Milan has been gearing up to play host to Expo 2015 for years, and all that hard work is about to pay off. The city has more than 7,000 events planned during the Expo, which runs from May 1 through October 31, both on the Expo grounds and elsewhere in the city. And this is, of course, in addition to the countless things to do and see in Milan that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Expo.
Here's a rundown of some of those thousands of things to do in Milan if you go during Expo 2015. Some require tickets, others just require that you be in the right place at the right time, and some are escapes from Milan to nearby destinations.
Special Expo 2015 Events
Teatro alla Scala - The famous La Scala opera house closes every summer, but in 2015 it will stay open from May through October for the first time in its long history in connection with the Expo. Check the official site calendar for performance dates and to buy tickets.
Giro d'Italia - The final stage of Italy's three-week bike race has Milan as its finishing line on May 31st, riding from Turin (the 2015 European Capital of Sport) into Milan for the first time in two years.
"Kitchens & Invaders" Exhibit at Triennale Museum - Milan's fantastic design museum has a special exhibit to fit with the food theme of the Expo, called "Kitchens & Invaders." It's inspired by the sci-fi novel "The Body Snatchers," and looks at how kitchen implements have morphed into robots.
There are several special events focused on Leonardo da Vinci going on during the Expo:
Leonardo Codex Special Exhibit - Parts of Leonardo's Codex Atlanticus that have never been on public display before will be viewable during the Expo, in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and the Bramante Sacristy. The exhibit runs from March 10-October 31.
Leonardo da Vinci: Design of the World - A large Leonardo exhibition will be held at the Palazzo Reale in Milan from April 15-July 19, featuring work he produced while he was in Milan in the late 15th century.
Leonardo3 Museum - Piazza della Scala is the venue for this interactive exhibit, with working models of many of Leonardo's machines, which runs from March 1-October 31.
Leonardo's Vineyard - Researchers have found some of the roots that once made up Leonardo's vineyard in Milan, buried underground and still alive. The vineyard is being painstakingly recreated to be as it was during Leonardo's time, and it opens to the public for the first time in May.
Things to Do in Milan Anytime
Walk on the Duomo Roof - Milan's Duomo is one of the city's iconic images, and there's no better way to visit the cathedral than by walking around on the roof. On a clear day, you can see the Alps.
Gaze at Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" - Probably the most famous attraction in Milan, a visit to "The Last Supper" requires tickets purchased well in advance in a normal year. During the Expo, you'd better get tickets many months ahead or plan to join a Milan tour that includes a stop at the famous fresco.
(Window) Shop in the Quadrilatero d'Oro - Even if you can't afford to stock your closet with designer duds, it's worth a stroll through the pedestrian-friendly streets of the Quadrilatero d'Oro for the elaborately decorated shop windows (and people-watching).
Eye the Art at Pinacoteca di Brera - This excellent art museum has an impressive collection, including work by Caravaggio, Raphael, Rembrandt and Mantegna.
Eat a Panzerotto - The theme of Expo 2015 is food, so there has to be some eating done in Milan. Luini has been churning out pizza-in-a-pocket deliciousness for decades. It's only a few steps from the Duomo, but down a side street and not very well marked. Look for the long line.
Spin on the Bull's Balls - A time-honored tradition in Milan is to place one heel on the bull's balls in the center of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II's tile floor and spin around once or twice for good luck.
Check Out the Museums of the Castello Sforzesco - The Sforza Castle contains several museums within its walls, including a furniture museum, a museum of musical instruments and a museum of Egyptian artifacts.
Relax in the Parco Sempione - Milan's favorite green space is the Parco Sempione, which stretches out behind the Castello Sforzesco and--in nice weather--is full of Milanese playing soccer, exercising or simply hanging out with friends.
Get Cultured at the La Scala Museum - You don't have to have an opera ticket to get into La Scala, you just have to visit the theater's fascinating museum. If there's no one using the stage, you can even peek inside one of the velvet-lined boxes during a tour.
Take a San Siro Stadium Tour - Sports fans, make your way to Italy's biggest stadium, the San Siro. The soccer season starts up again at the end of August, so there are a couple months of overlap with the Expo.
Make Like a Model with a Professional Photo Shoot - This is one of the dominant fashion cities in the world, so why not indulge your inner model with a professional photo shoot in Milan?
Learn about History at the Risorgimento Museum - Milan is home to the museum dedicated to how Italy became Italy. The Risorgimento Museum tells the story of Italian unification.
Step Back in Time at the San Lorenzo Roman Columns - Milan may look more modern than Rome, but there are ancient monuments here, too, including the Roman columns in front of the San Lorenzo church.
See the Canals in Milan - Yes, there are canals in Milan. The Navigli district south of the city center has a few canals, designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and the neighborhood is known as a nightlife hotspot.
Browse at Eataly - The Eataly at Porta Garibaldi in Milan is in a former theater, and includes not only gourmet groceries but also several restaurant areas inside. And, true to the building's former life, there are occasionally live musical performances, too.
Day Trips from Milan
Day Trip to Lake Como - Lake Como is one of the most popular day trips from Milan, and it's easy to see why. You can get out of the city and spend a day basking in the glow of this picture-perfect lake.
Day Trip to Bergamo - You can also choose to get out of the big city and explore one of the prettiest historic towns around in Bergamo. Head straight for the old city high on the hill overlooking the newer city, and wander to your heart's content.
Swiss Alps Bernina Rail Tour - Settle into a comfy train car for this rail tour of the Swiss Alps from Milan through the Bernina Pass to the St. Moritz ski resort.
Hot Air Balloon Flight - Get a bird's eye view of the greater Lombardy and Piedmont regions with an early morning hot air balloon trip.
Driving Experience at Monza - Speed demons, this is your chance to get behind the wheel of an Italian sports car and put it to the test on Italy's famous Monza race track just outside Milan.
- Contributed by Jessica Spiegel for Viator