Looking for what to do in Milan for 1 day or less? Here’s two churches and three artworks you can you can discover (for free) in Milan city center.

I’ve been asked many times what to do in Milan because it was considered just a gray, polluted and chaotic city. The 2015 World Expo in Milan was accompanied by many critics, but it had at least one result: the discovery of Milan as a touristic destination (click here to find hotels).

After years having friends from the beautiful Italian shoreline and small pretty towns mocking us for coming from such a city, it was a small payback for us Milanesi to find that New York times elected our hometown as the number one place to go in 2015.
You’ll easily find the best things to see in Milan in your first stay in many travel guides or articles like what to do in 36 hours in Milan.

Now you are looking for what to do in Milan besides shopping, Duomo and Navigli. If you’re in a long layover or in a business trip and you don’t have a lot of time, there are some other interesting things you can discover in Milan just walking around  – and completely for free.

Here’s some. 

An icon of modern art.

what to do in Milan

In Piazza Duomo, in front of the cathedral there’s Museo del Novecento. You don’t have to pay the ticket to see an iconic work of twientieth century painting, The Fourth estate by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. The giant artwork, representing a strike, is located on the top on the ramp bringing to the museum, just before the entrance.

(Museo del 900 – via Marconi 1 Milano)

The Milan’s statue of Liberty.

what to do in Milan

When you pass through Piazza del Duomo, just have a look above the left corner of the main door. You will see a lady with a rayed crown rising her right arm upwards. Does it reminds you something? Maybe the Statue of Liberty in New York? As far as I know this statue has nothing to do with liberty, it’s called La Legge Nuova (The new Law), representing the New Testament and placed on the facade in 1810. I couldn’t find any convincing evidence that Bertholdi, the author of the Statue of Liberty, was in any way inspired by this statue, even though their resemblance is really outstanding.

(Duomo di Milano, Piazza del Duomo – Milano)

A beach in the park.

In the garden of the Triennale, the museum of contemporary art and design, in the middle of one of the biggest park of the city, you will see a swimming pool with two people bathing. A swan and a fish are looking to them. What is that? It’s the artwork “I bagni misteriosi” (The mysterious baths) by the metaphysical artist Giorgio De Chirico, inspired by the beaches of his childhood in Greece. I took this photo in a grey autumn day with a light that makes this place really disorienting. Or it’s just my imagination?

(Museo della Trennale – viale Alemagna 6, Milano)

What to do in Milan

A blue sky full of stars.

what to do in MilanAmong the tips on what to do in Milan there’s always a visit to Leonardo Da Vinci Last Supper. Not far from there there’s something you don’t want to miss. It’s San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore,or the Milanese Sixtin Chapel. Well, there’s always be rivalry between Milan and Rome, but this definition may be a little bit exaggerate. Nevertheless, this full-frescoed church not far from Leonardo Da Vinci Last Supper will be worth a stop. The 16th century cycle of frescoes completely covering the walls are really amazing. Who doesn’t like to look at a deep blue sky full of golden stars?

(Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero maggiore, corso Magenta 15, Milano)

An artist’s trick.

Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro. Not far from the Duomo, there’s a little church with a quite anonymous facade, called Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro. It’s a quite surprising place, which I usually show to my guests. It’s known that one of the most important architects of Renaissance, Donato Bramante, worked on the church’s project and he had to find a a very creative solution for a problem of proportions. When you enter the church, you will see a quite dark space with a big apse behind the altar. But as soon as you walk along the aisle, you realise there’s something wrong. And when you get to the apse you see that it’s just not an apse. There are actually fake columns creating an optical illusion that make the apse much longer than it is in reality –  only 97 centimetres indeed. It’s prospective, baby! The trick, one of the first examples of the tromp d’oleil technique, was used because the space available was not enough to complete the original project. If you visit San Satiro, enjoy the place and learn from Bramante that boundaries don’t stop artists, they just boost their creativity.

(Santa Maria presso San Satiro, via Torino 17, Milano)

what to do in Milan


Have you found what to do in Milan for free in a few hours?

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Il Quarto Stato: Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons