Touring Duomo di Milano in Italy’s ‘Second City’

Touring Italy's 'Second City:' Duomo di Milano, Galleria and More

Duomo di Milano (Phil Hospod)

Milano. The name evokes thoughts of Italian fashion, espresso, opera and, yes, cookies. Though often overlooked by American tourists for more popular locales like Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy’s second largest city has plenty to offer sightseers, most notably the Duomo di Milano, Milan’s grand Gothic cathedral; Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the word’s oldest malls; Teatro alla Scala better known simply as La Scala, the famed opera house; and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper mural; and that’s just scratching the surface.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

(Phil Hospod)

As Italy’s business and fashion center, you’re as likely to see a women in a suit and stilettos riding a scooter as you are tourists in sneakers and shorts. Milan is a vibrant cosmopolitan hub with gorgeous building stock, a unique cuisine, and culture in abundance.

After three nights luxuriating beside Lake Como and another three hiking through Cinque Terre, my husband, Phil, and I headed to the regional capital of Lombardy—Milan.

I’m one of those tourists who overlooked Milan on two previous trips to Italy. But Phil had been to Milan at least five times before, often spending weeks at a time. He urged me to give the city a chance. With just one afternoon and evening to take it in, we headed for Milano Centro, the city center.

Welcome to this week’s Travel Tuesday.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

(Phil Hospod)

Duomo di Milano

If I had time to see just one thing in Milan, it had to be the Duomo di Milano.

As a former religion major and religion reporter, I’ve visited many a cathedral over the years: St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Duomo in Florence, Notre Dame in Paris, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and many others around the world.

But as far as classical cathedrals go, the Duomo di Milano might be the most spectacular one I’ve seen.

In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote: “They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.”

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's 'Second City'

Duomo di Milano (Phil Hospod)

Mark Twain was right. Conceived in 1386, the Duomo took more than 75 architects almost six centuries to complete. The complexity and sheer volume of ornamentation all over the church is overpowering. They just didn’t know when to quit and say, “Basta!”

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

View from the roof (Phil Hospod)

Some 3,400 statues and 700 figures in marble reliefs decorate the cathedral. That’s not including the stained glass windows and paintings inside the holy space. More than 1,800 statues and 135 spires top the Duomo roof, alone. Art lovers could spend a day here.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

135 spires line the roof (Phil Hospod)

We didn’t buy the required wristband to take photographs inside, so we walked the church interior without taking pictures. But we did buy a ticket to walk the roof and take photos up there.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Details, details (Phil Hospod)

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Duomo details

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

The Duomo looks over Milan (Phil Hospod)

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Two spires (Phil Hospod)

Milanese Food, Shopping and Culture

After our visit to the Duomo di Milano, we headed next door to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the oldest standing shopping malls in the world.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (Phil Hospod)

The four-story arcade was designed in 1861, and occupies the center of the city between the Duomo di Milano and Teatro alla Scala.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Domed class ceiling (Phil Hospod)

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Tourists file through the Galleria. (Phil Hospod)

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

The Galleria (Phil Hospod)

After the Galleria, we strolled Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the city’s largest shopping streets, and ventured to La Scala just to see the famed theater. Then we crossed the Piazza del Duomo again to reach the Palazzo Reale di Milano, once the Royal Palace of Milan and now a museum and cultural center. On deck: Klimt—The Origins of a Legend, a retrospective of the Gustav Klimt, one of my favorite artists.

The exhibit was in Italian and English, and included works from Klimt’s days as an art student to a life-size replica of Der Beethovenfries, his mural in Vienna that interprets Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The the symphony accompanied the mural to great effect.

Touring Italy's Second City

Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

Milan is also the home of espresso, so Phil sipped a requite cup, while I sampled some Italian hot chocolate, renowned for its pudding-like consistency. Yup, it was more like dessert.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Espresso and Cioccolata calda (

By then, it was time for dinner. We met a friend of mine from my days as a Newsweek reporter and substitute editor. He’d lived in Milan for about a year. After dinner, we strolled past the Duomo one last time and said arrivederci to Milan.

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

The Duomo facade (Phil Hospod)

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City


Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

An imposing door (Phil Hospod)

With just an afternoon, we merely dipped our toes in Milan’s waters. With more time, I would have loved to take in an opera at La Scala, visit Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie, go for a run in Parco Sempione, and tour Castello Sforzesco, a 15th century castle that now houses a collection of museums. All for another time.

