First, the bad news: Florence is one of the most expensive Italian cities in which to lay your head. The positive news is that there’s plenty of variety in terms of accommodation in this small city and recent years have seen an upsurge in the number of good mid-range, value-for-money hotels and b&bs, a reaction to the fact that visitors have less disposable cash these days. Their loss is our gain, and there are bargains to be had if you know where to look and when.
Five-star luxury or authentic charm?
Whether your bed of choice lies in a charming, small b&b, a lavish five-star palazzo, a crumbling villa or a hip, edgy design-driven hotel, you’ll find something in Florence that will appeal. What is lacking in Renaissance City are large chain hotels, but that’s a positive as far as I’m concerned.
The historic centre of Florence is easily negotiable on foot, so if your hotel lies within the old city walls, you will probably be able to walk everywhere. The most tourist-ridden area lies roughly between the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio to the south, but it must be said that it’s also one of the best locations for shopping and sightseeing and many of the larger hotels are located here. The Bohemian Oltrarno, south of the river, is quieter and more authentic and has lots of interesting bars, restaurants and independent boutiques.
If you are staying in the city centre in the height of summer, an outside space (a communal courtyard or garden or a private terrace or small balcony in your room) is a God-send after a hot day’s sightseeing. Many of Florence’s hotels occupy tall buildings on narrow streets, so rooms on lower floors tend to be dark; try and book a room up high.
The city is surrounded on three sides by hills, and it’s possible to stay in a rural context, surrounded by olives and vines, while remaining within a very short taxi or bus ride from the city centre. I’ve included a couple of hillside hotels just outside the city for those in need of fresh air and birdsong alongside their Renaissance architecture.
Most hotels price their rooms according to size, view, the amount of natural light they receive, the size of bathroom and whether or not they have a private balcony or terrace. The other factor that makes a big difference is the time of year you travel. High season in Florence runs roughly from Easter until mid October with a dip in August when hoteliers feel that tourists need a reward for dealing with the high summer heat. Prices also rise for Christmas, New Year and bank holidays. The biggest low season bargains are to be had at the larger, more up-market hotels. I heard of one high profile city-centre five-star (that shall remain nameless) offering a walk-in price of just 70 euros for a double room last February. If you are prepared to risk a last-minute booking, you’ll get the best deals, but I wouldn’t recommend this strategy at peak times or you’ll end up in some Godforsaken hole out near the airport.
What's included in the price?
Most hotels (with the exception of some of the four- and five-star places) include breakfast in the room rate. This may vary from a rudimentary, Italian-style snack to a sumptuous buffet. Make sure that you understand if the price includes breakfast when you book; if not, you may be charged up to 30 or even 35 euros. It's rarely worth it and I would suggest a trip to the local bar as an alternative. Parking is a major problem in Florence and few city centre hotels have car parks. You will be offered the option of a place in a nearby private garage which will cost between about 25 and 35 euros per 24 hours depending on the size of car and how long you stay.