All Articles How to navigate Milan’s many museums like a pro

How to navigate Milan’s many museums like a pro

Sports history, medieval castles, and more art than you can pack into a single visit.

Celia Abernethy
By Celia AbernethyApr 4, 2024 5 minutes read
Tourists sitting outside Castello Sforzesco in Milan
Tourists sitting outside Castello Sforzesco in Milan
Image: Asim Ali/Getty Images

Museums are not usually travelers’ first stops when they arrive in Milan—those itinerary slots are usually taken by visits to the Duomo Cathedral, “The Last Supper,” and the luxury boutiques of Via Montenapoleone. But as a long-time expat and writer, I've always been drawn to Milan's diverse museum scene.

I was first hooked more than 20 years ago when I arrived in the city to work as a model. Between castings and auditions, I would visit museums and galleries. Thinking my time here was temporary, I tried to soak in as much as possible. Years later, I am still here and awed by the wealth of cultural treasures Milan offers. Unlike some Italian cities that have long lines and costly ticket fees, Milan museums are intimate and affordable.

Timing your trip to Milan is key if you plan on filling your non-museum hours with some of the city’s biggest events like Fashion Week in September and February and the Salone del Mobile Milano in April. But if you’re just going for the city’s underrated rolodex of museums, any time is a good time to visit Milan. Here, some of my favorites.

If you love Italian art: Pinacoteca di Brera

Exhibition at Pinacoteca di Brera
Exhibition at Pinacoteca di Brera
Image: Anthony/Tripadvisor

The Brera Art Gallery, located in a former monastery, sits in the heart of the city’s creative district of the same name (Brera). It houses an impressive collection of works from the Italian Renaissance as well as the prestigious Brera Art Academy, including masterpieces by Mantegna, Bellini, Raphael, Caravaggio, and many more. Fall in love with the Francesco Hayez masterpiece “The Kiss” and take a moment to contemplate the powerful mural of “St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria” by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini as you make your way through the corridors. One of the most fascinating features is the restoration lab. Just opposite the 16th-century Venetian portraits, through a transparent wall, you can watch master artists in lab coats conserving precious works.

Tip: Arrive early to avoid the crowds (and school groups). And don't miss the nearby Orto Botanico di Brera, a serene botanical garden perfect for a post-museum stroll.

Exhaustion Level: 3/10

If you’re into opera: Museo Teatrale alla Scala

Exhibition at Teatrale Alla Scala
Exhibition at Teatrale Alla Scala
Image: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Located within the world-famous La Scala Opera House, the Museum Teatrale alla Scala is a great place to learn about the long and illustrious history of Italian opera. Original costumes, set designs, and musical instruments provide a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most esteemed cultural institutions in the world. Artwork and historical recordings pay homage to greats of the classical music world such as Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Maria Callas, and more. Opt for a guided tour to gain insight into the theater's storied past (and a bit of legendary gossip) or consider attending a performance at La Scala to complete your operatic experience.

Exhaustion Level: 4/10

If you're captivated by medieval majesty: Castello Sforzesco

Tourist walking outside Castello Sforzesco in Milan
Castello Sforzesco in Milan
Image: Sara Cudanov/Unsplash

The fairytale facade of the 15th-century Castello Sforzesco will remind visitors of its medieval origins. The fortress—complete with a moat and drawbridges—combines Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque styles, a testament to its perseverance through the ages. Don’t miss the “Rondanini Pietà,” the last and unfinished masterwork by Michelangelo. Within the walls of the castle, you’ll also find a fresco by Leonardo da Vinci, a medieval armory, and an Egyptian artifact museum. The adjacent Sempione Park, once part of the castle grounds, is a nice place for a picnic or gelato after visiting the museum.

Tip: Visit the medieval turrets and battlements at sunset for a spectacular view of Milan (the museum is open until 5:30 p.m. but the grounds stay open until 7:30 p.m).

