Florence on a budget: 7 travel hacks to save on your trip
The capital of Tuscany, Florence is one of the most popular travel destinations in Italy. Florence is known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and impressive art scene. Florence is home to some of the world's most famous Renaissance art, including works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli. The city has numerous museums and galleries that showcase these works, such as the Uffizi Gallery.
Florence has a wealth of beautiful architecture, including the iconic Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The city has a rich cultural history, with numerous landmarks and museums showcasing the city's past. It is also known for being the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and for its influential role in European history. All of this makes Florence a must-visit city for any European traveler. But doing Florence on a budget requires some planning.
Finding affordable lodging, looking into making your own food, going on free walking tours, and arranging for luggage storage in Florence are all ways you can help yourself save money when you visit this gorgeous city.
Here are the best ways to save money when you visit Florence:
Cheap places to stay in Florence
If you’re looking to save money when you visit Florence, you’ll have to do your research to find an affordable place to stay. Luckily, there are a few hostels and budget hotels in the city. And if you're not sure where you want to stay, check out our guide to Florence neighborhoods.
Book a room at a Pensione
One of the most popular lodging options in Florence is the "pensione." This is a guesthouse that a local family will rent out to travelers. In a way, it’s an Italian B&B, and these studio rooms are both inexpensive and a novel experience for travelers. They can be shabby, but they are almost always charming.
Staying at a pensione is an amazing way to live like a local in Florence. Due to location and price, it can get competitive to find one, so booking well ahead of time is recommended.
Look into hostels
There are a number of youth hostels near the city center that can accommodate a limited budget. Ostello Archi Rossi and Academy Hostel are some of the most popular near the heart of Florence. The neighborhood of Santa Maria Novella has a few hostels and cheap hotels that are worth considering, especially given their proximity to the train station. San Lorenzo, which is famous for its market, is another place to look for hostels.
Cheap things to do in Florence
If you’re going to visit Florence on a budget, you’ll need to fill your time with a few free activities or find ways to make must-dos more affordable.
Invest in a Discount or Combo Card
Florence is not a city you’ll want to cram into one or two days. There are simply too many world-class museums and amazing landmarks to visit. If you want to hit a few museums and galleries while you’re in Florence, you can save money by investing in a Firenze Card. Starting around $100, you’ll have three days of admission to more than 59 museums, gardens, and other essential attractions.
You’ll also have unlimited use of public transportation, which is crucial for zipping around the city to all of these amazing places. Even better, there are special lines for entry for cardholders, which will save plenty of time when you’re hoping to visit three to four museums in a day. Participating museums include the Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Boboli Gardens, Museo del Bargello, the Medici Chapels, Museo di Palazzo Davanzati, Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele, and Casa Martelli.
The Bargello Museum
Michelangelo, Donatello, Della Robbia, Cellini, and Giambologna are all names that any art enthusiast should know. They are simply giants of Renaissance art and a massive part of Florentine history. All of their works are on display on the ground floor of the world-famous Bargello Museum. This is one of those must-do activities that you’ll want to budget for. You can save time and money by booking online. The Bargello also has an add-on feature for the Firenze Card.
Explore Florence on foot
Visiting Florence on a budget should almost always include one thing: walking. The city center is one of the most walkable and scenic places in Europe, which perfectly sums up daily Italian life. Not only is it convenient to walk basically everywhere, but you can truly appreciate the beauty of your surroundings by going for a leisurely stroll. The banks of the River Arno, Piazzale Michelangelo, and the Piazza della Signoria are a few of the best walking destinations to look out for in Florence.
Free walking tour
Free walking tours are “free” in name only. Unless you’re an ungenerous person, there is a mutually-expected gratuity exchanged at the end. Even so, this is one of the best activities for saving money in Florence. Not only are they considerably less expensive than paid tours that include local city tax and fees, but they are also very fun, flexible, and informal. Research a little to find one that fits your schedule and covers the areas you are most interested in.
Il Duomo di Firenze
Il Duomo di Firenze (or Santa Maria del Fiore) is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Florence. This Basilica is famous for its bell tower and iconic dome. It’s massive, meaning it’s visible everywhere in the city. While it costs money to enter and tour the Basilica, it’s amazing to behold from across the street. You can purchase an OPA Pass for $17 that gives you access to all of Piazza Duomo’s monuments, but simply appreciating the Basilica’s exterior for free should be enough.
Cheap places to eat in Florence
Italian cuisine is amazing at offering dining options at both ends of the price range. Many restaurants in Florence serve extremely expensive but unbelievably delicious food. While setting aside part of your travel budget for an indulgent traditional meal is advisable, you can absolutely taste your way through Florence without having to sell your house.
The city’s excellent street food scene is one of Florence's culinary strengths. There are also markets that are great for preparing your own meals, which can go a long way toward making your trip to Florence more affordable.
