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Six ‘secret’ places in Milan you need to visit

From the Duomo to the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s most popular sights are in no way safe from overcrowding, especially during the warm season. Here are six of the northern city’s best hidden attractions to escape the tourist crush.

Milan's Cimitero Monumentale
A view of Milan's Cimitero Monumentale, in the north of the city. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Though it may not have the artistic cachet of Rome or Florence, Milan has no shortage of world-famous attractions, with hundreds of thousands of people visiting the city every year. 

But, as in the case of nearly all major tourist destinations around the country, the northern capital’s most popular sights – from the iconic Duomo to the imposing Castello Sforzesco – tend to get extremely (and often hopelessly) crowded during the warm months. 

So, if you’re not exactly a fan of long queues and packed tours, is there a way you can escape the crowds while still making the most of the city?

Luckily, Milan has plenty of hidden gems which attract smaller numbers of visitors but are just as enjoyable as some of the more popular attractions. So, here are six of the city’s best ‘secret’ places.

Stroll through Leonardo’s Vineyard

While he was born and raised in Florence, Renaissance mastermind Leonardo da Vinci spent most of his adult life in Milan.

In 1498, Milan’s Duke Ludovico Sforza thanked Leonardo for his services by gifting him with a beautiful vineyard located just 10 minutes away from the Castello Sforzesco.

Thanks to large-scale recovery works undertaken in 2015, the vineyard looks now just as it looked in the eyes of its former owner some 500 years ago, also producing its own wine, Milan’s Malvasia, since 2018. 

Tickets to the Vigna di Leonardo also give access to the adjacent Casa degli Atellani, a historic 15th-century mansion boasting prestigious fresco paintings. 

Get lost inside the Necchi-Campiglio Villa

Built between 1932 and 1935 for a family of well-heeled Lombard industrialists, the Necchi-Campiglio Villa is one of the best-preserved examples of 20th-century high-society urban residences. 

Located at the heart of the elegant Quadrilatero del Silenzio district, the luxurious villa is known for its marble art deco features and its impressive modern art collection.

The property is also surrounded by a verdant, magnolia-dotted garden, which makes for an idyllic place to wind down on a sunny day.

Marvel at the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and its ‘rainbow dome’

Located in the south of the city, close to the popular Navigli area, the Romanesque-style Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio is often overlooked by experienced locals as well as international visitors. 

The church, which boasts the tallest bell tower in Milan, holds one of the most celebrated examples of Renaissance art in Italy: the striking Portinari Chapel.

Decorated with frescoes by art master Vincenzo Foppa, the chapel culminates in a majestic polychrome dome which is often referred to as ‘cupola arcobaleno’ (‘rainbow dome’).

Take a walk in the city’s Monumental Cemetery

You may have a hard time thinking of a cemetery as a city attraction (and rightly so), but Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale is not an ordinary cemetery, by any stretch of the imagination. 

Built in 1866, the site has an endless array of spectacular architectural works (chapels, mausoleums, temples, etc.) and sculptures, including a scaled-down version of Rome’s Trajan Column. 

The cemetery, which measures over 250,000 square metres, is also known for its commanding Neo-medieval marble entrance.

Turn back the hands of time at the Alfa Romeo Museum

Located in a former car factory in Arese, about 12 kilometres northwest of Milan, the Alfa Romeo Museum tells the story of the glorious Milan-born manufacturer. 

Classic Alfa Romeo cars

Classic Alfa Romeo cars on display at the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, just outside Milan. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

From the HP 24 – the first-ever Alfa Romeo vehicle – to the latest Tonale model, the museum chronicles a 112-year journey through speed, technology and unique aesthetics.

Discover Milan’s ‘Sistine Chapel’

As ordinary as it might look from outside, the Chiesa di San Maurizio is anything but on the inside. 

Once part of the largest female Benedictine monastery in Milan, the Baroque-style church is one of the city’s best-hidden treasures.

