7 Awesome Free Things To Do In Milan And A Giveaway
Milan and I seem to be having this last minute, no questions asked, come as you are, kind of affair.
I’ve visited the city three times already and I never planned in advance, it always just happened naturally that our paths crossed. Interestingly enough, all times it’s been in winter, around New Year’s Eve.
This time it was different.
I didn’t know where I was going to celebrate the beginning of 2016 till the last moment, but as soon as I set my mind to go somewhere, a quick search of airfares gave me the answer – the cheapest plane ticket to a nice enough destination from my nearest airport was to Milan.
I didn’t even sleep it over, I woke up in the middle of the night and bought the ticket on the spot.
I’ll admit, it was my first long solo road trip and I was quite excited and anxious and even scared. But I packed my bags and boarded the plane.
After getting lost on the way from Milan Central Station to the hotel and asking a few strangers for directions, I finally checked in and my adventure began.
Winter Is The Season To Visit Milan
While some might find it cold and even unpleasant, Milan in winter is actually very beautiful. All the Christmas decorations and holiday spirit make the city of fashion almost fairytale-like.
The streets aren’t packed with tourists, in fact most tourists seem to only visit the main sightseeing attractions – Duomo and the square in front of it with Vittorio Emanuele’s lovely statue; Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the mother of all shopping malls; a few of the museums and galleries in the former palaces around; the fashion and shopping district; the Sforza Castle.
The rest of the city is more or less tourist-free. There are whole streets with no single person walking down the cobblestone pavement.
Italy’s second biggest and financially and economically most important city sure is quite expensive, and for a broke beginner blogger as myself it was a priority to watch my daily budget closely.
I was happy to find there are still tons of free things to do.
Here’s my list of free activities I enjoyed the most.
7 Awesome Free Things To Do in Milan
The most obvious of all would be make your own walking tour, taking pictures of the wonderful buildings and admiring the architecture. Ancient Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Neo-Romanesque, Art Nouveau, neo-medioeval, Art Deco… you name it, everything is to be found in Milan.
If you need help and ideas where exactly to go, check out the app GPSmyCity for itineraries and maps. I’ve just partnered up with them and I’ll be giving away 20 promo codes, so read this post till the end to find out what to do in order to win one of them.
While walking and paying attention where you step (as streets, especially back alleys, can be sometimes covered in dog poop and vomit after the holidays) is important, looking up can actually provide quite surprising and rewarding sights – façades full of ornaments, statues and occasionally graffiti and street art.
Lots of shops have found their home in buildings, which are actually real architectural monuments and quite worth at least a look, if not a picture.
During holiday season a lot of attention is paid to the decoration, and since it gets dark pretty early in the afternoon (and it might be darkish during the day too due to weather conditions), you don’t have to wait long for all the lights to go up and to enjoy a wonderful scene.
- While crossing squares and famous sites, you’ll encounter lots of street artists. Some of them are actually great at what they do. I’ve listened to some excellent covers of big rock hits and nice jazz jams. People were indeed stopping and listening to the music and even dancing in the street, the atmosphere was amazing. Not to mention the beautiful graffiti, left by unknown hands.
Speaking of music, lots of shops around the world play music for their customers to enhance their shopping experience, or actually to make them shop more. But in Milan, the whole fashion district plays background music! Yes, that’s right, you walk down the pedestrianised streets and do your window shopping accompanied by music.
While doing your window shopping in the fashion district between the streets Via Montenapoleone, Via Della Spiga and Via Manzoni, don’t miss to check out the guards and the consultants in the shops – most of them look like they’ve just stepped down from the catwalk for their day jobs!
- People watching can be done pretty much everywhere, but I’ve noticed that both locals and visitors in Milan tend to be more interesting to observe than anywhere else I’ve been. From elegance to extravagance, from thousand-euro-suits to something that seems like your grandma just knitted, from heavy makeup, dyed hair or tattoos to perfect skins and hairdos. Most squares, as well as cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating, offer excellent places to enjoy the view.
Of course, if you’re not into crowds and watching what other people are wearing or look like, you can head to one of the parks. Semprione Park and Montanelli gardens are two of the most popular ones. The first one stretches from the Sforza castle to the Arc of Peace and is the home of the Aquarium, the Triennale and the Palace of Art, among others.