But with a mere taste of Milan, I can easily say this is a city worth visiting. Milan may play second fiddle to Rome in many ways, but I’m sorry it’s taken me three trips to Italy to finally see it—including this amazing Duomo di Milano made of Legos at Milan’s Linate Airport:

Touring the Duomo di Milano in Italy's Second City

Lego Duomo di Milano (

Wedding in Toronto

We started our trip with a friend’s wedding in Lake Como. And after a week in Italy, we finished the trip with another wedding, this time in Toronto, Canada. We flew from Milan to Toronto, changed in the airport bathroom and headed straight to the rehearsal dinner beside Lake Ontario. No time for jet lag!

Touring Italy's Second City: Milan

Rehearsal dinner (

Saturday was a bit more leisurely. We started the day with a run around Toronto’s Kensington Market and Chinatown, before Phil had to leave for his duties as a groomsman.

Toronto's Kensington Market

Running through Kensington Market in Toronto (

Running through Toronto

Toronto’s CN Tower in the distance (

The wedding was beautiful and we danced until 2 a.m. It was a fantastic way to spend out last night of vacation.

Toronto's CN Tower in the distance

Wedding time! (

Sunday, the entire wedding party went to the Toronto Blue Jays game. They just happened to be playing my hometown team—the Chicago White Sox. I grew up going to Sox games with my dad at the old Comiskey Park. But it didn’t stop me from wearing the free Blue Jays visors they handed out at the gate. It was really sunny!

Watching the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre

Go Blue Jays? (

Here’s a fun fact: the Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre has a bag check. We brought our luggage to the park because we were flying out of the downtown airport just a 1-mile walk from the stadium. Come late afternoon, it was time to finally head home to NYC.

Toronto Blue Jays Rogers Centre

Rogers Centre in the shadow of the CN Tower (

All together over the course of our 10-day trip, we visited three countries (Switzerland, Italy and Canada), five regions (Zurich, Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Milan and Toronto), attended two weddings (Lake Como and Toronto), and met-up with or bumped into friends in each of those places including lunch with dear friends in Zurich, the wedding in Lake Como, a random trail encounter in Cinque Terre, dinner in Milan and another wedding in Toronto. The world is a small and wonderful place.

Where else did I go in Italy? Here are the first two installments of the trip:

Living La Dolce Vita in Italy’s Lake Como
Hiking, Running & Eating In Italy’s Cinque Terre
Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


07 2014

16 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    You look gorgeous!

    I agree with you – the Duomo is THE thing to see in Milan. I remember being in awe when I was wandering around the rooftop. Milan has changed quite a bit in the last 15+ years. I first went there when I was 18 years old. Now you need a ticket and there a long line to see The Last Supper. When I first went, it was free and there were virtually no tourists. I just walked in, took in the mural (and a photo), and walked out. It was quiet and felt like a sanctuary. Now it’s a zoo.

  2. 3

    My parents and I were in Milan for a day in 2007 for my college graduation trip. My mom booked us on a bus tour so we saw a lot, but the Duomo was under scaffolding :( We got to go inside but I have to look at pictures to see what the outside looks like.
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  3. 5

    What a great vacation! Milan looks stunning. I can’t get over how incredible the architecture is! Although I have not had Italian hot chocolate in Italy before, I have tried it and love it! You are right, though, definitely more of a dessert than anything else. :0)

  4. 7

    That’s it! I’m moving to Europe! Looks like you guys had an amazing time! Can’t wait to read all about your next adventure!

  5. 9

    What a fantastic vacation! How happy was Cinderella to see you at the end?
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  6. 11

    Wow, that all looks amazing! We didn’t make it to Milan, but we were close to it visiting a friend. I remember the food was so amazing in that part of Italy (not that the other parts weren’t just as amazing). I grew up in Ohio and have driven through Toronto, but never got to stop and explore. I wish I had!
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  7. 13

    Wow, this looks like such an amazing trip! Jason and I are really hoping to take a trip to Italy sometime, it’s just so darn hard with his work schedule!
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  8. 15

    Wow!! I’ve never been to Milan, and what better excuse to go back to Italy. From your pictures the Duomo is breathtaking and I can only imagine seeing it in person. I think I could spend all day exploring the roof!! Klimt had never really been on my radar until I went to the Belvedere in Vienna – how cool to see an exhibition of his works!
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    • Karla Bruning

      The Duomo was spectacular and we could have spent so much more time there. The Neue Gallery in NYC has a fantastic collection of Klimt’s art. It’s a small museum, but worth a visit if you’re a fan!
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