Milan is many things: Italy’s second-largest and probably fastest-moving city; one of the world’s fashion capitals; theater of stunning architecture made of futuristic skyscrapers and centuries-old palazzos. One feature that can’t be overlooked among Milan’s many qualities is as an art hotspot – and that includes exhibition sites like the Hangar Bicocca and the Royal Palace as well as more traditional museums.
Distracted by its high-end runways and greenery-covered skyscrapers, one might not think immediately of strolling through museums when picturing a trip to Milan. But the city has many to offer for all kinds of artistic interests, and the treasures they hold are definitely worth a visit. So here’s your guide to the ten Milan museums you absolutely have to visit.
Pinacoteca di Brera
Best for Italian painting
The Pinacoteca di Brera is the Milan museum – just as fundamental to the city as the little Madonna statue on top of the Duomo. Hosting one of the largest collections of paintings in the country and specializing in the Italian masters, the Pinacoteca has no shortage of high-profile works – from Mantegna to Caravaggio, passing through Hayez’s The Kiss and Raphael’s The Marriage of the Virgin – and a visit gives you the opportunity to walk amidst every decade of Italian art.
Once you’ve enjoyed your share of priceless art you can head out of the Brera palace for an exploration of the surrounding neighborhood of the same name, with its romantic atmosphere and picturesque cobblestones.
Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie
Best for staring at a masterpiece
The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie isn’t exactly a museum in the proper sense of the word, but it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site nevertheless – and for a very good reason. In the refectory of the monastery attached to the church, your attention is seized by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous masterpieces, The Last Supper.
Where the Pinacoteca has a beautiful array of different paintings, everything in Santa Maria delle Grazie focuses on this one single work – but what a work, and what a sight. It’s definitely worth a visit, especially considering that the church and monastery are filled with history as well.
Best for Renaissance art
If you’re still hungry for art after a visit to the Pinacoteca di Brera, then this similarly-named gallery will make sure you get your fill. Perhaps not as famous as Brera, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is nonetheless a treasure box of Italian painting that dives deep into the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.
And while you’re there, be sure to also drop by the Ambrosiana Library located in the same palace as the Pinacoteca – some of the volumes in its collection are just as famous as the paintings next door.
Museo del Novecento
Best for modern art
If you’re a fan of modern art, then your number one destination should be the Museo del Novecento, located right next door to the Royal Palace and housing a vast collection of works from the 20th century.
The museum’s collection includes sculptures as well as paintings and features huge names of modern art like Modigliani, Kandinsky, Picasso and Fontana. Among the masterpieces housed inside, you’ll find one of the many copies of Futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space – and if it seems familiar, that’s because it’s also reproduced on the obverse side of the Italian twenty cents euro coin.
Triennale di Milano
Best for design lovers
Nowhere else in Italy is design celebrated like in Milan. So it’s only fitting that one of the country’s first design museums should be located here, inside the Palazzo dell’Arte – a stone’s throw away from the Duomo and the Royal Palace. The Triennale di Milano is dedicated to the history of Italian design and the people who have contributed to its global ascent.
A peculiarity of this museum is that while its collection is permanent it is also renovated each year to follow a specific theme. So if your visit to Milan is a returning one, you might find a whole new exhibition waiting for you.
Museo delle Culture
Best for human anthropology
Also known as the Mudec, the museum of cultures, this artistic space is relatively new to the Milan museum scene. That doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of commanding visitors’ attention – it was at the center of an artistic storm when a case was brought against it by Banksy in 2019 for copyright issues.
Mudec’s collection features artifacts from all corners of the world, a testament to human diversity and the richness of its cultures. The museum also doubles as a location for temporary exhibitions and conferences, so you might want to check the calendar to see what’s happening when you are visiting.
Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia
Best for families
Dedicated to none other than Leonardo da Vinci, the national museum of science and technology is definitely a different kind of museum visit that has something to offer to everyone, be they adults or children.
Not only can you enjoy exploring a huge collection of trains, planes, cars and machinery as well as models realized after Leonardo Da Vinci’s own designs – the museum also features a series of labs where visitors can experiment with biotechnology, math, energy and other STEM subjects. And with different labs being offered for adults and children, this museum is definitely one stop that families should prioritize during their visit to Milan.
Best for variety
Last but definitely not least, the Castello Sforzesco is both a symbol of Milan and an incredible museum hotspot. It contains ten different institutions dedicated to a huge variety of subjects – and that’s without considering that the castle is a museum in and of itself.
These are just some of them – a museum dedicated to furniture, one to musical instruments, an art gallery, one of the biggest collections of Renaissance sculptures in Italy, and a museum entirely dedicated to Michelangelo’s last work, the Pietà Rondanini. So all you need to worry about is picking which one you’d like to start with.