When people think “travel to Europe”, the next thought that usually accompanies it is how expensive it is to do. For that reason, so many people automatically assume that they will never be able to experience the world because they simply don’t have the funds to do so.
I’m here to tell you – through personal experience – that it doesn’t have to be expensive. There are SO many little tips and tricks to authentically experience a foreign city without breaking the bank. As someone who lived in NYC as well as solo traveled throughout Europe on an extreme budget, there are a bunch of tips and tricks as to how to enjoy a city without promising to hand over first-born child – and Florence is no exception.
As the birthplace of the Renaissance and the center of art and culture in Italy, there’s so much history and beauty to be found in Florence that doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to experience. So, let’s get right down to it.
Coming from NYC, one of the best parts of coming to Italy for the first time was finding out that the same delicious croissant that would cost you $4 in NYC costs only around 1.10€-1.50€ in Italy – and it’s like, 10x better. Paired with the discovery that Italian coffee is incredibly cheap (an espresso typically costs 1€-1.10€ while a cappuccino is like, 1.30€-1.80€), you can start off your day with a very Italian breakfast like a true local. Just be aware – if you sit down at a café or bar where there is table service, the prices are different – a coffee that costs you 1€ to drink standing at the bar can easily costs 4€-5€ sitting down. My suggestion again is to do as the Italians do: drink your coffee and eat your pastry while standing at the bar.
Want to learn more about coffee culture in Italy? Check out the 10 things I wish I’d known about coffee culture in Italy
If you haven’t heard of Rick Steves (or even if you have), you need to pull out your phone this second and download his FREE app, “Rick Steves Audio Guide Europe”. I’ll wait.
Did you download it? Good.
Not only is his app completely and totally FREE, but he covers dozens of travel destinations all over the world – including Florence. I have used his app in almost every city I’ve visited, due to the accessibility and informative things you can find on it.
Under the Florence section, you can put in your headphones and listen to the free Florence Walking Tour he offers, filled with interesting historical facts that make you appreciate the beautiful sculptures and buildings even more than just viewing them and not knowing what you’re actually looking at. Make sure to pay close attention and listen to the full tour without skipping through though – because the tour moves fluidly, if you skip forward through any part, you’ll be completely lost as to where or what you’re supposed to be looking at.
Arguably the most famous Market in Florence, Mercato Centrale is the ultimate hub in Florence to buy, sample, and eat fresh produce by local artisians. A two-level food market set in the famous San Lorenzo market, you can find, sample, and eat produce from dozens of food and specialty shops, selling everything from meat, cheese, pasta, pizza, oil, fish, fruits and vegetables.
I highly recommend visiting Mercato Centrale, if only for the fact that it is quite the spectacle to walk around and view the different types of food and produce essential to the Tuscan and Florentine cuisine. AND if you see something that you’d like to take back with you to your home country, just ask the vendor – they know very well what products are able to be transported across the borders and will vacuum-seal the product for you to make sure there aren’t any problems.
Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio is lesser known and less frequented by tourists due to its location on the edge of the city center, making it more common and more popular of a stop for locals to buy their produce over Mercato Centrale. In the outdoor market you can find dozens of vendors selling everything you could imagine – fresh fruits and veggies, vintage clothing, plants, and household items, to name a few, while in the indoor market you can find stands selling meat, fish, and cheese. The market is open from 7am to 2pm every day, so make sure you plan accordingly!
One of the three main squares in the city center, Palazzo Vecchio is the jackpot for free outdoor art in Florence where you can view both originals and replicas of some of the most famous art sculptures in history, such as Michelangelo’s David and Cellini’s Perseus. And guess what! Rick Steves has a free audio guide for this too 😉
**Tip: right behind the big water fountain there is a free water bottle refill station! The water is very clean, so carry a water bottle around in your bag to fill it up here throughout the day.
Ok ok ok – if you’ve been here for a while, you know I’m a little bit biased, but I truly do think Pino’s serves up some of the best panini in the Florence city center for a great price, as well as having the most versatile options for a quick lunch stop. Besides the portions being absolutely massive (for real though, the panini are bigger than my head)), they also have vegetarian options AND gluten-free bread, so no matter your dietary restriction you can find something to eat here. And if you’re not wanting a panino, don’t fret – they also have an entire “gastronomia” section, which is essentially like a deli counter for hot and cold pre-prepared foods.
