Milan Introduction Walking Tour, Milan

Milan Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Milan

Recognized as one of the world's four fashion capitals, Milan is also a global hub of design and a key tourist destination. The etymology of the name Milan remains uncertain. One theory holds that the Latin name Mediolanum comes from the Latin words medio (in the middle) and planus (plain).

In 286 the Roman Emperor Diocletian moved the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Rome to Mediolanum. From here, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, granting tolerance to all religions within the Empire, thus paving the way for Christianity to become the dominant religion of Roman Europe.

In the course of the 12th-20th centuries Milan had endured multiple geopolitical transformations, changing from an independent duchy in 1183 to a subordinate of Habsburg's Spain in 1525 to becoming part of the Austrian Empire in 1713–1714 to being declared a capital of the Kingdom of Italy after the Napoleonic invasion in 1796 to returning back to Austrian control in 1815. In the 1920s, Milan was also the place where Benito Mussolini started his political and journalistic careers.

Still, Milan's main footprint in history for the said period is firmly associated with arts and, most importantly, with Leonardo da Vinci who worked in the city from 1482 until 1499, commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and The Last Supper for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco also holds Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Trivulzianus manuscript. As a major international center of the performing arts, most notably opera, Milan is also a home to the La Scala operahouse, considered to be one of the world's most prestigious.

In the 1980s Milan became one of the world's fashion capitals, courtesy of the local fashion houses, such as Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. In the early 21st century, the city underwent a series of sweeping redevelopments over huge former industrial areas, followed by a great expansion of publishing, finance, banking, fashion design, information technology, logistics and tourism.

Today's Milan is an affluent metropolis known for its high-end restaurants and shops, enjoying steady inflow of visitors coming to see the local landmarks, such as The Gothic Duomo di Milano cathedral and many others. If you're one of them, take this self-guided tour to explore some of the top locations on the tourist map of Milan!
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Milan Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Milan Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Milan (See other walking tours in Milan)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)
  • Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • La Scala (La Scala Opera House and Museum)
  • Poldi Pezzoli Museum
  • Via Manzoni (Manzoni Street)
  • Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery)
  • Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle)
  • Via Dante
  • Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library)
  • Via Torino (Torino Street)
Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)

1) Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) (must see)

The Milan Cathedral, otherwise known as the Duomo, is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan and the largest church in Italy (the third largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world) covering an area of 12,000 sqm and weighing a staggering 325,000 tons!

The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Mary Nascent and has been the epicenter of the city's life since 1386. Its foundation was laid by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who died in 1402 when only half of the structure had been finished, upon which the construction came to a standstill for almost 80 years because of the lack of funds and ideas. It resumed only in 1500, and by 1510 the octagonal dome was completed – embellished with four series of 15 statues representing different characters from the Bible.

In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte forced completion of the façade, which overall took another seven years of work. In honor of his efforts, a statue of Napoleon was erected at the top of one of the spires. Later, the Duomo also hosted his crowning ceremony. However, it wasn't until the 20th century, with the completion of the last gate, that the centuries-long construction of the cathedral was finally over, marked by inauguration on January 6, 1965.

A climb to the roof, much as a descend to the Paleo Christian baptistery beneath the west side of the Duomo are the highlights of a visit here. The rooftop offers a closer look at the intricate details of the spires and the gargoyles adorning it, plus a breathtaking view over of the city, some 70 meters above ground, replete with myriads of statues, pinnacles, tracery and flying buttresses. In order to get there, visitors have to traverse 201 stairs up through a winding narrow passageway, which is a bit tiring. Still, those who wish, can spare the effort and use an elevator.

Why You Should Visit:
Milan's one truly must-visit sight – a vast riot of ornate religious sculpture on the exterior, and the interior sublimely huge.

Buy an online skip-the-line ticket that covers entry and access to the elevator.
The surrounding piazza comes at its finest at night when the cathedral's façade is lit by white lights.

