A First Timer’s Guide to Milan, Italy

Where to Stay, Eat, and Play in Milano

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Planning a trip to Italy for the first time? The below guide shares recommendations for dining, hotels, and sightseeing making for the perfect first timer’s guide to Milan!

Why Milan Should be on Every Italy Bucketlist

While there are plenty of beautiful beaches and mountain terrains to explore throughout Italy, a trip to the bustling metropolis of Milan isn’t one of them. (Spoiler alert: that’s the city’s biggest charm).From Prague, it’s a quick 1 hour 15 minute flight direct through Ryan Air. Starting at 19 Euros, you can find affordable flights to Milan from most major cities. Of course, one could easily travel a couple hours south to the seaside cliffs of Cinque Terre. Oppositely, one could drive a few hours north to the Swiss region of Ticino. However, this guide to Milan pays homage to to all things…Milano. Including gelato…all the gelato.

Gelato bucket from Cioccolat Italiani

Even with its gritty exterior, Milan is home to the best of romantic and majestic Italian culture. Art museums, shopping galleries, and historical churches are all for the taking and exploring. Read the guide to Milan below to learn more about where to eat, stay, and sightsee for a 3-day itinerary.

Where to Stay

Ostello Bello Grande Hostel 

A two-minute walk from Milan’s Central Train Station, one will discover the Ostello Bello Grande hostel. Here, laughter and piano tunes fill the air, making it easy to see why it’s the top hotel chain in the world according to Hostelworld.com.

The scent of fresh pasta wafts through the air. Glasses filled with complimentary chilled pinot grigio are passed around freely like tiny Christmas gifts. (These are given to all guests upon check-in).

After bags are taken, guests are led around to the lobby where a complimentary Italian family-style buffet awaits.

Food at Ostello Bello Grande

Fresh breads, cheeses, fruits, veggie dips, and a variety of pasta dishes are all made every night. After meaningful conversation with other travelers and multiple rounds of plates, guests are shown to their rooms. The hostel offers numerous options for accommodations. The room assignment is based on whether or not a traveler wants to meet and mingle, or simply enjoy peace-and-quiet.

Accommodation at Ostello Bello Grande

To get the full hostel experience, it is recommended that guests book an 8-bed room or larger with a shared bathroom. However, 6-bed, 4-bed, and private suites that fit up to two people are also available.

The beds are comfortable and the perfect, standard size for one person. Each bed area contains an overhead lamp for nighttime reading and a lock-and-key pull-out bin for storing belongings under the bed (locks are provided by Ostello Bello Grande but guests can also bring their own).

Quiet time in the living quarters begin at 10pm each night. However, the festivities continue for those who want to take advantage of the 24-hour bar or the upstairs rooftop terrace. Strategically placed hammocks provide panoramic views of Milan for weary travelers looking for a cat nap.

Common Areas at Ostello Bello Grande

The hostel offers guests a 24-hour quiet room to read, take a nap, or simply relax. Ostello Bello also provides complimentary snacks in their rooftop kitchen just across the hall. These “snacks” include an assortment of pasta, muffins, cookies, and crackers. Grab a few for a  late night nibble or, on the way to the airport, or for a day of exploring!

If privacy is a necessity, it’s best to book a private room at least two to three months ahead of your visit. But, if some slight noise is tolerable, hostels are a safe and affordable option that save travelers money. Also, they are a great way to meet new friends (which is also a good idea!). To book directly, visit https://www.ostellobello.com/hostel/ostello-bello-grande-railway-station-milan/

P.S. – Always take advantage of the daily buffet breakfast in the lobby. Fuel up on fresh coffee, scrambled eggs, Wien sausages, and pastries before exploring.

Price: $$
Hours: 24 hours

Where to Eat

Luini’s Italian Empanadas

Empanadas are not a cuisine strictly reserved for Central and South American cultures. As many know, Italy has its own version and they are equally as delicious.

Luini’s is one of the most well-known and historic panzerotti (empanada) joints in Milan. This lunchtime favorite serves up fried and baked pizza dough pockets (yes, stuffed pizza pockets!) Featuring a variety of cheeses and ingredients like salami, local tomatoes, olives, and locally sourced mozzarella, they are a right of passage to Milan.

Arriving right at opening at 10am to avoid the lines is best. However, this small walk-up shop is takeaway only. Because of this, patrons line the block all the way to the Duomo starting just before noon each day. The most tasty panzerotti’s are the “Mozzarella Pomodoro” and sweet panzerotti’s such as the “Ricotta Chocolato.”

Price: $ Empanadas start at 2 Euros each
Hours: Monday 10:00 to 15:00
Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 to 20:00

Terrazza Aperol

It’s never a trip to Italy without an afternoon aperitif. Of course, any visit to Milan must include a stop into one of its most infamous cocktail bars: Terrazza Aperol.

