Yes, Milan is expensive – that doesn’t mean there aren’t any free things to do in Milan, or even cheap Milan activities for backpackers and budget-conscious travellers. With an eye to fellow budget travellers, we’ve complied this list of free things to do in Milan – just to show you that you can indeed enjoy the city on a budget.
Free things to do in Milan? Yes, you can!
I get a bit annoyed when I hear the reasons why people don’t like Milan. Normally, it has to do with the cost, but many money saving tricks just require a bit of common sense! Yes, the food can be overpriced and disgusting – but there are plenty of affordable options, including my five favourite trattoria. Yes, taxis are extortionately expensive – but there’s no need to take them, with an excellent bike sharing and public transport system.
However, sightseeing can be very, very affordable. There are plenty of free (or almost free) things to do in Milan, from visiting most of the churches (the Duomo only costs a few euros) to enjoying Milan’s best parks, touring some of the best museums, or going for a bike ride along the Navigli.
Here are our favourite free things to do in Milan – including top Milan attractions, and offbeat points of interest. All free, or almost free. Do you have anything to add?
Click below to jump to the relevant section!
Free Things to do in Milan
1) Check out the Duomo
Naturally, any list of things to do in Milan has to start with the Duomo, the wonderful cathedral built over a 600-year period, still standing proud in the piazza of the same name.
For years, entering the Duomo was free, save for a €2 camera permit. From 2015 onwards, a €3 charge was introduced for tourists visiting the Duomo, while worshippers can still enter for free, but only gain access to part of the Cathedral – so, if you’re thinking to pose as a devout Catholic just to tour the inside for free, don’t do it!
However, looking at the wonderful storybook façade of the Duomo is still free! There are hundreds of statues of saints, monsters and gargoyles decorating the spires and doors of Milan’s cathedral.
My favourite (and perhaps the most mysterious one) is the statue of Tarantasio, a dragon-dinosaur-looking creature found on the right hand side of the Duomo’s main door. As you can see, the creature looks small and cute – that is because the scene depicted on the Duomo façade is Tarantasio’s birth, so he was still a puppy dinosaur!
The legend goes that Tarantasio was a dragon that appeared in a swamp south of Milan in the 12th century, after the area was flooded from heavy rains. The ‘dragon’ terrorised villagers for two hundred years, until he mysteriously disappeared after yet another night of heavy rains – all that remained of him was a huge bone, floating to the top of the swamp.
How to get there: M1/M3 Duomo
2) Galleria Vittorio Emanuele – Spin on the Bull’s Balls!
Another unmissable free Milan activity is checking out Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the stunning arcade on the left hand side of the square when you stand in front of the Duomo, known as ‘il salotto di Milano’ (Milan’s sitting room).
Just walk through admiring the beautiful glass roof, luxury boutiques and historic stores lining the arcade, and stop in the centre to look at the four mosaics depicting the four continents. Do not stop at one of the bars or restaurants in the Galleria if you’re budget-conscious – prices are highly inflated and aimed at tourists.
You may also notice a small crowd standing in a spot near the centre of the arcade, with people taking turns spinning on their heels on a bull mosaic depicted on the floor. This unique Milan activity is totally free – anyone is welcome to spin on the bull’s balls three times, for good luck.
Why the bull, you may ask? Even as a Milan local, I don’t really know for sure – the most likely explanation is that the bull is the symbol of Turin, one of Milan’s arch rivals, and spinning on the bull’s balls is a tongue-in-cheek way to say ‘we’re better than you!’
How to get there: M1/M3 Duomo
3) Explore Castello Sforzesco
A short distance away from the Duomo you’ll find Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle in English), home to Milan’s rulers in the 15th and 16th century and still a stunning sight, standing right in the heart of the city, surrounded by moats that are home to a cute cat colony.
It’s free to walk through the castle courtyards, check out the moats and see the castle from the outside. Inside, the castle houses several civic museums, including an archaeological museum focusing on Egyptian artefacts, one dedicated to musical instruments, and a museum displaying Michelangelo’s masterpiece Pietà Rondanini.