Opening Hours:
[Cathedral] Daily: 8am-7pm (last ticket: 6pm; last entry: 6:10pm)
[Rooftops] Daily: 9am-7pm (last ticket: 6pm; last entry: 6:10pm)
Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)

2) Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) (must see)

Piazza del Duomo ("Cathedral Square") is the main city square of Milan which is named after and dominated by the Milan Cathedral (Duomo). The square marks the center of the city in terms of both, geography and social gathering. Rectangular in shape, it covers an area of 17,000 m2 (about 183,000 sq ft), and houses some of the most important sights in Milan, prestigious commercial outlets, all of which makes it a foremost tourist attraction.

Originally built in the 14th century, the square had gradually developed along with the Duomo before it assumed the current form in the second half of the 19th century, courtesy of architect Giuseppe Mengoni. All the monumental buildings lining the square, with the exception of the Duomo itself and the Royal Palace, are of Mengoni's design; the most notable of them is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade.

In 1896, the statue of Victor Emmanuel II, who was the first king of the united Italy, was inaugurated in the center of the square. This marked the completion of the restructuring initiated by the city authorities in 1860.

The last major change to the square occurred during the Fascist era, when the Arengario was built in the place where Mengoni had planned to create a second triumph arch, opposite across the square to the Galleria. The Arengario had the main purpose of letting Benito Mussolini make speeches to the crowd; it now houses a museum on 20th century art.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

3) Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (must see)

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a fashionable five-storey mall covered in curved glass, topped with iron roof and lavishly decorated with patriotic mosaics and statues – legacy of the chaotic era of Italian unification, manifesting the country's newly-acquired self-confidence.

It was built between 1865 and 1877 by architect Giuseppe Mengoni – who is also credited with the monumental design of the entire area between the Milan Cathedral and La Scala – and is named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of unified Italy. Officially inaugurated on September 15, 1867, the Galleria's completion took another ten years of continuous work. Tragically, just a day before it was over, in December 1877, Giuseppe Mengoni died in accident, falling down from the top of the triumphal arch.

Designed in the form of a Latin cross, the gallery comprises two glass-vaulted covered passages, with the longer one being 196 meters and the shorter – 105.5 meters long, crossing in an octagonal central piazza below an impressive 47-meter high, 36-meter wide glass dome. Incorporating iron and arching glass, the Galleria's architectural design proved groundbreaking for the creation of enclosed shopping malls in the 19th century. Moreover, its use of an iron structure inspired the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

An interesting feature of the gallery is the floor adorned with marble mosaics depicting emblems of the main Italian cities. Locals believe that stepping on the bull's image in the middle of the floor with a heel of the right foot and spinning around can bring good luck. Adherence to this tradition has already left a hole there.

Why You Should Visit:
Almost like stepping into the picture of 19th-century Milan with its lights, colors, windows and landscaping that will never fade in your memory.
There are a few restaurants (incidentally not very expensive, considering it's the mall) where you can sit back, eat to your heart's content, and watch the crowds go by.
There's also a very nice Leonardo Museum at the end of the mall, bang opposite the statue of Leonardo da Vinci.

Visit the gallery late at night or early in the morning when there aren't that many people in.
Don't forget to find the "bull" on the floor and have fun!
La Scala (La Scala Opera House and Museum)

4) La Scala (La Scala Opera House and Museum) (must see)

Home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, Ballet and Orchestra, this is one of the top musical theatres on the planet. Since its inauguration in 1778, the famed opera house in Milan has hosted some of, if not all, the finest singers of Italy and the entire world.

After its predecessor, the Teatro Regio Ducale, was destroyed by fire in 1776, a replacement one had to be built on the former site of the church of Santa Maria alla Scala, from which the new theatre got its name. Building expenses were covered from the sales of theatrical boxes. The latter were lavishly decorated for their owners, and produced quite an impression upon guests, including some prominent ones, like the French author Stendhal. Soon, La Scala became a preeminent meeting place for the high society. In keeping with the then tradition, the main floor had no chairs and spectators had to watch the shows standing up. The orchestra was in full sight either, as the orchestra pit had not been built yet.