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Decked out and dazzling, the full restaurant and terrace bar is just steps from the Duomo Cathedral. The decor inside the restaurant itself perfectly reflects the look — and taste — of the cocktail itself. Bubbles and bright shades of orange adorn the walls, furniture, and light fixtures.

Mini sandwiches and paper cones of crispy salted potato chips accompany any cocktail purchase making it the quintessential aperitif experience (the potato chips are fried in sunflower oil for those wondering).

Making a Reservation

Local and global cuisines are also available for lunch and dinner. However, call ahead to make a reservation. During the spring and summer months, the terrace overlooking the Duomo attracts large crowds in the afternoons.

Most popular cocktails: The “Contessa” with Aperol, prosecco, orange juice, and grapefruit juice. Also, the classic “Campari Spritz” with Campari, Cizano prosecco, soda, and fresh fruit is perfect for summer.

**Disclaimer: The photo above was taken in November 2018. The terrace is usually busy, but the day this photo was taken it was raining hard and the height of the tourist season was over. Plan for an extremely packed rooftop if visiting between early May and late October.**

Price: $$$
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 11:00am – 23:00pm
Saturday 11:00am – 13:00pm

Matcha Cafe

Can’t decide between a burger or sushi for dinner? There is a place that can easily cure an indecisive appetite: Matcha Cafe. One of Milan’s most innovative cafes sits in the heart of the city’s booming international food scene.

Serving up famous powdered Japanese tea, avocado toast, and assorted cakes, it has become well-known spot among locals. It’s unconventional food and beverage menus have continue attracting a number of travelers, too. A favorite of these menus is the “sushi burger”.  A rice or avocado bun stuffed with salmon, bib lettuce, and fresh cucumber, it’s a rare savoury treat.

As a bonus, Drizzle with low sodium soy sauce and pair with a matcha Aperol spritz (it’s bright green!). Of course, there are other recommended menu item like the savoury matcha pancakes with lox, chive cream cheese, and fried egg.

Price: $$
Hours: 9:00 am to 23:00pm

Where to Play

Naviglio Grande Canal

Can’t make it to Venice? Don’t worry. Milan’s Naviglio Grande Canal is a solid backup choice. This manmade river spans 50km and makes for a relaxing mid-day stroll.
Bustling with authentic Milanese cuisine (hello, gelato and gazpacho!), it also provides access to Italian artistic culture. Art studios, boutiques with handmade jewellery, and outdoor markets on select days can be seen lining the canal’s banks.

Pro tip: Walking both sides of the canal using the bridges at both ends to cross over the river is best. Make stops at Sabbia D’oro for fresh crab linguini followed by La Gelateria for dessert. The gelato below is from Amarino which is also located on the canal!

Milan Duomo Cathedral

A pinnacle of European architecture, the Milan Cathedral, or “Duomo” remains standing tall at more than six centuries old. Unarguably the most beautiful structure in Milan, it is also the fifth largest cathedral in the world. It also contains the most statues (4,235 to be exact!)

Visiting the Duomo’s Rooftop

The most popular attraction at the Duomo is the rooftop, boasting 360 degrees views of Milan. It is accessible by stairs or elevator (for an additional cost). At the top, you can take in the cathedral’s golden spires and views of the snow-peaked Swiss Alps.

With my friend Nina, a fellow travel blogger from the blog, A World of Dresses. You can find her on Instagram at @aworldofdresses!
Buying Tickets

Tickets for entry and for rooftop tours are available for purchase ahead of your visit or on site. If purchasing on-site, be prepared to wait at least 10-15 minutes in the que. Getting there 10 minutes before opening to beat the crowds and head straight to the rooftop is recommended.

Price: $ Rooftop tours start a 12 Euros
Hours of Operation: Daily from 9:00am – 7:00pm

Planning A Visit

With so many quality dining, accommodation, and sightseeing options, Milan is the perfect spot for an urban Italy adventure. However, make sure to book air travel and reservations for restaurants and hotels/hostels at least three months from the departure date. For questions or more information regarding this guide to Milan, email eastcoastcontessa@gmail.com.

Happy Traveling!

Guide to Milan
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37 Comments
  1. Nina says

    Well all those food pictures make me hungry. This was such a fun trip. You have such a good overview of what to do and see in Milan.

    1. Alex Booze says

      This was such a great trip! Even though I got sick hahaha. Italy is one of my favourite destinations.

    2. Alex Booze says

      Thank you, Nina! This was a great trip, minus the rain 🙂 Would love to go back to Italy soon!

  2. Maria Potehina says

    The photos are so great I actually wanna go there!

    1. Alex Booze says

      Thank you so much Maria! I appreciate you stopping by and for the kind words 🙂 Alex

  3. Jordan says

    Italy has been on my bucket list for SO long. Now I will be adding Milan to the itinerary 🙂 Your pictures are beautiful especially Duomo’s Rooftop!! Thanks for sharing this great guide!

  4. Carrie says

    Milan looks incredible – beautiful pictures. I have never been but definitely putting it on my bucket list now.