There’s also an entire room decorated with frescoes by Leonardo Da Vinci, who lived in the castle for a number of years – for more info on museums, check out the castle’s official site.
You can enter for free every Tuesday from 2 pm onwards, and from Wednesday to Sunday from 4.30 to closing time.
How to get there: M1 Cairoli
4) Stroll around Parco Sempione
Again, Milan may not be London when it comes to parks, but it has some really amazing parks. In the centre, you’ll find Parco Sempione, extending north from the back of Castello Sforzesco, and definitely one of the coolest free places to see in Milan.
When I was a child, Parco Sempione had a bad reputation. In 1996, the Milan administration decided to clean it up, and since then it has become one of my favourite things to see in Milan. It’s a great choice for a picnic, on a nice spring day, for a run or just a wander, a breath of fresh air in the traffic-congested centre.
Architecture-lovers will especially dig the park. From the Art Nouveau Acquario, to examples of Fascist architecture like Palazzo dell’Arte and Torre Branca, the Arena (Milan’s first stadium) and of course Castello Sforzesco, Parco Sempione is an open air museum of the history of Milan’s architecture – and access is always free.
The area around Arco della Pace (the big arch at the opposite end from the Castle) is one of Milan’s coolest night time areas. Head there for an aperitivo after your stroll!
How to get there: M1 Cairoli, M1/M2 Cadorna
5) Visit the Acquario (from the outside)
I couldn’t fail to mention the Acquario in this list of free things to see in Milan, because when I was a child it was my favourite building. I loved the hippo fountain, the fish-like carvings and even the cavernous interior, and the neon-fish were my absolute favourites.
I bet many of you don’t even know Milan has an aquarium. It’s definitely no Sydney or Genova affair – there are no sharks, penguins or even dolphins, and the star-attractions are probably the jellyfish. Entrance used to be free for a long time, but recently a €5 entry charge was introduced.
However, you can still enter the Acquario for free every first and third Tuesday of the month, from 2 pm onwards.
So, why am I recommending the Acquario in this free things to do in Milan post? Because the building is absolutely stunning. It’s one of the most beautiful examples of Milanese Liberty, dating back from the early Twentieth century, with beautiful details such as tiled decorations representing marine life, carvings of squid and octopi and (of course) my beloved hippo fountain.
How to get there: M2 Lanza
6) Relax in Milan’s Parks, Gardens and Farmhouses
I said that Milan is no London when it comes to urban nature – yet, it still has a pretty impressive collection of parks, gardens and even cascine (farmhouses). And naturally, all parks and gardens are 100% free!
I’ve written a detailed post about the best Milan parks and gardens – besides Parco Sempione, the best ones to visit for a quick nature fix are the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli near Porta Venezia, and Giardino della Guastalla not far from San Babila.
If you want to ‘feel’ as if you’re the countryside without leaving Milan, head to one of the restored farmhouses in the city – two great options are Cascina Cuccagna near Porta Romana, housing a km zero restaurant and some indie shops, and Cascina Martesana, a great place for a beer in summer.
7) DIY sightseeing on a Vintage Tram
Milan’s iconic orange trams are not used for sightseeing tours, they’re public transport! The oldest-running public transport vehicles in the world, to be precise, having been in service since 1928.
Elsewhere in the world, a ride on such a cool-looking tram will be rather expensive, but in Milan it will cost you nothing more than an ordinary ticket (€1.50). So, it’s not strictly a free thing to do in Milan, but it’s close enough!
My favourite lines are tram 19, taking you from the working class world of Lambrate (my neighbourhood!) through some beautiful tree-lined avenues to Piazza Fontana, just off Duomo, and tram 1, travelling from Greco through the backstreets of the centre and then down genteel Via Vincenzo Monti and Corso Sempione, covering several Milan points of interest along its route. Hop on and hop off at your leisure, but don’t forget a ticket is valid 90 minutes!
8) Explore Unique Milan Churches
Besides the Duomo, every other church in Milan (that I know of) is free to enter. Here are some of my favourites!
