This living museum of a city is home to some of the most famous art and cultural heritage in a well-wrapped illustrious Renaissance package and remains one of the most beloved destinations in Italy, if not the world. This small city really packs a punch if you know where to go and not all of them are the ones you typically will find on a top ten bucket list. Just getting lost in the city itself is a worthy activity, however for more specific tips, here are some of the top things to do in Florence on a budget.
Gelato all day, every day
Italians eat gelato during every season and it proves to be a cheap way to get your dolce fix (we totally approve of having it for breakfast). But it pays to know the rules: always go for gelato from those who make it on site, which that won’t be the colourful type you see on Ponte Vecchio or Via Roma. Try one of these quality spots in the centre like My Sugar, Perché No!, La Sorbettiera, Il Procopio, Vivoli, Gelateria dei Neri and Gelateria della Passera, and stop by often, we won’t judge you.
Gelateria della Passera 📷: @mirandaflorer
Spot street artist by Clet, Blub, Exit/Enter and Moradi Il Sedicente
Street art has a long history in Florence, dating back several centuries when tabernacles depicted religious scenes (mostly the Madonna) on street corners. Nowadays the street art you normally see is cleverly hidden around the city: stop-signs slightly modified by artist Clet Abraham, Blub’s “L’Arte Sa Nuotare” (with fun, historical figures such as the “Girl in the Pearl Earring” sporting scuba gear) or Sedicente Moradi’s quirky wooden sculptures along the Arno and in Piazza della Passera. You’ll spot more in the Oltrarno, but in general it’s worth keeping your eyes open while visiting all the other attractions in Florence.
Blub’s “L’Arte Sa Nuotare” @1day1click
Lunch, not dinner
Eat lunch not dinner for a better bang for your buck in Florence. Restaurants often offer daily-changing menus or dishes during the day that always cost more come nightfall. For typical Tuscan food you’ll want to head to Trattoria Sergio Gozzi, Trattoria Casalinga, Trattoria Sabatino, Trattoria Mario or Il Chicco di Caffè for dishes like ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, polpette, fagioli and all other kinds of unpronounceable Italian delights. Alternatively, you can grab a delicious panino to go while you’re trying to decide which of the Florence attractions to visit next. Popular spots include Semel in Sant’Ambrogio, All’Antico Vinaio (expect a long line) on Via de’ Neri and I Due Fratellini by Piazza della Signoria.
Trattoria La Casalinga 📷: @sofiikazaikova
Party at Tasso Hostel
This hostel and cultural space regularly welcomes artists, musicians, poets and fellow creatives with a plethora of leisure spaces and things to do – plus a bar, outside garden area and theatre stage. Besides regular weekend night-time events, they host an open-mic night every first Wednesday of the month, inviting locals to get creative and share stories, poems or music. It’s the perfect place to mingle and meet someone who actually might live in Florence.
Tasso Hostel Florence 📷: @unusualflorence
Aperitivo hour at Odeon Bistro
Happy hour in Italy almost always includes food so you can consider aperitivo a cheap and social way to get your grub on while enjoying a glass of wine or cocktail in the late afternoon/evening (usually between 5-8pm). What makes this such a good thing to do in Florence is that for the price of a drink, you can get access to a buffet with enough to make it dinner. There are plenty of places to indulge around town but Odeon Bistro remains a favourite in the variety of delicious options adjacent to an original-language cinema. If you want to drink like a local, order the Florentine-born Negroni cocktail.
Odeon Bistro 📷: @ajfinnie
Linger in the gardens of Florence (and bring a picnic)
Enjoying a picnic lunch in one of the city’s gardens is one of the best (and often free) things to do in Florence when the weather is on your side. Probably the most popular spot is the Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden) along the path to the panoramic point Piazzale Michelangelo. Free to enter during the day, there are several benches and areas to hang out. During late April/May, enjoy a beautiful view over the city among hundreds of rose varieties in full bloom. Other options include the old hunting grounds turned large public park Cascine (grab a delicious to-go pizza from local pizzeria Buoneria), the horticulture garden near Piazza della Liberta, or Bardini and Boboli gardens (8-10€ entrance price).
Giardino delle Rose 📷: @caroline.mejia
Be smart with your art: invest in cumulative tickets or the Firenzecard for the big names
Naturally, most people come to Florence for the art and architecture which should come as no surprise when you think of the plethora of greats who have honed their talents here. Some names you might know: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Tickets can quickly add up which is why it makes the most sense to invest in the Firenzecard (which costs 72€, allows entrance to 72 museums and lasts 72 hours) if you are here for a short time. It also allows you priority entrance at several popular attractions (worth it for that reason alone) and includes public transport! Alternatively, the Duomo Complex (which includes the Baptistery, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and Brunelleschi’s Dome; the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo) has just raised its cumulative ticket from 15€ to 18€ this year but will extend the visiting time to 72 hours.
