Italy’s northern business and commercial capital is not the first place you’d think to bring children, but if you’re there on business or stopping on your way through Malpensa Airport — the international gateway to northern Italy — you’ll find some kid-friendly things to do there.
Sightseeing Around the Duomo
While there are not many places in Milan that will engage very young children, older ones will thrill at standing atop Milan’s Duomo among the bristling carved stone pinnacles and spires. Signs to the elevator are in the transept on the right as you face the high altar. Just spooky enough to appeal to kids is an excavation under the Piazza del Duomo where the remains of a first-century Paleochristian baptistry have been discovered. Get there by a passageway inside the front of the Duomo. Be sure to walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the shopping gallery next to the cathedral to look up into the stained glass dome.
Castello Sforzesco is a large castle complex with several museums (all free), including one filled with medieval armor and another with medieval and Renaissance fashions. The Natural History Museum (also free) is a favorite for children, with dinosaurs and realistic dioramas. Close to it, the Planetario Ulrico Hoepli has planetarium shows. Children fascinated by things scientific and technical will enjoy the many working models in the Museo Scienza e della Tecnica and the interactive exhibits that allow them to perform science experiments.
Parks and Playgrounds
The Natural History Museum and planetarium are in the large Giardini Pubblici (Public Gardens), an inviting grassy park within walking distance of Piazza del Duomo. Among its lawns, gardens, fountains and winding paths you’ll find playgrounds, a mini train, a duck pond, pony rides and a merry-go-round. There are often puppet shows on Sundays. There’s another nice playground in the larger Parco Sempione, which stretches behind Castello Sforzesco.
Festivals always have children’s activities and are colorful, lively occasions with music. Having a child with you is your best ticket to becoming part of the festivities instead of a spectator. In February, Carnevale Ambrosiano is a pre-Lenten celebration with parades, floats and costumes in the streets around Piazza Duomo. April brings the Festa Di Fiori (flower festival) to the neighborhood along the Naviglio canals and, in June, canal boats are decorated for the Festival of Saint Christopher. December brings a Christmas Market to the piazza in front of the Basilica of San Ambrosio, with crafts, plenty of food and street performers.
Although Italians adore and spoil children — yours included — in Milan they rarely take them out to dinner in the evening, especially to upscale restaurants. These will not have appropriate chairs or children’s portions and the staff may relegate you to a corner near the kitchen. Better to choose a small neighborhood trattoria, where kids can find pizza and your whole family will be welcomed.
Hotels can usually provide cots with advance notice, and you will rarely be charged for a child staying in a room with adults. Special infant needs, such as baby food and diapers, are available in supermarkets, but for a shorter stay it is easier to bring familiar brands from home. Handily located near the Duomo and other attractions, Hotel Dei Cavalieri has family-sized rooms that sleep four, and a breakfast buffet. Or look into renting an apartment for your stay, often cheaper for families than a hotel room and more spacious. With smaller children, an apartment offers the advantage of cooking some meals “at home.”