A trip to Florence has been a travel rite of passage ever since the days of the Grand Tour in the 18th century. And with such a long history of tourism, Florence is a seasoned pro at welcoming visitors, ensuring they get value for their buck, and encouraging returning visitors to rediscover the Tuscan capital in new and inspirational ways.

Awash with breathtaking sights and experiences, this sublime Renaissance masterpiece is by no means the cheapest Italian city to explore. But with its unmatched choice of accommodation, inexpensive dining options and abundant things to see and do for free, Florence promises a generous dose of Tuscan dolce vita for thrifty travelers. 

Here are our tips for visiting Florence on a budget, whether you're in town solo, traveling with friends or hauling the whole family on a cultural safari.

Introducing Florence

Avoid high season in Florence to save money

When you travel is the key factor dictating the cost of a trip to Florence. Tourist crowds take over this gem-strewn city throughout the peak summer season and the crowds shrink only slightly during the more temperate spring and fall shoulder seasons. The same applies to most of Tuscany.

It is during the cooler low season, from November to March, that you’ll get the most bang for your buck and the chance to travel senza la folla (without the crowd). Accommodation rates can be up to 50% lower than high-season prices, and there are some excellent deals on advance and small-group bookings.

Florence’s superstar sights are also blissfully quiet in winter, meaning no last-minute scramble to secure a date with Botticelli at the Uffizi or a view of Brunelleschi’s magical cupola atop the Florence Duomo. Art aficionados take note: between November and February, a ticket to the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art at the Uffizi costs just €12 (US$13.40), compared to €20 (US$22.30) from March to October.

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People in the Vasari Corridor at the Galleria degli Uffiz
Get a Firenze Card or visit on one of the regular winter free days to enjoy the Galleria degli Uffizi on a budget © Sylvain Sonnet / Getty Images

Save cash and carbon by taking the train to Florence

By far the most straightforward (and most environmentally friendly) way to arrive in Florence is by train. The central train station, Stazione Santa Maria Novella, is right in the city center and just a 10-minute walk from Piazza del Duomo.

For those flying into Florence airport, frequent trams run to the center for a bargain price of €1.50 (US$1.70) – vastly cheaper than taking a taxi. You may find cheaper flights landing at the smaller airport in Pisa, about 69km (43 miles) west. Those counting every euro should board the Pisa Mover train from the airport to Pisa Centrale and then travel to Florence by regular train, saving a few euros compared to the speedier but pricier direct shuttle bus.

Don’t even contemplate arriving in Florence by car. Parking is practically impossible and nonresident vehicles are banned from the city center.

To bag a bed in a hostel or guesthouse, book well in advance

A pensione (small, family-run guesthouse) or B&B will be your cheapest accommodation option in Florence. The most charming options are wedged between artist studios across the river in the artsy district of Oltrarno, or squirreled away within a venerable former palazzo (palace) with a huge front door and a shabby-chic cobbled courtyard in the backstreets of San Frediano. As well as saving a few euros, you'll get a privileged insight into daily life in bohemian circles in Florence.

Hostels tend to be more central and offer reassuring safety in numbers, plus shared kitchens and regular social events; Academy Hostel and Ostello Archo Rossi are both highly recommended. Sweet spots for hostels in central Florence include Santa Maria Novella, hemmed in by the central train station, and San Lorenzo with its bustling market. Both are down-to-earth, working neighborhoods and can feel rough around the edges, but they are by no means dangerous: strip away the famous reputation and Florence is, at heart, a peaceful provincial town.

People reading in the sun in Giardino delle Rose, Florence
Take a book to a Florence park for a leisurely, low-cost summer afternoon with a view © Zummolo / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

Stay outside the historic center and bike into town

The further you stay from the historic center, the cheaper things get. Most Florentines don’t live in the centro storico (historic center), and you'll save significantly if you follow their example and commute to the center. Staying in a less-explored suburb or an off-the-beaten-track neighborhood is a golden ticket to getting under the skin of the city. If you like things green with big views, consider hilltop Fiesole, Settignano or Bellosguardo.

Getting into the center by public transport is a breeze. Run by Autolinee Toscane, a nippy fleet of buses and electric minibuses scoots around town, charging a reduced fare of €1.50 (US$1.70) if you buy tickets from kiosks or the ticket office at Stazione di Santa Maria Novella, rather than on board.  Timestamp your ticket when you board or risk an on-the-spot €50 (US$56) fine.

