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Visit Milan on a Budget

By Johnny Cooper

The 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 know how.

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.

What’s more, 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 amounts.

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 transport, either.

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 admission charge.

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 for attention.

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.


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