- Sant’Eustorgio, one of Milan’s oldest churches, famous for being home to the stunning Renaissance Cappella Portinari and to fragments of the bones of the Three Kings
- San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, dubbed Milan’s Sistine Chapel on account of its beautiful frescoes
- San Bernardino alle Ossa with its creepy bone chapel
- Santa Maria alla Fontana, worth a visit for its fresco-covered cloister and ‘miraculous’ fountain, believed to have healing properties
- San Marco near Brera, one of Milan’s most unique churches, rich of mysterious symbols
- San Simpliciano, also near Brera, dating back to the 3rd century and with a beautiful mosaic covering the apse
9) Visit Sant’Ambrogio
I couldn’t just add Sant’Ambrogio to the previous paragraph – this church is really worth a visit, and naturally it’s also one of the best free things to do in Milan. Dedicated to the patron saint of Milan, Sant’Ambrogio is one of the oldest churches in the city dating back to the 4th century, and one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy.
Walk through the courtyard in front of the church and look at the beautiful capitals holding up the columns, all carved differently. In the church, check out the mosaic on the apse and remains of medieval frescoes. You’ll also notice a snake on top of a column – according to a local legend, the snake will slither down on Judgement Day, to grab the souls of sinners and carry them off to Hell.
10) Hunt for Street Art
Will you laugh if I tell you Milan has some great street art? Going on a DIY street art hunt in Milan is a cool free and fun activity. Most of it is found around the Isola district, not far from Garibaldi station. Another street art hotspot is Corso di Porta Ticinese and the Colonne di San Lorenzo, the area around Via Leoncavallo and Via Gaetano Pini near Porta Romana.
11) Ride your Bike Along the Navigli
I’ve told you how easy it is to ride a bike around Milan. Shame bike lanes are still few and far between. If you fancy a Sunday morning bike ride, there are two great options – both involving the Navigli, Milan’s artificial canals, one of Milan’s best free places to visit both during the day and at night!
One is the popular bike path along the Naviglio Grande, from the Porta Genova area in the city centre through some open countryside to the pretty villages of Gaggiano and Abbiategrasso. The trip is about 30 km in total, and it is possible to return by train.
The second is the Naviglio Martesana cycle path, from the Gioia area in the city to the Adda river, 40 km later. You’ll travel through some great urban nature, a coypu colony (yes, odd) and locks designed by Leonardo himself (or so the story goes).
A reader recommends cycling down Naviglio Pavese, all the way to Bereguardo. I haven’t tried this path myself but I’m sure it would be fun!
Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese are also close to some of Milan’s best street food!
How to get there: M2 Porta Genova (for Naviglio Grande and Pavese) and M2 Gioia for Naviglio Martesana!
12) Tour Cimitero Monumentale
Every great city has a great cemetery, and Milan’s very own is rather spectacular. Cimitero Monumentale is a real ‘city of the dead’, and a place where Milan’s history lives on through the graves of its most illustrious inhabitants. If you like quirky places, add this to your list of free Milan points of interest to visit!
There are more than 15.000 statues and three famous buildings; the Famedio or Pantheon (where writer Manzoni, politician Cattaneo and other famous Milanese are buried), the Ossario and the neoclassical former Crematorium. But the best thing to do is just wandering around the gravel lanes, marvelling at the sculptures and taking in the solemn (and slightly spooky) atmosphere.
How to get there: M2 Garibaldi and M5 Monumentale
13) See the world in one city at Chinatown
Milan’s first multicultural district, Chinatown, is definitely worth a visit if you ask me. Since main drag Via Paolo Sarpi, was made pedestrian, the district has become a pleasant place to walk around, buy some Chinese-style knick knacks and have a tasty Chinese meal.
Some of the best Chinese eateries in Chinatown include Wang Jiao, the Ravioleria Sarpi for takeaway dumplings and Chinese crepes, and Chateau Dufan for bubble tea and other sweet treats.
Chinatown is especially cool around Chinese New Year time, when lanterns light the streets, dragons and lion dances parade around accompanied by the sound of the drums. The next Chinese New Year celebration is on Feb 5th, 2019 – who’s coming?