- And if that’s not for you either, maybe visit a market. From clothes to fruit and vegetables and flea markets, there’s something for everyone there. Be sure to check what you’re paying for very carefully and not make my mistake of becoming overly excited to find mangos for 1 €, only to discover later that the one I bought was spoiled and hardly edible.
If you’re tired of being outside, why not head to one of the gazillion churches in Milan? From Il Duomo, the magnificent cathedral and landmark of the city, to the Church of Holy Mary of Grace, the original home of Leonardo’s “Last Supper” (not anymore!), all churches, cathedrals and basilicas in Milan are free to visit. Just have in mind, that they are places of worship so don’t disturb people who are praying, confessing or listening to the mass.
For the Duomo you need to pass through a security check and the line to get inside is really long, even in winter. It is considerably shorter in the mornings.
The façade of the cathedral is more interesting and astonishing, in my opinion, and I really wonder why people spend more time queueing than looking at the statues and decorations on the exterior.
For example, the amazing bronze gate had absolute no one looking at it until I approached. And the scenes depicted are unbelievably beautiful, see for yourself.
My personal favourite church turned out to be the Romanesque style Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, one of the oldest churches in the city.
I spent probably an hour or even longer (I really lost track of time!) sitting in the crypt in the back of the basilica, listening to the mass (no, I didn’t understand a word), smelling the incense, while I couldn’t help but think about life, death and the legacy each one of us leaves behind.
For me, visiting about three churches in a city is the most I can take in, so I left visiting some of the other churches for my next visit. No, I’m not planning it, but I’m sure it will happen one day when the time is right.
Money Saving Tips
- Transportation: instead of using taxis whenever you can’t reach an attraction or your hotel on foot, use the extensive public transportation network. It’s convenient and rather cheap. I used the 10 tickets carnet and a couple of single tickets and my transportation costs for six days were around 15 euro, the approximate price of a single taxi ride. You can ask for assistance or directions the ATM agents in the underground, most of whom speak English and are very helpful.
- Food: eateries in Milan and other parts of Italy have different prices for drinks and food ordered and consumed at the counter and for sit down meals and drinks. If you’re just going to drink coffee or a beer, there’s no point at taking up a table and paying double the price. Not all menus mention the service fee. In one pizzeria I witnessed two girls being really surprised at their bill; they were expecting to be paying 7 € for the pizza they shared when they were asked for 10 € – that included a 1.50 €/person service fee, which they shouldn’t have had to pay, had they ordered the pizza as take away.
What locals do when they order their espresso has left me surprised more than once. They hardly leave the coffee settle in the small cup and they drink it bottoms up as if their time on Earth was running out. I can’t stop wondering how the hell they don’t burn their insides?!?
For dinner, you can save a few bucks by joining the locals for their apperitivo. Lots of bars offer from small snacks to huge buffets if you order a drink in the evening. Prices of drinks are higher then, but it’s still cheaper than ordering a meal and a drink elsewhere.
- Accommodation: during my visits in Milan, I’ve stayed in some very affordable 3* hotels with great complementary breakfast and I see no reason to book a dorm bed or try to save a few cents there. A single room with private bathroom, a delicious breakfast, free Wi-Fi, free toiletries and a safe in the room for 47 € per night might not seem cheap to some people, but there’s no way I’m sharing my bathroom with eight or so other people :) Have in mind, that choosing the right location can save you on transportation costs – check that you can easily access train stations or airports as well as the main attractions that you’ll be visiting from your accommodation before you book.
You have read this far, thank you! Now for the giveaway. As I mentioned above, I’ve partnered up with GPSmyCity and we’re giving away 20 promo codes for their awesome apps!
Twenty of you can win a full version of one of the Walking Tours apps of your choice! Why not start planning your own trip to Milan right now, using my tips and the suggested itineraries? Or use one of the other apps on your next journey – the choice is yours if you win, you only need to let me know what’s your preferred city and which platform you use.
The rules are really simple:
Connect with me and share this blog post on a social media of your choice. You can find sharing buttons at the top and bottom of this post and my social media accounts in the sidebar.
Leave a comment below and subscribe to my mailing list for awesome updates by leaving the checkbox “Please notify me about new stuff on NTripping.com!” selected. Note, that you have to verify your email in order for your subscription to be completed.
In two weeks time, i.e. February 11th, 2016, I’ll select 20 winners at random, who will receive their promo codes via email or a message on the social media they used.
That’s it! Good luck!