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I love Europe.
There are so many places I want to take my daughter and explore as a family. Discovering big cities like Milan, with kids, makes you see the lighter side of travel. Instead of museum hopping, why not gelato hop and find the best flavor? Even pigeon-chasing pictures make for a good laugh (and I have plenty of those!).
While most people plan a vacation centered around kids and activities that are kid-friendly, I take a rather unorthodox approach. I plan our vacations where I want to go.
Then, I find things to do that correspond to what my daughter enjoys. Boat rides, playgrounds in the park…you can always find something. Little K loves going on trains which we were on quite a few times.
Just bring something to pass the time away like books, coloring pages or a kid-friendly tablet like the Fire Kids edition (we bring our LeapFrog epic, but it doesn’t seem that is available anymore). I could not get wi-fi to work on the train.
Milan doesn’t exactly come first in your mind when you think of Italy. But, it makes a great base for touring the Italian Lakes region as well as surrounding areas, even Switzerland.
How much time to spend in Milan with kids?
It depends on if you are going to do day trips and use Milan as your home base. You could easily get away with 2 nights/ 3 days if you are only interested in staying within the Milan city limits.
However, if you day trip to Lake Como or Switzerland or other areas of Italy (the high-speed train is amazing), you could easily spend 5 nights.
Personally, I don’t like switching hotels every other night. I prefer to completely unpack and stay in a central location with great train access. For me, this creates a less stressful atmosphere rather than continually checking in to different hotels.
So, what is there to do in Milan with kids? Here’s a list of 5 things, plus a couple of day trips, to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Exploring Milan with kids:
Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)
- This cathedral is massive. It holds 40,000 worshippers. The Milan Cathedral is the largest church in Italy and the fifth largest in the world. Bring a great pair of walking shoes, especially if you go up to the terraces.
- Speaking of the terraces, much of the time you walk on a slant! Keep this in mind if it has recently rained or you don’t have proper soles on your shoes.
- Take in an incredible view of Milan and an up-close view of some of the 135 spires and 3400 statues that adorn this church.
- Check the Duomo’s official website for hours and pricing plans (of which there are several depending on what areas you want to see).
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (Galleria)
- Right next door to the Duomo is Italy’s oldest shopping mall. Picture two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in the center to create a glass-domed octagon.
- Luxury retailers, restaurants and bars make up most of the occupants here.
- Don’t forget to spin your heels three times on the bull’s balls (a mosaic inlay toward the center of the arcade from the Turin Coat of Arms) to bring good luck!
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
- This famous painting resides in a convent (Santa Maria Delle Grazie) a 15-minute bus ride from the Duomo.
- It surprised me to find this wasn’t a framed painting. It encompasses an entire wall that is 15ft by 29ft in what used to be a dining hall.
- Tickets are limited (and timed) due to only 25 people every 15 minutes allowed entry. If you want to see this, you need to reserve your tickets.
- Book your tickets 3 months in advance when they open reservations. Easiest is through vivaticket where prices are €12 per adult and €2 under age 18. We added a guided English tour for €3.50 additional which was completely worth it. For a complete tour, check into Get Your Guide’s Last Supper Guided tour which includes your entrance ticket with skip-the-line and an English-speaking guide.
National Museum for Science and Technology
- Italy’s largest natural history museum with 3 million artifacts.
- Contains dedicated sections for Mineralogy, Paleontology, Zoology and the evolution of man and plants.
- For pricing and hours, check their official website.
- Oldest surviving building from the 1906 World’s Fair which now houses over 100 types of underwater life in 36 pools.
- Only €5 adults and €3 children, plus the aquarium is free on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday after 2:00 pm, as well as the first Sunday of the month.
Many of Milan’s attractions require tickets and have long lines. One way to avoid this is to book a tour in advance. Often, these enable you to skip the line. A couple worth mentioning are listed here.
Day trips from Milan:
Lake Como/Italian Lakes district
- An easy, 45-minute train ride from Milan Centrale (Approximately €5 each way per person) to Como S. Giovanni.
- Take a boat around the lake and get off at one of the charming villages of Bellagio (about an hour from Como on the fast ferry) or Varenna (a 15-minute ferry ride from Bellagio).
- Meander through cobblestone streets and enjoy the lakes with the Alps in the distance.
- See if you can spot George Clooney’s house! I looked, but we weren’t far enough out on the lake.
- In Como, consider taking the funicular to Brunate for views of the region from above.
- This was my favorite day trip although I am not sure why. Maybe it’s because we could be in Switzerland for a day! From the train station (which was 75 minutes from Milan and €24 per person each way), head down to the waterfront promenade.
- Enjoy lunch at one of the numerous eateries while looking out over the water and Alps.
- We followed the lake around until we came to the funicular that takes you up Mount San Salvatore to Capodoro – an excellent lookout point with a restaurant or starting hiking point.
- Only 1 hour 40 minutes away by high-speed rail (€52 per person each way), you can visit the birthplace of the Renaissance.
- Head to the Uffizi Gallery to see works by Botticelli, da Vinci, and Michaelangelo
- Stroll through the Ponte Vecchio (a bridge housing shops and vendors)
- Browse the Piazza Della Signoria for classical statues such as David and Michaelangelo as well as the Fountain of Neptune
Best time to visit Milan with kids:
School-aged children – If you are tied to a school calendar, try extending their spring break for a few days and do an amazing 10 day Italy trip. March or April is ideal for walking around as it isn’t too hot nor jam-packed with tourists.
Another great time is the beginning of June if your kids are out by then. Most kids in Europe still are in school until the beginning of July, therefore there are fewer families vacationing.
Babies and toddlers – Enjoy this time! You can take advantage of perfect weather and minimal crowds if you travel in April-May or Sept-Oct. I would steer clear of July and August as that is the European travel season with prices at their peak. In addition, it’s hot and muggy throughout much of Europe at this time.
Eating in Milan
Admittedly, Italy is probably one of the easiest cities to take a picky child eater. Where else can you indulge in pizza, pasta, and gelato?
Don’t be fooled by the price of fish (or slab of meat) like my husband was. Menus list price as price (in Euros) per etto (€ xx per etto where etto = 100 grams). So, if your fresh caught fish is 400 grams, multiply appropriately.
Wrapping up our time in Milan with kids
No matter where we go, it’s a learning experience. For us as parents, as well as children. We grow culturally as we meet new people and explore new territories. Don’t be afraid of taking your kids somewhere they have never been before. It’s how they learn to be respectful of other cultures and that everyone has a different story to tell.
Milan on miles and points
As an avid miles and points geek, I plan the majority of our vacations using them.
Getting there: For this trip, we used American miles (30,000 each in economy + 11.20 in taxes) to go from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Venice. After 3 days in Venice, we took the high-speed train to Milan.
Returning home: We flew back home from Mallorca (an island off the coast of Spain) through Madrid to Chicago. I transferred 36,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to Iberia Plus for a Premium Economy seat for each of us plus $120. Iberia passes fuel charges on to the customer, so that is why the taxes are higher. This was our first time flying premium economy and it was a great balance of extra comfort for not too many more miles.
Our hotels were covered by my Hilton points in Venice and Zurich, Hyatt points in Milan and Mallorca and Marriott/SPG points in Lake Como.
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What are your favorite places in Italy to travel to as a family? Please let me know in the comments!
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