Yes, it can be expensive, however, there are so many free things to do in Milan! C’mon guys and put your flats on and start walking.
There’s no better way to explore the city and find hidden gems than to go on foot. Besides, getting around in taxis is ridiculously expensive and the hop-on-hop-off bus is super touristy. Don’t be afraid to get lost. The best experiences happen when you interact with locals and get away from tourists, like you. Yes, you heard me, stay away from people that look like you.
If you only had a few hours in Milan this is how you’ll make the most out of it without breaking your piggy bank. This list has 5 of the top sights to see in Milan. All of them freebies and all within walking distance.
Five Top Sights
- Galleria vittorio Emanuele II (high end shopping in an ornate 1800s arcade)
- The Duomo and Ristorante RiGiacomo Arengario
- Colonne di San Lorenzo (Archeological site made up of 16 impressive roman marble columns, next to the remains of an amphitheater and baths)
- Porta Ticinese (Landmark neoclassical pink granite gate with pillars, honoring Napolean’s victory in Marengo)
- Naviglio Grande (canal and market)
Here We Go!
First stop is “Galleria vittorio Emanuele II”, this is a high end shopping center dated back to the 1800s. You can only imagine the beautiful and impressive architecture, arches and patterns that keep you staring at the ceiling as you walk along with the crowd, so be careful not to bump into people, because I have. Lol
Between bumping into people, practicing my Italian saying scusa (Sorry) and posing for photos, I was approaching the last arch that reveals Piazza del Duomo.
“Duomo di Milano” the largest cathedral church in Italy and the third largest in the world, took nearly six centuries to build! It’s so powerful just standing in front of it.
It’s free to wander inside the Duomo, but you’ll pay a fee to access the Duomo roof and other extras (list of costs below).
This massive gothic cathedral is an attraction but for many it is a place of worship, so don’t take pictures of people praying, let’s keep it cool and respectful. You’ll have plenty of amazing photos of the inside and out.
Next we stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Milan and started our walking tour. We could’ve taken the train as Stazione Centrale was only two minutes from the hotel, and if you wanted to speed up you’ll take the train from Centrale station to Duomo (5 stops on the underground line 1-metropolitana). However, we wanted to walk through the city.
If this is your first time in Milan you’ll want to see the stunning and spectacular architecture, and the city is just beautiful that walking really is the only way to take it all in. If you post on Instagram/Facebook and enjoy photography you’ll have a lot to capture.
On our travels we went through the Galleria V. Emanuele. It’s a breathtaking, open brands mall with arches and art on the ceiling made of gold. As you walk out of the last arch at the mall, right in front of you is the famous Duomo where you can take pictures and play with hundreds of pigeons! I’d recommend bringing some dry bread to feed them, it’s an incredible experience.
On Sunday there was an event inside the Duomo, but it’s a free sight so going back isn’t an extra cost. From both sides of the Duomo there are two buildings, one has a market place with restaurants and a bar on the first level overlooking the Duomo, however it’s a hip place so there’s always a line especially on a Sunday. The good news though is that on the other side of the Duomo there’s a museum. On the second level there’s a charming restaurant, “Ristorante Giacomo arengario”, that you must sit at their terrace to have brunch or even just drinks. The sight is very powerful and the service is amazing.
After two glasses of wine and an appetizer we walked through Via Torino where you can actually find cool boutiques, graffiti and lots of Gelato. You can easily spend two hours there just for shopping! However, that’s not my thing when I have only one day to see as much possible.
As you continue walking along Via Torino you’ll pass small streets that merge together. If you continue straight you won’t miss Piazza Della vetra. It’s a local hangout place that gets crowded at night for finger food and drinks. There you’ll see the Colonne di San Lorenzo that is made up of 16 impressive Roman marble columns. We took some pictures there of graffiti artists and continued walking towards the big arch and the canals.
The first canal you’ll see (Corsa Di Porta) is fairly calm as everyone hangs out in Naviglio (Alzaia Naviglio Grande). It’s a huge canal, just follow the crowd to the left and you’ll see it. On both sides there are many restaurants one right after another, full of locals and tourists that spend time right before sunset at this magical lively spot. Along the Navigli you can cross from one side to another through the locks of love bridge. Along the bridge couples put locks to symbolize their love for each other. It makes for a good picture too!
Finally we stopped to eat dinner around 7pm to feel the energy on the Navigli, and that’s exactly where you want to do some people watching, eat good Italian food, and and get the vibe until sun goes down. Hope this helps for your first trip to Milan!