Milan for £300

A cultural family holiday on a budget? Karen Glaser proves that it can be done as she takes her two children on a three-day break to Italy's most stylish city – all for the same price as a night at the opera

Glittering, glamorous Milan: a paradise for opera buffs, fashionistas, and lovers of fast cars and designer furniture. And, surely, the last place you'd take your young family for a cheap, no-frills holiday. Well, that's certainly the conventional wisdom. But I was determined to try. First, because I don't particularly relish the great outdoors – so any holiday featuring rolling hills and pristine forests is out. City breaks are the ideal option from my point of view, even if they tend to work out more expensive than camping in a field.

Second, there's the frisson of a challenge. When I announced to friends that the children and I were off to the Capital of Cool for three action-packed days, and that the whole thing would cost only £300 – the sum I had just "saved" by filing my tax return online myself and not, as in previous years, paying an accountant to do the dreary job – their collective reaction could be summarised in two dismissive words: dream on.

But dreaming doesn't come into it. As a single parent and a freelance writer, money is tight. I knew that if I wanted a cheap break in Italy's most stylish city, I'd have to plan for it.

Planning started with a trawl through budget-airline websites. Six weeks before departure, I found three Ryanair London-to-Milan return flights for, gulp, a total of £87.12. Just £14.52 per person per flight for me, Leah (aged 10) and Aaron (aged four). The outward journey was eye-wateringly early, and the return flight at a child-unfriendly late hour, but the price was right: I pounced. And since I use Ryanair quite a lot, I have a Ryanair Cash Passport MasterCard, which meant I dodged the card-payment fee.

Next, we needed somewhere to sleep. For that, I had just two modest requirements: cleanliness and centrality. It seemed, after some internet research, that Hotel Brasil, located on the fourth floor of a grand, early-20th-century palazzo, scored highly on both criteria. Although you wouldn't describe this one-star establishment as design-conscious, the floors were, at least, tastefully wooden. You think a single star is a turn-off? It's one more star than you get when you go camping. And, most cheering, Hotel Brasil cost just €42 (£36.50) per night. Aware that my second-born preferred to share a bed with me when we are away from home, I booked a twin room, rather than a triple.

Admittedly, transfers to and from Stansted were a bit of a cheat. Worried about his grandchildren being out and about at unsociable hours, my father drove us there and picked us up three days later. Unpleasant though it certainly was to be on an aircraft before 7am, it meant that when we'd arrived at Milan central station by mid-morning (after an hour's coach journey from Bergamo airport, which cost €24.90/£21.65 return in total), we had a long day stretching ahead of us.

Little Aaron was certainly up for the challenge when I announced that we were going to scale the roof of one of the tallest Gothic cathedrals in the world (€5/£4.35 each for Leah and me; under-fives climb for free). When we finally reached the summit and started pacing the narrow path along its exterior perimeter with only 135 spires and 2,245 sculptures and satanic gargoyles for company, my mild vertigo had turned into white-knuckle terror. He, on the other hand, was just excited. "Look, the people are smaller than Haribos!" he shouted, pointing to the specks of human beings far, far below us.

Somehow, I managed not only to shuffle on to that internal roof terrace but to have lunch there too – an inexpensive, hastily assembled picnic I bought in a supermarket. This might sound strange, until you consider that entire orchestras have played atop Milan's grande dame: Verdi's opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata was performed up there last July. And children love picnics: I can report that eating one hundred or so metres above ground level will only add to your offspring's pleasure.

Aside from our forays to the supermarket – and hands up who doesn't enjoy shopping in foreign ones – a couple of our meals came from the bakeries that line Milan's bustling, businesslike streets. This isn't a gastronomic compromise. Pizza, panzerotti di patate (a deep-fried calzone stuffed with, typically, mozzarella, tomato and spinach) and my kids' holiday favourite, olive-studded pane toscano, were all utterly delicious, and at around €2 (£1.74) apiece. Equally satisfyingly, we were the only non-Italians I spotted buying them.

It was after some just-baked mushroom pizza that we made our way to Italy's National Museum of Science and Technology (admission €7/£6.08 for Leah and me). Among the many gripping exhibitions at this child-friendly museum is the Leonardo Gallery, which includes a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper (to see the original in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie you need to book at least a fortnight in advance). While Aaron played on the playground-size models of the great technologist's revolving cranes and drilling machines, Leah and I mused on the most famous mural in the world and had what felt like a seminal conversation about Judas, betrayal and the problem of anti-Semitism.

Which is not to say the children were deprived of more conventional pastimes on our city break. Unlike Italy's postcard-pretty, terracotta-roofed cities, grey limestone Milan – much of it rebuilt after the Second World War – is short on greenery. But it does have several good parks, and parks are always ripe for enjoyment by the budget-conscious. Our favourite was the grand Giardini Pubblici, where old-fashioned go-karts can be hired for just €2 (£1.74), and docile ponies can be ridden around the park for the same price. The image of my laughing children astride those fat fillies on a sun-dappled Friday in Milan will stay with me for ever.

Exploring the towers, courtyards and ramps of Castello Sforzesco, a sprawling medieval castle in the heart of the city, was also good alfresco fun. Because entry was free I felt justified in following it up with an all-you-can-eat buffet at San Vittore, a New York-style warehouse restaurant opposite the city's jail. At €40 (£34.80), this was not a budget meal, but the bill did include two hours of child care in the form of two ebullient children's entertainers, squishy sofas and newspapers – and the priceless opportunity to watch the good people of Milan unwinding over a weekend brunch.

Travelling back on the coach to the airport later that day with two lively children could not be described as unwinding. But it was fun listening to their excited anecdotes about the previous 72 hours – and very gratifying that it had all cost the same as a pair of good balcony seats at La Scala.

 

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting there

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Milan-Bergamo.

 

Staying there

Hotel Brasil, Via G Modena 20 (00 39 027 492 482; hotelbrasilmilano.it).

 

Visiting there

Milan Cathedral, Via Arcivescovado (00 39 027 202 2656; duomomilano.it).

National Science and Technology Museum, Via San Vittore 21 (00 39 024 85551; museoscienza.org).

Milan Castle, Piazza Castello (00 39 028 846 3700; milanocastello.it).

San Vittore restaurant, Viale Papiniano 16 (00 39 024 331 9682; sanvittoremilano.it).

Milan Tourist Office: visitamilano.it

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'