Shopping, eating and drinking are popular pastimes among both locals and visitors in Italy’s lively fashion capital, however this lavish lifestyle doesn’t come cheap. If you’ve exceeded your budget trying to keep up with the local way of life, give your wallet a rest and check out some of Brando‘s favourite free things to do in Milan!

1. Step back in time at the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio

Dedicated to the patron saint of Milan, Sant’Ambrogio is one of the oldest churches in the city and one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy. It’s perfectly preserved thanks to numerous restorations, and its historical significance is second only to the Duomo cathedral. Exhibitions and other events occasionally take place in the atrium. Free guided tours are available every Saturday – for bookings, send an email to

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Photo credit: Lino M

2. Check out world-class photo exhibitions at Carla Sozzani Gallery

Set in a beautiful courtyard at the heart of 10 Corso Como, this place is a much-loved local photo gallery with fantastic rotating exhibitions. Spare yourself a bit of time to enjoy the art and soak up the creative atmosphere. Most of the exhibitions are free, but keep in mind that some may require an entrance fee. The gallery is open daily from 10:30 am–7:30 pm (later on Wednesdays and Thursdays).

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Photo credit: Ylbert Durishti

3. Get your museum fix at the Castle Museums

After the unification of Italy and many years of military use, Sforzesco Castle was returned to the city of Milan. Today it houses seven museums: the Museum of Ancient Art; the Sforza Castle Pinacoteca art gallery; the Museum of Musical Instruments; the Egyptian Museum; the Archaeological Museum; the Applied Arts Collection of Milan and the Antique Furniture and Wooden Sculpture Museum. Free admission every Tuesday from 2–5:30 pm; Wednesday–Friday from 4:30–5 pm.

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Photo credit: Mario Cutroneo

4. Admire underwater creatures at the Civic Aquarium of Milan

This aquarium is housed in a stunning art nouveau building at the edge of Sempione Park next to the Civic Arena. After undergoing major renovations, the building reopened in 2006 with a new section dedicated to the marine world and another dedicated to fishing. The friezes and hand-painted tiles that adorn the building’s façade hint at the treasures within. Free admission on the first Sunday of every month.

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Photo credit: tlx SmallImages

5. Hang out with locals at Colonne di San Lorenzo

Colonne di San Lorenzo is a place of great historical and architectural charm. Over the past decade or so, it has become one of the most popular nightlife spots for penniless young people in Milan. Locals gather here in their hundreds, especially in summer, to drink, play, make noise and have fun until the crack of dawn. Drop by to admire the magnificence of the Roman ruins and the Basilica di San Lorenzo, which is located on the opposite side of the square.

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Photo credit: Maurizio Mori

6. See impressive 19th-century art at GAM Milano

Villa Reale, also known as Villa Belgioioso, is a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture. Its English garden was the first of its kind in Milan and is a great source of admiration. Located inside Villa Reale, GAM Milano houses the largest municipal collection of 19th-century artworks in Italy. Free admission to the gallery from 4:30 pm daily and from 2 pm on Tuesdays.

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Photo credit: fabcom

7. Stroll along the canals at Navigli  & Porta Ticinese

The districts of Navigli and Porta Ticinese have been important places for trade and commerce since the Middle Ages because of the canals and waterways that run through them. Today this area is the heart of Milan’s nightlife, with streets full of lively bars and restaurants. It’s a great place for a relaxing waterside stroll and people watching.

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Photos credit: Paolo Margari

8. Discover underground art and culture at MACAO

The MACAO art project began in 2012 with the occupation of an empty skyscraper in downtown Milan. After various adventures (including being evicted from the skyscraper by police), its founders relocated to an old slaughterhouse in the city’s eastern suburbs to continue promoting underground culture and political participation. Now MACAO has become a permanent meeting place for art-loving locals and visitors.

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Photo credit: Tony Graffio

9. Escape the city rush at Parco Sempione

Located between the beautiful Arco della Pace (“Arch of Peace”) and Castello Sforzesco (“Sforza Castle”), Parco Sempione is a charming place to spend a relaxing day. It has a peaceful atmosphere (very rare for central Milan), making it one of the most-loved parks in the city. If you’re a fan of basketball, exciting matches take place between local youths at the little court near the amphitheatre.

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Photo credit: the rik pics

10. Unleash your inner geek at Milan Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is one of the oldest public cultural institutions in Milan. It was officially opened in 1844 on the site of an old convent. The collections were moved to the Museum’s current location in the Porta Venezia public gardens at the beginning of the 19th century. It regularly hosts exhibitions and other events of great international importance, however its appeal is linked to its permanent palaeontology, mineralogy, zoology, botany and entomology exhibitions. Free admission on the first Sunday of every month.

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Photo credit: Martin Bauer

For more local recommendations read:
What locals like to do in Milan
Where locals like to eat in Milan
Where locals like to party in Milan

Special tip:
For a more authentic Milan experience, get the Like A Local mobile app

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