How to Visit Milan on a Budget

Milan and budget are two words you probably don’t expect to see together. When I spontaneously booked tickets to Milan, I figured it’d be expensive. I also figured I’d cross that bridge when I get to it. So, I was pretty relieved (and possibly slightly smug) to pull off a successful and fun four days in Milan with zero planning and a near zero budget.

Now when I say I booked tickets to Milan spontaneously, I mean it. Lily’s a good egg and so she kindly messaged me to tell me RyanAir had a flight sale on. Next thing I knew, within a brief exchange of approximately 3 four word texts, a couple of minutes and hastily entering my bank details, I’d booked flights to Milan.

I actually almost booked tickets to Naples for a solo-trip first but the dates in Milan worked out better and Lily had already booked tickets for herself to go…so I gatecrashed her solo-trip instead and I don’t regret a thing!

I’d put myself on a travel ban this year. After all, I have just bought a house. However, £30 flights to Italy were too tempting to turn down plus the itch to travel was becoming overbearing. I’m a sucker for cheap flights and I’m still crossing my fingers that RyanAir do another £2 flight sale like last years Hamburg Christmas Market Trip. *hint hint RyanAir*.

PRE-MILAN: UNORGANISED SPONTANEITY

Along with being budget-friendly, this trip to Milan was a highly unorganised one. I can be pretty laidback when it comes to planning trips and luckily, Lily is on the same wavelength. Most people would be frantically pulling their hair out at my lack of planning and leaving it until two weeks before we fly to book accommodation. We opted for Air BnB over a Hotel. Partly due to it working out a helluva lot cheaper (hello less than £110 each for an apartment!) but it also meant having a place to ourselves to crash.

We may have also been suckered in by the white and purple interior and mezzanine level. Plus it was located in the Navigli area which a quickly google search told us was the place to be in the evenings!

As months passed by since booking our flights, Lily and I decided to meet at brunch at the aptly named Capri. Wrapping ourselves in blankets as we laughed over coffee, planning quickly went out the window. We patted ourselves on the back for getting as far as writing down our flight details and agreeing that ‘a bus goes from the airport to central station so we should probably get that’.

DAY ONE: PLANES, TRAINS AND BUSES

Feeling perfectly unprepared, October soon came around and it was time to jump on a train to the airport. Or rather get a bus to then get a train to eventually get a plane…oh the wonders of public transport.

After a delayed flight and starting to believe it may be cancelled, we eventually landed in Bergamo. €5 later and we were on a bus to Milano Central Station (which by the way, isn’t really central at all). From the windows of the bus we appreciated the gorgeous pink evening skies – hereby formally known as pink o’clock and something we just knew we wanted to capture in Milan.

Once we arrived in Milan, it was time to tackle the trams. We’d caught wind of the Milano Card so decided it was an offer worth getting. For €21 we got 72 hours of unlimited public transport in Milan, along with many more fab tourist offers. If you’re ever planning a short trip to Milan, the Milano Card is well worth the consideration.

Anyway, back to public transport. One tram and a bus (in the wrong direction and back again) and we finally arrived at our apartment aka the place we’ll call home for the next 4 days. The main thing I love about Air BnB is that it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the city like a local. Even though, there’s no denying you’re 100% a tourist.

DAY ONE – THE EVENING: PIZZA AND SLEEP

A full day of travelling can really zap the energy out of you. Luckily, we both agreed that we just wanted to eat pizza then kick back and relax at the apartment. I quickly scoured Google Maps and found a restaurant along the canal that seemed like just what we needed.

If you ever visit Milan then I wholeheartedly urge that you visit Il Principe Dei Navigli for food. The restaurant was seriously cosy with the most wonderful service.

I mean, who can fault a restaurant that gives you free prosecco on arrival, followed by a huge plate of free garlic bread and prosciutto?!

The pizza was divine too and for the two of us to joyously stuff our faces with food the bill came to less than €20. You can’t say fairer than that! I could have happily eaten there every single night with no complaints. It’s safe to say, as soon as we arrived back at the apartment, I crashed our feeling super content.

DAY TWO: DUOMO AND MORE PIZZA

Our diaries for Milan were completely blank. Normally when travelling, I will at least make a vague list of places I’d like to visit or more importantly food places to check out. But not this time. Milan was 100% plan free.

As a result, we started our first full day in Milan at the most obvious tourist hit spot – the Duomo. In between being hassled by men with bird feed and selfie sticks, we were able to soak in the immense size and detail of the Duomo.

We decided against going in the Duomo and opted to do this on Friday instead. For now, we were happy to meander around Milan.

Galleria Emmanuelle was a stones throw away so we decided to window shop whilst admiring the high windows of the Galleria.

Milan is one of the fashion capitals so there’s no surprise that so many people flock there for the Italian designer brands. Personally, I was more than happy to just browse from the other side of the window whilst admitting I’d happily still wear Primark even if I could afford Gucci.

A morning of sightseeing left us feeling peckish so we went on a hunt for a quick bite to eat. We wound up at what turned out to be the famous Luini’s. A chocolate and pear panzerotti was the sweet of choice and whilst I expected it to be hot, it was mouth-wateringly delicious nonetheless.

With no plans for the day, we happily wandered around Milan. I believe aimlessly wandering is one of the best ways to stumble across beautiful sights.

If you remember earlier we bought Milano Cards when we first arrived in Milan. Well, one of the free offers with the Milano Card was a trip to the Highline Galleria where you could grab free rooftop pizza at the end.

As two girls on a budget and with a penchant for pizza, it seemed like a no-brainer that this would be our next port of call for the day.

