Milan is not known for being budget-friendly. To be fair, Italy as a whole is generally not a cheap destination for a holiday. Even Milan, however, offers ways for visitors to save money – including a host of attractions that are free.
You’ll be pleased to note that many of the items on the list below are not only worthwhile, they’re also among Milan’s top attractions. In other words, there’s no need to feel like you’re slumming it when you head to the Lombardy capital without a trust fund.
Here’s a list of things that are always free – there’s never an admission charge to get in – plus a few that offer free hours on certain days of the week. Enjoy an extra helping of gelato with the money you’ll save.
Free Things to Do in Milan: Always
Cimitero Monumentale || creative commons photo by Marco
- Duomo – Milan’s most recognizable landmark, the many-spired Duomo is completely free to enter. It’s vast, and there are some notable pieces of art to see, but it’s unlikely to take you much time to visit. (Unless, that is, you’re escaping a downpour or taking a break from midday sun.)
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Shopping at any of the boutiques inside this glorious arcaded mall will cost money, of course, but just walking through to admire the glass ceilings and mosaic floor doesn’t cost a thing. Plus, you can spin on the bull’s balls in the center of the Galleria for good luck while you’re there.
- Castello Sforzesco – The 15th-century castle complex is full of little museums (see the list below), but to wander through the grounds inside the castle you don’t need to pay a thing.
- Parco Sempione – Essentially the Castello Sforzesco’s backyard, Parco Sempione is Milan’s favorite green space. In nice weather, locals play soccer, go jogging, and have picnics on the wide open lawns, and some outdoor summer festivals are held here, too.
- Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio – Not only is this church dedicated to Milan’s patron saint, it was actually built by him. The basilica was consecrated in the year 379, built under the direction of St. Ambrose, and is one of the city’s oldest churches.
- Giardini Pubblici – Another popular (and huge) green space in the city center is the Giardini Pubblici, or Public Gardens, between the Duomo and Stazione Centrale. Inside the park grounds you’ll find the Museum of Natural History (see below) and the Planetarium (entry fee).
- Window-Shopping in the Quadrilatero d’Oro – Again, bringing home anything to add to your closet from the designer shops could cost a fortune… But between the window-shopping (some of the displays are amazing) and the people-watching, the Quadrilatero d’Oro is an excellent place to spend a little time.
- Palazzo Reale – Milan’s Royal Palace is right next to the Duomo, and though some of the spaces are used for art exhibits that charge admission, there is also a free Palace Museum (Museo della Reggia) that shows the architectural evolution of the palace apartments from the 16th century onward.
- Cimitero Monumentale – This enormous cemetery in the northwestern part of central Milan is actually quite an extraordinary outdoor sculpture garden. It doesn’t have a star-studded “resident” list like Père Lachaise in Paris, but Cimitero Monumentale can be a nice place for an art-centered stroll (as long as you don’t have a thing against cemeteries).
- Leonardo da Vinci’s Giant Bronze Horse – Not far from Milan’s huge San Siro Stadium is an also-impressively-large bronze statue of a horse. It’s based on a design Leonardo da Vinci made in 1482 at the request of the Duke of Milan, though the design didn’t come to fruition in his lifetime.
- Brera Astronomical Museum – Inside the Palazzo Brera, in addition to the excellent Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery, there is also the Brera Observatory and Astronomical Museum. The observatory was built in the mid-18th century, and the museum is open on weekdays.
- Brera Botanical Garden – Behind the Palazzo Brera is the 18th century Orto Botanico di Brera, associated with the University of Milan. It’s open Monday-Saturday.
- Piazza Gae Aulenti – The shiny and new Porta Nuova district near Stazione Garibaldi is all about office buildings, but there’s a new and striking modern piazza built into the landscape that is becoming increasingly popular with locals. There’s also a new park in the development.
- Santa Maria delle Grazie – You’ll no doubt make a pilgrimage to this church during a Milan trip to see the city’s most famous fresco – Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painted in the adjoining refectory. But don’t miss a visit to the 15th-century church, too, which is free.
- San Bernardino alle Ossa – If you like your budget-friendly attractions on the macabre side, then you won’t want to miss a stop in the church of San Bernardino alle Ossa and its small chapel lined with human bones. The space is small, though with an extremely high ceiling, and nearly all the wall space is full of piles of bones.
- Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio – A 4th-century church on this site was said to hold the tombs of the Three Kings. The church as you see it today has elements from later rebuilding projects in the 12th, 16th, and 19th centuries.
- Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore – First consecrated in the early 5th century, this basilica has been rebuilt several times over the centuries. There is a large pipe organ inside, and some original 4th century mosaics.
- Colonne di San Lorenzo – Roman ruins in Milan? Yes, indeed. These columns date from the 2nd century, and were moved to their present location outside the Basilica of San Lorenzo in the 4th century.
- Basilicas Park – This park in the southern part of central Milan gets its name from its location between two major basilicas – Basilica di San Lorenzo and Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio.
- Photo Gallery at 10 Corso Como – The creator of the chic 10 Corso Como space, Carla Sozzani, is a long-time art lover and gallerist, so when she opened 10 Corso Como she included a photo gallery in the complex. The exhibition changes regularly, sometimes featuring themes of architecture and design.
- HangarBicocca – An enormous former factory building has been re-imagined as a contemporary art space, with backing from Italian tire maker Pirelli. There are permanent and temporary exhibitions on display at all times, though sometimes HangarBicocca is closed for private events.
- MACAO – If you like your art with a healthy dose of subversion, underground culture, and politics, then head for the MACAO art project in a former slaughterhouse just outside the city center.
Free Things to Do in Milan: Sometimes
Museum of Ancient Art in Castello Sforzesco || creative commons photo by Jose Hidalgo
- Castello Sforzesco – Inside the castle complex there are several museums, including a Museum of Musical Instruments, an Egyptian Museum, an Antique Furniture Museum, a Modern Art Museum, and a Pinacoteca art collection. These each charge a separate admission, but they’re free every Tuesday after 14:00 and Wednesday-Sunday after 16:30.
- Museo del Risorgimento – “Risorgimento” is an Italian word meaning “resurgence,” though it primarily refers to the fight for Italian unification. This museum, then, tells the story of Italy becoming Italy. It’s free every Tuesday after 14:00 and Wednesday-Sunday after 16:30.
- Galleria d’Arte Moderna Milano – Located in a former royal villa (once occupied by Napoleon) near the Giardini Pubblici, the museum is dedicated to 19th century art. It’s free every Tuesday after 14:00 and Wednesday-Sunday after 16:30.
- Museum of Natural History – This museum is in the Giardini Pubblici, and is Milan’s oldest civic museum. It’s free every Tuesday after 14:00 and Wednesday-Sunday after 16:30.
- Archaeological Museum – This museum is inside an 8th century convent, and features artifacts found in and around present-day Milan. It’s free every Tuesday after 14:00 and Wednesday-Sunday after 16:30.
- Civic Aquarium – Milan’s little aquarium, located in Parco Sempione, used to be free every day. Now, however, it’s only free on the first Sunday of every month.