How to get there: M2 Moscova
14) Check out the Porta Nuova Skyscrapers
Not far from Garibaldi station, you can’t miss Porta Nuova, the new steel-and-glass ‘district’, centrepiece for the Expo 2015 development.
Sit in lovely Piazza Gae Aulenti and crane your neck looking at the spire of the Unicredit building, the tallest in the city, check out the Egg artwork just around the corner, with brass pipes where you can listen to the sounds of the city, then follow the walkway to Bosco Verticale, a high-rise block of flats with trees and bushes planted on each terrace.
I wasn’t a big fan, but my recent visit of the district with Waam Tours definitely made me change my mind and include it in my list of favourite free Milan attractions. Visit in the late afternoon on a bright day, to see the pink sky reflected into the water of the fountains and the glassy façades. Don’t forget to take a spare memory card!
How to get there: M2 Garibaldi
15) Old Meets New in Isola
After Porta Nuova, take a quick walk around the corner to Isola, one of my favourite neighbourhoods in town – the easiest way to access it is walking underneath Garibaldi station, following the signs to Via Pepe.
The reason why I love Isola so much is that it’s a perfect example of old meets new – you’ll find hipster hangouts like Frida, excellent restaurants like Capra e Cavoli (one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants in Milan!) and lots of ‘Old Milan’ shops, unchanged for 50 years or longer.
If you want to know more, check this post about Isola, its street art and more!
How to get there: M2 Garibaldi, M5 Isola
16) Explore the Garden of Villa Necchi Campiglio
One of Milan’s best museums is Villa Necchi Campiglio, home to a rich bourgeois family during the early 20th century. The museum isn’t free, but the stunning garden with a decorative pool all around the residence is – a wonderful free alternative to a bar or café if you want to take a break from the chaos of the city centre!
How to get there: M1 Palestro
17) Piazza Affari and L.O.V.E.
This is one of Milan’s most unique and ironic sights, and also happens to be free! In 2010, when Italy was in the middle of the economic recession, a sculpture depicting a hand giving the ‘middle finger’ was placed in Piazza Affari, in front of Milan’s stock market.
The sculpture is titled L.O.V.E., an acronym for Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità (Freedom, Hate, Vengeance, Eternity), the author is Maurizio Cattelan, who never commented publicly on the meaning of his work – is it the 1% giving the middle finger to the rest of the world? Or is it the 99% saying ‘f*** you’ to the capitalist world of bankers and finance? In any case, check it out!
How to get there: M1 Duomo
18) Leonardo’s Horse at the Hippodrome
When Leonardo lived in Castello Sforzesco at the court of Ludovico il Moro, the ruler challenged him to build the largest equestrian statue ever in honour of his nephew. The statue was never completed, and the clay model, sketches and casts were lost over the centuries.
The sketches were found in 1965, and statue finally came to light in 1999, 500 years after the original model was destroyed, thanks to an art enthusiast that commissioned it to a Japanese artist. It stands in front of the Hippodrome, not far from San Siro stadium – the area is worth a visit also because it houses the longest street art wall in Milan.
How to get there: M1 Lotto, M5 San Siro
19) Fondazione Prada & Bar Luce
Fondazione Prada is a contemporary art gallery, housed in a former gin distillery, opened by the popular Prada fashion family. It houses a permanent collection in a super cool post-industrial setting – however, entrance is not free, it costs €15 per person.
Why am I mentioning it as a free Milan attraction? Because you can walk around the courtyard and check out the reconverted buildings for free, and access the uber famous Bar Luce, the insta-perfect bar designed by filmmaker Wes Anderson. A coffee at the counter will only set you off about a euro or so – almost free!
How to get there: M3 Lodi TIBB
20) Visit Milan’s Abbeys
The southern outskirts of Milan are home to several abbeys and monasteries – Chiaravalle, a wonderful example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture set in a large park, Viboldone, famous for its wonderful frescoes, and the abbeys of Morimondo and Mirasole, located further from Milan’s city borders but still worth a visit.
You can easily cycle to all these abbeys following cycle paths, or even combine two or more of them for a day trip dedicated to silence and spirituality. Whoever said Milan is all about hustle and traffic?