Highline Galleria is a metal industrial walkway on the roof of the Galleria Emmanuelle offering the sweetest views of Milan. It was a quiet haven towering over the hustle and bustle of the city.

Now, I did say there was free pizza at the end but this was only if you printed the voucher – which sadly we didn’t do. But our Milano Card still got us 20% off so it wasn’t all bad.

Then again, when is pizza ever bad?! Certainly never when you’re Italy that’s for sure.

Post-pizza we kept up with Wednesdays theme of meandering and took ourselves on a little walk to Sforza Castle and Parco Sempione.

The Park was far bigger than I imagined it would be. I always love how much energy, life and personality fills city parks. We made our way to Porta Sempione where we plonked ourselves down to relax and take in all of the surroundings.

After the park, we jumped on a tram (which I seriously don’t remember being on) to Navigli Grande. From there we walked home to our apartment. Of course we majorly underestimated how long the walk actually was and vowed that we’ll stick to public transport for the rest of the trip.

Oh how I wish we could have hired a cute Fiat 500 to drive around in!

DAY 2 – THE EVENING: FOOD ALONG THE CANAL

Wednesday evening and Milan on a budget called for Aperitivo.

Aperitivo is kind of like the happy hour of Italy…but better. This Milanese tradition is a fun, social alternative to dining at a restaurant. Pay for one cocktail and you’ll get free range of the yummy buffet. Now I normally hate buffet food. Like seriously hate it. But a hot buffet that’s constantly topped up is something that I can be okay with.

Paying less than €10 for all the food you want and a cocktail in a buzzing bar along the canal is a good night for me.

DAY THREE: THE BEAUTIFUL BELLAGIO

Luckily, Lily shares my love for early mornings and so on Thursday we were up and out the door by 7am to begin our journey to Lake Como. A return train was less than €10 and only an hours ride so visiting the beautiful Lake Como was a must-do for our four days in Milan.

Once we arrived at Lake Como we headed straight to the pier to buy Mid-Lake ferry passes. This was the most expensive part of our trip but it was totally worth it.

When it comes to maths/judgement/timing/etc., I am not your girl.

As a result, I excitedly told Lily how we could visit at least 4 towns around the lake but hadn’t accounted for the length of the ferry trip (2 hours to Bellagio FYI) or the departure times at each of the towns. That idea was quickly scrapped and we settled for a full day in Bellagio instead.

Lake Como and Bellagio was hands down my favourite part of the trip. I’m naturally drawn to lakeside, rural locations. It’s my calm space where I instantly feel at home. The cobbled paths and bright buildings of Bellagio warmed my heart too.

If you want to eat on the waterfront expect to pay a service charge for the luxury of the view. But don’t panic, you can just as easily enjoy the view for free from a public bench.

We were thankful for the lovely couple who pre-warned us of this charge so we could save €8 to go towards gelato and coffee instead.

Winding our way up the narrow, hilly paths we found a sweet little restaurant with outside seating. There, we refuelled with Italian coffee and pasta whilst people watching and appreciating the warm Bellagio sunshine.

For the remainder of the day we weaved in and out of shops and meandered (keeping up with the theme y’know?) along the paths.

Every building we passed had us gawping in awe at its beauty. While all the streets had us feeling confused and walking round in circles, we certainly weren’t complaining about it.

Of course we had to stop for gelato. I opted for two scoops – one being coffee and the other, admittedly I can’t fully remember, was cherry or some fruity-tasting gelato. Either way it was delicous.

After a long, lush day at Lake Como, Thursday evening was another night for Aperitivo along Navigli canal before heading back home where we agreed to slump on the sofa in silence mindlessly scrolling through our phones and cameras. Hey, a day filled with with public transport and exploring cute towns really takes it out of you!

DAY FOUR: HAZY MORNINGS AND GOODBYE ITALIA

Friday came around far too fast. Wanting to make the most of our last day we got up at 530am to rush out for that hazy morning light. After all, we had continually missed pink o’clock so we were determined to see Milan before the rest of the city woke up. Ah, the joys of having a friend who loves early rises as much as you do!

Apart from commuters and a few other early birds we almost had the Duomo to ourselves.

Spying a girl snapping solo-shots outside the Duomo, Lily offered her a hand and then the three of us grabbed a coffee before exploring the Duomo terraces.

The terraces didn’t open until 9am so we bought our tickets for €9 each before finding a step to sit down to watch Milan’s and it’s fashionable city dwellers whizz by.

Oh and we also had a lady ask us for a photo. Happily jumped up to snap a photo of her and her friend before realising she meant she wanted a photo with us. Lily and I did our best at masking our confusion with smiles and laughter!

9am quickly came around and we were one of the first making our way up the spiral stairs to the terraces.

Seeing the architectural details of the Duomo up close was breathtaking.

The intricate design was glorious and to actually walk on the roof of the Duomo and see the rest of Milan was beyond impressive.

We made one last food stop before it was time to grab our bags and say goodbye to Milan.

We gravitated towards the Navigli for food. The spaghetti bolognese was nothing to write home about but it filled a small home and I was just happy to sit along the canal just one more time.

The journey back to my little home in England was filled with lots more public transport. I dread to think just how many trains, trams and buses I had been on during the four days! But I had a wonderful four days in Italy and immediately want to go back and see more.

So, what did I learn from 4 days in Milan? 1) you can do Milan on a budget. 2) the Italians have the dreamiest taste in fashion and are all good looking and 3) my heart will never tire of Italian food.

Now…pass me a pizza and an Italian coffee please!

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