Marvelous Milan – What a Way to Spend a Day!

Well! Now that we’ve been home for a couple of weeks, I guess I should probably finish blogging about this Italy trip, eh?? I was on SUCH a roll, too – posting every day! But we both picked up colds by the end of the trip (not COVID, thankfully!), so that really sapped my writing energy. And then as soon as I got home, I settled back into life and not being on vacation anymore. But hey, today is Thanksgiving and this is a trip I’m thankful for, so hopefully I can get another post out there today. 🙂 And this day trip to Milan is definitely worth writing about!

Wednesday has come and gone, which means so has our day trip to Milan. What a fun day it was though! While neither of us was exactly jazzed about having to wake up early for another day trip (though at least we knew this one would be more comfortable and require less travel time), it turned out to be brilliant and we both really enjoyed it. Interestingly, this Milan day trip happened pretty late in the day, as we only booked the train tickets a week or two before we left for Italy. Unlike the Pompeii/Positano trip a few days earlier, we were on our own for the details of this one, so we booked our train tickets (I think they were ~$150 round-trip for the two of us) to arrive in Milan mid-morning (9:45 AMish) and to leave in the evening (7 PMish) and everything we did in Milan was up to us to figure out. So we figured, why not go on a food tour?? You may remember we did a really great food tour in Brooklyn last year and found it to be a great way to explore a new-to-us place (neither of us had spent time in Brooklyn before that trip), so we opted to find one in Milan. After doing some research online, I found what turned out to be a great option on Viator, through FollowMi Around and booked it. Both the start time (11 AM) and the length (~3 hours) worked perfectly for us because it aligned with when our train got us there and also took up a decent chunk of time in the day, ensuring we wouldn’t just end up wandering around, not knowing what to do/see in Milan. As an added bonus, I saw that several attendees of the tour called out Marco as a great guide, so we were pleased as punch when we realized he was going to be our guide, too!

Let’s start with the travel, shall we? Being on a train this time, we already knew we’d be more comfortable than we were on the Pompeii/Positano bus, plus we were hoping for something similar to the experience we had on the train from Rome to Venice as that was pretty comfortable. Thankfully, this train delivered good comfort as well! Scott booked the tickets and had booked us into the nicest seats, so we had plenty of room and also got a little snack and beverage, which was appreciated. We had a very easy ride from Venice to Milano Centrale and then made our way to our pre-determined meeting point, which was about a 40-minute walk from the station. It seemed like it would have been pretty easy to take the subway, but after being on the train for nearly 2.5 hours, we figured we could use the steps!

Check out a few of our “getting to Milan” photos below.

Ready to board!
Nice, comfortable train.
Another day, another train.
The train station in Milan was pretty busy. Yeesh!
Just a neat-looking little hotel we passed by on our walk from the station.
More nice views on our walk.
We also got a peek at the gorgeous Milan Cathedral. More on that later!

Before too long, we reached our destination, Piazza Sant’Alessandro. Marco texted saying he was a bit delayed due to traffic, so we hung around the piazza for a few minutes and I even stepped in the big church in the piazza (it was right in front of us, after all), Sant’Alessandro in Zebedia, which dates all the way back to the early 1600s. I only had time for a couple of photos, but it was a neat, imposing building!

Proof that we were in the right piazza!
Huge church!

We didn’t have long to wait as Marco soon arrived with what turned out to be the one other tour attendee. We were the only ones on that Brooklyn food tour, so it was actually nice to have one other person with us this time! She was also visiting from the US (in Italy for work) and made a great addition to the group! After laying a bit of groundwork about what we would be doing (walking and eating, mostly), it was off to our first destination, literally on the edge of the piazza (we’d walked by it when we arrived, in fact). All’Antico Vinaio is a little sandwich shop that actually started in Florence (remember when Scott and I visited there all those years ago??), but is pretty well-known, apparently. As a fun fact, after Scott posted a picture of this stop on the tour on his Instagram, a friend of his commented saying how much she loved the food at this place when she recently visited Milan. And I have to say that we really enjoyed the sandwich we got there! I *think* it was the rondinella and it was full of prosciutto, spicy pork sausage spread, and sun-dried tomatoes, with a delicious, made-in-house focaccia bread. Super tasty! The reviews for the tour said that it included a lot of food and this sandwich made it seem like that would be true as it was a pretty big portion. Great way to start the tour though!

