How to Use the Milan Metro

by Jessica on March 4, 2008

by | March 4th, 2008  

metrotrainI love subway/metro systems, because they usually represent the cheapest, fastest and generally most efficient way to get around a city. What’s more, they are used by residents even more than tourists, so by riding the metro in a foreign city you get to do some great people-watching as you get from place to place.

Most cities in Italy don’t have metro systems, but one that does is Milan. It’s only got three lines, but an unfamiliar subway system can still be intimidating if you’re not used to riding underground. So, here’s my primer for how to use the Milan Metro system.

>> For more information about how to get around in Milan, see this overview guide to Milan public transportation, including buses, trams, and the Metro.

Milan Metro: Fast Facts

  • The Milan Metro has three lines – M1 (red), M2 (green), and M3 (yellow).
  • The Metro runs from “about” 06:00 every morning and ends at “about” 00:30 (and yes, it actually says “about” on the official website).
  • On two days each year – December 25 and May 1 – service on the Metro is on a holiday schedule from 07:00 until 19:30, so plan accordingly.
  • The frequency of the Metro trains depends on the line, the time of day, and the time of year, but generally trains arrive every 2-8 minutes during peak times.

Get a Map

The first step, of course, is to get yourself a good map of the Metro. My favorite city maps are the Popout Maps I reviewed last year, but any Metro map will do. The best Metro maps will include not just a grid showing the network of rail lines, but also a section that has a city map with the various stops indicated so you can see precisely where in the city you would end up if you exited that station.

Here’s a sample map, but for a bigger one you can download a map from the official website here.
milanmetro

Get Your Bearings

Your first assignment once you have your map is to determine your “home” Metro stop. This is going to be the stop closest to your hostel or hotel, or wherever you are staying. You will become familiar with this Metro station, as it’s where you will end up every time you leave or come back to your room. If you’re lucky, your home station will have more than one Metro line connecting to it, making it easier to access from different parts of the city – but if it’s only got one, don’t worry. Making connections isn’t difficult.

Know Where You’re Going

This may sound like a crazy thing to need to write down, but you’ll need to know where you’re going not just on the street level but also underground – not every station is thoughtfully named for the benefit of tourists and out-of-towners. Yes, one station is called “Duomo,” but that’s about the only one. The “Gorgonzola” stop, for instance, doesn’t put you in the center of a big block of oozy cheese. So, for any sights other than the famous Duomo, you’ll need to know which station is closest to the attraction you want to see. Most good tour guidebooks will include this information, but a city map that includes Metro stops will also be a good resource to figure this out.

Buy a Ticket

There are machines in every Metro station that will dispense individual Metro tickets when you insert money, and these are available 24 hours a day (except when they’re not working!) – but if you’re unsure of the language and would rather deal with a human being, every newspaper stand I’ve ever seen in every Metro station sells individual Metro tickets. You just need to ask for “un biglietto” (pronounced, “oon bee-lee-ETT-toh”) and you’ll get a ticket good for one journey (if you want to avoid the ticket vending machines, buy extra tickets for after-hours when the newstands are closed).

This is what a single-journey ticket looks like:
metroticket

machinesOn your way toward your Metro line, you’ll see machines that you need to pass through – you can watch other travelers put their tickets in to make sure you’re doing it right, but just make sure you’re going to a machine that has a green arrow lit up on the front. A red X means it’s either not working or for those coming out of the station, not in. You’ll put your ticket in on the front of the machine, it will get a time and date stamp marked on the back and spit your ticket back out on the top of the machine. When you take the ticket, you’ll be able to pass through the gate.

Determine Your Direction

While each Milan Metro line has a different color, which makes figuring out which line you want to ride easier, each Metro line goes in two directions – so your next step is to determine which direction you want to go in from where you currently are. The directions aren’t named things like “North” or “East,” but rather carry the name of the last station in that direction. For example, if your hotel is closest to the Wagner station on Linea 1 (the red line) and you want to go to the Duomo, here are the steps you’d take. (Note that all of the scenarios listed assume you’ve already bought the necessary Metro ticket for the journey!)

  1. Go down into the Wagner station and look for signs indicating the direction called Sesto 1 Maggio FS (often abbreviated as simply Sesto FS).
  2. Hop on the next train heading for Sesto FS and get off at the 5th stop, calle Duomo.

Yes, it’s that simple. Here’s a more complicated one – getting from your Wagner station hotel to the main train station at the stop called Centrale FS. Centrale FS is on both Linea Metro 2 (the green line) and Linea Metro 3 (the yellow line), but not your red line. Never fear, however, the trip isn’t that much more difficult to figure out.

  1. Go down into the Wagner station and look for signs indicating the direction called Sesto FS.
  2. Take the next train heading toward Sesto FS and get off at the Cadorna FNM station – it will be the 4th stop.
  3. Now, in Cadorna, follow signs for Linea 2 (the green line).
  4. Once you are in the green area, look for signs indicating the direction called either Cologno Nord or Gessate. Why two different names? You’ll notice that the green line splits into a Y after the Crescenzago station, so as long as you’re getting off before that (and you are) it doesn’t matter which of these two trains you take. (As a side note – often, when there is a split in a Metro line, both trains going in that direction will go through the same station on the same side, so you may need to pay more attention to what it says on the front of the train as it pulls in.)
  5. Get on the next train heading toward either Cologno Nord or Gessate and ride it until you arrive at the Centrale FNM station (5 stops).

Can you see another way to get to Stazione Centrale from the Wagner stop? If you noticed you could take the red line toward Sesto FS, change to the yellow line (direction Maciachini) at Duomo and then get off at Centrale FNM, you’d be right. And if you really have an affection for the red line you could always ride it toward Sesto FS all the way to the Loreto station, then switch to the green line (direction Abbiategrasso) for a quick two stops.

