Milan is a beautiful city steeped in rich history. The marks of an ancient culture live side by side a bustling modern Milan. My Italian friend Georg and I have collaborated on a list of 10 budget-friendly things we think you shouldn’t miss in Milan, Italy.
The Duomo (€3+)
Visit the magnificent Duomo (Dòmm in local Milanese). This Gothic Cathedral is dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Duomo and its golden Virgin Mary statue tops the highest spire. They are the undisputed symbols of the city. The 5th largest cathedral in the world is home to the legendary Sacred Nail, one of the nails from the cross of Jesus Christ. The cost of a ticket, €3.00, covers the entrance to the church, Duomo and museum. For €7.00 the ticket will allow additional access to the archeologic area inside the Duomo, including the ancient Cathedral. If you want to walk through the 135 spires of the Duomo, you may purchase the all-inclusive ticket for €12.00 ticket, (use the lift for €4.00 more).
Take a Tour of the Seven Churches (Free-€10)
If you love history, architecture or old churches, the Tour of the Seven Churches is a must see.
You should start with the hidden church of Santa Maria Presso San Satiro; a church started in 1476, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Satiro, the brother of St Ambrose (the Saint Patron of Milan). The church is famous for its particularly unique “false apse” by Donato Bramante.
San Sebastiano (the Civic Temple), was built in 1577. Look for the six crests of Milan’s “sestieri” (old wards) and the St George’s Cross, the flag of Milan.
Third on the tour is the baroque Sant’Alessandro in Zebedia, started in 1601. It stands on the same location where Saint Alexander had been imprisoned.
The 4th church is San Giorgio al Palazzo (St George at the Palace). It is placed on the corner of the ancient Imperial Palace, seat of Roman Emperor in the time when the capital was moved from Rome to Milan. It’s also where the Roman Emperor Constantin proclaimed the Edict of Tolerance (Edict of Milan). In 313 AD, the Edict ended the religious persecutions of Christians.
The Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the most ancient churches in Milan. Its humble beginnings started in the 4th century and has been modified over the centuries.
Santa Maria alla Vittoria, while medieval, was redone in 1629. Despite being a Catholic Church, it was gifted by the Catholic Archidiocesis in Milan to the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The final church on the tour is Sant’Eustorgio; built before the 4th century A.D in classic Lombard Romanic style. It shelters the reliquiae of the Three Wise Men.
Many of the chapels are free to walk through. However, in Sant’Eustorgio a small fee is charged for access to the Cappella Portinari (Portinari Chapel) with the Arch of St Peter Martyr and the Paleo-Christian cemetery, including the catacombs. The tickets vary from €6-8.
If you want to walk beyond Sant’Eustorgio a few more steps away, you will find a door called “Porta Ticinese.” It reaches the Navigli, the navigable canals of Milan.
Check out the Brera District (Free+)
Wander through the hip district of Brera, full artists and par à-la-page. Visit the Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery, It was the pet project of Austrian Empress Marie Therese in the 1770s. The gallery houses the art of the Masters including Di Vinci and Picasso.
Kicking around the district is free, but the gallery will set you back about €10.00. If you happen to visit on the first Sunday of the month, entry is free.
Tuck in at Trattoria Albero Fiorito (€10-15) Eating in Milan is very expensive, but there are still a few places you can go that won’t break the bank. L’Albero Fiorito is an old style tavern in a closed alley in the eastern part of Milan. It has a fifties vibe. Enjoying soup, a main course, veggies and a glass of wine will cost around €15. They are only open for lunch and mostly offer traditional Milanese dishes.
Via Privata Andrea Pellizzone, 14, 20133 Milano MI, Italy | +39 02 7012 3425 (9/20/20 Update: Now Closed)
The Navigli Canals (Free+)
The Navigli are ancient artificial canals built for navigation and irrigation. They allowed for the transport of the marble to build the Cathedral. From the Darsena (the harbour), you can take the Naviglio Pavese, to the left or the Naviglio Grande to the right. If you follow along the right side of the canal, you also will see a traditional Milan courtyard and the picturesque Vicolo Lavandai, better known in Milanese language as Vicol di Lavandee. It translates to “Washermen alley” and was used when men and women washed their clothes in the canals. Wander over the canals by way of the beautiful bridges. It’s especially romantic in the evenings. For €14 you can take a one-hour boat trip. (Info@navigareinlombardia.it).
