Milan is an expensive city, especially if you are traveling with a big family. But taking the long-awaited trip to Milan doesn’t have to break the bank. There are so many free activities and attractions, cheap food, and shopping in Milan that all budget-conscious travelers will love. Starting with the parks and free museums to churches, street art, and secret dance parties there are so many free things to do in Milan that will keep you busy day and night.
But before you start exploring the city, don’t forget to drop off your belongings at a convenient luggage locker in Milan. This way you can take all the time you need to discover all the free things the city has to offer.
Window Shopping and Fast Cars
Milan has some of the most exclusive shops in the world, such as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as "il Salotto di Milano") or the famous prestigious shopping areas of Quadrilatero d'Oro and Brera. And while most people may not be able to afford expensive designer clothing or a high-end sports car, it doesn't mean you can't look at them.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is an absolutely stunning building with its glass dome and mosaic floor. Shopping in the boutiques inside may be out of reach but it costs nothing to walk around and admire the oldest shopping gallery in Italy. Don't forget to bring yourself some good luck by spinning your heels on the mosaic bull.
Down in the Brera district, you will find fashion boutique stores, chic art galleries, restaurants, and a glamorous nightlife that is unmatched in Milan. You can wander the streets feeling like you are part of the "in" crowd.
To check out all the top fashion houses head to the Quadrilatero d'Oro (the Golden Rectangle). Here you will find the big names like Versace, Armani, Prada, and more. The streets that make up the "Golden Rectangle" are Via Manzoni, Via Montenapoleone, Corso Venezia, and Via deal Spiga. These streets are lined with designer shops to peruse, it is also a great place for people-watching.
If cars are more your thing, you can wander to the Ferrari flagship store or Lamborghini store to see some of the fastest and most exotic cars in the world. Test driving them might be out of the question but maybe you can sit in one and pretend you are blazing around the road course in Monza.
Free Milan Museums and Art Galleries
Most museums and art galleries in Milan charge an entry fee, however, there are times when you can get in for free. To be honest, the ticket prices for most of the museums are pretty low and it's almost like being free.
One of the best is the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano which has free admission on Tuesday after 2 pm, the last hour of each day, and the first Sunday of the month. Of course, it will be very busy those days but you can book your free ticket ahead of time to ensure you get in. It might take a couple of trips to see it all as it is the largest and most significant natural history museum in Italy.
The Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle) is free to enter and explore the courtyard and grounds. However, it has several museums that have separate entry fees, but on the first and third Tuesday of each month you can check them out for free after 2 pm. The museums are the Musical Instruments, Antique Furniture, Modern Art, Pinacoteca art collection, and Egyptian Museum. There are ticket prices for each one but you can save a lot of money by buying a combined ticket.
The same free times that apply to the Castello Sforzesco also apply to the Civic Archaeological Museum, which lets you explore the history and importance of Milan starting with the 1st century.
Get your tourist information while visiting the "Royal Palace" museum. The Palazzo Reale is beside the famous cathedral, Duomo di Milano (which is no longer free), and was the seat of power in the city. Today it is the Tourist Information Office and a museum, and actually older than the Duomo cathedral.
The Galleria d'Arte Moderna (Modern Art Gallery) is also free on the first and third Tuesday after 2 pm, and while you are waiting to get in you can explore the beautiful (and free) Giardini Indro Montanell.
For some great free contemporary art Hangar Bicocca, Padiglione d"Arte, and Fondazione have you covered. The contemporary art space of Hangar Bicocca used to be the Pirelli Tire factory and now houses one of the greatest contemporary pieces in the Seven Heavenly Palaces.
Street Art, Sports Fun and More
For sports fans, you need to get yourself to the Casa Milan. It is the headquarters for the famous football (soccer) club AC Milan, and a free museum with a holographic theatre the kids will love.
Not an official museum, but Parco Sempione is like an open-air museum with so many historical statues and other architectural features like the Arco della Pace near the Sforzesco Castle.
Another great place that is not an official museum is the Cimitero Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). It is one of the largest cemeteries in Milan and has some of the most impressive tombs you will ever see. Cimitero Monumentale is actually one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city, and it is totally free.
