Florence is not a cheap date. Already one of the most expensive cities in Italy, prices rose vertiginously when the Euro was introduced and the final nail in the coffin, at least for anyone travelling with Sterling or US dollars, has been the present unfavourable exchange rate.
However, there are ways that you can make your stay easier on the wallet; start by following my tips for getting the best value out of Florence.
Eating and drinking
- There are plenty of alternatives to eating every meal in a restaurant. Even ‘budget’ choices work out expensive if you have to do it twice a day.
- Look out for the takeaway food joints called rosticcerie. These wonderful places prepare full menus of meals to go including pasta choices, spit-roast chickens, roast meats and stews, veg and dessert. Some rosticcerie have tables so that you can eat in too. Prices are significantly less than in a restaurant although you will pay extra to sit down. Check out the following: Rosticceria della Spada (Via della Spada 62r; 055 218757), La Mangiatoia (Piazza San Felice 8r; 055 224060) and Rosticceria Giuliano (Via de’Neri 74r; 055 2382723).
- A gastronomia (deli) will always have the makings of a delicious picnic. Prosciutto, salame, cheeses, olives and marinated vegetables are sold by weight, usually 100g (‘un etto’) units. Pick up fresh bread and a bottle of wine here too and head to the nearest ortolano (greengrocer) for juicy tomatoes and fruit.
- A pizza and a beer at a pizzeria is always a cheaper eating-out option than a full meal in a restaurant.
- The latest aperitivo craze to have hit Florence is a boon for anyone wanting to save money on eating out. Many bars now offer a substantial buffet of hot and cold dishes to go with your early-evening drink which can easily be turned into dinner by piling your plate high and going back for seconds or even thirds. A glass of wine (including the buffet) in a not-too-fancy bar will cost around five euros.
- Remember that most bars will charge you a supplement for sitting down, even if you only order a glass of water. Bars and cafés in the city centre will positively fleece you. Save money by standing at the bar counter with the locals.
- If the price of your hotel room does not include breakfast, consider forgoing what will probably be a mediocre offering at the hotel and head for the nearest pasticceria for cappuccino and a fresh pastry. Standing at the bar, it will come in at less than 2.50 euros a head.
- For women travelling alone, taxis cost 10per cent less between 10pm and 2am.
- Taxi fares increase between midnight and 6am and on Sundays and public holidays.
- If you are planning to use the bus frequently during your visit, it’s worth buying one of the ATAF bus passes; a 3-day pass costs 12 euros (a single ticket costs 1.20 euros).
- See How to get around Florence for more information about buses and taxis.
Sights and attractions
- During the nationwide Settimana dei Beni Culturali, all state museums in Italy wave their entrance fees for a week. In Florence, these include the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Galleria Palatina at the Pitti Palace, the Bargello and many more. The problem is that the dates vary from year to year although the week usually falls in late April or early May.
- Not all sights and attractions charge an entrance fee. The following are free: the Duomo, Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper at the Cenacolo di Ognissanti (Borgognissanti 42; open Mon, Tue, Sat 9am-noon), the church and museum of Orsanmichele and the churches of San Miniato, Santa Trinità and Santo Spirito.
- Free outdoor sights: the Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo, Piazza della Signoria and the Loggia dei Lanzi, Piazza del Duomo and the courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi.
- There are shamefully few museum passes or worthwhile combined tickets on offer in Florence. However, the Caravaggio Card costs 25 euros and gets you into the Galleria Uffizi, the Galleria Palatina, the Galleria di Arte Moderna and Villa Bardini; it’s valid for three days. 10 euros will get you into all the Pitti museums except the Palatina and Galleria d’Arte Moderna; if you want to visit these two as well, it’s an extra 12 euros. Both tickets are valid for 24 hours.
- Free entrance to state and municipal-run museums and sights is given to EU citizens under 18 and over 65, to journalists, artists and art students, teachers and the disabled but you must carry photographic ID and/or proof of status.
Other useful tips
- Advance booking for the Uffizi and Accademia galleries is essential if you don’t want to queue for hours and only costs three euros extra (Firenze Musei 055 294883).
- Many museums and galleries close on Jan 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, Aug 15th and Christmas Day.
- Plan the timing of your museum and gallery visits carefully. Many shut for one day a week (often Mondays) or are only open in the mornings.
- Generous tipping is not part of the Italian psyche and is not expected. Round a taxi fare up to the nearest euro and leave a couple of euros on the table at a restaurant, or five per cent if you’ve had a really positive experience.
- If you are planning a visit to the Odeon cinema (www.cinehall.it) in Piazza Strozzi where they show original language films, take along the voucher from the previous Sunday’s La Repubblica newspaper for a 30 per cent discount.
- Public loos are a rarity in Florence, but bars are obliged to help out those in need. Don't be surprised if you get snarled at.
- Many hotels drop their rates from mid July-mid August although this might seem like prime tourist season. Rates are also lowered from November-February with the exception of the Christmas/New Year holidays. See my top accommodation choices here: Florence Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Florence.