Of all Milan’s many treasures, Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterwork is the most famous. The artistry is certainly impressive, and as a historical artifact it stands as yet another reminder of Da Vinci’s overwhelming genius, but what’s truly amazing is that it exists at all. The combination of oil and egg tempera the artist used to create it was not meant to last for over 500 years, and it has withstood ill-conceived restorations, careless structural alterations (including a doorway that chopped off part of the painting), and bombing raids that wiped out many of the surrounding buildings. But exist it does, and any visitor to Milan who will be in town for a day or longer should take advantage of the chance to see something so precious. Unfortunately, you will not be alone. The Last Supper is among the world’s most famous pieces of art, and it is housed in the small monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, so it’s essential to plan in advance.
Seeing The Last Supper: Essential Info
- Advance reservations are required.
- Viewings are limited to 30 people at a time, in 15 minute intervals.
- Tickets are available online Tuesday through Sunday from around 8am to 7pm, with extended hours on Sundays during the high season (late spring and summer).
- Book tickets as soon as possible. For the high season, book at least 8-10 weeks in advance of your arrival.
- Guided tours can be purchased in advance as well, and offer more information on the history and artistry of the painting.
- The museum is closed on Mondays as well as Christmas, New Year’s Day, and May 1st (Labor Day).
- Non-flash photography, day packs, strollers and water bottles are permitted. Large bags, food, and open beverages are not permitted.
- Children under 18 get free admission.
Reservations and Buying Tickets
It is highly unlikely to be able to see the Last Supper without a reservation. Only 30 visitors are brought in at a time, in 15 minute intervals, to try and minimize wear and tear on the painting. However, tickets are available for purchase in advance online for time windows Tuesday through Sunday from around 8am to 7pm, with extended hours on Sundays during the high season (late spring and summer). Visitors during the high season will want to book tickets at least 8-10 weeks in advance of your arrival. Otherwise, a 4 to 6-week time frame is generally fine. Basic rule of thumb: as soon as you know you will be in Milan and when, buy your Last Supper ticket.
Multiple websites, including the official VivaTicket site, offer advance tickets for entry during the 15-minute time windows. When buying tickets (you can buy up to 5 at a time), you might be asked to reserve for “Cenacolo Vinciano” which means “Da Vinci’s Last Supper” in Italian. You also might encounter some confusing information; for instance, there is often a statement on the VivaTicket site for a “pre-sale opening,” which just indicates how far in advance tickets are available for a certain date. The “pre-sale” for buying tickets in May and June currently starts on the 13th of February. Generally though, you can ignore that part and just reference the calendar, which indicates the days still available for bookings. You can also gain entrance to the Last Supper via the Milano City Pass (although you will still need to book far in advance), which may be worth the extra cost if you are planning on an extensive museum run in Milan. If you are pinching pennies, note that entrance to the museum is free the first Sunday of every month; however, a reservation is still required (and because it’s free, even harder to come by). Children under 18 get in free for any showing, although again, reservations are compulsory.
If your date is no longer available on the calendar, do not despair – you may still find availability through a guided tour. A guided tour will cost more money, but in many ways is a better way to experience the painting; the short viewing window and lack of signage make it difficult to adequately appreciate the painting’s history and artistic merits otherwise. Many tours will also include other popular tourist attractions in Milan as well, like the Duomo, the Galleria, and Sforza Castle.
Best Guided Tours of Da Vinci’s Last Supper
Groups of guests are asked to arrive 20 minutes early; the viewings are tightly managed, so there’s never a long wait after your allotted time. Groups are then shuttled through a series of checks and waiting areas. First outside, where guests can get a good look at Santa Maria delle Grazie itself – a rather ordinary piece of architecture, not at all the kind of grand cathedral you might assume. Next, groups are herded into a waiting area where tickets are verified, with placards on the walls that describe the history of the building, but surprisingly little information on the painting itself (a good reason to consider going on a guided tour). After that, there’s a climate-controlled buffer space where guests wait for another few minutes until finally being allowed entry into the refectory in which the painting resides.
If the building is humble on the outside, the arched, rectangular room which houses the painting is even more unremarkable. The Last Supper is displayed on one of the shorter walls; the other is taken up with the pleasant, but badly outclassed, Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfino. The painting sits rather high up on the wall, and guests often spend most of their 15 minutes trying to take it in from different angles. The museum guides inside will alert visitors at 5-minute intervals, and will begin shuttling the group out with only a few minutes to spare. Linger as long as possible, but respect the time of the next group.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Go
The museum is closed on Mondays as well as Christmas, New Year’s Day, and May 1st (Labor Day). Milan is quite busy with tourists during the summer, and with many attractions closed in August (when most locals and a number of business owners flee the city), getting tickets will be more difficult. The easiest time to get tickets is generally during fall or winter, but check the calendar for the city’s two winter Fashion Weeks (one in January and another in February), as Last Supper tickets – and hotel rooms – are harder to secure during these times.
Until the last few years, pictures in the room housing the Last Supper were strictly forbidden, but ever since 2010, when Silvio Berlusconi took one of himself and Dimitri Medvedev standing in front of the painting, restrictions have relaxed.
- Non-Flash photography is allowed. Flash photography is not.
- Large bags are not permitted, although day packs are OK, as are strollers and water bottles.
- Food and open beverages are not allowed.
- Guests are often asked to leave wet coats and umbrellas in the waiting area to collect later.
- Because the museum is part of a working convent, an informal dress code is also in effect. The staff probably will not actually prevent you from entering, but you will risk being on the receiving end of a disapproving stare if you show up in shorts and a tank top.
How to Get There
Santa Marie delle Grazie is walkable from the Duomo/Centro Storico area, although it is not a direct route and might be too far with young children. If you choose to take public transit, the number 16 tram (view an online tram map for more details) will drop you right in front. You can also take the M1 Metro from the Duomo stop to Cadorna, which gets you within a few blocks of the museum; the M2 line also will drop you at Cadorna if that’s more convenient (consult an online metro map or download the ATM Milano app for more detail).
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