Badly damaged by bombing during World War II, La Scala reopened, after a thorough restoration, in 1946. To celebrate the occasion, Arturo Toscanini arranged an unforgettable concert, featuring a sensational solo by Renata Tebaldi. In 2002-2004 the theatre underwent another major overhaul. Contrary to its rather plain façade, the La Scala interior is quite exquisite – beautifully traditional and far more intimate than that of opera houses in New York and London.

Why You Should Visit:
The La Scala Orchestra, made up of 135 musicians, is currently one of the world’s greatest orchestras for opera productions, renowned for its ability to attain a uniform and distinguished sound. The theater is also acclaimed internationally for its symphonic activity. The La Scala museum possesses one of the richest and most envied music-themed collections in the world. A tour of the theatre offers a rare opportunity to sit down in its most prominent box and take photos.

Do not buy second-row balcony tickets, unless you are very tall.
After 6pm, they sell out same-day tickets at a huge discount.
Poldi Pezzoli Museum

5) Poldi Pezzoli Museum (must see)

Founded in 1881, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, featuring 19th-century Northern Italian and Flemish paintings along with a plethora of decorative art pieces, such as textiles, porcelain, glass, clocks, jewelry, and metal works, was originally a private collection of Poldi Pezzoli and his mother Rosa Trivulzio.

In 1818, Poldi Pezzoli inherited great wealth from his uncle Giuseppe Pezzoli which included the beautiful palace and the garden filled with statues and fountains. He then spent his entire life decorating the house with paintings (spanning the 14th-18th centuries) and eventually garnered 3,000 pieces of art.

During WWII, heavy bombardment in one night destroyed all the main Milan museums. The Poldi Pezzoli palace was also severely damaged, yet the works of art – previously moved to a safer location – remained unharmed. From the 1950s onward, the Association of Friends of the Museum and private Milanese donators have replenished the collection, making it one of the finest in Europe.

Why You Should Visit:
Gorgeous building with a matchingly wonderful art collection well worth observing.

This is one of the few places open on Monday and is rather inexpensive, so spending just a little extra on the audio guide is surely worth it.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Mon: 10am-6pm
Via Manzoni (Manzoni Street)

6) Via Manzoni (Manzoni Street)

Via Manzoni is a busy and fashionable street in Milan which leads from Piazza della Scala north-west towards Piazza Cavour. This impressive refined-air street is lined with aristocratic apartment blocks and opulent churches. There are also quite a few notable buildings found along the way here too, including the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, the elegant Grand Hotel et de Milan – a place where Giuseppe Verdi died in 1901, and several fine palazzi.

The street was named after Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian writer, poet and playwright, on the day of his death, May 22, 1873. The reason for that was that the writer lived nearby, on via Morone, at n. 1168 (now n.1), in a house whose garden almost overlooked the street. In the 19th century it was considered the most luxurious street in Milan.

Today, this is also one of the city's premier shopping destinations, notably a home to the Armani Megastore. In the north-west, the street forms part of the boundary of the quadrilatero della moda, Milan’s high-end fashion district. Vogue retailers like Anna Rita N, Antonini, Armani Casa, Artemide, Bolaffi, Bottega del Cashmere, Coccinelle, E. Marinella, Frette, Gattinoni, Grimoldi, Les Copains, Mila Schön, Napapjri, Pal Zileri, Patrizia Pepe, Paul Smith, Scappino and El Ganso have all established their presence here.

In 1990, when the Montenapoleone station was opened, a fountain designed by Aldo Rossi was placed in Via Croce Rossa, as a monument to Sandro Pertini, a former president of Italy (from 1978 to 1985).
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery)

7) Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) (must see)

Pinacoteca di Brera is an art collection containing some of the most valuable Italian paintings gathered from the churches and monasteries taken over during the Napoleonic rule. The gallery sits on the street of the same name where there are many traditional cafes loved by the locals. Entering through the main gate, you are welcomed by the statue of Napoleon. The first floor of the building is occupied by the Accademia di Belle Arti, while the picture gallery itself rests on the second floor.

