The last time I went to Milan, I foolishly thought I could just stroll into the Santa Maria delle Grazie to check out Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper. I couldn’t and I missed it. So armed with that knowledge, on planning a second trip to Milan, I made sure I could get tickets.
The process was a fucking nightmare. I haven’t worked this hard for anything since I got tickets to Coachella a few years ago.
How to book your tickets
If you Google “Last Supper tickets,” almost everything on the first couple of pages consists of expensive and unnecessary tours. The upside of taking one of these tours is that you’re more likely to get in to see it even after tickets through the official channel are sold out. The downside is that sometimes this is bundled with things you may not want to do and it’s also going to cost you way more than the 12 euro that the tickets actually cost.
The official site to get tickets to the Last Supper is a horrible Italian ticketing site, Vivaticket. If you’re using a web browser, the tiny link to change the text to English is in the top left hand corner, and I’m pretty sure all it does is automatically turn on the webpage translator. There’s no dedicated English link, which is why it doesn’t come up on search results.
Ticket sale periods
The tickets to visit the Last Supper are distributed throughout the year, a couple of months in advance. For instance, tickets for July and August go on sale in May, tickets for September go on sale in June, etc. This is referred to on the site as the “pre-sale” period, though I’m pretty sure this is the main sale of tickets. If you don’t get tickets during this time, you’re left with whatever scraps they offer at the last minute.
I ended up being one of the unlucky people who had to refresh the site every day for a month to see if tickets for my travel dates would become available. In my defense, I hadn’t booked my trip to Milan prior to the pre-sale release date. Having experienced this, I would actually suggest you plan your trip to Milan around tickets to the Last Supper and not the other way around.
Getting tickets at the last minute
In the many weeks I spent trying to get tickets, I learned quite a bit about how the last-minute tickets are released. For one, you probably shouldn’t waste your time looking for tickets until about two weeks out. If you’re visiting June 15, for example, tickets for your week will probably become available at the end of May.
If you’re getting Last Supper tickets at the last minute, you’ll probably have to go during the week. Saturday and Sunday tickets rarely become available. Fridays are hit or miss. The place is closed on Mondays, so you need to make yourself fully available from Tuesday to Thursday to ensure a ticket.
Tickets are available by timeslot, which is why they’re so hard to get. That’s because they don’t allow more than a small group of 30 people in to see it at once. It’s great for preservation and so the experience isn’t ruined by a million other visitors. But it’s downright infuriating when it comes to booking them. Allow me to elaborate on why.
When you go to buy tickets, you basically see a calendar with days colored green if there is availability. When you click on the day, you’re given the available hours for that day. Tickets are available every 20 minutes from 8:20 am to 6:40 pm. What this doesn’t tell you is what kind of tickets are available or how many. You have to go through the checkout process each time to see what you’re even allowed to buy.
Sometimes a timeslot shows availability but then doesn’t let you add even a single ticket to your cart. Because fuck that website. In addition, the Last Supper offers guided tours, some in English and some in Italian. So for some timeslots throughout the day, you can’t buy a ticket to see it unless you also buy a ticket to the guided tour, which is an additional 3.50 euro. I wouldn’t necessarily mind paying that for an English guide, but I didn’t want to pay it for an Italian guide. So you’ll have a lot of experiences where there are tickets available but only one or only for a guided tour in Italian, so you have to wait until something else pops up.
My girlfriend and I eventually each got a ticket, for different times on different days. And that was the only way we were able to manage to get into the Santa Maria delle Grazie to see the Last Supper.
So is the Last Supper worth it?
My girlfriend went the day before I did, and I was pretty worried that she would come out disappointed and make me feel like not even bothering to wake up early the next day to do this. I asked the ticket office if they would change my ticket but the only time slot they had available was after hers, and they would have charged me to change it.
Instead, I waited across the street at the Cafe Le Grazie, which is a cozy spot for breakfast or for an aperitivo if you find yourself in my situation. She returned a mere 15 minutes after leaving, because your time in there is limited anyway. After all that, thankfully, she said she was glad she saw it.
I returned first thing the next morning and was pretty insulted to hear the lady opening the doors tell everyone waiting that if we didn’t have reservations, there were a lot of cancellations today. So you can chance it and go at 8 in the morning and you might get lucky.
After you get your ticket and go through security, you wait in a hallway where there’s a bit of information and some of da Vinci’s drawings of the painting being shown on a screen. Once you get inside the solemn, darkly lit room, the Last Supper is at the end of the hall. You’re allowed to take photos but only without flash. There’s a very noticeable door cut into the bottom of the painting, and though it’s not known for sure, according to the story, the owner wanted to be able to ride a horse into the monastery through this wall.
Though I wasn’t completely blown away, I’m also glad I saw it. It’s a masterpiece. That being said, I appreciated the equally grand fresco of the crucifixion across from the Last Supper. It has a lot more detail and is better preserved, even though they were painted simultaneously. But I guess if you’re the guy sharing a room with Leonardo da Vinci, you get the short end of the stick. (But his name is Giovanni Donato da Montorfano.)
Another nice detail about the Last Supper is that there is a small bas-relief of the painting for the seeing impaired. So for the blind, this is definitely worth it. You don’t see that kind of thing every day.
It took me over 800 words to describe the process it was to get tickets to the Last Supper, and less than half that to describe actually seeing it. And that’s a pretty accurate way to sum up the experience. But don’t let that deter you. To quote a friend, it’s worth it if you believe in its magic.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Milan guides on GPSmyCity here.