What you can see with only four hours in Milan

If you only have four hours in Milan (or less), you’re not going to be able to see a whole lot! But if you want to break up a long travel day with some lunch and a peek at the city’s magnificent cathedral, it definitely can be done.

While organising a trip to Northern Italy that included Bologna, Parma, Lake Como, Lucca and Padova, I knew we’d be passing through Milan a couple of times. With a maximum of four hours to dedicate to the city, I wondered if a short stop be worth it.

So what did I find out?

Milan is Italy’s second largest city and has an easy-to-use and efficient metro system. And even the largest city can be broken into smaller areas, so focus is the key here. If you one or two things to see, four hours is enough time to briefly touch the surface.

For our short stopover, we wanted to see Milan’s magnificent cathedral (from the outside only) and grab a quick lunch before heading north to Lake Como.

How did we spend four hours in Milan?

  • First we checked our bags at the left luggage area at the Milano Centrale train station
  • Then jumped on the metro to the Duomo station
  • Wandered through the Piazza Del Duomo to see the Milan Cathedral and through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan’s grandoise shopping mall.
  • Took a zig zagged walk through Milan’s fashion district looking for somewhere to eat.
  • Eventually found a very average cafe for lunch called Milanese Cafe.
  • Finished with a 15 to 20 minute walk back to the train station, passing by Piazza Della Repubblica.
The grand entrance to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan’s lavish, high end shopping mall.

Where to check luggage at Milano Centrale

Arriving in the Milano Centrale station, we immediately went down to the bottom level to find the baggage storage area. While these lines can take ages, the wait was surprisingly quick, taking less than 10 minutes. At 6 euros for the first five hours per bag, it isn’t cheap, but unless you pack extremely light, I wouldn’t recommend trekking to the cathedral with luggage in tow! Plan to spend up to a half hour dropping off and picking up your bags as it can take awhile during peak times.

For more information, click on this link for KiPoint’s website.

Getting to Milan Cathedral from the train station

While you can always take a taxi, if you’re in a hurry (and you probably will be if you’re contemplating this), the metro is an easy, cheap and fast choice.

The metro station is in the same complex as the Milano Centrale train station. Tickets can be purchased from the handy machines around the station or at the newsagent. If there is a long queue for the machines, chances are there will be less busy machines closer to the metro entrance, so keep walking.

Using the metro map, locate the Duomo station and see which train lines leave Centrale (or which ever metro station you’re in) that also includes a stop at the Duomo station.

For more information, click on this link for Milan’s metro system map. You’ll see both the Centrale and Duomo stations are on the yellow line. Heading towards the Duomo, you’ll want to go in the direction of S. Donato. If taking the metro back to Centrale, head in the direction of Comasina. You’ll see on the map that they are the names of the final stations going in each direction.

Piazza Del Duomo and Milan’s Cathedral

The Gothic-style Duomo is the largest church in Italy (St. Peter’s Basilica is in Vatican City). A visit to the Cathedral and its museums is covered by a number of ticket options. I’ve provided a link to the official site below.

For a quick stopover in Milan, you’ll need to either buy tickets in advance with a specific entry time or settle for admiring the exterior only. I’m always hesitant to book tickets for set times when there are trains involved unless there is plenty of extra time in the itinerary if the train is running late. Whether you decide it’s worth the risk is up to you!

While in the Piazza del Duomo, it’s unlikely you will be by yourself. So be prepared to wiggle between lots of tourists and just as many, if not more, pigeons. Like any other popular tourist attraction, the crowds will be worth it for the surreal views.

Milan Cathedral
The facade of Milan’s gothic style cathedral Is unlike no other church I can think of!

For more information on Milan’s cathedral and its ticketing options, see its official website.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Next to the Piazza del Duomo, you’ll find Italy’s oldest shopping arcade, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It’s four storeys tall and capped with a very distinctive iron and glass roof. If you’ve been to Naples‘, this shopping complex is similar in style to its cousin near the Naples Opera House (the Galleria Umberto I). Apparently this style was very much in vogue back in the 1800s!

Just like the Piazza, it is likely the interior will be packed full of tourists and maybe even the odd shopper. But for grandeur and opulence in every direction, it is worth strolling through. Just try not to crane your neck from all the upwards staring!

Not only are the walls and ceiling of the building impressive, but so are the mosaics on its floor.

Milan’s High End Shopping District

Milan is the fashion capital of the world, and its epicentre is the Quadrilatero della Moda. The home to many global fashion houses can be found a few streets over from Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t there to shop, but to try to find something to eat for lunch.

On the map it looked full of stores (which it was) but none of them seemed to served food. Maybe the rent is too high for a small takeaway shop or maybe we were going down the wrong streets. In any case, from what we saw, none of the stores was going to let riff raff like us in!

After wandering aimlessly through the streets, we headed towards a major road. Pretty much ravenous at this point, we settled on the first place we found – Cafe Milanese. And while edible, the food was the least impressive of our entire trip. You know the terrible meal that you” inevitably have each trip that you compare all other meals against? For instance, if a dish in a subsequent meal is less than what was expected, the comment will be “well at least it wasn’t as bad as [enter name of terrible restaurant here]. For that trip, the restaurant was Cafe Milanese.

Had we continued down the street for a few more minutes, we would have found a number of inexpensive eateries. Lesson learned for next trip! Via Filippo Turati has plenty of inexpensive places to eat, but just a bit further up the street (towards the train station).

Walk back to the train station

Instead of using the metro tickets I’d bought for the return journey to the train station, we decided to walk 15 to 20 minutes back to the station. While none of the buildings would be worthy of a detour, the walk back through Piazza della Repubblica was lined with impressive buildings, making for a relaxing stroll. It was even better seeing as it was a lovely May afternoon with lots of people out enjoying their lunch break.

After arriving back at the station, picking up our luggage was even faster than the drop off. So despite only four hours in Milan, we still had plenty of time to make our regional train onwards to Varenna in Lake Como.

Was the four hours in Milan worth it?

I have mixed feelings. We needed to transfer in Milan after travelling from Parma in the morning. While it was nice to see the Cathedral and the shopping mall, I probably wouldn’t recommend taking a few hours out of a trip to make the detour. Especially when we arrived in Lake Como that afternoon. Any extra time on the lake would have been my preference!

I'd love to hear from you. Add your comments to the discussion below!