With our first food stop done, Marco led us out of the piazza and around the area a bit, stopping in front of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, which is a historic library that houses a huge collection of manuscripts. We didn’t go in, but Marco did a good job of highlighting how different this part of the city was from the piazza we had just left (even though we only walked about five minutes between the two locations) and also how important buildings like this are to the history of Milan. It would be a neat place to visit in the future!

Outside the library.
Marco also pointed out the entryway to this house, highlighting its plain exterior, but lush interior courtyard.

Enough of this history and sight-seeing malarkey! Let’s get back to the “food” part of our food tour, shall we? 🙂 Next up was some really tasty gelato from Ciacco. This was a neat stop because it was both tasty (duh) and informative. One of the things I was struck by right away is that the gelato wasn’t on display in a cold case, giving patrons the chance to see the product. I thought that was weird, but we then learned from Marco that gelato shouldn’t be stored/displayed that way, but rather should be in metal containers that aren’t open to the air. Ciacco uses really fresh ingredients without adding it a bunch of additives (colors, sugars, etc.) – if they can’t get things fresh, they don’t make that flavor. That’s a mindset I can get behind! The serving we got was a decent size – not super large, but we got to choose three flavors, so we got to sample a nice variety. Mine included chocolate, cheesecake, and one other (crema, I think) and was very tasty. A very nice palate-cleanser after the sandwich!


Following the tasty gelato, we walked a bit further, learning more about the history of Milan along the way. As you may expect, Milan is full of neat, historical buildings, so it was fun to hear more about them. Marco led us to Piazza Mercanti, which is one of the central squares of Milan and which used to be the heart of the city in the Middle Ages. Although much smaller than it used to be, it was still cool to see it as it was a home to merchants, palaces, and more. Very much a hub for the city! And now you can find…a McDonald’s. 🙂 But hey, that’s how progress works!

Entering Piazza Mercanti.
Merchants used to set up stalls to sell their wares here.
This is one of the city wells that provided water to residents. It dates back to the 1500s!
We actually saw this church on the way to our next food stop, not in Piazza Mercanti. Four such churches were built centuries ago at key points around the city (and three of the four still exist!).

The next stop on our tour of deliciousness was for another sweet treat – cannoli! This is another stop where we learned that the way you often SEE something done isn’t the way it SHOULD be done. As with gelato, you often see cannoli piled up in a window, ready to grab-and-go for folks looking for a little something sweet. But the way they apparently SHOULD be made is to order and that’s how they’re made at Il Cannolo. So, when you come up and decide which cannoli you want, the worker should grab a fresh, empty cannoli shell and then fill it up with whatever flavor you’ve chosen. So the next time you see those cannolis piled up somewhere, know that it’s WRONG. Evidently. 🙂 What was also unique about cannoli (according to Marco, at least) is that the cream at Il Cannolo is made with sheep’s milk, which actually worried me a bit as I thought that might make the cannoli really tangy (not a flavor profile I need in a cannoli), but it didn’t. It was really sweet and delicious!

Heading into Il Cannolo.
Made to order? Yep!
Yum! The chocolate chips worked perfectly with the cream.

Our second-to-last stop was a bit of a longer one and it felt like we just went to a sit-down restaurant because…well, because we went to a sit-down restaurant! Dispensa Emilia actually has several locations in Italy, so it’s a bit of a chain, but the four of us grabbed a table outside and enjoyed a nice selection of sliced meat, fresh cheeses, breads, and even a flavored lard to use as a spread. I know that may sound a bit off-putting to some folks, but it was really tasty, so I’m glad we tried it. We also had some red wine, which is not my favorite thing (I just don’t like wine or beer in general – I’m more of a vodka guy), but the one we had was a sparkling red and it was actually not bad. I didn’t drink much of it, but again, I’m glad I got to try it!

We walked through Porta Garibaldi, an old city gate from the 1800s, on our way to the restaurant.
We had quite the spread!

Although this was our second-to-last stop, it kind of felt like the last one because our ACTUAL last stop was for coffee, which no one in our group was into. Because it was part of the experience though, both Scott and I opted to get a coffee, so Marco got us something that coffee drinkers swear isn’t too “coffee-like” but it just tasted like coffee to me. 🙂 Coffee is one of those things that, in some ways, I wish I liked because it’s SO ubiquitous and so many people like it. But on the other hand, it can be quite expensive when you develop a habit of getting Starbucks every day, so I’m happy I don’t feel compelled to spend my money on it. But if you do, more power to you! I honestly don’t even know the name of the place where we got the coffee from because we had made our way to a shopping/business area and sat at a table outside and Marco went off to get the coffees. It was a nice, relaxing way to wrap up the tour though.

A big, shiny, modern building near our coffee stop.
See! I did get a coffee. And I even drank some of it. 🙂

And that was the end of our food tour! It was a great way to spend a few hours doing something that allowed us to see some of Milan, learn a bit about its history, and, of course, eat some tasty food. Marco was a great guide who did an excellent job of guiding us around the city, while peppering in useful tidbits about Milan. I highly recommend taking a tour with him if you can! In terms of the food, I thought we’d actually get a bit more than we did (based on some of the reviews on Viator), but it felt like it was still a good amount. We hadn’t eaten breakfast, so we came hungry, which I also recommend. It would certainly be a bummer to be on a food tour and not be hungry enough to eat the food! Also, since the cost of the food is included in the cost of the tour, it just makes sense to bring your appetite. We paid ~$95 USD each for our tickets through Viator, which felt a little pricey, but I do think it was worth it. Looking at the FollowMi Around website, you can get a better deal booking directly through them vs. going through Viator, so consider doing that the next time you’re in Milan!

Our next stop was a big one and is definitely a must-see when you’re in Milan. Milan Cathedral is an absolutely breathtaking, unique building – a church that started being built in the mid-1300s and wasn’t completed until about SIX CENTURIES later. In 1965!!! It’s claimed to be the largest church in Italy, the second-largest in Europe, and the third-largest in the world, which is a fairly amazing claim to fame (though apparently those claims are a bit up for debate). I love the bright white color, all the amazing spires, all the sharp edges, and more – it really is a unique building with a lot to see when you visit. And this is one you definitely want to plan accordingly for, as there are a variety of things to see, including: the actual church, the rooftop (which feels like walking on a legit roof rather than just an “upper story”), the church itself, the museum, the crypts, and more. Be sure to look over all the options on the ticket site and choose the ones that you want to do! We booked the Duomo Pass Lift ticket, which allowed us to take the elevator to the roof (rather than walk up a few hundred stairs), but we didn’t get skip-the-line access. Thankfully, there was no line to skip anyway, but if you’re there during the high season, I can see where having that access would be beneficial, so keep that in mind. Our tickets were only ~$20 USD each, which felt very reasonable! One slight downside is that we weren’t able to visit the museum because it’s closed on Wednesdays. As such, I’m not sure how good the museum is, but we definitely would have visited if it had been open because it was included in our ticket anyway! If you don’t care about the church itself, you can also get a ticket that just allows you to visit the roof or, if you don’t like heights, you can get one that doesn’t include roof access at all. Keep in mind that you’ll come down from the roof via stairs (even though we came up in the elevator), which take you out through the cathedral interior, where our tickets were scanned to confirm we had cathedral access, so don’t think you’ll be able to sneak into the church if you didn’t buy a ticket for it! I’d say the ticket we got was perfect, so that’s the one I’d recommend.

Between the roof, the church itself, and the crypts/archaeological area, there’s a lot to see, so you’ll see that reflected in the photos below. Hope you enjoy them!

