Visiting Milan with kids is a natural choice: It attracts smaller tourist crowds than Rome or Venice, and it hums with family-friendly activities ranging from hands-on science experiments to sporting events. Yet it pops with the all the artistic brilliance and architectural design that draw travelers to Italy.
Milan is also younger than Rome and Venice—both in history and in spirit. It’s the financial, industrial, and technological heartbeat of Italy, so the pace is quick, yet comfortable. A visit here usually focuses on relatively recent history when compared with Rome, like the work of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) or the Duomo di Milano, on which construction began a mere 630 years ago.
Not to mention, the food scene is ideal for families traveling with children. There is pizza on almost every corner in the city center and though pasta takes a back seat to risotto throughout the region, it is still available as an easy fallback for the picky eater. The real trick though, is choosing an entrée when there are so many visible treats everywhere you turn. Here’s where I recommend you start…
Activity 1: Eat a Rainbow of Gelato in the City Center
The city center surrounds the Milan cathedral or Duomo, and was originally enclosed by walls for defense. The modern city center incorporates historical features alongside shopping, dining, lodging, and businesses of all variety. If your time in Milan is short, this is the place to spend every available second. Wander the narrow streets. Stand in awe of the enormous Duomo. Be inspired by the art that surrounds you in the Galleria. And do it all between gelaterias. Adults and older kids may enjoy touring the Duomo and its museum, but everyone loves circling the outside of the massive structure, ice cream cone in hand, counting the weird gargoyles intricately carved in the spires. (There are 135, by the way.)
Maybe even consider designating your first full day as “gelato day.” The whole family can soak in the Italian atmosphere, get your bearings, and get the ice cream urge satisfied before you dig deeper into the city’s offerings.
Activity 2: Picnic in Sempione Park and Explore a Medieval Castle
So much of what Milan has to offer is indoors, making a picnic the perfect way to take a break between museums. Sempione Park is an ideal choice. The park has play structures, tables to dine on, free Wi-Fi, and a real castle. Shop for your meal at Eataly, just a few blocks away from the park. Save plenty of time to fully explore the store before you choose lunch ingredients from among an amazing array of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and chocolate. Grab some bottles of sparkling water, then hike to the park.
After lunch, head to the Castello Sforzesco, where you can explore the works of Da Vinci, and even see the last incomplete statue by Michelangelo. Be sure to explore Sforzinda, the area specifically designated for children.
Tip: Admission to the castle is free every Tuesday after 2:00 PM.
Activity 3: Sightsee by Tram
When feet grow weary of walking city streets, it’s time to hop on a tram car and see parts of the city you might otherwise miss. The city’s public transportation system includes Metro trains, buses, tram cars, and bicycles, all of which are simple to use, but a special tram ride is available as a hop-on, hop-off city tour for only 15 Euros for adults and 10 Euros for children ages 5 to 12. There are two major tour routes, each covering different attractions, with only slight overlaps in the city center.
Tip: Tram 2 is a great way to get to Eataly and Sempione Park on your picnic day, after your castle tour hop back on to see the rest of the loop route before returning to your hotel. The stop nearest Eataly is P. le Biamonte. From that stop, turn right and walk south on Via Carlo Farini to the intersection with Via Allesandro Volta. Turn left and go about a block to the intersection with Viale Passubio. Turn left again and walk about 300 yards to Eataly.
Activity 4: Appreciate Music at La Scala
What better place to expose children to the musical arts than in one of the most famous opera houses in the world? Teatro alla Scala offers a special schedule throughout the year designed to interest children, including opera and orchestra performances. Though the operas are usually in Italian, seat backs include digital translations to English for children old enough to read. For preschoolers, performances of favorites like Cinderella often transcend the language barrier.
1 Great Place to Stay: Milan’s TownHouse Galleria
The ability to actually stay inside a national monument like the Galleria Emmanuelle Vittorio II is reason enough to choose the TownHouse Galleria as your lodging in Milan. Factor in the warm comfort and the quiet grace of this hotel and you have a winner. Galleria-view rooms have windows that open directly into the Galleria, but are well sealed against echoes of the shoppers and sightseers on the tile floors below. There are choices of rooms sizes, all comfortably appointed. It was once billed as a “Seven Stars” hotel, and while the service and amenities live up to that ranking, the atmosphere and furnishings are not intimidating for families traveling with children.
An added bonus for staying at the TownHouse is the newly opened Highline Galleria that allows you to walk from the hotel out onto the rooftop of the Galleria, where you can take in the stunning sights of the city center with an up close look at the spires of the Duomo.
1 Great Place to Eat: Ratana
Housed in a former railroad building, Ratana feels fresh and inviting from the first step into the courtyard. Once inside the glass front doors you are transported to what feels like an Italian farm house. The warm wooden tables have a hand-rubbed finish that looks as though they may have served meals to many generations. Chef Cesare Bastisti serves an interesting menu of rustic cuisine from Northern Italy that incorporates modern techniques. Must-order items include: breadsticks served in baskets of straw, fried meatballs, and Risotto Milanese.
If your children are not risotto eaters, the kitchen is willing to go off menu for a simple pasta dish. The fish and chips might also be a good meal to share with little ones. Ratana is enchanting at night, but the park-like setting, with outdoor seating and a playground also make it a lovely spot for lunch.
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