Suffice to say that the superb fresco paintings covering the building’s walls and parts of its ceiling have earned it the moniker of Milan’s ‘Sistine Chapel’.

Music buffs will also be happy to know that the church’s choir loft is home to a pipe organ dating back to 1554. 

Bonus item: Enter Casa Rossi and look up

At number 12 of Corso Magenta, less than 50 metres away from the Chiesa di San Maurizio, you’ll find Casa Rossi, an elegant neo-Renaissance building designed by architect Giuseppe Pestagalli in the 1860s.

But, the real surprise lies just behind the building’s main entrance as an internal courtyard of Greek-reminiscent style carves a perfectly octagonal shape out of the Milan sky.

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For members


EXPLAINED: How will Venice’s ‘tourist tax’ work?

Venice has confirmed it will trial a long-delayed ticketing system for visitors in spring 2024. But who will the fee apply to and how will it work?

EXPLAINED: How will Venice’s ‘tourist tax’ work?

Venice officials last week approved the trial of a long-delayed ‘tourist tax’ aimed at regulating crowds and lessening the impact of mass tourism on its city centre. 

But the announcement, which reportedly contributed to Venice dodging inclusion on the UNESCO list of endangered heritage sites for the second time, has left many confused as to who the entry fee will apply to, who will be exempt and how the system will be enforced.

Though future changes cannot be ruled out, especially given the project’s troubled history, this is what the city council has said so far about the incoming trial, which is presently scheduled to start next spring.

Who will the entry fee apply to?

The Venice city council has said that all day trippers over the age of 14 will have to pay the fee. But no small amount of confusion lingers over who exactly will qualify as a ‘day tripper’.

In particular, Venice officials describe turisti giornalieri as visitors who don’t “stay in one of the accommodation facilities located within the territory of the Venice municipality”.

READ ALSO: Five essential tips to escape the tourist crowds in Venice

Besides hotels, it remains unclear exactly which other types of accommodation (B&Bs, hostels, holiday rentals, guest houses, etc.) will fall under the ‘accommodation facilities’ umbrella.

Gondola, Venice

A traditional gondola crosses the Grand Canal in Venice. Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP

Who’s exempt?

Aside from guests staying at the city’s hotels, so far the city has said a number of other categories will be exempt from paying the fee. 

Exemptions will include: 

  • Venice residents
  • People working or studying in Venice
  • Veneto residents (though they may still be required to register their trip online)
  • Second-home owners and their households
  • Partners, parents or relatives up to the third degree of kinship of people residing in Venice 

There are currently no details on how people will be asked to prove they’re entitled to the exemption.

How much is the fee?

Day trippers will be charged a flat five-euro fee to access the city’s historical centre during the 2024 trial stage.

However, it’s likely that this set-up will change once the trial’s over and the ticketing system becomes fully operative. 

As laid out in some of the earliest project plans, the council should ultimately opt for a variable-fee format, with the fee’s amount changing based on the time of the year and the number of visitors expected in the city. 

This means that the fee will be higher in peak tourist season and lower in low season.

How can I pay the fee?

According to the Venice comune, tourists will be required to pay the fee via a new online platform (also available via mobile app) that is expected to become operational next year. 

Venice, St Mark, tourists

Tourists walk across St Mark’s Square, one of Venice’s most popular attractions. Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP

The platform will provide visitors with a QR code, which they will then have to show to ticket officers upon entering the city. 

READ ALSO: Five ‘secret’ places in Venice you need to visit

It remains unclear where and how controls will take place, though the city council previously advanced the idea of setting up gates at the city’s main entry points.

Fines for those flouting the rules will range from 50 to 300 euros.

When will the trial start?

The Venice city council has said that the trial will be spread out over up to 30 days during 2024, but officials haven’t yet agreed on exactly which days the entry fee will kick in.

That said, it is likely that the system will be tested on particularly crowded days such as long weekends and public holidays, according to the Venice comune website.