Those who prefer the independence of two wheels have a choice of rideshare bike and scooter schemes. Ridemovi offers e-bikes, while Mimoto has uber-cool Vespa-style e-scooters.

Live like a local in a short-term rental

If you’re in Florence for more than a few nights, short-term rental accommodation is an excellent budget option – especially for families, or if you’re traveling as a couple or in a small group. Rental properties range from simple rooms with views atop medieval watchtowers in the centro storico to family homes and high-ceilinged apartments of all shapes and sizes in Renaissance palazzi (palaces).

Thousands of properties are available in downtown Florence via global home-sharing services such as Airbnb, but you'll often find more interesting options via home-grown rental companies such as Your Place in Florence, Apartments in Florence and Windows on Italy, with bricks-and-mortar offices in town and fully serviced apartments for short stays.

Not only are these companies run by locals and committed to supporting and bettering the community, but many of their properties are also away from the maddening crowds and offer a certain tranquility and a rewarding taste of local life.

Several central Florentine hotels offer tip-top self-catering accommodation for longer stays, meaning a central location and friendly receptionist to help with queries at a bargain price compared to a standard hotel room. For excellent-value budget and midrange apartments, try Hotel Dalí near the Duomo, or Hotel Silla and Hotel La Scaletta across the Arno in San Niccolò.

People having breakfast at a popular food court inside the Mercato Centrale city market
Mercato Centrale is a great spot to grab ingredients for breakfast, dinner or a lunchtime picnic © Radiokafka / Shutterstock

Shop (and enjoy free samples) at local food markets

Shopping for fresh produce and other culinary treats is pure joy in foodie Florence, a destination where everyone lives to eat. Get the most out of your food budget by shopping at the city’s oldest and grandest food market, Mercato Centrale, and the smaller, more intimate Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. Both offer tantalizing ingredients for pocket-friendly breakfasts and evening meals if you’re in self-catering digs, as well as portable snacks for lunchtime picnics and light bites to accompany your very own DIY aperitivi (early evening aperitif).

The city’s independent food shops, run by passionate foodies, offer equally good value. Favorite stops include La Bottega della Frutta (look for the bicycle parked outside with its basket overflowing with fresh flowers, fruit and veg), historic Pegna, and Fabio Picchi’s organic market shop C.BIO.

Shopping at markets and independent food shops is a prime opportunity to strike up conversations with locals and see with your own eyes exactly which fresh, zero-kilometer ingredients are in season (and, in turn, the seasonal dishes you should be ordering when dining out). Show even a tiny bit of interest in a product – say, a particular Tuscan olive oil or a local cheese – and you’ll most likely be offered a free sample to taste.

Cut sightseeing costs with a discount card or combo ticket

If you're in town for several days to blitz Florence's orgy of world-class museums, monuments and art galleries, the money-saving €85 (US$95) Firenze Card is a no-brainer. Valid for 72 hours, the card includes admission to 70-plus museums, villas and gardens in Florence. To add on unlimited public transport for the three days, pay an additional €7 (US$7.80). As another perk to the Firenze Card, many museums have a separate queue for card-holders, reducing queuing times in peak season.

A number of museums offer combo tickets covering admission to several museums which are cheaper than buying individual tickets. The "PassePartout 5 Days" ticket covers admission to the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens over five consecutive days. Then there's the Bargello Museums' combo ticket ticking off admission to a clutch of fantastic, largely unsung museums (Museo del Bargello, the Medici Chapels, Museo di Palazzo Davanzati, Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele and Casa Martelli) over three days.

A young woman looking over the rooftops of Florence
Exploring Florence on food offers priceless views at every turn © Shutterstock / Vasily Makarov

Frolic in Florence for free

From the ridiculous overdose of awe-inspiring Renaissance architecture littering the Unesco World Heritage-listed center of Florence to the city's many beautiful churches, parks and gardens, the choice of things to see and do for free will keep you entertained for days. There's even free entertainment in the form of free festivals and extraordinary sunset shows on Piazza Michelangelo.

Some times of year open up even more chances for freebies. State museums, including the Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia, are free to visit during the Festa di Anna Maria Medici (18 February), on the first Sunday of each month from October to March, and during Italy’s National Museum Week in March.

