easily make a week out of a vacation in Milan alone; at the least, the city offers an interesting few days' worth of touring and shopping.
Duomo di Milano
Duomo di Milano, also known as Milan Cathedral, is the second-largest church in Italy (after St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City) and the second-largest Gothic cathedral in the world (after the Cathedral of Seville in Spain). It was commissioned in 1386 and completed in the early 1800s when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered it finished after centuries of slow progress. It was not until 1965 that the last gate was inaugurated.
American writer Mark Twain visited Milan in the 1860s and described Milan Cathedral in his book Innocents Abroad. He could barely contain his enthusiasm in describing the cathedral, about which he wrote: “What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful!”
You can tour the cathedral in a couple of ways. The main cathedral floor is open every day from 8:30
As with other churches in Italy, remember to dress appropriately for these tours. Cover your shoulders and legs above the knees. More details are available in the English section of
This famous opera house was inaugurated in 1778 and rebuilt substantially after World War II bombing. The Romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi often saw his Italian operas performed here, with some — including his last work, Falstaff — making their premieres inside La Scala. It continues to host productions today, in addition to being the home of a museum that will thrill any lover of theater. If you're lucky enough to get a ticket to a performance during your visit, you will appreciate the major renovations the opera house underwent between 2002 and 2004. They included rebuilding its stage, enhancing its acoustics, and adding monitors to the seats that let the audience follow the production in English as well as Italian.
The La Scala museum lists its hours of operation as 9
The museum is adjacent to the opera house in the Piazza della Scala, which is famous for the countless pigeons that absolutely adore the tourists who buy seed to feed them. Inside the museum, you can see costumes, set designs, instruments, and all kinds of other items associated with La Scala in particular and theater in general.
Guided tours of the opera house are available, as are booklets that will help you understand the items in the museum. Details are available in English at
The Last Supper
Leonardo da Vinci's painting The Last Supper is housed inside Santa Maria delle Grazie church, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The painting is quite massive, measuring fifteen feet tall by twenty-nine feet wide. It covers an entire back wall of the church.
Da Vinci painted The Last Supper between 1495 and 1498, and efforts to restore it to its original grandeur first began in the late 1700s. Some of the restoration attempts actually caused additional damage, and by 1970, work had begun to correct the work anew. After more than two decades of additional restoration efforts, The Last Supper once again became available for public view in 1999 — though you have to book several days in advance by telephone (011 02 894 21 146) if you want a ticket to see it.
Why has The Last Supper been so ravaged by time?
Part of the reason is the way da Vinci painted it. True frescoes were painted on wet plaster, which hardened and held up over the years. Da Vinci painted The Last Supper on a dry wall that he covered with sealant and then painted atop. It started to deteriorate just a few years after he completed it.
There are too many museums to visit in Milan in a week (some would argue in a lifetime), but a handful are worth a look even if you have limited time in the city. Two in particular — Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci and Museo Poldi Pezzoli — are good options if you're traveling with children.
Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci
This is the largest science and technology museum in Italy, founded in 1953 and named after Leonardo da Vinci, who, though primarily known today as a painter, was also a master of building things. The museum houses a collection of machine models based on his designs, as well as interactive exhibits, theater performances, a walk-inside submarine, and workshops designed for adults and children alike.
The Museo Poldi Pezzoli has an interesting offering if you're traveling with children: an audio tour called “The Museum for Curious Kids.” It's designed for children ages eleven to fourteen to help them discover interesting items throughout the permanent collection. Programs for younger children are also available.
The museum is open every day except Mondays starting at 9:30
Museo Poldi Pezzoli
This museum is named for Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, part of a family that inherited a palace in Milan's center because of work done collecting taxes on behalf of the Austrian government. That palace is now the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, housing a collection that dates back to the family's personal acquisitions from the 1800s. The palace first opened to the public in 1881.
You can view early arms and armor, decorative works, paintings, jewelry, tapestries, and glasswork. Among the better-known paintings are Botticelli's Madonna and Child. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10
The Milanese call the area defined by the four streets Via della Spiga, Via Sant'Andrea, Via Montenapoleone, and Via Alles-sandro Manzoni “the Golden Quad,” a tip of the tongue to all the high-priced, high-fashion designers and jewelers who have boutiques and shops here. Just some of the brand names you will find include:
Dolce & Gabbana
The shops are generally open from 10