The Castle and Michelangelo’s last Pietà (Free+)
The Dukes of Milan hired some of the best artists of the time to make Milan even more stunning. Even Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo made their contributions. The Sforza Castle was initially built in 1499 and restored at the end of 19th century. It houses the frescoes of Leonardo and Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the “Pietà Rondanini.” It was the last Pietà sculpted by him.
You can purchase a ticket for €5.00, or you can buy the Milan Tourist Museum card for just €12.00. It’s a great value and lasts three days. It allows you to visit the Castle museums and many of the other Museums in Milan. The Castle courtyard is free. For more info click here.
Take in an Opera (€10+)
The “Teatro alla Scala”, is one of the most important theatres in the world. But it’s best-kept secret is that it is possible to catch one of the operas, ballets or concerts for €15 or less! If you are willing to take a seat in the upper gallery you can enjoy an experience few can afford. While the visibility is reduced to some degree, overall it is a great value. Those tickets may cost less than €15, and you may go without formal attire! Also, shortly before the event, you can score low-cost tickets.
To find out more about the neoclassical theatre built in 1776, visit here.
Chow Down at Trattoria Sabbioneda (€10+)
The Milanese and Viennese often quarrel over who was the first to create the cutlet. In Milan, it is called Milanese cutlet, in Vienna, it’s the Viennese Cutlet. Finding a great cutlet will cost you a pretty penny in most restaurants. However, at Trattoria Sabbioneda, (near Porta Venezia and Central Station), you are lucky enough to enjoy Cottoletta alla Milanese for under €10! If you add a glass of wine, it might bump you up to €12. The restaurant offers other traditional Milanese dishes like Cassoeula and Ossobuco cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth. Order up the delicious or the salame di cioccolato (chocolate salami)!
Via Alessandro Tadino, 32, 20124 Milano MI, Italy | +39 02 2952 1014
See Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (€10+)
The masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, can be found in the reflectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It was commisioned in 1495 by the Duke of Milan. Reserve your ticket in advance online for €12. For more information click here.
For €10 more you can visit the near Casa degli Atellani. The vineyard was a gift from Ludovico “Il Moro” Duke of Milan, to Leonardo da Vinci as a gift in 1498. It’s a place full of legends and lore involving Leonardo and his works. Today the vineyard is in keeping within the 16 original rows and the original vine stock.
The Old Trams (€1.50)
A ride on the Old Trams is a must in Milan. The town uses trams of different shapes and ages, some very modern and one very old. You can recognize the old tram because it is a wagon with the wooden seats and lamps. It looks like an old parlor room. The trams usually run on lines 1, 5, 10, 19, 33. You can identify them by their yellow color if they are not sponsored. Milan gifted one of the trams to San Francisco, California.
A tram ride, inside the city limits, around € 1.50 and lasts 90 minutes from first validation.
The Fashion District (Free to Credit Card Coma)
Even if you can’t afford the ridiculous prices of the Fashion District, it is a worthwhile trip. As the epicenter of Italian fashion, it is a must see. If you are staying in a hotel ask at the front desk for ‘The Golden Shopping Map Milano’. Start at the Quadrilatero d’Oro (the Golden Rectangle) and be prepared to be amazed. The square is lined with famous haute couture boutiques including Versace, Prada, and Armani.
Have a few hundred euros burning a hole in your pocket? Visit the Corso Buenos Aires, with over three hundred and fifty high street brands represented here, the street boasts the largest concentration of shops in Europe.
For the more frugal, vintage stores like Mercantino Michela, Superfly and Lipstick Vintage all offer designer labels like Ferragamo, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana for a fraction of the retail price.
da Martino (€10+)
This intimate restaurant is serving all sorts of traditional Milanese food. Of course, you can find the traditional Milanese cotoletta (almost as big as your head), but you can also choose from other foods as well as a selection of polentas, and pizzas. You’ll spend about €15 for a great meal including a glass of wine or beer. Don’t miss the sweet apple pie with mascarpone!
Via Carlo Farini, 8, 20154 Milano MI, Italy | +39 02 655 4974