21) Go to the Beach – Idroscalo!
Did you know you can also go to the beach in Milan? Well, not quite – but you can go to Idroscalo, an artificial lake not far from Linate airport.
This is indeed the closest you’ll get to feeling ‘at the beach’ in Milan – you can rent pedal boats, lie in the sun, swim, go kayaking or even wake boarding. Access to the Idroscalo is free, activities are charged separately.
How to get there: Bus 183, 923
22) Go (Window) Shopping
Shopping is at the top of the list of all fashion things to do in Milan – however, it’s anything but free! Luckily for all budget conscious travellers, window shopping (and browsing) is definitely free, and always fun in Milan.
To check out Milan’s fashion boutiques, head to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele or Quadrilatero d’Oro, the legendary shopping district between Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni and Corso Venezia – the huge Armani megastore on Via Manzoni is a greta place to browse, then you can check out Gucci, Prada, Versace and all the others.
Another place that’s worth a visit for all fashion lovers is 10 Corso Como, Milan’s most famous concept store opened in the 1990s along (yes, you guessed it) Corso Como. The store is hidden in a courtyard and includes a boutique, cocktail bar, restaurant, bed and breakfast, bookstore and art gallery – which is free to enter!
Top tip – walk to the rooftop terrace to get a cool view over Porta Nuova. Definitely one of my favourite, offbeat things to do in Milan!
How to get there: M2 Garibaldi
Best Free Museums in Milan
23) Hangar Bicocca
This contemporary art space was opened in an area that formerly used to house Pirelli factories. It specialises in large scale and site specific installations, and entrance is always free. Check the official website for opening times and to know what’s on.
How to get there: Greco Pirelli station, bus 51 and 87
24) Brera Library and Botanical Gardens
The famous Brera art gallery is only free to access for special occasions – however, budget-conscious art lovers can enter for €3 every first and third Thursday of the month, from 6 to 10 pm.
Yet, there’s more to Brera than just the art gallery – the same building houses Milan’s most famous art academy, dating back 250 years, and it is also worth a visit to see the stunning Braidense Library and Botanical Gardens, which are both free to access.
How to get there: M2 Lanza
25) Casa Museo Boschi di Stefano
One of Milan’s best offbeat and free museums in Milan! This is a really cool house museum, a once private collection of 20th century Italian art, on display in the Art Deco apartment where the owners used to live. There are 11 spaces to explore, in a peaceful and stylish setting. Definitely one of Milan’s best free hidden gems!
How to get there: M1 Lima
26) Studio Francesco Messina
This museum used to be the place where Sicilian artist Francesco Messina worked, a studio in a deconsecrated church. After the artist’s death, it was turned into a museum dedicated to his life and work, housing over 80 sculptures and 26 sketches and drawings.
This museum is worth a visit for two reasons, for the unusual setting, and quality of the exhibits – and it’s free!
How to get there: M2 Sant’Ambrogio
27) Triennale Design Museum
I already mentioned the Triennale in the paragraph about Parco Sempione – it’s one of the best examples of Fascist architecture in Milan, and it also houses the city’s design museum, including a permanent collection dedicated to modern Italian design that is always free to access.
Another reason to visit the Triennale is the view from the balcony upstairs, where you can also enjoy a delicious aperitivo. Don’t miss visiting at sunset for a wonderful view over the Duomo and Parco Sempione!
How to get there: M1/M2 Cadorna FN
If you find yourself in the Navigli, make sure you pay a visit to this wonderful newly-opened museum dedicated to world cultures, with a permanent collection including artefacts from as far afield as Polynesia and South America, as well as temporary exhibitions.
The exhibitions are charged separately, but you can enter the permanent collection for free.
How to get there: M2 Porta Genova
29) Palazzo Morando
This one is for fashion lovers! Palazzo Morando is a museum dedicated to fashion located in a historic palazzo just around the corner from Via Montenapoleone.
On the lower floor there are usually temporary exhibitions about fashion and Milanese style, while upstairs you can see dresses and clothing dating back to the mid-19th century and admire a picture gallery that portrays scenes and locations of Milan in the past.