It’s a good idea to visit Florence the first Sunday of the month as you can enter Italy’s state museums for free. This is a great way to see the “Birth of Venus” and the new Caravaggio rooms at the Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia and a wide selection of spectacular sculptures at the Bargello without spending a dime (but do expect lines).
Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia 📷: @agendav
Oblate Library Café
One of the most beloved local attractions is the Caffetteria delle Oblate, close to the Duomo Cathedral. Since it is part of a library complex, you’ll need to find the stairwell or elevator and take it all the way to the top to access the cafeteria. Once there, bask in the birds-eye view of Brunelleschi’s Cupola with a coffee or cocktail for a fraction of what you’d find on another Florentine rooftop.
Biblioteca delle Oblate 📷: @ludovicafiamma
There are few places that can boast about being a former convent, prison and hipster hangout, but this is Florence — and Le Murate is definitely one of them. Hidden away behind 15th-century walls like a secret on Via dell’Agnolo, the area now combines residential housing with the uber-hip Caffe Letterario: a trendy place to bring a book, meet a friend or attend one of their many cultural events/live music concerts.
Le Murate 📷: @yasarcankandur
Piazza Signoria is far sexier by night
Sure, you’ll probably visit every major square in this very human-sized city but there is something special about Piazza della Signoria at night. This vast open-air square is home to the Loggia dei Lanzi, a sculpture gallery tucked into a corner of the piazza and the perfect people-watching perch. In the gallery itself, you’ll spot original sculptures of so many artistic greats, including Benvenuto Cellini’s intense “Perseus With The Head of Medusa”. At night, the sculptures are lovingly illuminated, taking on a mind of their own among an almost theatrical backdrop, as classical music by local performers drifts through the majestic scene.
Perseus With The Head of Medusa in Piazza della Signoria 📷: @lagrazina
Sant’Ambrogio and San Lorenzo
Most people have heard of the fresh food market in San Lorenzo, and for good reason, but for a market experience that is as local as they come. Head to Sant’Ambrogio Market in Piazza Ghiberti to pick up seasonal fruit & veg or stop at the traditional butcher Luca Menoni’s terrace for a meaty bite. One of the best panino stops in this square is Semel, where Marco sells his deliciously gourmet small panini with quality ingredients that pair perfectly with a glass of vino served old-school style, standing up. Alternatively, head up to the primo piano (first floor) at San Lorenzo to nose-dive into a fancy food court featuring your choice of Italian specialities, including some mouth-watering pizza.
Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio 📷: @milalololo
The rive-gauche of Florence is known as the Oltrarno, well-known for its rich artisan culture, cool cafes and buzzing nightlife. Piazza Santo Spirito is one of the best places to visit in Florence if you want to hang out and meet locals (Volume is my choice for aperitivo and live music), but you might prefer Ditta Artigianale on Via dello Sprone if a mecca for amazing single-origin coffee is what you seek. Don’t miss a stroll on Borgo San Frediano, a long street sandwiched between Santo Spirito and the Arno, awash with plenty of interesting watering holes (Mad Souls & Spirits – arguably some of the best cocktails in Florence), library cafes (La Cite) turned hip bars at night and budget bites (Gesto) and live music bars (Nof).
Ditta Artigianale 📷: @elinedewaele
Flea market finds at Mercato delle Pulci
Vintage finds are aplenty in Florence, but most are on the higher-end level – but that doesn’t you mean there aren’t any budget finds. In Largo Pietro Annigoni, near Sant’Ambrogio, you’ll find a daily flea market Le Pulce that has vintage wares worth perusing over. Old photographs, dusty china, the occasional record player make visiting this market like going back in Italian time.
Antiques shop in Florence 📷: @cuckoo_florence
Soak up some of the best views in town at San Miniato al Monte
Italians love to build anything on a hill and one of the best ways to walk off your pizza is to strap on comfortable shoes and head to San Miniato al Monte, named after St. Minias a Christian martyr and hermit. This 11th-century church has a notable Romanesque interior and is perched high above the city, offering a badass panoramic view over the Renaissance city. Inside you’ll find a church with some 1,000 years of history and outside there’s a cemetery that houses famous figures like Carlo Lorenzini (better known by his pen name Carlo Collodi), the author of “Pinocchio”.
San Miniato al Monte 📷: @karin_m_e
❓ Have you visited Florence as a backpacker? What budget tips do you have for exploring this iconic city? Comment below and let us know 👇
🎨 Fancy a fling with Florence? Read these blogs:
- Falling In Love With The Real Florence
- 22 Best Places To Visit In Italy For An Epic Summer Trip
- 5 Mind-Blowing Hostels in Florence
About the author
Georgette Jupe is a ‘Tuscan Texan’ social media marketing maven, content editor, and coffee lover based in Florence, Italy. When she’s not at her day job, she lives for discovering her city on a deeper level by connecting with fellow creatives and offering travel, food & life tips via her blog ‘Girl in Florence’ You’ll rarely find her without a book or her beagle Ginger, you can follow her Florentine and beyond adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.