A neat view we passed through on our way to the cathedral.
What a building!
Love all the detail on the building (as seen from the roof).
More interesting details.
This is the part where it legit felt like we were walking on the roof. Glad it wasn’t super crowded!
Looking the other direction from the picture above.
And of course, a quick selfie.
Ignore the scaffolding and focus on the little statue at the top. That’s the Madonnina, a small statue of Mary that was placed atop this spire in 1762. Tradition says that no building in Milan should ever be higher than this statue, so when a couple of modern buildings were erected that WERE taller, both buildings installed replicas of the Madonnina to honor the tradition.
Starting the walk down into the church proper. Thankfully, traffic only went one direction, so it didn’t feel too crowded or claustrophobic.
I believe this is the body of Martinianus, who was the Archbishop of Milan in the mid-400s.
A baptismal font.
It was under construction for over 600 years, so it makes sense that it’s HUGE in here!
It looks even more huge from this vantage point.
The ceiling felt SO high!
I was actually a little disappointed in this archaeological area/crypt as it wasn’t that large and there wasn’t much to see, so I only took a couple of photos. This one is of a tomb that was discovered during construction.
And this was, I think, a baptismal font. As you can see, there’s no longer any water in it, but people still throw coins into it. Even though, right next to it, there’s a sign asking people not to do that.
Getting a nice view of the exterior from the piazza in front of the cathedral.
And of course we also took a selfie together…
…and then I took a selfie on my own.
A monument to King Victor Emmanuel II in the piazza.

After the cathedral, we reached the end of what we had planned to do in Milan. I know, I know – a food tour and a visit to a cathedral (even a very large one) doesn’t seem like a lot, but we wanted to see how much time we would have after getting both visits done, so it would have been hard to commit to anything else. And getting a meal didn’t make sense because of the food tour, so we didn’t bother looking for restaurant reservations either. We did actually consider trying to get an earlier train, but we didn’t want to walk back to the station, find out we couldn’t change our ticket, and then just have to sit there for a few hours, but we thankfully found a couple more places to visit, courtesy of Marco and a couple of places he mentioned to us on our food tour.

First up was another church, Santa Maria presso San Satiro. It was built in the late 1400s and is known for an optical illusion painting of the apse, behind the altar. It looks like it’s three-dimensional because of the way it was painted, but it’s actually just a flat painting on a wall. I’m not sure how well that will come across in the photo below, but it was definitely cool to see in person!

Outside Santa Maria presso San Satiro (which translates to Saint Mary near Saint Satyrus).
Doesn’t it look like the space behind the altar goes wayyyy back? It doesn’t! It’s a flat painting that just looks 3D. Really cool!

The other place Marco recommended we visit if we had time was…another church! This one is San Bernadino alle Ossa and it’s famous for it’s ossuary, which is a room full of bones. Apparently, this happened in the early 1200s, when a nearby cemetery ran out of room, so a building was erected to hold the bones of the dead. And then a church was built and attached to it, which was subsequently renovated, destroyed in a fire, and then rebuilt. Today, that ossuary functions as a small side chapel in a much larger church and it’s definitely an odd space. There’s something about being in a room FULL of bones that makes you feel a little uncomfortable. Worth seeing in person though!

Outside yet another church.
The small side chapel that’s full of human bones.
The skulls in particular are a sight to behold.

And with that, we finished our sightseeing in Milan. We actually would have had time to visit one or two more places, but because we were within a couple of hours of our train leaving, we decided to walk the ~40 minutes back to the station. Even though we figured we couldn’t get our tickets switched, we asked when we got there and got confirmation that we couldn’t change them. Oh well! After a long, full day on our feet, we actually didn’t mind relaxing for a bit before the train ride home (as much as one can relax in a train station, I suppose). We really enjoyed Milan and I think it was my favorite city on the trip! Even though we were only there for part of a day, I really liked its vibe and energy. I’m honestly not sure how much more there is to see and do there, but I’m sure there’s plenty, so I wouldn’t mind going back again in the future. We shall see!

I’ve still got at least one more post in me, about our last day in Venice. That’s the day my cold really took hold, so it was a quiet one, but we did get out to experience a bit more of Venice. Look for it soon!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!