Home to Italy’s financial district and the headquarters of Valentino, Versace, Prada, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana, Milan is a city you visit to see and be seen -- and to spend a small fortune. It has a reputation for being a pricey, slightly aloof city, but I experienced the absolute opposite: a warm, friendly, affordable city delightful to explore. Granted, I occasionally glanced at the locals with a bit of an envious eye. Milan really IS a tremendously stylish town! And thankfully -- designer outfits aside -- it doesn’t cost much to enjoy the best Milan has to offer.
Here are 5 things to do in Milan for under 5 euros:
The Duomo di Milano is the largest church in Italy and the fourth largest church in the world. Construction began in 1386 and lasted nearly 600 years, and the result is absolute splendor. For just 3 euros, the glories of one of Europe’s finest cathedrals are all yours. Even better, your admission price includes access to the Crypt of St. Charles Borromeo and the Baptistery of Santo Stefano.
If you’re feeling flush, you can visit the archaeological area for an additional 4 euros. For an another 3 euros, you'll receive admission to the Duomo Museum and the Church of San Gottardo in Corte. However, if you’re tempted to take the elevator up to the terrace to enjoy the spectacular views, it will set you back 14 euros. You can save a few euros with a combination ticket, which will give you access to all attractions and services.
Try some savory and sweet panzerotti (little pastries like pizza pockets or hand pies) at Luini Bakery, one of Milan’s most beloved establishments. Each sweet treat will cost you no more than a few euros.
With such an embarrassment of riches to choose from, be sure to pick the right one. Select a pastry that is fresh from the oven -- the filling should be bubbling and hot. The classic choice is a combination of mozzarella and tomato stuffing, but feel free to go out on a limb and try something different.
Luini is a short walk from the Duomo and right next to the glamorous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This sumptuous enclosed shopping mall, with its dramatic glass and metal domed roof, isn’t exactly a budget-friendly travel destination, especially if you find yourself inside one of the opulent designer shops (there are TWO Prada stores!). However, if you restrict yourself to window-shopping, perhaps with a chocolate pastry from Luini’s in hand, you’ll find it’s a splendid way to pass the time. The people-watching is second to none.
Trams have connected Milan’s neighborhoods since 1876, though in the early days the trams were pulled by horses. Today, the electric tram system includes cars that are nearly 90 years old, and their vintage appeal is off the charts. Who wouldn’t want to cruise down the streets of the world’s most fashionable city in an adorable orange tram with wooden trim? Best of all, tickets cost just 1.50 euros and are valid for 90 minutes -- and you can hop on and off as often as you'd like.
Tickets can be purchased at metro stops and corner stores. Don’t follow in my footsteps and try to buy tickets on board the tram! Thankfully, Milan’s kind citizens pointed me in the right direction. Trams 1 and 19 go to some of Milan’s most popular attractions and scenic neighborhoods, while 16 takes you close to the refectory that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
The tram is a delightfully frugal -- and utterly chic -- alternative to tour buses that cost around $30 per day.
On the first Sunday of the month, Milan’s 60+ civic museums are free. But even if you can't be in Milan then, there are plenty of affordable museums in town. Here are just a few:
Don’t be shy about asking for discounts. For instance, seniors pay just 1 euro to visit the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan’s finest art gallery, on weekends.
From an agricultural point of view, Milan is a world away from the birthplace of coffee, but from a cultural and social point of view, this is espresso’s motherland. Milan’s café scene is second to none and has been the inspiration for countless coffee chains, including a little American startup known as Starbucks.
A tiny ceramic cup with a single shot of espresso costs about 1 euro across Milan, while cappuccinos and macchiatos cost between 1.50 and 2 euros. Adding a pastry -- which, of course, any civilized traveler will do -- will cost anywhere from 1 euro (for a basic cornetto, or croissant) to 3 euros (for the fanciest and most elaborate treats). At these prices, you can afford to stop more than once!