Milan is the one of Europe’s main cultural centers. Known for its food, fashion, football, and cosmopolitan vibe, this city is on many visitor’s European itineraries. Unfortunately, like most other desirable urban destinations on the continent, it is not cheap to spend time in Milan. However, a handful of the city’s best attractions (arguably some of the most sought after sights in all of Europe) can be enjoyed without having to part with a single Euro. Here are the ten best free attractions in Milan.
1. Quadrilatero d’Oro
Milan vies with Paris for the title of fashion capital of the world. This makes it a great place to see high-end fashion designs (even if you don’t intend to buy anything). The best place to get a taste of Milan’s famous fashion sense is in the Quadrilatero d’Oro, a collection of streets that are lined with the world’s most impressive (and expensive) designer boutiques. This is definitely not a neighborhood for budget-conscious travelers to shop, but it is arguably one of the best places in Italy to window shop, especially if you have an interest in the fashion industry.
2. The Duomo
Milan’s main cathedral is a prominent part of the city’s skyline. The Gothic-style church is adorned with hundreds of thin spires and statues. It is possible to spend hours wandering the exterior looking at the intricate details of the building. The interior is equally inspiring. It costs €6 to climb to the top of the cathedral, but the views of Milan’s skyline from in between the spires could make it seem like a worthwhile expense.
3. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
This shopping mall is as much about atmosphere as it is about buying and selling. Built in the 1800s, it boasts a glass roof and mosaics on the floors. The outlets inside the Galleria include everything from Prada and Vuitton to McDonald’s. Lights and decorations make this an especially attractive place to spend time in over the holiday season.
4. Castello Sforzesco
This large castle housed some of Milan’s most prominent ruling families and was also controlled and used as a residence or army barracks by Spanish, French and Austrian invaders. Its long and colorful history makes it an interesting stop for tourists. It is completely free to wander the grounds of the castle. There are several on-site museums that charge admission. However, a pass to all Sforzesco’s exhibit halls is only €3 (and free for anyone under 25).
5. Piazza Mercanti
This plaza is smaller than the Piazza Duomo (which sits next to the famous church mentioned above), but arguably more authentic. It was the center of the city’s commerce and government in past eras (it was first built in 1228). The statues and buildings in this area offer a glimpse into Milan’s colorful past.
6. Giardini Pubblici (Public Gardens)
This spacious green area in the center of the city is one of the few truly natural spaces in Milan. Aside from allowing people to take a break from the urban landscapes that dominate most of the city, the gardens boast some interesting attractions, including a lake, an impressive collection of statues, and fresh-water springs.
7. Parco Sempione
This is another large public green-space. It sits in the shadow of the Castello Sforzesco. The park boasts statues and ponds as well as sports fields, a library, theater and museum. Another welcome freebie for visitors to Sempione: there is no charge to connect to the wireless internet network that is available throughout the park.
8. Via Dante
Named after the famous Italian author, this street is one of the most bustling in all of Milan. High fashion boutiques line the boulevard, but there are plenty of other attractions, from street vendors to sidewalk performers and street artists. This diversity makes Dante one of the more a unique streets in Milan.
9. Happy Hour Goodies
Many bars in Milan are not free, but, like tapas bars in Spain, it is possible to get some free eats during the later afternoon and early evening (“happy hour” to people from the other side of the Atlantic). Many bars offer small plates of appetizers for free with any drink order. Ordering wines or beers, instead of cocktails, can keep the overall price down.
10. Milan’s Churches
While many of the city’s museums charge admission, the city’s churches do not. These places are ideal spots for catching glimpses of Milanese architecture and design from Medieval, Gothic and Renaissance times. Aside from the Duomo, San Ambrogio, Saint Maurice and San Lorenzo are three of the more prominent, centrally located spots.
Milan is one of Europe’s great urban tourist destinations. While it is not the best place in the world to have a budget vacation, it is possible to experience both the modern and historic attractions of the city without having to part with any money.
Do you have your own favorite free places to visit in Milan? Let us know in the comment section below!