Best free things to do in Milan

Italy’s fashion capital may be all about glamour and a luxe lifestyle, but there are still lots of great experiences that you can enjoy for free.

Admire the Duomo

The Milan Cathedral, or Duomo, one of the world’s largest cathedrals, was built over a span of almost six centuries. Its magnificent spires (above) are visible from all over the city, but you have to step inside to fully appreciate the Duomo’s grandeur. Its most notable feature is the 18th-century sundial, built into the cathedral floor. The sundial is so precise that it was used in the past to regulate clocks throughout the city. Also, take time to gaze at the cathedral’s beautiful stained-glass windows and the gruesomely detailed statue of Saint Bartholomew (wearing his own flayed skin). For €9 (US$10.03), you can climb to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of the city.

Relax at the Parco Sempione

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Grab a cappuccino and a biscotti and head for Parco Sempione, the city’s largest park. It covers more than 386,000 sq m of land adjacent to the gardens of the Sforza Castle and the Arch of Peace. There’s free WiFi throughout the park, and it’s tempting to sit and catch up on your e-mail – but first, go explore. The park was given the look of an English garden in 1893 by local architect Emilio Alemagna. Take a stroll along the winding walkways, past the rolling green lawns, flowerbeds and the lake. Look out for the Arena Civica – the mini colosseum designed in 1806 by Swiss architect Luigi Canonica – which was once used for chariot races and mock naval battles. Today, it’s a stage for athletic events and outdoor concerts.

Window-shop at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This magnificent glass-vaulted, cross-shaped arcade (above), known as il salotto di Milano (the living room of Milan), is a popular meeting place in the city. It’s home to some of the oldest shops and cafes in Milan, like the Biffi Caffe (founded in 1867 by Paolo Biffi, pastry chef to the monarch). While the goods in most of the shops are on the pricey side, it costs nothing to wander through the arcade and admire the beautiful architecture and floor mosaics. See if you can spot the mosaics representing Milan (a red cross on white), Florence (an iris), Rome (a she-wolf) and Turin (a bull). If you have trouble finding Turin’s symbol, look for tourists spinning on their heels on the bull’s genitals – it’s said to bring good luck.

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