Florence Travel Guide
Of all the major stops in Italy, Florence is by far my favorite. Incredible food, beautiful architecture, and on the whole, much less crowded than Rome. What’s not to love? So pull up a chair, loosen your belt, and learn about the best things to do while you’re here.
What to Budget
€10-35 per night
For such a popular city, you can find a place to stay for relatively cheap. If you’re traveling alone, hostels are still your best bet, with dorm rooms starting at around €10 per night. This price will obviously increase a bit as you get closer to the city center, but they’re still quite reasonable overall. Check out some of the options at Hostel World.
If you’re traveling with other people, Airbnb will most likely be the way to go, as you can find private rooms or whole apartments available in good locations for around €35-50. Depending on how many people you’re traveling with, you could end up staying in a great area for less than the cost of a hostel.
Going out to Eat
€3-15 per meal
Going out to eat in Florence can be whatever you want to make it. Want to keep it cheap? Find a small cafe for breakfast under €5 and take advantage of lunch specials to fill up on a budget in the afternoon. Alternatively, grab a slice of pizza or panini on the go for just a few euros.
Dinner tends to be a bit more expensive, but you can usually find pretty good deals between 7-9 PM. Like any other city, stay away from the touristy areas to find the best prices and quality. I’ve had amazing fixed-price dinners in Florence just off the beaten path for less than €10, so make sure to explore the outer neighborhoods!
Transportation is a bit limited in Florence, but the buses you can find are quite comfy and typically air conditioned in summer. Tickets are €1.20 per trip and can be purchased and used right on your phone. Just a heads up though, many of Italy’s larger cities go under a great deal of construction during the summer, so if you’re here during this time, double check the route to make sure you can still get where you are going.
Another option is to rent a bike from the city’s Mille e una Bici program. Bike hubs are located around the city and cost just €10 to rent for the entire day. It’s a great way to see the city and burn off all that pasta you’ve undoubtedly been eating.
€5-15 per day
For as famous and abundant as the art is in Florence, it thankfully doesn’t cost all that much to see in person. The average cost of a museum ticket is around €5, with one of the more expensive attractions being the iconic Florence Cathedral. Even then, the cost of admission is only €15 to enter the cathedral, the dome, and Giotto’s Bell Tower across the street, which offers one of the best views of the entire cathedral.
Fair warning though, don’t expect to see more than one of these places per day. You’ll typically spend quite a while waiting in line, so plan out your visits carefully.
How to Save
Plan Mealtimes Carefully
The trick to getting incredible food on a backpacker’s budget in Italy is not planning where to eat, but rather, when to eat. Many restaurants will offer selections from their dinner menu for a discounted price during the afternoon. Make your big meal of the day lunch rather than dinner and you can get an authentic (and filling) taste of Italy for a fraction of the normal cost.
When it comes to dinner, you can’t go wrong with grabbing bread, cheese, deli meats, etc. from some local stores and having a picnic along the Arno River.
Many hostels offer free breakfast during your stay. Typically, these breakfasts consists of just cereal and toast, but hey, a free meal is a free meal. If need be, you can pick up some eggs for just a euro or two and cook those at the hostel to help hold you over until lunch.
Free Walking Tour
One of the first things I do when I get to any new city is check out the free walking tours. Not only is it priced to fit my budget; I find the tour guides tend to go above and beyond as well, as their income comes entirely from tips. Yes, the tour itself is free, but if you enjoy it, be sure to reward your hardworking guide for their efforts.
Use The Bathroom Wisely
You know the saying, “Don’t sh*t where you eat”? Well when in Italy, break that rule. Free public bathrooms are next to impossible to find around the major cities (this is the case in a lot of Western Europe), and restaurants won’t let you use theirs unless you’re a customer. When you do come across a public restroom, you can almost guarantee someone will be sitting in the entryway, waiting to collect a couple euros as your admission fee.
What you need to do is strategize your bathroom breaks. Getting lunch somewhere? Use the bathroom. Stop for a coffee in a cafe? Use the bathroom. Even if you don’t really have to go, USE THE BATHROOM ANYWAY, otherwise you might regret it later.
The other thing you can do in case of emergency is head to a touristy area and look for a crowded bar with a lot of people standing. In places like this, no one is going to notice you sneaking through the crowd without paying like a bathroom ninja.
Don’t Pay For Water Bottles
Stop paying for bottled water. It’s overpriced and entirely unnecessary if you carry your own reusable water bottle with you. This advice applies to pretty much everywhere, but it is especially true in Florence. Explore the city for a while and you will begin to notice numerous fountains and water spigots located in heavy foot traffic areas. The water from these is completely safe to drink and you will often see locals doing just that.
It may not taste the greatest due to the old pipes, but it is entirely safe and most importantly, free.
We might as well kick this off with food. Florence has no shortage of amazing restaurants for you to discover, but one of my absolute favorite spots in the city is Gusta Pizza. Located across the street from Boboli Gardens, this little shop has some of the best pizza in Florence and each one is made-to-order by hand.
It’s usually pretty packed, but these guys move quickly. At around €6 per pizza, this place is not to be missed.
ALL the Churches
This list would go on forever if I were to list all the beautiful churches scattered throughout Florence, so instead, I’ll simply say visit as many as you can. These buildings were designed by some of the greatest artists to ever live, and you will be hard pressed to find more impressive architecture anywhere in the world. Make sure to dress appropriately when you visit, however. Many churches won’t allow you to enter if you are wearing shorts, a hat, etc. Also, ladies, uncovered shoulders are considered scandalous, so try to bring a scarf or shawl to keep them covered if need be.
Some of the top highlights to check out are San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, and of course, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Without a doubt, this is my favorite spot in Florence and always on my must do list when I’m here. Quite simply, there is no better spot in the city to watch the sunset than from up here. You’ll have to climb quite a few steps to reach the top, but the view more than makes up for.
Make sure to bring your tripod with you to capture the stunning views of the city skyline and the Arno River catching the last of that golden light.
Much like I grouped all churches together above, the same could be said about Florence’s museums. Its many galleries are home to legendary pieces of art such as Michelangelo’s David, Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, and Da Vinci’s Annunciation to name a few. If you are an art geek or even just a casual spectator, this is the mecca for all things artistic.
Also like the churches I mentioned above, expect long lines to enter the galleries. Plan your day in advance, buy your tickets online, and get there early.
Shop the Markets
I think we’ve established by now that Florence has some incredible restaurants. Aside from the skill of the chefs, a large part of what makes the food so amazing is the ingredients that go into it. If you want to tap into your own culinary brilliance, pay a visit to Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo district of the city.
This two floor market is packed with farmer’s market-style produce sellers, wine and cheese shops, and restaurant pop-ups. You could easily spend an afternoon here indulging your palette. My recommendation? Find a favorite dish from one of the restaurant stalls, then visit the produce market, stock up, and try recreating it on your own.
Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy
Fans of all things weird and eccentric should check out this practically hidden pharmacy; the oldest in Italy if not the entire world. This shop dates back to 1221 and still retains much of its original ambiance. Medicine is still prepared here using traditional methods by hand, and they even carry some of the original products they offered back in the 13th-century. Whether or not you should be putting that stuff in your body is an entirely different story though. The shop features a little museum and some original frescoes, so stop by and visit if for nothing more than the views. Any maybe a leeching. Is that still a thing?