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Italy Q&A: What to do with a 5-hour layover at Malpensa?

This question came in via a comment on my post about taking the Malpensa Express into Milan, so I thought I’d answer it in the Italy Q&A series. It’s from Nikolaos, who says:

I would like ask you something important for me, in December i’ll flight to amsterdam with a stop to milan.I’ll have 5.30 hours before the new flight, is it good idea to go milano with malpenzaexpress. My flight arrive at 12.23 and live again at 18.05

That’s a great question, Nikolaos – whenever you’re dealing with an airport layover of more than a couple of hours, it’s a good idea to think about whether you can get into the city you’re closest to in order to kill some time. Unfortunately, because Malpensa Airport is actually quite a ways outside Milan, it’s a little harder to answer your question with a straight “yes” or “no” answer.

The Malpensa Express, as efficient as it is, takes 40-45 minutes just to reach its central Milan destination, and from that station you’ll still have to get on the Milan Metro, a tram, or hail a taxi in order to get to anything that could be considered a tourist attraction. So of that roughly five hours you’ve got as a layover, you’re already looking at two of them being taken up by transportation back and forth from central Milan.

What I’d say is this – it depends first of all on how much time you’ll need at Malpensa to do whatever you need to do there. If you need to go through customs or passport control, then you might not want to venture too far beyond the airport, because you just never know how long that stuff is going to take. But if you speed through it at the start and don’t have to do it before you board your departing flight, or you don’t need to do it at all, then I’d say the two or so hours that you’re left with after factoring in transportation to/from Milan’s city center is plenty of time to take in a couple of sights.

I’d suggest you take the Malpensa Express to its central Milan stop at Cadorna station and then take the Metro to the Milan Duomo. You can walk around the inside of the Duomo for free, and then take the elevator onto the roof for a view over the city (weather permitting). Then, because Milan will be festooned with Christmas decor and therefore even more pretty than normal, I’d recommend a quick stroll through the adjacent Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II (there’s often some kind of pretty lighting display inside just below the glass domed roof) and then a walk through the nearby Brera district. The Brera is full of great shops and cafes, so you can even get a bite to eat before heading back to Cadorna station for a return trip on the Malpensa Express.

The things to remember before you head into central Milan are:

  • The Malpensa Express only runs twice an hour, so be sure to check the return schedule when you arrive at Cadorna (or before you leave Malpensa) so you don’t miss your train.
  • When you buy your Malpensa Express ticket into Milan, be sure to buy a return ticket at the same time so you can save a step when you’re on your way back to the airport.
  • At Cadorna, when you buy your metro ticket to get to the Duomo, remember to buy a second ticket so you can save a step there as well when you’re returning to Cadorna.

Have a great trip, and if you’re looking for tourist information about Amsterdam, then let me pass along my colleague’s excellent Amsterdam Travel Guide as well.