Are you seeing how it works now?

The important thing to keep in mind every time you’re figuring out the exact train you want to jump on is the name of direction you’re going. Once you get the hang of thinking of directions in terms of specific names rather than compass pointers, you’ll be able to map out your routes quickly and easily. And if you already have experience using metro systems like the one in Paris, then the Milan Metro will be a piece of cake to you – or, as the Italians would say if “piece of cake” was actually an Italian saying, un pezzo di torta.

Make the Most of the Metro

The Milan Metro is a great way to get around the city, and at only €1 per journey it’s a great deal as well. An even better deal is if you plan to use the Metro enough times during a one-day or two-day visit, you can buy a one-day or two-day Metro pass that allows you unlimited rides during that particular period. The one-day pass is €3 and the two-day pass is €5.50.

If you won’t be riding the Metro enough to make a day pass worthwhile, you can also buy a 10-journey ticket (called a “carnet,” pronounced kar-NAY) for €9.20. You can just keep that 10-journey ticket and keep re-using it in the entry gate machines until you count 10 time/datestamps on the back. At that point, you’ll need a new ticket for your next journey.

Here’s a 10-journey “carnet:”
metroticket2

And if you’re a student, your student ID card will get you discounts on Metro travel as well, so be sure to bring it along when you’re buying tickets.

Finally, each time/datestamp permits you to make only one Metro journey in a 75-minute period, but you can make unlimited bus and tram trips within that period once you get the time/datestamp. So that one ticket really gets you quite a bit of public transportation access!

Here’s the back of a stamped metro ticket:
metroticket3

For more info, here’s the official ATM website (that’s the company that runs public transit in Milan), and read up on the colors of the Milan Metro system, too.

{ 14 comments }

aravind July 11, 2009 at 9:20 am
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Great website I found these instructions extremely helpful in getting around Milan via the metro

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juju June 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm
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Hi Jessica,

As we’d be traveling with a toddler, i’d like to know whether the metro stations in Milan are stroller friendly.

Thank you!

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Jessica June 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm
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I haven’t visited every Metro station, but most of them either have escalators or elevators (although the elevators are sometimes more hidden).

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Shikha September 6, 2011 at 9:10 am
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Hi..

I will be carrying a small sized suitcase (carry on) with me. Does it need a separate ticket for using the Milan Metro?

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Jessica September 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm
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No, you won’t need a separate ticket for your small bag.

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Martin Sim September 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm
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Anyone any idea how long it takes on the Metro form Milan Centrale to Milan Rogoredo and how regualr the trains are?

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Jessica September 12, 2011 at 8:46 am
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I’ve updated this post to include some train frequency information at the top now, Martin. I don’t have specific travel times, but you can check the frequency timetable on the official ATM site (it varies depending on the time of day, time of year, etc.) here:

http://www.atm-mi.it/en/ViaggiaConNoi/Pages/timetable_calendar.aspx

Rogoredo is on the M3 (yellow) line, as is Centrale, and the frequency of those trains looks like it varies from every 3-7 minutes, depending on the season/time. You can plot out a route on the Giromilano page of the ATM site, which may give you some idea of how long it should take:

http://www.atm-mi.it/en/Giromilano/Pages/default.aspx

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Petra September 22, 2011 at 4:16 am
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Hi Jessica,
Thank you for sharing all these tips! I need to get to the San Siro stadium next week. I will be driving from Lugano (CH) and I plan to leave the car at a park&ride parking lot and taking the subway to the stadium. Where would you recommend that I park? Thank you,
Petra

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Jessica September 29, 2011 at 3:59 pm
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The best travel information for San Siro that I have is here:
http://travel.theoffside.com/italy/san-siro-stadio-giuseppe-meazza

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Darina October 2, 2011 at 2:27 am
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Hi Jessica,
during my stay in Milan ( from Friday to Sunday ), I will be using metro line M2 – from station called Assago Milanofiori Forum to station Centrale. I noticed that between M2 stations Famagosta and Assago Milanofiori Forum, there is “Urban Fare Limit”. What kind of tickets will I need?
And do you know for what size of luggage is neccessary to have a ticket?
Thank you,
Darina

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Jessica October 3, 2011 at 9:00 am
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It looks like your best bet would be a “cumulative” ticket that includes both the city center (Urban Ticket) plus one zone (which is how Assago is categorizes – a +1 zone outside the city center). A U+1 ticket costs 2.50euro and is valid for 105 minutes from stamping:
http://www.atm-mi.it/en/ViaggiaConNoi/Biglietti/Pages/Biglietticumulativi.aspx

There are also one-day passes you can get, if you’re going to be making that journey several times within 24 hours. Assago is categorized as a “Small Area,” so a 24-hour ticket would cost 5.70euro.

I can’t find any description on the ATM site of how large a piece of luggage has to be in order to require a ticket, only that a luggage ticket costs 1.50euro. If you’re in doubt, you can go ahead and buy the ticket – or ask at a ticket window (when they’re open) at a station.

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Darina October 3, 2011 at 10:37 am
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Thank you very much!

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trafgarth May 31, 2012 at 1:03 am
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We(5-6 colleagues) would be touring in september to Milan.Which is a good area in milan to stay for 4-5 days for a budget accomodation.Also what are the things to be careful about there(pickpockets or stuff like that).Where could we shop for italian clothes at good bargain rates.

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Nargess October 8, 2012 at 5:08 am
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Thank you so much! your web site is one of the most useful sources for traveling I have ever seen.
I have two questions:
1-Do you know the restaurants which serve “Halal” foods (Suitable foods for muslims)?
2-I have very limited time in Milan. Could you please help me to find the best shopping centers?
Thank you

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