Active in Milan

From it’s Renaissance architecture of Church of Santa Maria, to its postcard-pretty canals in Navigli, to the heavenly gold hue of the Risotto Milanese, and a catwalk-highstreet scene which makes every day seem like Fashion Week – Milan has it all. Add to that a glorious climate, Prosecco on tap, and the fact that the beautiful, natural lakes of Nothern Italy are just a short train ride away – it ticks all the boxes for a weekend break.

My sister and I jumped on a 5:30am plane (ouch) last Saturday to visit my cousin, who has recently moved to Milan after spending her Erasmus year there. She was official tour guide and translator; the perfect way to visit a city is to be taken around by a local.

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The Lowdown

Located in Northern Italy, just south of the Alps, Milan is Italy’s industrial powerhouse and is at the heart of European fashion. It has been ruled by the likes of the Caesars and Napoleon, so it has a fascinating cultural history. But these days it leads the way with the largest post-war redevelopment in Italy whilst keeping most of its historical past intact.

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Where to Stay

South-west of the city centre lies the Navigli District, which plays host to bars which spill out onto the street with unmatchable aperitivo offerings, and an emerging art scene which really adds to the area’s cobbled-street charm. My sister and I booked a charming studio flat on AirBnB complete with exposed brick walls and a juliet balcony – I’d die happy if I could find a place like this in London.

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What to do whilst you’re there

If you’re visiting Milan on a weekend, spend one of your days exploring the city by foot and start your sightseeing trip by visiting Milan’s most famous landmark, The Duomo. It’s a magnificent white, Gothic cathedral, which is home to more statues than any other in the world. You can even climb the steps to the roof, where you can enjoy spectacular 360 views over the city.

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Just to North of the cathedral, lies the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the world’s oldest shopping centre, where you can find the likes of Prada, Gucci and Ferrari. It’s four stories tall and highly decorated in marble with glass domed ceilings.

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Castello Sforzesco is a must-see and is home to lakes and the most luscious green lawns I have ever seen in Italy. For a city that doesn’t shout about its history (unlike Rome, Florence and Venice do to excess), it’s the perfect place to visit and really gain a sense of Milan as it hosts 12 mini-museums.

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Jump on a tram and head South until you reach the Prada Foundation, which is an institution dedicated to contemporary art. Make sure you get an Aperol Spritz from Bar Luce which was designed by Wes Anderson. It’s full of colour-blocked Formica tables, whimsical wallpaper and themed pinball machines and junk boxes – it could be easily be plucked from a glossy set.

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Dedicate a day and head north out of Milan to Lake Como. We visited the quaint village of Varenna which is made up of pastel-coloured houses dotted along the steep slopes that rise from the lake.

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Where to eat

Exploring Milan with an adopted Milanese meant that we were taken to places which were off the beaten track – and the locals all lunch at Luini which is just a stone throw away from The Duomo. It’s a hole-in-the-wall takeaway eatery, where they serve panzerotti – a fried dough parcel which is stuffed with tomato and oozing mozzarella, I’d call it Italian street food. It’s greasy and oh so bad for you, but it’s incredible.

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I had one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever had at Pizza AM and it’s somewhere I would have never ventured to without my cousin and her Italian pals, where I learnt that it’s sacrilege to put meat on a pizza (whoops). But be prepared to queue for your dinner here, but as you wait, they will bring you a slice of Margarita and a glass of Prosecco! I was shocked when the whole meal came to €16 per person – and someone told me Milan was expensive.

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On the doorstep of our apartment in Navigli, was MAGs Cafe. If you’re in this area for breakfast I’d highly recommend grabbing a custard croissant and cappuccino (fun fact: the plural for cappuccinos is actually cappuccini). It’s also the perfect place to grab a cocktail in the evening and watch the sunset over the canal.

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Best time to visit

The best time to visit Milan is during April to May or late September to October. Visiting during the spring and autumn months means you can avoid the summer’s scalding temperatures.

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How much does it cost?

Milan is more expensive than many other cities in Italy, purely because it’s the country’s business centre. We were however taken around Milan by locals, so managed to do it on the cheap – and actually brought Euros home with us for a change! A coffee will set you back €2 and a beer or spitz in a bar or restaurant will cost around €6.

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Active in Rome | How to Spend a Weekend in Rome on a Budget

I went to Rome last weekend, and I definitely learned that sometimes, spontaneity is best. For a meticulous planner like myself, the idea of not booking a hotel and flights at least 3 months before a trip is crazy. I like to have it all mapped out – where I’m going, where I’m going to stay, and most importantly, where I’m going to eat.

I tore up my rule book last and jumped on a last minute plane heading to Rome to visit Scott (as he is currently travelling around Europe). The flights cost a small fortune, so I had a tight budget for when I landed. Going to Rome with limited funds may seem like an almost impossible task but they are plenty of ways to enjoy its sight, without breaking the bank. Here is how I spent three glorious days in the capital of Italy..

Getting into the City

Before my trip began I read everywhere that taxis into the city are incredibility expensive and rip tourists off (shock). The buses are by far the cheapest way to go and will take you right to the main train station in Rome for €6.

Where to Stay 

Scott and I booked ourselves into a cute little apartment a stone-throw away from the Colosseum through Airbnb. The one thing I love about airbnb is that you usually have your own kitchen – meaning you can have a lot of your meals come at a faction of the cost because you’re not dinning out.

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Roma Pass – Is it worth it?

For €40 you’ll get free entry to 2 museum or archaeological sites of your choice and free use of the city’s public transport network.

Personally I don’t think it’s worth it. Firstly transport to and from the airports aren’t included so you’ll have to fork out for this separately. Secondly, Rome is best seen on foot – you’ll be amazed what you’ll see by simply wandering around. Scott and I didn’t actually go into any museums or archaeological sites, and most of the sites can be seen from a far. Scott, being a bit of a history buff, was my walking tour guide so I didn’t feel that I missed out on anything.

The Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, Spainish Steps, Pantheon, and The Piazza Navona are some of Rome’s top attractions – not to mention they don’t cost a penny.

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Food

It can be extremely easy to get carried away when dinning out anywhere – especially in Rome. If you’re on a really tight budget, pack sandwiches in your rucksack for lunch. Scott and I found a couple of local sandwich shops and ate our lunch along the river.

If you love food like me, it’s really hard to strike the right balance (and this is usually where I blow all my money). Dinner is the one meal of the day where we decided to treat ourselves and even then we were careful to only spent €15 each. Cutting back on the alcohol really helped keep costs low.

One night we visited a restaurant near our apartment called Luzzi. If you’re looking for a cheap and tasty meal this is definitely the place to go, so it’s no surprise is popular with families and large groups.

And of course, when in Rome don’t deny yourself that ice-cream.

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