Rick Steves: Must-see treasures of Milan, from La Scala to ‘The Last Supper’

While much of Italy’s appeal is rooted in its relaxed pace and Old World feel, Milan – the nation’s second city and financial capital – offers just the opposite. But travelers who make time for Milan find that this modern, industrious metropolis packs historic highlights as powerful as other Italian cities’.

I’d start a first visit (well, any visit) at the heart of the city: on Piazza del Duomo, which is dominated by Milan’s cathedral (the Duomo). It’s the third-largest church in Europe, after St. Peter’s in Rome and the Cathedral of Sevilla in Spain. To build it, the Milanesi used the most expensive stone they could find – pink marble.

Made of pink marble and decorated with Gothic spires, Milan's cathedral is one of the largest in Europe. (Photo: Cameron Hewitt)

The facade is a commotion of Gothic features – pointed-arch windows, statues, little pinnacles, and reliefs. Scholars count a thousand individual carvings – big and small – on the church exterior and another two thousand sculptural elements inside. Once you step through the entrance, you’re struck by the immensity of the place. The soaring ceiling is supported by sequoia-size pillars.

After touring the interior, you can climb the stairs – or take an elevator – to the marble-paved roof, 20 stories up, for the most memorable part of a Duomo visit. Up here, wandering through a fancy forest of spires, you’ll notice that the saint statues up close suddenly become more lifelike. Beyond the statues lies a stunning view: On a clear day you can see all the way to the Alps. A 15-foot-tall gilded statue of Virgin Mary on the tallest spire overlooks it all.

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