By Johnny Cooper
mere thought of Milan can send a shiver down the spine of any backpacker
on a budget. This swish and swanky city is widely recognised as
Italy’s economic heart, and its reputation for top-notch fashion
goes hand in hand with the healthy bank balances of its inhabitants.
Yet Milan needn’t be a no-go area for the
budget-conscious traveller. It’s a wonderful place; part industrial
and part extravagant, there’s more than enough to warrant
weeks – if not months – of exploration. And it’s
quite easy to do so without breaking the bank. You just have to
Stay in Budget Accommodation
Accommodation is key to enjoying Milan on a
budget. Instead of blowing your cash on an expensive room, there are
plenty of milan hostels and cheap hotels that can provide a comfortable bed for the night
for around €20.
these places tend to prove more lively and personable than large
chain hotels, with like-minded backpackers congregating in the social
areas to share stories and plan the day (or days) ahead.
Shop in Style without Shattering Your Savings
Milan may be famed
for its swathe of ultrachic designer boutiques, but it’s perfectly
possible for budding fashionistas to indulge without spending exorbitant
The Golden Quadrangle (or Quadrilatero d’Oro)
is where you’ll find Armani, Gucci and the like, so it’s
probably best to make a shopping excursion here of the fleeting,
window variety. Try instead the nearby Via Torino where the clothes
shops are grungier and more underground – and also much more
affordable for the budget traveller.
Further out, Milan becomes residential and more
down-to-earth. Head out from the center and you’ll find a
glut of charming markets (the Mercato Papiniano is a particular
highlight) and small neighbourhood shops.
Sightseeing for Skinflints
The majority of Milan’s
sights are either free or relatively cheap to enter, making
a cultural tour of this engaging city a thankfully affordable pursuit.
And, since these sights are also situated close together enough
to walk from one to the other, there’s no need to pay for
Sightseeing in Milan almost inevitably begins
with the Duomo – a staggering Gothic construction that dates
back to the 14th century. Entrance is free, although certain areas,
such as the rooftop and Battistero Paleocristiano, do carry a small
After you’ve gazed and gawped at the Duomo,
various other attractions are available. On the same square you’ll
find the grand Palazza Reale, which hosts excellent temporary exhibitions
all year round. Head north and the famed La Scala Theatre is just
as culturally weighted, while eastwards the Santa Maria delle Grazie
(which houses The Last Supper) and the large Parco Sempione call
Drinking on a Budget
In terms of backpacking and budget travel,
Milan’s best characteristic is arguably its wonderful aperitivo
(or happy hour) culture. Between the hours of 6pm and 9pm, pop into
almost any bar in the city and order a cocktail (which can cost
anywhere between €3 and €10). Not only do you get a super-strong
drink, but you’re also allowed to feast from the buffet on
offer for free.
Any backpacker can spot a bargain from a
mile off, and aperitivo in Milan certainly adheres to such
a category. To make the most of your experience (and pay as little
as possible), the best bet is to head to the alluringly scruffy
neighborhood of Navigli, which is the focus of the city’s
nightlife and the hangout for Milanese students.