Although there are some costly activities in Florence, there are also a surprising amount of things to do for free or under 5 Euros. The city has lots of iconic buildings within a small radius making sightseeing easy without the added expense of public transport. There are plenty of cheap eateries around too. This combined with a few free things to do, can make a couple of days in Florence relatively inexpensive. Therefore, if you are on a bit of a budget, it is still worth paying a visit and put the more expensive tours and activities on hold for another day. Here are some of my most recommended things to do in Florence on a budget…
1. Explore a market
- Mercato Centrale – The outdoor market is large and full of stalls selling leather products. The indoor market is more traditional, selling flowers, meat, fruit and vegetables. Additionally the stands have various packs of unusual pasta shapes and limoncello for example, great items to take home! The market attracts locals and tourists. Upstairs is a popular food court with large seating areas, free wifi and toilets. The eateries offer some great choices and they are very reasonably priced. Food options include sandwiches, sushi, ice cream, chicken and more…
- Mercato del Porcellino – located on Piazza del Mercato Nuovo selling various souvenirs and leather products. The fountain figure, the bronze boar, was made in 1633 by Pietra Tacca, The copy now stands proud at the side of this market. Ancient tradition is still evident with people stroking his muzzle or dropping a coin into the water. It is believed that this will bring good luck and ensures a return to Florence.
2. Have a drink or snack in a Piazza.
Some of the Piazzas or squares have monuments of interest, shops, eateries and seating areas around them. Purchase a drink or snack and watch the world go by. It doesn’t have to cost much either. This is ideal if you are on a bit of a budget in Florence. Small sandwiches, gelato, coffee and pastries can all be found for under Euros 5. Some of my favourites snacks and gelato were from Corona’s Cafetteria on Via dei Calzaiuoli, close to Piazza della Repubblica.
Piazza Santa Maria Novella – Here you can marvel at the Basilica de Santa Maria Novella. This was founded by the monks of the first Dominican Order in the early 1300s.
ln front of the church are 2 marble obelisks. One of which sits on top of 4 bronze turtles. These were the goal posts for chariot racing dating back to 1563. The piazza has a wonderful cafe/restaurant which is great to come to alone, Il Grillo. Sit with a coffee, for 4 Euros and watch the world go by.
3. Italian Truffle Tasting
Truffle production in Tuscany is high. The Tartufo Bianco is very popular and is picked between October and December. During the last 3 weekends of November, an event is held in the name of the white truffle in San Miniato. Here you will be able to taste traditional dishes made with it.
Located in Via Borgo San Lorenzo, just off Piazza San Giovanni, is La Bottega del Tartufo. This wonderful store sells delicious truffle products. In the centre is a free sampling table filled with some of the items you can buy in store. Taste some of the sprays, salts and truffle sauces for free.
4. Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is a beautiful terrace built in the late 1860s to commemorate Michelangelo, the Renaissance sculptor. A bronze cast of his famous statue of David, stands in the centre of the square, looking towards Florence. The scenic uphill climb is certainly worth the trek! Once you reach the top you can admire the most breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Many of the iconic buildings are visible such as Ponte Vecchio and Il Duomo. The square also has stalls with souvenirs and vans selling drinks and snacks. They are not overpriced either. A 187ml bottle of Sangiovese costs just Euros 2.50 and it tasted good too! So, buy a drink and find a seat or step to sit on, relax and enjoy watching the sun set.
There are a couple of restaurants up here too if you want to stay for dinner, one of which is a loggia designed by Poggi. However, I walked to the bottom of the steps and found a fantastic one, Alimentari mescita di vini. It wasn’t touristy and the menu was solely in Italian.
5. The Rose Garden
The beautiful, tranquil rose garden is free to enter. It is home to over 350 types of roses as well as statues and a Japanese garden. Situated close to Piazzale Michelangelo, it is worth combining both in the same trip.
6. Walk across Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence. It is also the only bridge to survive the Nazi bombings in WWII. Spanning the narrowest part of the river Arno, which flooded the city in 1966, it is now filled with shops, many of which sell gold jewellery.
From the middle of the bridge, the views are outstanding and a stunning sunset can be seen.
7. Browse the shops
Florence has shops to interest everyone. There are designer shops such as Gucci, Prada and Armani. But you can also shop in some well known high street brands such as H&M, Benetton and Zara. Shops selling leather products are also popular.
I enjoyed exploring some of the more unusual and independent stores. Bartolucci is a wonderful, selling Pinocchio products (his creator, Carlo Collodi, was born in Florence).
A shop, which captured my heart and brought out the child in me, was L’Arte de’Giompi, Via Cerretani 18r. This small, magical shop is filled with handmade wood and leather crafts. There are some beautiful leather bound note books, music boxes, clocks and bookmarks. Well worth a visit!
8. Take a tram ride
The tram is a cheap way to explore the city if you’re tired of walking. It is also a good experience if you have never been on one before! Tickets can be purchased alongside the tramlines by the various stops. For Euros 1.50 you can purchase a ticket which lasts for 90 minutes. Use it multiple times if you wish or just ride a few stops for the experience. I purchased a ticket to take me to my hotel from the airport. As you exit the airport, the trams are to the left. Ten stops later, you arrive at Santa Maria Novella station, in the heart of Florence.
9. Tailor make a sightseeing, self guided walking tour
The city maps clearly indicate the main points of interest in the city centre. Take a few moments to plot the places you are interested in seeing and decide if you want to enter the attractions, or just photograph them. I was happy to wander and photograph the buildings, so it didnt cost me anything at all. It is still a very enjoyable activity if you are on a budget in Florence. I plotted my route and headed to each attraction in turn, stopping for snacks and drinks along the way. City maps can be downloaded beforehand.
Suggested Further Reading:
Things to do in Florence – Recommended solo activities
Hotels in Florence – Where I have enjoyed staying as a solo traveller
Where to eat in Florence – Blog post with some great eateries!
Photo Gallery of Florence – a selection of my favourite photos