  5. The Discovery Nut says

    Would love to go back to Myanmar once everything is back to normal! Really like your photos 🙂

  6. Farrah says

    Ooo, I’ve never been to Milan, but would love to go someday! I’m all about hostel living when traveling and that food looks amazing! *-* Thanks for putting this together!

    P.S. That is a hell of a lot of pigeons, haha.

  7. Nicole says

    Gelato is so good! It is my ‘must-have’ on every trip. The Duomo looks amazing I am going to have to visit there for sure! Thanks for the tips about booking tickets ahead of time.

  8. Elle says

    This is such a great guide! Thank you 🙂 also I have never seen a hostel breakfast been made so photogenic, I love it!

  9. Sarah @ Last Minute Wanders says

    What a fantastic guide! I’m drooling over those food pics and that hostel looks like great fun! I’d love to visit one day; European travel is something I’m looking forward to once travel becomes an option again 🙂

  10. Mariah says

    Your cathedral pictures are stunning! We had a quick stopover in Milan between cities but definitely will head back to explore the entire city. Your gelato pictures and Empanadas sound so good right now!! Thanks for sharing such an extensive guide!

  11. Kelly says

    Gorgeous photos! I only had one night in Milan (about 6 years ago) and didn’t think there was much to see, but this makes me want to go back and experience more 🙂 That Matcha cafe looks amazing!!

  12. Wellness Travel Diaries says

    Your photos are stunning! I’m a big travel foodie and I felt like your photos transported me to Milan, especially the Empanada photo. After living in Spain for a year this wold definitely be my first pit stop on my Milan visit :). Then Matcha cafe, yum!

  13. Rachel says

    I love this! I was planning to travel to Milan this summer but am unable to now due to covid-19. The pictures are amazing and it makes me so excited to travel to Milan eventually!

  14. Camille says

    I hope this pandemic will be over very soon so we could all travel safely. Thanks for sharing this. I would love to try that gelato!

  15. Vicky @ Beyond London says

    Thank you so much for recommending the Ostello, it looks amazing! I’ve been wanting to visit Milan for a bit so knowing where to start is making my planning so much easier.

  16. Nicole | Mapless Adventures says

    I miss Italy so much! I never had the chance to make it to Milan but one day I’ll get there! Your photos are stunning! Thank you for such a thorough guide to Milano!

  17. Bolet Nathalie says

    I’ve been through Milan twice and still haven’t been able to walk around! So I def need to go back and will save this for later. Great tips!

  18. Patricija says

    What a wonderful intro to this lovely city!

  19. madhu sharma says

    That’s a great guide to Milan..your pictures are just amazing and making me feel like visiting right away

  20. Cristina says

    Milan is in my travel bucket list, and I was going to visit it in February, but I ended up visiting Porto (which I don’t regret haha). I love all your recommendations and I hope I can visit it soon 🙂 I’m saving this guide for later!

  21. Albi says

    Milan seems like a such a great place to go and the food looks so delicious! I cannot wait to go there again

  22. Michele says

    Italy is one of my dream destinations, so definitely adding Milan to the bucket list. I never knew there were so many delicious places to eat and beautiful settings!

  23. Brit says

    Milan looks like such a cool city! And anywhere with gelato as good looking as that automatically goes to the top of my bucket list

  24. Nina Bosken says

    What a fun trip this was! This was our first collaboration we ever did together! And it was when we met Choi … oh the memories! This post is a great overview of a few days in Milan.

  25. Your blog post has convinced me of two things: 1) I need to go to Milan, and 2) I should be more open to staying in a hostel. Your pictures of the food and the description of the hostel have inspired me! I can’t wait to start traveling again.

  26. Kooky Loves to Travel says

    I have never been to Italy, you presented it so well!

  27. Lily says

    This brought back so many memories! I loved our time in Milan and feel like it’s totally underrated.

  28. maria.estefanyb says

    I’ve been to Florence and would definitely visit Milan! Thank you for sharing this very helpful article. Cheers!

  29. Krystianna says

    Wow, your photos are absolutely exquisite! I visited Italy last year and loved it, but I only got to Rome, Vatican City, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice. I’m definitely adding Milan to my list for next time I visit now!

  30. Lauren Neves says

    I actually didn’t think much about Milan when planning my Italy trip (which is sadly postponed), but I definitely am now thanks to your lovely post! Ugh, I can’t wait to get on that plane for Italy!

  31. Suvarna Arora says

    All those food pictures made me hungry and I was supposed to see Milan in April but that didn’t happen. I will book again for next month.

  32. galatia savva says

    i am OBSESSED with Italy – and visited many times! I even lived in Florence for a year and visited many cities… apart from Milan! I always thought id skip it, but you are changing my mind with this post!

  33. Karolina says

    Wow, What a beautiful place! I love all the pictures, especially those with food :):):)

  34. Linnea says

    I love your pictures on top of the duomo! I also had no idea that you could see the swiss alps from it!

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