Window shopping along Milan’s Via Montenapoleone can either be a parade of possibilities or an exercise in restraint, depending on the size of your bank balance. When your inner Suze Orman says “denied,” leave behind the sky-high prices and tourist hordes at Gucci and "Ver-sayce."
You’ll find more interesting items to take home (for a lot less) at Milan’s many specialty shops, food halls, and vintage stores.
Below are a few of Milan’s top spots to satisfy shoppers with big-eyes but tiny budgets.
Milan’s Flea Markets
If the prospect of finding an 18th century glass eye excites you more than a 30% off blouse, Milan’s flea markets are a good place to start. There are many markets to choose from, depending on your tastes. The Mercatone dell’Antiquariato along the canals of Milan’s Navigli neighborhood is a solid mix of offbeat antiques, second hand clothing, ceramics, and vintage Italian housewares. The market takes place on the first Sunday of the month.
In Lambrate, a trendy area northeast of the city, a former factory serves as the setting for East Market, a jumble of mid-century Italian furniture, vintage clothing, and food trucks. These always take place on Sundays, though there is no regular schedule. To find out when the next one will be, check the East Market Facebook page.
At Pasticceria Marchesi, the odds of buyer’s remorse are slim. Recently acquired by the Prada company, this historic Milanese pastry shop has been making sweets too beautiful to eat since 1824. Even the ho-hum chocolate covered raisin is gussied up to resemble a marbled tiger’s eye stone. Jams, gumdrops, and coated fennel also get the Marchesi treatment. These little details do cost more than, say, a plain ol' Butterfinger back home. A box of candied silver almonds goes for 18 euro, but that feels practically free when compared to the $1,000 fannypack downstairs at Prada. (Via Santa Maria alla Porta, 11/a)
More of an archive than a vintage shop, racks are spread over three floors and include not just big names but every name (Courrèges, Mary Quant, Yohji Yamamoto), along with rare pieces from every era. It’s not unusual for Mr. Jacassi to appear beside you with a complete history of whatever garment you happen to be eyeing. Just another reason why this place is a favorite stop among designers and fashion folks. Prices range from the reasonable—such as a 1970s Gucci leather billfold for 50 euro—to the totally prohibitive for rare and highly collectible items. (Via Giuseppe Sacchi, 3)
Careful, it’s easy to spend a fortune at this Duomo adjacent department store. The budget-minded should skip the spendy clothing and perfumes and head to the 7th floor food hall and rooftop restaurant. Here you’ll find some of Italy’s best food stuffs at sensible prices, including an exhaustive selection of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and regional marmalades. Who knew how badly you needed a gilded jar of brandied orange slices, and for just 10 euros! Great for buying gifts to take home, without overspending. (Piazza del Duomo)
Glass jars of dried teas, potions, lotions, and dark wood cabinetry line the walls of this Hogwarts-esque phytocosmetic and herbalist emporium. House-made scents are on par with what you’d find at Italian parfumerie Santa Maria Novella, but for about 130 euro less, and in unfussy scents like citrus to bergamot. Not feeling your absolute best? Communicate your ailments to staff who can prescribe whatever herbs and teas can fix you up. (Via Osoppo, 7)
Look, you didn’t fly all this way only to leave without something flashy and noticeably Italian, right? There are a number of discounted designer outlets in and around Milan. One of the oldest in the discount fashion biz is Il Salvagente, located just east of the city center. Here you’ll find last season’s Missoni, Versace, Fendi, and reduced by as much as 70% off the usual price.
Outside of Milan, just over the Swiss border, FoxTown is a popular stop for outlet shoppers, with big name designers in both fashion and housewares. Items are discounted but will still seem pricey for most visitors. To really maximize savings, coordinate your visit with the major seasonal sales, occurring in January/February and July/August. The later in the sale you shop, the higher the discount, but you do risk missing out on the full inventory.
Shuttle buses depart from Milan to Foxtown throughout the day. Tickets cost 20 euro. Check schedules here.
Marathon shoppers can also add to their lists the Serravelle outlets, as well as individual outlets for both Marni (Via Giancarlo Sismondi, 65) and Etro (Via Spartaco, 3).
Whatever you buy, don’t forget to claim your VAT refund at the end of your trip. Save your receipts to present at the airport.
Cheap Fares to Milan
Over the last few years, Milan has emerged as one of most inexpensive cities in Europe to fly to from the U.S., thanks in part to increased competition from Emirates along with service from low cost carriers. Off peak fares are often available for under $400 from the East Coast, even for nonstop. Less money spent on airfare means more money for shopping.
For a look at current finds from all over the U.S. and Canada, visit our Milan (MXP) fare listings.