Milan: 10 Free Things to do
Milan – the fashion capital is associated with glamor and rich style. And yes, expensive shops can be found everywhere in the center. And there are places where you can buy a bag that costs as much as a round the world trip. This, of course, shouldn’t stop you from exploring the city, because my Milan was a bit different and way more budget friendly. I wanted to see what it is to live there. From my two week experience – here are some of the free things you can do as a tourist.
Start your budget trip to Milan with a free tour. As most of the big cities in Europe, Milan also has a free tour that you can join on your first day of exploring. I am a big advocate of this type of tours (read our article about the benefits of free tours), but when I was in Milan for the first time, I didn’t even know about them. Next time I go, I’d definitely join. One of them starts at 10amat the Duomo Square and lasts about 3.5 hours covering most of the important sights.
Duomo di Milano
The Gothic cathedral in the center of the city that is the symbol of Milan is absolutely free to visit. If you want to take photos inside, you have to pay. A friend of mine wisely said to the staff that she will take pictures with her eyes! The main square around it is always full of tourists and a common meeting spot. From outside you will be mesmerized by the enormous white building and you will feel so small in front of it. Once inside, admire the stained glass windows and if it happens to be sunny outside you will also see the light passing through them which is breathtaking! Keep in mind that you have to be dressed properly covering your arms and legs, which means no shorts, skirts or tank tops. You also cannot carry suitcases or big bags inside. The cathedral is open daily except on Christmas and 1st May.
For some this will probably look like an odd thing to add to the sightseeing list. But the cemetery is a real gem! I found it to be so peaceful and beautiful. You can walk for hours observing the sculptures, because each of them tells a story. The story of a mother, a child, of a painter or a poet , a local, a foreigner, an Italian celebrity…
On your way there you can pass the Chinese neighborhood and its many small shops.
It is the biggest and most popular park in the center of Milan. And because it is in the historic center, it is near most of the sightseeings. After you get tired of exploring the city, you can relax at the park or if you feel like walking more, just enjoy the greenery and fresh air. Here’s a scheduling tip: visit the Castello Sforzesco first and then the park is just a few steps away.
Apart from the fact that it is super expensive, Corso Como is actually free! How is that? This is a department conceptual store that will be heaven for fashion and design lovers. It is created more than 20 years ago by Carla Sozzani and now it has cafe, art gallery, rooftop garden, amazing bookshop and the first floor houses a vast selection of fashion design items. I’ve heard there’s also a so-called hotel in the building consisting of well…3 rooms. Most of the things that they sell of course are extremely expensive, but exploring the place, getting inspiration and observing the collections they sell is actually free. Another thing that is free is the art gallery that has great temporary exhibitions. Of course if you have a few thousands to spare, you will be even happier with the place. But then again, you wouldn’t be reading this post, right?
Another similar place is La Rinascente across the Duomo di Milano. It was founded in 1917 and has 8 floors with everything you can imagine, just to name a few – high-end fashion, interior and product design, cosmetics, food.
Colonne di San Lorenzo
You want to grab a beer but don’t know where to go to meet people? Well, you can pay 15+ euros entrance fee to join the Milanese elite in one of the rich clubs such as Cavalli or you can join the young people at the little square in front of the San Lorenzo Basilica for free. There are columns around the square that are part of Roman ruins dating back to 2nd century. In the summer evenings this place is full of people casually sitting on the floor, smoking and drinking. There are bars around it to get beer on the go. In my opinion, the best way to meet the locals. Also, the Porta Ticinese area looks like a hip place where the streets are always crowded and something interesting is happening on every corner.
Acquario Civico di Milano
If you have kids with you or if you are a kid at heart, then you will enjoy a visit of the third oldest aquarium in Europe. The aquarium is small, but well-maintained and in a beautiful building near the Parco Sempione.
Milan houses some amazing art collections. And here’s the best thing – some of the museums and galleries are free or with reduced of free admission on certain hours and days. Do your research beforehand depending on what you want to see and what kind of art you enjoy the most. Here are some suggestions:
Galleria d’Arte Moderna
Museo del Novecento
The different neighborhoods of Milan can give you a different and more complete perspective of the people and the lifestyle of the city. Take a walk or sit with a cocktail and observe the people, the street style, the behavior.
Walk along the Navigli canals especially in the evening where people are meeting with friends and drinking aperitivo, visit the Brera district for some bohemian atmosphere with a lot of bars and art shops, Porta Ticinese (as said above) is full of young people in the evenings. Quadrilatero d’Oro (The Golden Quadrangle) is a rich fashion distric formed by 4 streets that house the most expensive, renowned Italian and international fashion houses, a lot of botiques where you can find clothes, shoes, jewelry and furniture.
Get lost in the narrow streets
Milan doesn’t have that many narrow streets especially compared to other Italian cities, but still, I would recommend to leave your map and just let the streets take you somewhere. You might be surprised! This is actually a free activity to do in every city that can give you an insight on the everyday life, the culture and architecture, the overall feeling of the place.
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