Beyond that however, Pino and his family are some of the most wonderful and kind people I’ve ever met. Pino is known as the “study-abroad dad” in Florence, so inside the shop you can find dozens of university banners given to Pino from grateful past and present study-abroad students as well as pictures from past study-abroad students that have made trips back to see Pino after 10, 15, or 20 years. It’s not hard to see why – Pino has gone as far as helping study-abroad students fill out confusing government documents, navigate Italian bureaucracy, or simply just give them a space to feel a little bit closer to home when they’re missing it.
Basically, go to Pino’s. The panini are great and the people even better. I could go on and on, but I’ll end it there.
Pino’s Sandwiches: Via Giuseppe Verdi, 36R
You might need to first walk off lunch by exploring the small streets of Florence, but no mid-day meal is complete in Italy without a cup of delicious, fresh gelato – and one of my favorite places to do it is at the oldest gelato shop in all of Florence.
Yep, you heard that right – the OLDEST gelato shop in all of Florence.
Vivoli il Gelato opened up in 1930 in the historic center of Florence where it still stands today. Beyond their amazingly fresh gelato and seasonal flavors, something that really makes Vivoli special is that the shop is completely family-run and operated, so you can likely find different generations of the family working inside the shop, every day. If you’ve heard the name before but can’t figure out where you know it from, I gotchu – not only has the shop been featured in many different food travel shows such as “I’ll have what Phil’s having”, they also have a shop in Epcot at Disney World in the U.S.!
Vivoli Gelato: Via Isola delle Stinche, 7R
The Ponte Vecchio bridge is the oldest and most famous, bridge in Florence, and the only bridge across the Arno River in Florence that survived World War ll. The sight of it is absolutely breathtaking and (in my mind) fulfills every image of that classic Italian moment where history meets present-day.
Back during the Medici rule, the Ponte Vecchio was where are the butcher-shops were located – and as you can probably imagine, it was…pretty gross. The stench was horrible and the river was tainted from all the animal waste being dumped in the river. Yuck.
Sick of the smell and also interested in making Florence wealthier, Ferdinand Medici passed a law in the late 16th century that all the shops on the Ponte Vecchio bridge must be gold or jewelry shops – and that is still true to this day. Knowing the history behind it makes it all the more interesting to walk along and view the incredible craftsmanship of these goldsmiths and jewelers. There’s also a secret tunnel running above the Ponte Vecchio called the ‘Vasari Corridor’ that was used by the Medici family back in the day to travel – if you look closely, you can see part of the tunnel popping out around the stone tower.
On another note – as I mentioned above, the Ponte Vecchio bridge is the only bridge in Florence that survived World War ll. As the Nazis were retreating out of Florence, they destroyed every other bridge except the Ponte Vecchio. There’s a rumor that Hitler saw the bridge and thought it was too beautiful to destroy, but that’s not true – in fact, the saving of the bridge comes down to one person, a Nazi official named Gerhard Wolf. You can read more about this story here.
If you’re feeling up for the challenge, there’s no better way to fully immerse yourself in Florentine culture than heading on over to Sergio Pollini Lampredotto and trying a panino containing the typical Florentine street foods, “lampredotto” and “trippa”, which is…cow stomach.
You might have just made a surprised, slightly confused/disgusted face, which is totally normal. But don’t worry – Sergio Pollini is arguably the most famous lampredotto street food stand in the city center so they know what they’re doing. There’s
If you prefer something a little less daring, head over to GustaPizza across the river in Santo Spirito. They offer a range of pizzas at all different price points, but a classic Margherita pizza will only cost you 6€. You can even ask for it to be made in the shape of a heart, which doesn’t change the flavor at all but is very instagrammable 😉
Sergio Pollini Lampredotto: Via dei Macci, 126
GustaPizza: Via Maggio, 46r
After dinner, do what any sane person would do and take a nice, steep walk uphill to Piazzale Michelangelo.
I know, it doesn’t sound the most appealing, but I promise you it’s worth it – Piazzale Michelangelo has the best view of Florence, and it truly is magical. Opt to take the walk through the “Giardino delle Rose”, or “The Rose Garden”, to get up to Piazzale Michelangelo. You can stop and rest if needed in a beautiful garden surrounded by roses.
At the top, there will be plenty of food and drink stands where you can buy a beverage for relatively cheap considering that you’re enjoying it at a top attraction in Florence for both locals and tourists!
No further words needed 😉
And that brings us to the end of this guide. The most important thing to remember is that if you want to see the world, do it – it doesn’t have to be expensive. The world is filled with so much beauty and so many things to see, and there are ways to do it on every budget.
Happy traveling! ❤️