Traditionally, Milan is viewed as the enclave of the super rich and the fashion elite, but there is a different side to the city; a side that is far more accessible and inclusive.

My sister, my friend and I stayed in Navigli on the southern side of the city, far from the luxury hotels and retailers. Here are some of my recommendations for a cheap and cheerful stay in Milan:

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Flying over the lakes

Stay
The Navigli area is characterised by a series of intersecting canals. We stayed on the Naviglio Pavese canal, which links Milan and Pavia, in a picturesque Airbnb located inside a 300-year-old cheese factory. Heavy wooden doors led directly from the courtyard of the building to the canal’s towpath.

We were just a short walk away from the Naviglio Grande canal, which is the busiest stretch, lined with restaurants and quirky cafes where you can sit out and enjoy the sun, visit markets or grab some food on-the-go.

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Eat
When sitting by the canal, a luminous Aperol Spritz is a must, and locals can be seen sipping delicately as these throughout the long, summer evenings. Bars often provide customers with snacks free of charge, and cheaper restaurants offer a one-price buffet option, which is suitable for those on a tighter budget.

As in the rest of Italy, food is a major draw for those visiting Milan. From arancini the size of avocados to metropolitan vegan and vegetarian cafes and sophisticated restaurants, Milan offers incredible variety. A highlight for me was the opportunity to sample a wide range of gelato and sorbet flavours, the most exquisite of which was, surprisingly, a dairy-free option I ate by Lake Como in Varenna – though perhaps the location had something to do with that.

 

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Milano Centrale railway station

See
It is a short and inexpensive train journey from the city to the lakes, which is one of the main reasons that many fly into Milan. We spent a day at Lake Como, though I would have liked to stay longer due to the sheer size of the lake, and of course the breath-taking natural beauty. A ferry that lazily zigzags from one end of the lake to the other is the perfect way to see the area from the water.

There are plenty of historical sites to see within the city of Milan. On a shorter, weekend break, such as my own, the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) and the Sforza Castle are a good place to start. However, as in much of Italy, there is historical significance and architectural beauty everywhere you look, so a walk around the city is bound to be rewarding.

It was a short trip and we tired ourselves out racing around trying to see everything. What did we miss? What else is affordable and fun in Milan? Let me know what you think.