By Rachael Funk
The high-fashion, high-energy city of Milan is home to Italy’s stock exchange, Fashion Week, and a sizzling nightlife. Renowned for its creativity, cultural influence, and gastronomic excellence, the city is on many travelers’ wish lists. Here are a few free activities you can do in Milan to switch your “maybe someday” vacation into a reality.
1. Visit Castello Sforzesco
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Castello Sforzesco was where Milan royalty lived and ruled. There is no charge to walk through the courtyards, check out the moats, and make friends with the cats that wander the grounds. There is free entry to the castle each Tuesday after 2 pm and from Wednesday through Sunday from 4:30 until closing.
2. Walk through Parco Sempione
In the center of Milan and behind Castello Sforzesco, you will find Parco Sempione. The ideal place for an afternoon in the sunshine, this park is a great place to escape the crowds and grab a breath of fresh air. The park is also an open air museum of the history of Milan’s architecture and the area around Arco della Pace is a popular spot for aperitivos once the sun sets.
3. Head over to the Duomo
An iconic stop on any trip to Milan, the Duomo is a must-see! For a building that took over 500 years to build, this incredible feat of architecture demands attention. Touring the inside does cost a fee (unless you are entering the cathedral for worship), but there is no charge for inspecting the beautifully intricate façade of the Duomo, which is covered in hundreds of statues of saints, monsters, and gargoyles.
4. Snap a photo of the hippo fountain at the Acquario
Entry to Milan’s aquarium is free on the first and third Tuesday of the month from 2pm onwards. If your trip doesn’t coincide with these times, you can still enjoy the enthralling sculptures outside the building! From the hippo fountain to the squid and octopi carvings, it’s certainly worth a gander!
5. Stop by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
While you’re in the area, pop over to the left side of the square to “il salotto di Milano,” or “Milan’s sitting room.” There, you can admire the gorgeous glass roof, luxury boutiques, and historic stores which are lined up in the arcade. There are also four mosaics there which depict the four continents.
6. Explore some churches
With the exception of the Duomo, just about every other church in Milan is free to enter. The city has a host of interesting churches to explore, including San Bernardino alle Ossa, which is known for its bone chapel, Santa Maria alla Fontana, known for its fresco-covered cloister and miracle fountain, which is whispered to have healing powers, and San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, which has been dubbed Milan’s Sistine Chapel for its beautiful frescoes.
7. Hit the lake
Idroscalo is an artificial lake not far from the Linate airport where you can swim, kayak, wake board, pedal boat, or just work on your tan! Access to the lake is free, but equipment rental is not, so if you are pinching pennies, bring your own stuff.
8. See Casa Museo Boschi di Stefano
One of Milan’s hidden gems, this quirky museum was once a private collection of 20th-century Italian art on display in the Art Deco apartment where the owners used to live. Now, the collection is located here, in a house museum with 11 spaces to discover as you wander through the area.
9. Soak up the atmosphere at Fiera di Sinigaglia
This bustling market is a great way to get shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals and get lost in everything from vintage clothes to old records. Not only is this a great opportunity to work on your Italian, you can check out the latest fashion trends, suss out the local vibe, and maybe even make a friend or two!
10. Stroll the canals
You can’t see Milan without taking in the canals! A stunning place for a twilight stroll, this area is the heart of Milan’s nightlife. Come watch the bars and restaurants blink to life as the sun goes down and people begin to stream into bars and restaurants to begin their evenings. Though a walk down the street costs nothing, it may be worth the few euros to find a place to treat yourself to a cocktail and watch the rest of the world go by.