Hitting the museums, galleries, and churches is essential when visiting Florence, but it can get a little pricey. For the slightly more skint among us, or for those who want to break up their trip with some cheaper activities, these tips from Kiwi expat Sophie Smith will let you soak up the Florentine atmosphere – without the daunting price tag.
Piazzale Michelangelo (Viale Michelangiolo)
The Piazzale is an absolute must-see. This square sits just south of the inner city on a bit of a hill, and gives you a spectacular view of the historic centre of Florence, as well as a replica statue of Michelangelo’s David. This spot is beautiful at any time of day, but if you head up about half an hour before sunset, grab a bottle of Moretti beer for €2 from one of the street vendors, and watch the way the sunlight hits the Duomo as the sun goes down, you won’t be disappointed.
Giardino delle Rose (Viale Giuseppe Poggi)
In Florence there are a heap of beautiful gardens, but the Giardino delle Rose (Garden of the Roses) is one of the prettiest, and it’s free! This garden is found on the road leading up to Piazzale Michelangelo, and also includes a cute sculpture walk. It’s a small garden, but with the myriad of different colour roses and a stunning view of the city, this one is not to be missed.
San Miniato al Monte and its Cemetery (Via delle Porte Sante)
Also found just a few hundred metres away from Piazzale Michelangelo is the church of San Miniato al Monte. It is one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings in Tuscany, and the story of San Miniato is pretty excellent. Legend has it that he was beheaded by Emperor Decius of Rome, but instead of dying, San Miniato picked up his head and marched back over the Arno River and up the hill to his home. This is where the church was built. The cemetery is also full of beautiful mausoleums, and all of it has an amazing view of the city. San Miniato al Monte is free to enter, but note that on Sundays there are church services.
Mercato alle Cascine (Viale George Washington)
This is the largest open-air market in Florence, and contains all sorts of interesting things to take a gander at, especially the huge range of traditional Italian foodstuffs. A good way to spend a Tuesday morning (the market is open on Tuesdays from 8am to 1pm) would be to hit the market, grab some “cocoli” (fried bread), olives, cheese, and salami, and have a picnic in the park. If you are feeling game, there are plenty of stalls selling the traditional Florentine panino with “lampredotto” – beef stomach! You can also hire bicycles in Cascine Park for a few euros per hour, and cycling around the Cascine on a sunny day is about as pleasant as it gets.
Fiesole is a small Etruscan town set on one of the hills surrounding Florence, about 6kms away from the centre of the city. There is a beautiful town square and some interesting Etruscan features, but the highlight is the panoramic lookout over the whole city of Florence. It it only costs as much as a bus ticket (€1.20 from any tobacconist) to get to Fiesole, and there are frequent buses (Linea 7) from Piazza San Marco. A great bonus to Fiesole is that it gets a lot more breeze than the central city, so it’s beautiful on a hot day.
The First Sunday of the Month
If you happen to be in Florence on the first Sunday of any month, then you are in luck, because all the state-run museums, galleries, and buildings are free. But a word of warning, you’ll want to pick somewhere the night before and head out early. The lines can get pretty long, especially for the more popular places like the Uffizi or the Accademia, so try to arrive before they open. This list shows all the participating museums in Italy.
Italy is known for amazing pizza and wonderful pasta, but the thing that I love about living in Florence is the schiacciata (skee-ah-CHAH-tah). Schiacciata is a type of focaccia bread, and there are plenty of excellent places to get a delicious schiacciata sandwich, toasted and filled with delicious fresh ingredients. This is the ultimate on-the-go cheap lunch option, for around €5 you can get a huge panino that will keep you going all afternoon. My favourite spots are Pino’s Sandwiches (Pino is super friendly and speaks excellent English; Via Giuseppe Verdi), All’Antico Vinaio (there’s always a line, but the wait is worth it; Via dei Neri), and Un Caffé (where the schiacciata is enormous but comes cut in half so you can save the rest for later; Via Cesare Battisti).
Il Pizzaiuolo (Via dei Macci)
This is one of my absolute favourite pizza restaurants in the city. With enormous traditional Neapolitan pizzas for around €8 and house wine for €10 a bottle, Il Pizzaiuolo is pretty kind on the wallet for a night out in Florence. Make sure you book ahead though, this place is always packed to the brim, and don’t miss out on the burrata – a huge ball of creamy mozzarella that you spread on fresh bread.
A great way to have a cheap dinner in Florence is to go for an aperitivo, where you pay €8 - €10 for a drink, and then you have unlimited access to their buffet. Some places with a good aperitivo are Kitsch Deux (a huge buffet with more options than you can shake a stick at; Via San Gallo), Tamerò (a very hip place where they make their own fresh pasta; Piazza Santo Spirito), and Nabucco Wine Bar (popular with native Florentines, Via Ventisette Aprile).
La Rinascente (Piazza della Repubblica)
I am all about a good view, and the restaurant at the top of department store La Rinascente is about as good as it gets in Florence. The actual bar is a little overpriced, but there’s no minimum spend so you can order a glass of the house wine (around €4 for a chianti), and enjoy an hour on the rooftops of Florence, taking in the gorgeous view of the Duomo and Piazza della Repubblica. Glorious in the late afternoon.