Is Milan Expensive? Costs of Exploring Italy’s Fashion Hub

Is Milan expensive
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Is Milan expensive? Well, that all really depends. You can explore this enthralling northern Italian hub without breaking the bank, that’s for sure. However, keeping costs on the down low can be a challenge because Milan is among the priciest destinations in the country, and even up there with the priciest in Europe.

A glitzy and fashion-mad regional capital, Milan isn’t only a hotspot for cutting-edge designers a la Louis Vuitton and Gucci. It’s also Italy’s financial hub, a degustation food mecca, and the gateway to the chic resorts of Lake Como. All that adds up to crank the cost of a stay in the city skyward. Some estimations even say that the average cost of a week-long vacation to Milan including accommodation could swell to a whopping €3,300 ($3,800) per person. Wowza!

But don’t be put off just yet. This guide will uncover the major costs of a trip to Milan and reveal some places where you might be able to save. It also finishes with some in-the-know tips on keeping the outgoings low and more euros in your pocket for Spritzes on the piazza. Let’s go…

What’s the average cost of a city break to Milan?

Milan shopping
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Milan isn’t cheap. Common travelers here include businessfolk bound for the stock exchanges and fashion bigwigs heading for the catwalks of the design studios. The town actually rates as the most expensive city in Italy, eclipsing Rome with an estimated cost of up to $13,000 for a week-long holiday for a family of four!

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Admittedly, that’s an upper estimation. We’d estimate that it’s quite possible to enjoy the Duomo and the shopping arcades of Milan’s Fashion Quarter for much less than that, perhaps close to €3,000 ($3,500) for a family for a week. Solo travelers can get by on less, but not that much less, as there are often discounted tickets for kids and solo hotel rooms are rarely much cheaper. So, we’d guess at a total of between €855-2,565/week ($1,000-$3,000/week) if you go it alone, with the final amount all depending on what level of luxury you’re after.

Here’s a look at some of the most common outgoings to expect during your holiday to Milan:

  • Casual street-food snack: €8.60 ($10.50)
  • Cappuccino in a café: €1.60 ($3)
  • A bus transfer to Bergamo Airport: €5 ($5.85)
  • Midrange hotel room per night in the high season: €152 ($177)
  • Adult entry to the rooftop of the Milan Duomo (a must!): €10 ($11.70)
  • Adult entry to see The Last Supper (also a must!): €10 ($11.70)

The cost of getting to Milan

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Before you can start planning your shopping trips to the Fashion Quarter and evenings of risotto and wine by the Duomo, you’re going to have to get to Milan. The good news is that this city is home to not one, not two, but three international airports. What’s more, one of those is among the largest in the whole of Italy. You’ll want to check arrivals into:

  • Milan Malpensa Airport – The largest aviation hub in Northern Italy, Milan Malpensa Airport hosts long-haul and short-haul traffic from Europe, Asia, and the USA. It’s 30 miles to the northwest of the city center, close to both lakes and the Alps.
  • Milan Linate – A smaller hub that mainly hosts short-haul routes from other European and alpine cities. It’s popular among business travelers because it’s close to the center.
  • Bergamo Airport – There was a time when Bergamo airport was listed as Milan-Bergamo, but, really, it’s closer to its namesake town. Direct buses do connect Milan’s center from the terminal, though, and the availability of low-cost arrivals on easyJet and Ryanair make this one a doozy for budget travelers.

Naturally, the cost of your flight to Milan will depend on where you come in from. As a rough estimation, a short-haul connection to the city from a UK airport in the shoulder season months of spring can be as little as $25 each way, increasing to $150 in the peak season with bags. Long-haul links from the USA and further can be upwards of $500 return.

But Milan isn’t just an air hub. You can also come here on the train. High-speed lines come in all the way from Paris. They are super comfy, eco-friendly, and don’t cost a bomb if you book in advance – you’re looking at €29 ($31.50). Smaller regional trains link Milan to Bergamo, Venice and other northern Italian towns, while fast Italian trains go to Rome and Naples in just a couple of hours.

Is Milan expensive for hotels?

Milan sights
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You bet it is! In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the cost of the hotel is likely to be the single biggest outgoing on your trip to the capital of Lombardy. Whether you plump for a chic villa on the side of Lake Como or an inner-city flat with views across the Piazza Duomo, you should be prepared to pay for it. A lot of that is down to the fact that Milan doubles as a major business hub and a tourist hotspot. Business travelers often have more moolah to burn, so prices can only go in one direction.

However, the main factor that makes Milan’s hotels some of the dearest in Italy is the season. Come May, when the sightseers flock in by their thousands, you’ll notice that the cost of places to stay here shoots up like the foothills of the Alps that you can see on the horizon. One way to dodge the heftiest rates is to travel outside of the summer (more on that later, though). Another way is stray to lesser-known quarters of the city on the hunt for some of the top hotel bargains around. Consider the likes of:

  • Hostel Colours ($) – A true budget option that’s located on the eastern outskirts of town, Hostel Colours has a real backpacker vibe. Expect a lounge and games room, along with a continental breakfast in the morning. There are also direct links to the center from the nearby Lambrate metro station.
  • B&B Aldebaran ($) – Basic but well-reviewed B&B Aldebaran offers a place to stay in the convenient proximity of the main Milan train station.
  • Boutique Hotel Calais Milano ($-$$) – Probably the most affordable boutique hotel in the city, this one has opulent interiors with a twist of regal Italian charm to them. Location wise, you’re to the west of the center in the area of the Wagner metro station.
  • Hotel Garda ($$) – Another low-cost choice near the main train station, Hotel Garda has classic twins and doubles with a charming breakfast room.

Is Milan expensive for food?

