A Budget Traveler’s Guide to Florence

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florence duomo pitti

I studied abroad in Florence in 2006 and returned for a brief stay in 2013. Like Rome, Florence is a high-demand tourist destination, which means it’s quite expensive to visit. It’s difficult to save money on a trip to Florence, but it can be done. As a former temporary resident and repeat visitor, here’s what I recommend to travelers on a budget in Florence.

Go during the off season.
This is a common piece of advice for European travel, but it is especially true for Florence. The experience I had of walking Florence’s centuries-old neighborhoods on a cold January day after my bus dropped me off at my new student apartment was night and day compared to the end of my semester abroad, in May. By early-mid April I was already fighting throngs of tour groups (recognizable by the guide’s raised umbrella or scarf tied to a rod, or the microphones and earbuds) walking to and from school each day. When I returned in September 2013, technically the shoulder season – not peak, but not quite off season yet – it was even worse. Florence’s small city center was so crowded with tourists that in parts it was difficult to even get around. Lines for everything were so long I wondered what the point of visiting in the uncomfortably hot months of June, July, or August – the real peak season – would even be. Prices are hiked up significantly during this time, yet it’s a worse (and less authentic) experience overall. My advice? Pack a light coat and go in the late fall or early winter.

pack a light coat florence

Take a free walking tour.
Florence is a living museum and strolling its narrow, centuries-old cobblestone streets is a pleasure all its own. Don’t miss the sculptures on display in the open-air Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazzale Signoria. One of my favorite statues, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines, is housed there, and it blows my mind that it’s outdoors and free for all to enjoy. For a little more background information as you walk around, you can download one of Rick Steve’s free guided tour podcasts,

loggia dei lanzi florence

Savor the local markets.
Florence has an abundance of open markets that are free to wander, though of course you may be tempted to buy something. Probably the most well-known is San Lorenzo, selling leather goods and other typical tourist fare. Haggling is expected so never purchase something for the price asked. Sant’Ambrogio is great for working up an appetite, and Mercato delle Pulci (flea market) will appeal to those looking for a unique and inexpensive gift.

Watch the sunset over Florence at nearby Piazzale Michelangelo.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a small square located on a hillside just outside of town, so named for the replica of Michelangelo’s David statue that graces its center. The view of Florence from this point is breathtaking and I consider it a must-do even for those with less restricted budgets. Buy a bus ticket and take the #13 bus with enough time for it to make the trip before sunset. Don’t forget to pack a bottle of wine, a wine opener, and cups (if you buy from a wine shop and tell them what you’re up to, they may just open it for you and give you some cups)! You can also hike your way to Piazzale Michelangelo to stretch your legs and save even more money.

view from ponte vecchio

Scout expat newspapers for inside info.
The Florentine is one of the best expat publications I’ve come across in my time traveling. Written for English-speaking expatriates living in Florence, it has practical information about local events and op-ed pieces about living in another culture and language. It will help you get a different insight into the city you’re visiting and the insider tips may help you save money.

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