There are nearly 40 rooms featuring great masterpieces, like Andrea Mantegna's amazingly foreshortened "Dead Christ", Raphael's "Betrothal of the Virgin", and Piero della Francesca's "Madonna with Saints". The museum also exhibits more than 500 paintings of the Venetian and Lombard schools spanning the 14th-19th centuries. Precious artifacts are showcased in a chronological order, starting from the 14th century on to the Renaissance period, thus demonstrating the progression of the painting techniques. There is also a modern art section with paintings by Modigliani and Picasso.

The gallery has an onsite restoration lab, plus a cute little garden in the backyard, filled with aromatic herbs, flowers, climbers and vegetable plants. Among them are Europe's oldest ginkgo biloba trees, reaching up to 30 feet in height, brought over from China in the early 1700s.

Why You Should Visit:
Though humble in size, the Pinacoteca displays superb and exclusive works by Italy's most renowned artists from the 13th-20th centuries.
After finishing your visit, you may want to explore the lovely neighborhood of Brera for food and drinks – great way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Take a good look at the free map to understand the flow of the gallery and to find the rooms that interest you most. To appreciate the paintings fully, get an audio guide.
Another advice would be to use the seats whenever available; there is much to see here, so sitting down every now and again is highly recommended.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 8:30am-7:15pm (ticket office closes at 6:40pm)
Every 3rd Thursday evening of the month, for Brera/Music performances:
8:30am-10:15pm (ticket office closes at 9:40pm)
Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle)

8) Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle) (must see)

Castello Sforzesco, one of the biggest fortresses in Europe that once housed the Duchy of Milan, today is a home to several museums and art collections. First built in the 14th century, the castle has survived numerous battles, invasions, sacking and destruction throughout its history. One of its famous towers, the Filarete tower, used to store ammunition. In 1521, a lightning rod hit the structure, causing explosion of all the ammunition inside. The blast left many casualties and destroyed the entire fortress.

The Sforzesco had endured several restorations until the assault by Napoleonic troops in 1796. That attack caused severe damage to the old fortress. Napoleon then decided to demolish the external structure and use the castle as quarters for his troops. The frescoed rooms at the ground floor of the Corte Ducale were even used as stables.

Following the Unification of Italy in the second half of the 19th century, architect Luca Beltrami carried out complete reconstruction of the old fortress. The castle was given back to the city of Milan in 1905 and became a major center of art and culture with seven distinct museums open to the general public.

***Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces Tour***
The castle rooms are originally decorated with intricately detailed works of art, the most famous of which is the elaborate ceiling fresco in the great hall, the Sala delle Asse, by Leonardo da Vinci. The Sforza family, Leonardo's patrons, commissioned him to do the job. The painting depicts a garden pergola with 16 mulberry trees bound together by a golden rope.

Why You Should Visit:
Each room herein is a treasure, not only for the exhibited items, but also for the ceiling frescoes which are wonders in their own right.
Entrance to the castle is free, so if you're on a budget, just walk through and admire the courtyards and architecture. As for the "all museums" fee, it is quite reasonable.

Exploring the entire Castello Sforzesco, complete with its gardens, may take a few days.
Try to go on Tuesday around 2pm to get free entry (entry on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month is free for all public museums).
There's no way to access the battlements or the "inside" (aside from the museums) except by a guided tour – consider booking one in advance for that.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-5:30pm
Via Dante

9) Via Dante

Via Dante is an elegant pedestrian street in the heart of Milan, connecting Piazzale Cordusio (and the Cordusio metro station) with Largo Cairoli (Cairoli metro station). It is near to the city's Castello Sforzesco and is named after the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri. The street is known for its palaces and theatres, as well as ample shopping and dining opportunities: cool outdoor restaurants, gelato places, cafés and bars, some of which are quite expensive, though.

Via Dante is also lined with numerous fine buildings, mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries. The most notable one is the Piccolo Teatro (literally "small theatre"). Up until 1958, the street contained several transport links and a tramway line. In 1996 Via Dante was fully pedestrianized.