Naviglio, Milan
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The amount you spend on food in Milan will all depend on what you want to eat. You can fork out stacks of euros here, rubbing shoulders with the jet setters in Michelin-touted restaurants like Seta and Iyo. But you can also dine for cheap. Seek out the old-school trattoria and osteria; Italiano kitchens that do hearty home cooking with local ingredients. Or head for the local marketplaces and cook for yourself, taking inspiration from the fresh tomatoes, herbs, and veg of Lombardy, perhaps with a bottle of local Franciacorta bubbles to wash it all down?

Some of the best places to save cash while dining out in Milan are:

  • Mangiari di StradaA street-food haven that cooks up Italian country staples. It’s situated in the covered Mercato Comunale and the menu is meat, meat, and more meat. That’s because the chef is meatcutter Giuseppe Zen and the name of the game is Tuscan porchetta and lampredotto (different sandwich cuts).
  • Pizza AM – Yes, northern Italy might be a hefty trip from where pizza was invented, but hey this is still the right country. To sample proper, cushiony Neapolitan crusts with good buffalo cheese, Pizza AM is a solid option. What’s more, the classic dishes are usually less than €10 ($11.70) apiece.
  • Luini – Hungry sightseers near the Duomo should be sure to check out this hole-in-the-wall joint that serves up classic panzerotti (small pizza packets that have been deep fried). It’s perfect fuel for exploring the centre of Milan and should only cost a euro or two.

The Milan high season

Italian Alps
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The high season in Lombardy follows the same pattern as in the rest of Italy. AKA – more people come here between May and August than at any other time of year. However, there are two other booms in visitor numbers that are worth knowing about if you’ve set your sights on the Lombard capital. One comes in September, with the prestigious Milan Fashion Week. The other comes with the second showing of the Fashion Week in early winter, which is bolstered even more by the starting of the ski season in the nearby Alps.

High-season rates for hotels can be more than double low-season rates. That means you can bag a place for €50 ($58) in March but pay over €100 ($116) for it only two months later. Food prices don’t really increase but you will notice a big uptick in the costs of flights into Milan. For example, flight aggregator Momondo reports that average airfare on the route from London to Milan in January are about $53, while they are more than $103 in September (the Fashion Week effect, perhaps?). 

Free things to do in Milan

Milan cathedral

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One sure way to cut the cost of a trip to Milan is to skip the pricy attractions. Thankfully, the city has lots up its sleeve that’s either free or nearly free, ranging from church visits to excursions into the mountains. Here are just a few of our personal suggestions:

  • The Duomo – Yep, the Duomo! This is almost certainly the main attraction of the city, and it’s 100% free. You won’t have to fork out a cent to enter the main church, but steer clear of the roof terrace (that has a charge of €10).
  • Castello Sforzesco – Time your visit for the first and third Tuesday of the month and then hang around until 2pm. That’s when entry to this majestic14th-century castle is gratis. You can duck in to see works by Titian and Tintoretto and many more.
  • Orto Botanico di Brera – No list of the free things to do in Milan could be complete without a mention of one of the city’s elegant parks. Our fav is the Orto Botanico. Open weekdays for nada, the spot has lovely flowerbeds and the oldest ginkgo tree on the continent.
  • Lake Como – It takes just under 50 minutes on the train to Lake Como from Milan and the ticket costs just a few euros. The area is stunningly beautiful and known as a bona fide celeb hotspot. So, dodge the bistros and make for the lakeside or pre-Alps, where swimming and hiking is 100% without charge.

More money-saving tips for those traveling to Milan

Milan skyline
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If you’re pining to lay eyes on the gothic spires of Milan’s great Duomo and sip Spritz in the aperitif bars of Navigli, there are some things you can do to ensure your trip to Italy’s northern metropolis is as cheap as possible…

  • Eat at local markets – Milan, like pretty much any town anywhere in Italy, has regular street markets and covered markets where you can buy local produce. It usually comes in at just a fraction of the cost that it would be after being cooked up in one of the city’s acclaimed trattoria. Because the food bazaars are mainly aimed at locals, you’ll need to hunt for them. There’s one, the Mercarto Viale Papiniano, every Tuesday and Saturday. There’s also one at the Mercato Via Crema on weekend mornings.
  • Dodge the fashion stores – We know, we know, Milan is a fashion lover’s mecca. With shopping districts like the Quadrilatero della moda and the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on the menu, there are more designer names here than you can shake a bowl of risotto at. Our advice, though? Avoid them at all costs. You won’t want to be roped into buying a handbag for $2,000 if you can’t even afford a hostel bed!
  • Book really early – Waiting for the summer rush is never a good idea in a destination that gets the vast majority of its visitors in the hotter months. Book flights and hotels at least 90 days in advance and you’re more likely to find that the best bargains on the best-located hotels near the Duomo and whatnot are still available.
  • Travel during the low seasons – Milan’s main seasons last throughout the whole summer and swing around again when the skiing in the Alps gets a-going in December. You’ll also want to watch out for peaks in prices when the Fashion Week happens (September and January). Traveling outside those times can mean some good deals on flights and accommodation in the Lombard capital.

Is Milan expensive? Our conclusion

Milan isn’t known as one of Europe’s budget destinations. The city is famed for its haute fashion industry and chic food scene. It’s also a gateway to the villa-dotted A-list lands of the Italian Lakes. So, don’t come here expecting the cheapest trip you’ve ever had. We estimate that the average cost of a vacation here will be in the region of €1,700 per person for a whole week, staying in midrange hotels and eating out now and then. Of course, you can spend a lot more than that because Milan has some spectacularly luxury hotels and chic shopping malls. You can also save loads if you opt to sleep in hostel accommodation and don’t mind traveling in shoulder seasons like spring and fall.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.