Uh oh. You want to see Milan on a budget? But it’s full of designer labels, supermodels and supercars, isn’t it? It’s where beautiful and wealthy people hobnob, drinking champagne in exclusive nightclubs and generally look beautiful and enjoy being fabulous, yeah?
Italy’s capital of style… It’s got to be too expensive for us normals, right? Wrong. Here are ten great things to do in Milan on a budget...
You know how the Italians breakfast. None of your branflakes or bacon and eggs thanks – breakfast in Italy is about strong coffee and sweet pastry. This is one custom that you should embrace wholeheartedly when you’re in Milan, especially when it means visiting a place like Pavé. Start your day the Italian way with an exceptionally good cappuccino and an even more exceptionally good pastry. Really, these guys are pastry alchemists. So much so that although a coffee and pastry will cost under a tenner, we can’t guarantee you’ll stop at one pastry. We wouldn’t either.
You have no business being in Milan without visiting the Milan Duomo rooftop terrace. Yes, it’s the most touristy thing you can do there and yes, you will be surrounded by lots of other tourists, but it’s busy for a reason – because it’s one of the great things to do in Milan on a budget. Not just the views down over the city, but the architecture and stonework that’s so intricate it forces you to wonder how on earth it was even built by human hands in the first place. You can get an elevator to the top, but that’s €13 – so fill up your water bottle and tie your shoelaces because you’re taking the stairs. It’s a fiver cheaper at €8, and it’ll work off a few of those cake-calories from breakfast.
Milan’s Navigli neighbourhood won’t cost you a penny to visit. It’s the buzzy, lovely, atmospheric area by the canals where the cool kids hang out, and it feels inescapably Italian. You can take a canal boat tour, but honestly, it’s even better to just walk around in your own time. On the last Sunday of every month there’s a flea market where you can easily lose yourself for hours. Evening time is when the place really comes to life though, as the streets fill with people chatting and laughing over aperitivo. This is the part of town that makes you think about packing up and just moving to Milano. Spend a tenner on whatever you like here; coffee, aperitivo, or something random from the flea market.
Time-wise, you don’t get a lot of bang for your buck with a visit to see Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ (each visitor is allocated 15 minutes to see the mural), but art-wise it’s a steal. This is one of the most famous artworks in the world and you’ve probably seen a hundred different touched-up versions of it, but frankly none compare to the real thing. Time has not been kind to Jesus and the lads –it’s very faded and flaky in parts, but you can still see details in it that you just don’t get with the reproductions. You HAVE to book weeks (or more) in advance for this one to get your 15 minutes. It’s €8 when you book in advance online.
Forget the pasta, pizza and panini, and pick up a piadina at Cera Una Volta Una Piada. A piadina is a griddled flatbread sandwich, stuffed with whatever kind of gorgeous Italian produce you can imagine, and they aren’t shy with the fillings. You’ll get a drink and a huge flat-bread that’s packed to the gills with things like buttery-soft prosciutto, grilled vegetables, fresh mozzarella and peppery rucola for around €5-7, and it’s guaranteed to actually fill you up. The place is adorable and the staff are lovely. There is literally no reason not to go here. Do it.
Giardini Indro Montanelli is a beautiful, peaceful park in the city, and it won’t cost you one penny to go in and stroll around. If you feel like taking a little break from the fast paced Milano madness, this is the place to go. Find a quiet little spot where you can stretch out (hopefully in the sun) and just breathe. Or read. Or have a picnic. Or take a nap. Actually, napping is the most likely outcome in this scenario. Enjoy.
It doesn’t matter where you go in Italy, you absolutely have to indulge in at least one gorgeous, crisp, sweet waffle cone filled with creamy, smooth gelato. There are lots of gorgeous gelateria in Milan, but Biancolatte is another stand out place. You’ll get two scoops in a cone for under a fiver, and although it’s a little pricier than some of Milan’s other gelateria it’s a few cent well worth paying. Try the hazelnut and the stracciatella (gelato with shards of chocolate – so much better than the choc chips you already know and love).
Walkabout Milano is a really good walking tour of the city with no price-tag attached. Yep, it’s free! No wait… actually it’s technically free but you should absolutely tip your funny, passionate and informative guide who is spending hours showing you the city. The tours start and end at Duomo square and you’ll spend around three hours in between visiting some of Milan’s most importnat, beautiful and interesting sights. Also, your guide will tell you where to find excellent pizza, which is enough of a reason to take the tour all on its own. No need to book, just be at the Duomo museum at 10am.
The trams in Milan are utterly charming, old, and noisy – and they’re a great way to see the city at your leisure. Some of them are almost 100 years old, and are not just a little slice of the city’s history, but they’re also a gorgeous way to get around. For just €1.50 you can get your grubby little mitts on a public transport ticket that lasts 90 minutes. You can get a decent tram map from the Duomo Metro office so that you know which trams will take you where. A 24 hour transport pass is €4.50, a 48 hours pass is €8.25. You’d be mad not to.
Aperitivo is one of the best Italian traditions there is. Booze + free food = happy tourists. There are of course caveats to this – in many places the food is not as much of a ‘free-for-all’ buffet as it once was (tourists, we have only ourselves and our lack of control to blame for this. This is why we can’t have nice things). But you can get a great cocktail or some nice wine and a selection of snacks and finger food in lots of great places around the city – as we mentioned earlier, the Navigli district is a pretty good place to find bars that serve good Aperitivo. Maya is one such place. A spicy little place that does lovely strong cocktails for a tenner, and a delicious finger food buffet with a Mexican twist. Try the passion fruit mojito.
There are plenty of great things to do in Milan on a budget so you won't have to worry about breaking the bank on your next city break.
Flights to Milan
- Dee Murray