In the afternoon, most of the street is in the shade, making it a pleasant walk in the summer heat. There are usually a few street performers there to entertain the crowd.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library)

10) Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library) (must see)

Biblioteca Ambrosiana is a historic library named after Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan. The building was constructed in 1603 to house the collection of 15,000 manuscripts and printed books gathered by Cardinal Federico Borromeo. Upon its foundation in 1609, the cardinal donated his entire collection of paintings and drawings to the library.

***Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces Tour***
Shortly after the cardinal's death, the library acquired a twelve-volume set of drawings and manuscripts by Leonardo da Vinci, known as Codex Atlanticus, created between 1478 and 1519. This is the largest collection of Leonardo’s writings on practically every area of human knowledge: mechanics, mathematics, astronomy, botany, geography, physics, chemistry, architecture and philosophy. It also contains the artist’s drawings, sketches and fables. For conservation purposes, the display of 22 files in the Federiciana Hall rotates every three months.

Part of the library is the famous Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, the art gallery, featuring da Vinci's "Portrait of a Musician", Caravaggio's "Basket of Fruit", as well as Raffaello's life-size, pencil and carbon sketch of the "The School of Athens", a full-color final version of which is displayed in the Vatican.

Among other major acquisitions here are Islamic manuscripts, 11th-century diwan of poets and the oldest copy of the 'Kitab Sibawahaihi', plus a complete set of manuscripts from the Benedictine monastery of Bobbio (1606) and those from Vincenzo Pinelli of Padua, comprising more than 800 pieces, including the famous Ilias Picta (Ambrosian Iliad).

Back in the day, the library also had its own printing press, and housed a school of classical languages. The building suffered damage during World War II resulting in the loss of the opera libretti archives of La Scala. It was restored in 1952 and underwent further major renovation in 1990–97.

Why You Should Visit:
A chance to see art restorers at work on peculiar Renaissance masterpieces, and in a brilliant building too.

On a weekday, you can practically have the entire place to yourself.
The provided map/guide is quite clear, with all the main highlights identified, but if you're pressed for time, taking a guided tour is advisable.
Apparently, there's also a paid audio guide (English/Italian) that offers some interesting insights into each room and displayed artworks.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-6pm
Via Torino (Torino Street)

11) Via Torino (Torino Street)

Via Torino is one of the main thoroughfares in Milan. It connects Piazza Duomo with the typical Ticinese district. The street is particularly famous for shoes – one of women’s favorite garments – and is replete with shops specialized in a variety of footwear, from all-terrain boots to dainty sandals. In recent years, there's been a shoe mall added, hosting a large number of boutiques addressing the young clientele, with prices ranging from inexpensive to medium to high.

At the other end of Via Torino, down from the Duomo, is the Ticinese district which offers a selection of small shops and workshops.

Milan has been defined as a rich city dedicated to art and pleasure. It is, no doubt, an active participant in the fashion race of the world's capital cities, along with Paris, Tokyo and London. Here you can find anything you can dream of. With the wide variety of shoes available and the prices ranging from very low to very high, you will surely find something that matches your style and budget. If you have a love for shoes, you must visit this street, as you will be baffled with the available choice.

Walking Tours in Milan, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Milan

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Creating your own self-guided walk in Milan is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces

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Over the nearly 20 years that Leonardo da Vinci spent in Milan, the maestro created a number of masterpieces of art, of which the incomparable Last Supper mural in the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie and the innovative ceiling fresco of the Sala delle Asse at the Castello Sforzesco are just a few. If you wish to explore these and other spectacular pieces of art, architecture and technology...  view more

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Best Shopping Streets and Malls

Best Shopping Streets and Malls

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The best place to start is...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Historical Churches Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
City Center Museums and Galleries

City Center Museums and Galleries

Milan is not only the business and fashion center of Italy, it also a cultural center. The city of Milan offers numerous cultural activities, as well as countless art galleries and museums that exhibit some of the world's most famous and imposing artworks and artifacts. Most of these cultural centers are located in the very heart of Milan and within a pleasant walk.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Central Milan Souvenir Shopping

Central Milan Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave Milan without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of shops selling unique gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Milan, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit. Take this self guided tour to find the right Milanese products to bring home.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles

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