How to get there: M3 Montenapoleone
(Almost) Free Things to do in Milan at Night
30) Have Aperitivo
Aperitivo is a real Milanese institution – from 6 pm onwards, every bar and cafe in town starts preparing a huge food buffet, free to enjoy with a drink. The idea sounds brilliant, right? A drink and a huge buffet for €8-10 – that’s almost a free dinner!
Well, not all aperitivo were created equal. The quality of food varies dramatically, from barely edible to delicious and anything in between. My favourite places for aperitivo are Carlo e Camilla in Segheria near the Navigli, Lacerba in Porta Romana (a Futurism-inspired bar!), Bhangra Bar near Arco della Pace, and the Triennale terrace bar.
31) Find the Best Street Food
Did yo know that Milan has great street food, especially in summer, and that street food is a great way to eat in Milan on the cheap?
The Navigli are a great place to start if you want to have street food, with lots of food trucks and street food places along Via Vigevano and the Naviglio Grande, alternatively Chinatown is always a good idea. Check out our Milan street food post for more info!
32) Enjoy Craft Beer
There’s a booming craft beer scene in Milan, and a night spent sampling brews is a great way to have fun on the cheap. My favourite microbrewery is Birrificio Lambrate, with two locations in the neighbourhood of the same name, which also happens to be where I live!
If you want to be closer to the centre you can have some great craft beers at Isola della Birra in Isola, Baladin near Brera or LambicZoon near Porta Romana, where you can also have some of the best burgers in Milan!
33) Have a Cheap Meal
Some say that you can’t eat out in Milan for less than €50 per person. Wrong. If you want a sit-down meal, there are loads of excellent options in Milan – for €20 or even less you can have great pasta, pizza, gelato, regional Chinese food, Japanese, you name it!
Check out our cheap Milan restaurants post to find out where to go!
34) Hang Out at the Colonne di San Lorenzo or Darsena
Another fun free thing to do in Milan at night is sitting down in a place like the Colonne di San Lorenzo (Colonne for short), the Roman colonnade opposite the San Lorenzo Basilica, about ten minutes walk from the Duomo.
Every evening, the benches surrounding the colonnade are full of young people drinking beer, eating street food or just people-watching and enjoying the sunset atmosphere – sometimes there are impromptu concerts, or street artists performing.
The Darsena, the small ‘harbour’ at the end of Corso di Porta Ticinese where the Naviglio Grande and Pavese flow, is also a great place to sit down and people-watch – the area was derelict until recently and was restored in occasion of Expo. It’s a great place to while away a hot summer evening, with lots of places to grab beer, street food and gelato in the vicinity.
35) Dance in the Streets
This is by far my favourite free thing to do in Milan at night! The trend started a few years ago, perhaps in response to the crisis and the uber-pricey Milan club scenes. Two groups of tango and folk dance aficionados, named Tango Illegal and Mazurka Klandestina, decided to organise secret dance parties in the city’s streets and squares at night.
Locations are kept secret, but two popular venues are Piazza Affari and the courtyard of Palazzo della Regione, two symbolic pro-establishment places. In any case, a night out dancing (or just watching people dancing, in my case) is great fun, and a wonderful alternative way to spin your brogues without paying a fortune.
Join Mazurka Klandestina’s FB group for info on venues. The page is in Italian, but I’m sure someone will help if you ask in English.
Best Cheap (but Awesome) Places to Stay in Milan
- Ostello Bello – quite simply the best hostel in the world!
- Ostello Bello Grande – same concept in a larger location near Stazione Centrale
- OstellOlinda – cute hostel in a former psychiatric hospital immersed in a huge park
- Babila Hostel – design hostel in a neo Gothic building in a central yet secluded location
- New Generator Hostel Urban Navigli – the best for nightlife! Large modern hostel near Navigli
- Gogol Ostello – hipster hostel with a literary cafe and bookstore
- Venturacinque – artsy B&B in a former industrial location in Lambrate, the best neighbourhood in Milan!
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