- Photo Essays
Budget travel is more about value for money and quality experiences than just going for the cheapest (and sometimes nastiest) options available. It’s about getting the best experience out of the amount of money you do have.
Travelling to Florence on a budget definitely does not mean you have to miss out! There are loads of ridiculously overpriced activities on offer in Florence that will not necessarily enhance your experience of this fabulous Renaissance city. You can still see amazing art, indulge in gelato and delicious Italian food and sip on some of the best wines in the world without blowing the budget.
Florence is in the heart of Tuscany, and Tuscan cuisine is divine – try to budget for at least one meal where you can splurge a little. Follow recommendations by locals – ‘Mario’ on Via Rosina is a great lunch spot, serving delicious Florentine specialities.
For cheaper eats, it is generally best to avoid the areas teeming with package tourists and day-trippers – in particular near the Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria where you will pay top dollar.
Pop down a less populated side street just a couple of blocks away from the main tourist areas and you will be sure to pay less. Or put together a wonderful picnic lunch from the San Lorenzo Market.
Similar to the glorious concept of Spanish tapas, the Italian apericena (apertivo + dinner) is a godsend for the savvy budget traveller in Florence.
During Happy Hour (around 7-9pm) most bars offer a modest buffet of simple but delicious snacks. For no more than about €10, you can enjoy a drink and snack freely from the buffet.
Popular options are Negroni Bar, Moyo (Santa Croce) or Kitsch (Piazza Beccaria).
Gelateria Santa Trinita is one of the best gelato joints in town with 38 different flavours of gelato, sorbet, and ice cream cakes.Try samples of some of the flavours before you make your choice and get 3 generous scoops for €3.80
Florence is small enough to walk almost everywhere. Save money on bus and taxi fares by getting a good map and just walking wherever you need to go. OR explore without a map – it’s much more interesting!
If you stay centrally, avoid the mistake of only exploring the small tourist centre. Put on your walking shoes and stride out over the Ponte Vecchio and explore the other side of the Arno: see how the locals live in the Oltrano residential district.
Summer in Europe means high temperatures and high prices. In August, Florence is even too hot for the locals who disappear to coastal Italy. August is a cheaper time to travel, but the weather is so unpleasant that I wouldn’t advise it.
There are fewer crowds in April, May and October but it is still surprisingly busy. I visited in early April but would probably opt for a March or November trip next time – or, even better still Italy is gorgeous in the wintertime and much more budget-friendly.
Florence itself is a work of art and wandering the streets is totally free.
Visiting Florence on a budget does not mean you need to miss out on seeing some of the amazing art work the city is famous for. While it’s not overly publicised, most of main museums and galleries are free all weekend, including the Academia and Ufizzi.
You will still need to pay a small fee (€4 in April 2012) if you decide to skip the lines and reserve a ticket. If you are seriously strapped for cash, stand in line for your tickets and you won’t pay a cent to see some of the most amazing art in the world!
Many of the city’s churches contain gorgeous art works that you can visit for free. My favourites are:
Duomo – unless you visit the dome or the adjacent tower, entrance into the Duomo is free
Orsanmichele – famous for its amazing Madonna.
Santa Trinità – has a chapel by Ghirlandaio AND is right near the great gelato place I mentioned above!
Santo Spirito – designed by Brunelleschi.
As with any city, budget accommodation options in the centre of Florence are not super easy to come by.
I stayed at the lovely Hotel Locanda Orchidea. It is only 2 blocks from the Duomo, walking distance to all the central galleries, museums and restaurants and is very affordable with single rooms from €30 and doubles from €50.
Apartment rental is also an ideal option if you are planning to stay longer than 3 nights.
Florence is one of the few cities where it is absolutely fine to stay near the train station – you can pick up some great bargains on accommodation in the Santa Maria Novella Station area.
If you can’t afford to explore to the Chianti wine region, stop into a supermarket and buy the best Chianti wine you can afford. Try to find one with a black rooster on the label, a symbol of the finest Chianti Classico blend. (Some of the Enotecas – wine shops – offer free wine tastings.)
The best view over Florence, is completely free: It’s about a 10 minute (uphill) walk to the Piazzale Michalangelo. Take your bottle of Chianti with you at sunset and enjoy a better view that you will get in any fancy restaurant in Florence.