Feast on Florentine cuisine in a traditional trattoria

Dining out in Florence can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. Quality ingredients and simple execution are the hallmarks of traditional Florentine cuisine, and great food can be had for bargain prices. For quality trippa alla Fiorentina (tripe in tomato sauce), bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-bone steak) and other timeless Florentine dishes at prices that won’t break the bank, head to an informal local trattoria. Many of these unpretentious eateries have been feeding Florentines for decades and they offer excellent value for money.

Trattoria Mario and Trattoria Sergio Gozzi, both by the central market in grassroots San Lorenzo, are classic examples. Dining in an authentic Florentine trattoria is also a precious opportunity to taste local, seasonal produce – eateries in the historic center are obliged to use 70% Tuscan produce in their kitchens.

Fill your water bottle with wine

Sampling the bounty of Tuscany’s prized grape harvest in a traditional enoteca (wine bar) is a Florentine rite of passage – and there is no reason why wine lovers on a limited budget should miss out on the oenophile adventure.

Take your own empty bottle to a small, independent enoteca such as Alla Sosta dei Pipi in Santa Croce and fill it up with your choice of Tuscan wine. The cheapest local wines are unbeatable value at €3.40 (US3.80) a liter. You might well be offered the chance to taste before you buy, with a sample glass accompanied by complimentary cheese and salami, crostini and other mouthwatering wine bar-style nibbles.

Locals eating salami focaccia from All'Antico Vinaio
Even a simple salami focaccia is a taste sensation at All'Antico Vinaio © Antonio Gravante / Shutterstock

Swap dinner for apericena

An absolute steal for budget explorers, Florence is the Italian HQ of apericena – essentially aperitivo (an early-evening drink with a copious buffet of free nibbles and finger foods) and cena (dinner) rolled into one. A number of bars and enoteche (wine bars) across the city serve apericena from around 5pm to 10pm, and it’s a much-loved institution among Florence’s numerous budget-savvy students.

Join fashionable Florentines for a passeggiata

Florence is compact and easy to navigate on foot, so there's really no excuse not to walk like a local, whether that means getting from A to B or taking a leisurely weekend passeggiata (afternoon stroll). To mingle with the locals, join Florentine fashionistas for a scenic stroll along chic Via de’ Tornabuoni. It's a great, free way to get a feel for the way Florence ticks.

Drink coffee standing up, the Italian way

As is the case in every Italian city, an espresso shot enjoyed standing up at the bar is notably cheaper than sitting down at a table. If you’re lucky, you might strike up a conversation with a local propped up against the counter alongside you while you linger.

Feast on unique street food for treats on a budget

Good news for epicureans with modest budgets: the narrow, cobbled streets of historic Florence are awash with authentic panini and focaccia shops, family-run pizzerias, historic pastry shops and local-style ‘fast food’ outlets cooking up Real McCoy street food that puts every global chain to shame.

As a taster, join the crowd spilling out of the door of boisterous All’Antico Vinaio and pour yourself a glass of wine while you wait for a well-stuffed focaccia wrapped in waxed paper. You’ll soon understand what all the fuss is about.

Or join locals at one of the city’s famous trippaio – mobile street stands cooking up cow's stomach, a popular local bite. Have it boiled, sliced and seasoned between slices of bread as tripe panino or try a hearty bowl of lampredotto (cow's fourth stomach, chopped and slowly simmered).

Washed down with Tuscan wine, this is the definitive Florentine eat for visitors with a limited budget. Trippaio Sergio Pollini in Santa Croce, and hole-in-the-wall Da Vinattieri, with stools in an alley next to Dante's Chiesa di Santa Margherita, are timeless favorites.

Daily costs in Florence

  • Public transport from Florence/Pisa airport €1.50/11.30 (US$1.70/12.80)
  • Dorm bed in hostel €20–45 (US$22.50–51)
  • Budget hotel room for two €60–80 (US$68­–90.50)
  • Tripe panino €5 (US$5.60)
  • One-hour public bike share €1.50 (US$1.70)
  • Museum admission €4–20 (US$4.50­–22.50)
  • Espresso at the bar/ table €1.50/5 (US$1.70­–5.50)
  • Trattoria dinner €15–25 (US$17­–28)
  • Glass of Tuscan red wine €1–5 (US$1.13­–5.60)

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