Milan is the fifth-largest city in the European Union and is recognized worldwide for being a design and fashion capital. It’s set apart by its glamour and passions – football, opera, and fashion. But while there is glitz and fashion and a few historic sites, for me, Milan is a meh kind of city. It didn’t really amaze me. A lot of Milanese people have even told me it’s a city in which to work and not play. In my opinion, the city is worth a visit but not an extended one.
Hostel prices – Expect to pay between $20-30 USD for a shared room and $80 USD for a private double room in a hostel.
Budget hotel prices – You can expect to pay at least $50 USD for a night in a budget hotel for a double room. Prices will go up dramatically in the summer months.
Average cost of food – Lunch costs around $15 USD minimum, with dinner in a restaurant costing anywhere from $30 USD. It’s normal to pay around $80 USD for dinner in a nice place if you’re drinking.
Transportation costs – Bus tickets are about $2 USD for a single journey ticket, while taxi rides can be expensive, costing on average $20 USD. Radiobus tickets are $3 USD, while a ticket for the metro comes in at $2 USD. Going to and from the airport? The Milan Express is a great way to zip in and out of town to catch your flight.
Money Saving Tips
Don’t eat in Station Square – The restaurants around here are tourist traps and are vastly overpriced. Head about half a mile outside of this area for authentic and less expensive food.
Avoid the taxis – Taxis are generally expensive, and at night there is an additional surcharge, so try to find alternative means of travel.
Take the Radiobus – These run until 2 am. With tickets costing $3 USD, are a good alternative to taxis after a night out.
Do some cheap shopping – If you don’t want to miss out on the fashion experience, head to the Brera District for some less expensive, but trendy boutiques.
Top Things to See and Do
Visit the Duomo – A massive Gothic cathedral, this looms over the Piazza del Duomo. With over 3,500 statues, 135 spires, and 5 bronze doors, it is not surprising to find that it took 500 years to complete. You will be left speechless by its magnitude. Take the elevator up to the roof, and if you’re really lucky, it might be possible to view the Alps (and of course the city of Milan). The city’s symbol Madoninna is also perched atop the roof so a trip above the cathedral allows for a closer inspection.
Admire the Last Supper – This Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece resides in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. The painting surely speaks for itself as it captures the moment that Jesus reveals that one of his disciples will betray him. Surviving despite the trials and tribulations that history has put it through, this fresco has been preserved remarkably. Book in advance, if not months in advance, if you are expecting to go during the peak season.
Go shopping – If you are looking to spend some serious money or even just to do some serious gawking, then you have found a kindred spirit in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 11. This is an intense shopping establishment of formidable grandeur that took 12 years to construct. It’s home to fashion giants such as Prada and Gucci. If you are feeling up to the pinch, buy yourself a $13 USD coffee and watch as the Milanese high society passes you by.
Visit the Opera – Are you an opera-lover? Do you want to see opera at its finest? Then surely you will have already heard of La Scala. Fish a little deeper in your pocket to buy one of these tickets and experience some of the best acoustics and performers in the world. Or perhaps you would just like to view this fantastic theater? Cut a few corners, and just go to the Musuem at La Scala instead where you will be allowed to a sneak view in the theatre.
Explore Sforzesco Castle – Experience your Milan quota of the fine arts in one day at the Sforzesco Castle. Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, the castle now houses 12 mini-musuems and a vast archive – in essence it serves as a visual feast for the eyes! Collections include everything from the Renaissance period, Michelangelo’s unfinished last work and Civiche Raccolte d’Arte Antica (a sculpture gallery), to the Musuems of Musical Instruments and Antique Art.
Watch some football – If you are an avid football (soccer) fan, then book yourself tickets to a match at San Siro stadium. As any football fanatic will know, San Siro is one of the world’s best-known stadiums and Milan itself is home to two football teams – AC Milan and Inter. Head there during the football season and it is likely that you might see either of these two playing in these famous grounds.
Tour the canals – Surprised to hear that there are canals in Milan? Well there are, two to be exact. Do not expect the canals of Venice, though. Although designed by the great Leonardo da Vinci, Milan’s canals are not of the same cut as those of Venice. Based in the Navigli district, they are very enchanting and to be enjoyed during the summer months when you can take a lazy boat trip whilst gazing upon the charming artist havens. Or, spend your time dining in the restaurants on its perimeters. This is a great neighborhood and makes for a restful break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Roam the flea markets – While Milan is renowned for being home to fashion giants, it is also home to its fair share of flea markets which is great news for the purse strings! Fiera di Senigallia, the city’s most popular and retro flea market, sells disco gear and comic books, among other things. Papiniano, a stone’s throw away, sells shoes and homewares. If you time your vacation for the end of the month, then a trip to the Antiquariato sul Naviglio could well be in order as it specializes in antiques.
Visit Pinacoteca di Brera – Fine tune that sweet tooth for art even more by making a visit to the Pinacoteca di Brera. Although it doesn’t compare in size to the Sforzesco Castle, it certainly makes up for this by displaying some of the finest artwork by the likes of Raphael, Mantegna and Rembrandt.
Visit Idroscalo park – Patches of greenery do exist in the midst of this urban jungle. One favored among the locals is the man-made lake, Idroscalo. Here you will find lovely parkland with areas to cycle, hike and have a barbecue. It’s almost like being on the Italian coast.
Walk along Corso Magenta – Found in the northwest part of Milan, this street is home to several cafes, shops, and Baroque palaces. Notably, the Santa Maria delle Grazie church and convent is here, which houses The Last Supper. There are several metro stations nearby.
Attend an Exhibition Fair – There is an array of exhibitions held within the city year-round. You can check out anything from computers and industrial equipment, to chocolate and wine. With some quick, simple research, you can add an exhibition into your trip.
See Leonardo’s Horse – In the Piazza della Scala, this bronze sculpture pays homage to one of Leonardo’s original designs. If you are planning to check out the San Siro track or stadium, it is worth stopping by this courtyard as well.
Wander the Giardini della Guastalla – Also known as the gardens of the Guastalla, these are some of the smaller but oldest gardens in the area. Dating back to the 16th century, the gardens have been open to the public since the early 1900s. They are near the Duomo and the University district.
Relax in Parco Semipone – This park is host to Sforzesco castle, Civico Acquario, Triennaler di Milano, Torre Branca, tons of esoteric bars, and a lot more. This is a great area in which to wander for hours and it is nice to relax on the grass when you get tired.