Exhaustion Level: 5/10

If you want to step back in time: Museo Bagatti Valsecchi

Exhibition at Bagatti Valsecchi Museum
Exhibition at the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, a meticulously restored Renaissance palace in Milan’s historic center, is a bit of a time machine. Once home to avid collectors, the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers, this 19th-century museum offers a glimpse into aristocratic Milanese life. Best explored with the museum’s free audio guide in hand, the collection dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. In the library, you’ll find medieval scientific instruments, while the dining room and the Cupola gallery house hand-painted ceramics. Don’t miss the family rooms, which are adorned with exquisite furnishings and tapestries.

Exhaustion Level: 3/10

If your passion is fashion: Palazzo Morando Museum of Costume, Fashion, and Images

Tourists viewing exhibition at Palazzo Morando
Viewing an exhibition at the Palazzo Morando
Image: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

In the heart of the Quadrilatero della moda shopping district, on Via Sant'Andrea, sits the Palazzo Morando. Once a luxurious noble palace, it’s now home to Milan’s most unique fashion museum. The Baroque furnishings, frescos, and outstanding art collection that nod to the museum’s palazzo origins are a stunning backdrop for fashion displays throughout the ages, with clothes from the 17th century to the 2000s. Plan your visit to coincide with one of the museum's temporary exhibitions, which often showcase cutting-edge contemporary fashion.

Tip: Afterwards, do some shopping of your own. Flagship boutiques for Italian brands like Bottega Veneta, Miu Miu, La Double J, and more flank the museum.

Exhaustion Level: 3/10

If you’re traveling with kids: Museo Della Scienza E Della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci

An interactive exhibit inside the Museo Della Scienza E Della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci
The Museo Della Scienza E Della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

To honor the life and work of da Vinci, Italy's most renowned Renaissance artist, the Museum of Science and Technology aims to inspire future generations of innovators. Life-size reproductions of da Vinci's revolutionary inventions, interactive exhibits featuring modern tech, and workshops for kids make it an adventure for toddlers and adults alike. Each item provides insight into Leonardo's insatiable curiosity and inventive spirit, from flying machines and architectural models to groundbreaking scientific instruments. In addition to Leonardo’s machines, there is also an extensive transportation section of trains, planes, ships, and even space travel—and don’t miss the Wall of Sound, a kid-favorite sculpture that captures and remixes voices.

Tip: Make sure to stop by the model of the first Vega space launcher developed by the European Space Agency and the 1965 Italian submarine Enrico Toti S-506, both preserved and displayed on the museum grounds. (Virtual reality tours are available for those who don’t like confined spaces.)

Exhaustion Level: 5/10

If you’re a soccer fan: Museo di San Siro

Museo di San Siro in Milan
Museo di San Siro in Milan
Image: Joaquin Ossorio-Castillo/Getty Images

San Siro Stadium is the shared home turf for Milan’s most famous soccer teams: AC Milan and Inter. In the on-site Museo di San Siro, a captivating collection of memorabilia showcases the history of both teams. (There’s also a special section dedicated to the Italian national football team.) From iconic jerseys worn by legendary players like Ronaldo and Messi to cherished mementos from historic matches, fans will appreciate this treasure trove of sports history. After wandering the museum, you’ll get the chance to feel like a champion during the “stadium experience,” which takes you inside the locker rooms of AC Milan and Inter, through the players' tunnel, and onto the sacred turf of San Siro.

Tip: Don’t miss the multimedia exhibit. Sports television history was made on October 27, 1967, at San Siro when the slow-motion replay was used for the first time to analyze a goal disputed during a derby game between the two Milanese teams.

Exhaustion Level: 4/10

Celia Abernethy
Celia Abernethy is a former runway model turned freelance journalist covering fashion, travel, and culture, with a focus on Italy. Her writing includes contributions to HuffPost, Forbes Travel Guide, and Italo-Americano. She is also the editor-in-chief of Italy Travel & Style, an online lifestyle and travel guide.