Plan your Visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is arguably the second most famous painting in the world after that other da Vinci masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. The superstar 15th-century mural is probably the most duplicated painting on the planet. It shows up on posters, placemats, calendars, coffee cups, mouse pads and any other flat surface humanity can print a picture on. It’s everywhere, and it has become one of Milan’s most famous attractions. For that reason, Last Supper tickets are in high demand. Unfortunately, many visitors never get to see this artwork.
When da Vinci was asked to paint The Last Supper on a wall in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, he chose to paint on dry wall rather than on wet plaster as is traditionally done in frescoes. This meant that the famous painting started to deteriorate almost immediately after he finished it.
As if that weren’t problem enough, the painting has a history of abuse which would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. French troops actually used this refectory as a stall! And Allied troops dropped a bomb on the neighboring church!!! Ah, humanity. All that damage means that access to The Last Supper is strictly limited to protect the painting, and visitors must pre-book online well in advance to secure a spot to see it.
Order Your Last Supper Tickets Far in Advance
Perhaps the best piece of advice we can give visitors is to start investigating the booking process as soon as you realize you want to visit Milan. Our trip to the city was a rather last-minute decision, so we only started looking into booking tickets the week before we arrived. Since we were visiting WAY off season, we assumed we would have no problems getting a spot. We were wrong.
When we visited Vivaticket’s official booking site (see navigation tips just below), we discovered the first available Last Supper tickets were 12 days later, the very last day of our visit to Milan. Yikes, that was close! During peak travel times, spots can be booked out months in advance. If you can’t get tickets through the official site, consider taking a tour through a company which has pre-booked tickets for its tours. Check out Viator’s ‘The Last Supper’ tours, which come in many combinations. Below are just a few. You can click on the thumbnail photos to find out more.
How to Buy Last Supper Tickets through the Official Booking Site
1. Go to the official Last Supper booking page by clicking on this link to Vivaticket.
2. Before you can make a booking, you have to sign up for an account. Click the button in the upper right corner that says "Register". Alternatively, before you register, you can check if there are tickets available for the time you are visiting (follow instructions below). If there are no available tickets, there's no need to register.
3. Look for the listing CENACOLO VINCIANO and click the "Buy" button. ("Cenacolo Vinciano" is Italian for The Last Supper.)
4. The next part is very confusing. When the page loads, you see announcements about when particular dates will be open for booking. Basically, this shows you that you cannot book too far in advance. For example, "19 April booking opening for July and August" means that if you want to book tickets for July or August, you have to wait until April 19 before booking is even possible.
5. Click the orange "Buy" tab to see the months that are currently open for booking. You can change months buy clicking the > symbol on the calendar. Days with available Last Supper Tickets are highlighted in orange. Click your desired day.
6. When you click your desired day, a selection of available time slots opens up. Available times are highlighted in orange. Click your desired time slot.
7. Most people will need to select the "Intero" for full priced tickets. Presumably, if you qualify for the other discounts, you will be able to read them.
8. Click the "Buy" button. On the next page, you will select the number of tickets you want to buy. From there, the steps are pretty straight forward. Make sure you read through everything. You will have to complete payment, print tickets and bring them with you to the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Here is a link to the convent on Google Maps.
It may feel like a lot of work for a painting, but - hey - it's The Last Supper. ALSO, free admission is offered the first Sunday of every month; however, you still have to make an online reservation.
What to Expect from Your Visit
The visit itself is quite hilarious. First, we waited outside for our time slot. Second, we were herded into a pre-waiting room where they verified that we all had Last Supper tickets for the correct time slot. Next, our tickets were scanned and we were compressed into a Bond-style, climate-controlled glass room (pray for thin people). Finally, you enter the refectory containing the painting.
Even though both of us had seen the painting in documentaries, The Last Supper was larger and more impressive than we expected. We stared up - way up - in disbelief oohing and ahhing in the presence of greatness. We debated the enigmatic V-shape at the center of the painting which served as a major plot point in The Da Vinci Code. We eyed John the Apostle - he sure did look like Mary Magdalene to us! Maybe Dan Brown was on to something.
After 13 of our 15 allotted minutes with the painting, we turned around to discover that there was another painting on the opposite wall, Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano. As you can see in the photo above, a single man - a clear rebel - defied convention and stood alone admiring the magnificent fresco. In contrast to The Last Supper, the massive work was well preserved and full of detail and color. Somehow, it had never occurred to us that there was a second painting in the refectory. Poor da Montorfano, da Vinci stole all his glory.
We took one last moment to take in Crucifixion and glanced back at The Last Supper as a woman screamed hysterically over a loudspeaker trying to get our group out at the precise minute we were required to exit. Her booming voice echoed through the room reverberating off the walls. I'm sure that future generations will add that loudspeaker to the long list of atrocities that have been committed against da Vinci's masterpiece. We turned and quickly exited for posterity.
And Don't Miss the Amazing San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
If you've read this far, you must be a real art lover and therefore you deserve an extra tip, right? The gorgeous San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is just a few blocks down the street from Santa Maria delle Grazie and its interior is a major highlight of Milan. Every square inch of the interior is covered in 16th-century frescoes. And entry is FREE! Make sure to walk through the little door on the left to see the stunning Hall of Nuns with more frescoes. And if you need even more, the courtyard behind the church contains remnants of the Roman-era wall (with a surviving tower) that once surrounded Milan. Fantastic!
Plan Your Trip to Milan
Accommodation - Milan has plenty of accommodation, but during the summer months in Europe, make sure to book early. We recommend searching for great deals at HotelsCombined.com, a site which finds the best deals for you across numerous top hotel booking sites.
If you plan to stay for more than a few nights, we recommend booking an apartment through Airbnb (which we did). If you haven’t used Airbnb before and you click through this link here, you get a credit toward your first stay. The amount varies, but it’s usually between $25 and $35. Not too bad.
Guidebooks – We always travel with Lonely Planet guides. They are great for historical and cultural information, maps, walking tours, highlights, and itineraries. For Milan, you have several options, from more specific to more general. You can use the Pocket Milan Guide, the Lonely Planet Italy, or the Lonely Planet Europe if you are planning to travel to other European countries. If you prefer a more visual guidebook, we recommend the DK Eyewitness guide: Milan & the Lakes.