One of the best free art galleries in Milan is the city itself, with some of the most outstanding street art in the country. Of course, street art can be found throughout the city but there are certain areas and murals that should not be missed. You might like to see the street art on a night out in Milan. The best places to look are Via Conchetta, Leoncavallo, Isola, Niguarda, and behind the Basilica di San Lorenzo. The last one makes for an interesting mix of one of the oldest churches in the city surrounded by young rebellious art.
We have to start with a note about the Duomo Cathedral (also called Milan Duomo), unfortunately, it is no longer one of the free things to do in Milan. But worry not, there are still a plethora of interesting churches to visit that offer free entry.
Next to the Duomo Santa Maria delle Grazie is the most visited church in Milan, the main reason, da Vinci's "The Last Supper" is there. And while the church is free to enter, seeing the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the refectory is not. If you do want to see it make sure you book your tickets at least 3 months in advance.
Some of the only Roman ruins in Milan can be found in the Basilica di San Simpliciano, or if you would like to see the patron saint of Milan's church it's the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio. Just as a lot of churches do, both of these have dress codes in order to enter.
For something a little morbid but pretty cool, it's the San Bernardino alle Ossa, this small church has become famous for its bones. The Ossuary of the Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa is literally decorated with human skulls and vertebrae. Doorframes have femurs and ulnae (leg and arm bones) embedded in them. The oddly creepy and fascinating church is down a side street from the Duomo in the Piazza Santo Stefano.
Parks and Gardens
The largest and most popular park is the Parc Sempione a perfect spot to chill out, right in the city centre. It covers over 47 hectares with paths for walking, running, biking, or just laying around on the grass. There are plenty of attractions within the park grounds like the Castello Sforzesco (as mentioned above) and the Civic Arena (Arena Gianni Brera).
The arena is completely free to enter unless it is hosting an event like a music concert or a sporting event. The arena has seen many historical events like Roman chariot races, jousting competitions, and at one point it was flooded for a naval battle to honor Napoleon. The arena was also the former home of Inter Milan before the team moved to the San Siro Stadium.
Parco Sempione is also home to the Civic Aquarium, the third oldest aquarium in Europe. It is not a huge aquarium by any means, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality. Near Cadorna, it used to be free every day but now is only free on the first Sunday of the month. If you are over 65 or under 18, there is free admission every Tuesday after 2 pm.
There are also plenty of historical monuments and statues to discover throughout the park.
If you don't mind a small fee you can get one of the best views of the city at the top of the Torre Branca, which stands almost 360 feet tall. The elevator gets you to the top in less than a minute! A thrill ride and a view, nice!
Only slightly smaller is the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, the first public park in Milan. Giardini Pubblici has plenty of walkways, a small man-made lake, and is home to the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano. A beautiful spot within the park is the area around Palazzo Dugnani, with its water basin and fountain.
Not one of the free things to do in Milan but for sure one of the best Milan attractions to visit is the Ulrico Hoepli Planetarium in the park is a great experience, especially if you have kids. And although it is not free, it is really cheap so it's worth checking out.
Almost exactly halfway between the two parks and near the Brera Art Gallery, is the Brera Botanical Garden, an 18th-century garden that offers an educational and tranquil setting. Rare plants, ancient trees, and water features provide beautiful shaded areas that transport you to another world in the heart of the bustling city.
Within the botanical gardens, you will find the Astronomical Museum, the Tools exhibit is always free, but on the second Sunday of the month, visitors are invited to view the stars in their observatory.
Free Walking Tours
Yes, there are free walking tours throughout the city, all you need to do is a little research on the web. These tours are great, you get to see the city, all of its highlights, and a little exercise, which is great if you have been overindulging in the great Italian food.
The tours are normally led by a local that is not only knowledgeable about their city but also extremely proud and loves to show it off. Even though it is free, remember that these folks are also not getting paid, so tipping them is a very nice thing to do.
A Budget Friendly Stay in Milan
With so many great things to do and see in Milan on a budget, you may even be tempted to extend your stay. Affordable public transport makes it even easier to navigate the city but since most of the attractions are located in the city centre, you don’t even have to spend money on transport.