Florence’s amazing markets
While eating at traditional Italian restaurants and wine bars is part of the reason you want to visit the city, eating out for every meal will add up. Going to a grocery store, or even better, a market, is a great way to save money by preparing your own meals. Luckily, you can buy amazingly delicious produce, bread, cheese, and other goods to make a delicious picnic. The world-famous Mercato Centrale and the quaint Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio are two of the best food markets in Florence to grab provisions.
Delis and family-run food stores are great for saving money and experiencing the traditional culture of Florence. Make sure to talk (if possible) to the owners and employees of these stores because they’ll be more than happy to give you recommendations and even a pastry or two.
Avoid touristy neighborhoods
Exploring residential neighborhoods away from the main tourist attractions is advisable for many reasons. Firstly, you’ll find a more authentic travel experience by spending time where real residents live and hang out. European cities are always best appreciated when you try to live like the locals.
Another benefit is that you’ll end up saving money. Cheap eats are rarely on offer across the street from the city’s most famous landmark. Even the street food will be marked up to take advantage of hapless tourists looking for a quick bite. If you’re trying to dine in Florence on a budget, head to a neighborhood further out where the restaurants will be more reasonably priced.
I' Girone De' Ghiotti
If you're looking for a specific recommendation of where to eat on the cheap, I' Girone De' Ghiotti is a great option. Famous for its affordable and hearty panini sandwiches, the shop is small, so be prepared to take your food to go. It's easy to walk a couple of blocks and eat with a view of the River Arno. They also sell wine and beer and offer meat and cheese boards if you're feeling a little fancy.
Cheap bars in Florence
Unlike most major cities in Europe, the Tuscan capital isn’t exactly geared towards clubbing or nightlife, which won’t be the end of the world for travelers who want to visit Florence for its historical and cultural offerings. There are still charming sidewalk cafés and wine bars for grabbing a drink. Even better, many of these options are very affordable.
Fill an empty bottle with wine at an Enoteca
This tip is classier than it sounds. While walking around with booze is generally frowned upon in the US, it’s perfectly acceptable in Italy. Even better, it’s one of the best ways to drink on a budget in Florence. The city’s cobbled streets and squares are lined with traditional Italian enotecas, which are wine bars that serve snacks. These places will often offer a house wine that you can fill your own containers with to go.
Filling up a liter of a delicious local Tuscan wine usually costs about $4.00 and is the perfect way to save money on drinks. While you’re at the Enoteca, grab some snacks to make a picnic in the park. There’s nothing better than some cheese, salami, some crostinis, and a refreshing glass (or two) of a Tuscan red.
Italians have a more relaxed way of life, with routines that translate perfectly to travelers. In the evenings (generally from 6 pm-9 pm), enotecas and other restaurants will provide snacks and small plates free of charge, so long as you’re drinking their wine. These are usually snacks like cheese, salami, focaccia, olives, and other bites. It’s a great way to save money on food, and each one is usually delicious.
Bonus budget tips for Florence
Doing Florence on a budget requires a lot of planning, here are a few extra tips for making your trip more manageable:
Travel in the off-season
Unless you’re a student that can only travel during school breaks, the best times to visit Florence are spring or fall. Every summer, just about everyone and their uncle descend upon Florence and seemingly overrun the city. Hotels, hostels, and airlines anticipate this and hike up some of their prices to benefit from the competition for rooms and seats on planes.
Like many other European cities, it’s much cheaper to stay in Florence during the off-season of late fall through early spring. In fact, hotel rooms can be between 40-60% lower.
Even landmarks and attractions will be better to visit during winter. You can purchase a ticket to the Uffizi Museum, which boasts one of the best collections of Renaissance art in the world, for almost half of the normal price between November and February. You’ll also enjoy it considerably more because there won’t be crowds of tourists to deal with.
Use your feet
The worst way to get around Florence on a budget is by taking taxi cabs or ride-share cars all over the place. The best way to get around Florence on a budget is by walking. That's good news for budget travelers. While you may end up taking a taxi or two during your stay in Florence, you can walk between attractions for the vast majority of the time.
Rely on public transportation
Florence’s main train station is centrally located for using the city’s public transportation or heading out of town for day trips. The bus system will take you to a number of landmarks outside the city center, like the Piazzale Michelangelo on the hills of Oltrarno. Another great way to get around cheaply is by renting a bike, which can be done through a rental company or even your hostel. While there is certainly some topography in Florence, it’s a very bikeable city and relatively safe, considering the number of pedestrianized areas where cars aren’t allowed.
If you’re trying to visit Florence on a budget, you’ll need at least a few of these tips. Whether it's finding a free walking tour or other great free things to do, visiting during the winter, or affordable meals of delicious street food, you can enjoy the best of Florence without blowing your life’s savings. All it takes is a little planning.