5 Insider Tips for Traveling on a Budget in Florence
Posted on October 06, 2016 in Things To Do
Having a limited budget as you travel doesn't mean you can't enjoy the same experiences other travelers have. Many times the difference is simply about being smart and knowing where to go or even better yet, having a local let you in on those secret spots that only they know of instead of falling into unpleasant and often overpriced tourist traps. Wouldn't it be great to always have a friend on site who could recommend those special hideaways?
I can't tell you about the best places in Tokyo or Copenhagen, but after my 20+ years in Tuscany, I pretty much know Florence and Florentines and Italy like the back of my hand. My clients often see me as that friend, living the life in Italy, and I'm always happy to offer my first-hand knowledge and experience of where to go and how to do things as locals do.
Here are 5 essential tips on how to travel in and through Florence without emptying your wallet completely.
1. COFFEE HOUR
I know when I'm traveling, after hours of walking the streets and seeing the sites, what I really love is to just plop down in an awesome coffee shop to rest my legs and recharge my battery. That sounds like the easiest thing to do but in major Italian cities it can be quite risky -- you may end up spending your entire dinner budget on a cup of coffee and a pastry. Italian bars in the cities often have 2 pricing solutions -- the"sitting down" option or the "standing up" option. Italians tend to take quick 3-minute coffee breaks standing at the bar (to learn why, read all about The Do's and Don'ts at Italian Cafés: Italian Coffee Culture Etiquette) so the idea of sitting down and slowly sipping away is something quite foreign and special to them. For that reason, the "sitting down" option means that you actually have a server who comes to take your order and bring you drinks so there is a surcharge to this added service that can at times be quite hefty (2-3 times the price of the "standing up" option). Never try to order yourself at the bar and bring your drinks to the table on your own (even if the table is literally right next to the bar). You will get nasty looks from the patrons as they point to their fingers at their "servizio a tavolo" sign which indicates that a waiter serves you if you want to sit down. All of this can be quite bewildering indeed for non-Italians!
Here in Florence there are a handful of places where you can avoid the confusion because oddly enough, there is no table service or surcharge and everyone is free to sit and sip as they please! But of course you need to know where they are.....here are some of my favorites:
Address: Piazza della Repubblica 26/27/28/29, Florence
Right smack in one of the main squares, the cafe is located inside a large bookstore. Offers sandwiches, muffins, cookies and free WIFI.
Open everyday 9am-11pm.
Address: Via dello Sprone 3/5R, Florence
There are 2 shops, this is one located over the river, more quiet and intimate. Offers various snacks and a vast selection of coffee blends, free WIFI.
Open everyday 8am-12am.
LA BOULANGERIE DEL RIFRULLO
Address: Via de' Rondinelli 24R, Florence
Great sandwiches and pastries, just a few steps from the Duomo.
2. BUDGET LUNCHES
It's always nice to sit down for a gourmet meal with a maitre d' refilling your wine glass but not all of us have the time, budget, or feel the need for such luxury at all moments. Once upon a time, not too long ago, dining out in Italy meant exactly that kind of service and there were very few alternative options for someone who wanted something simpler. Today in Florence there are more options and here are some of my favorites.
CAFFE CONCERTO PASZKOWSKI
Address: Piazza della Repubblica 35R, Florence
Open Tuesdays-Sundays 7am-1am, closed Mondays.
Although this is one of the most historic and prestigious cafes in Florence, dating back to 1846 before Italy was even unified as a nation, during lunchtime the locals know of a secret rule. The cafe offers a various selection of pasta dishes, salads and side dishes, visible at their display counter. For only those that know, for a mere ¤6-8, you can go to the counter, make your selection (you can even ask them to do a "bis" or "tris" which means they will fill a plate with 2-3 different choices) and you can take your place and sit down indoors or outdoors without an extra surcharge. The trick is you need to know where to you can sit (outdoors you can sit at the tables not covered with a tablecloth) and when you're finished, you need to bring your dishes in yourself and leave them at the counter. This may not seem so special in other countries, but in a bar like Paszkowski that boasts such a prime location (you can dine al fresco in one of Florence's main squares), you can enjoy an amazing lunch for under ¤10 while those sitting at the tableclothed tables are paying 2-3 times the amount just to have waiter service! Ha!
MAESTRI DI FABBRICA
Address: Borgo degli Albizi 68, Florence
Open everyday 10am-8pm.
This is a great hideaway where at lunchtime, a delicious buffet-style lunch with Tuscan specialties is laid out for just ¤7 per person. You can read about Maestri di Fabbrica here in our original post. This is a wonderful little artisan boutique featuring handcrafted goods from local artisans and throughout the store they've set up tables where you can dine in a great atmosphere, enjoying a complete meal for under ¤10 in downtown Florence!
The Italian apericena is something that lies in between a cocktail and a dinner. It's a phenomenon that started some years ago when the aperitivo started to become the trend. The aperitivo traditionally is a "stomach-opener", a pre-dinner cocktail (could be either with or without alcohol) accompanied by small snacks such as stuffed olives, peanuts and chips. However about 10 years ago bars and cafes throughout the major Italian cities began to take a new twist on the traditional aperitivo and started serving more creative snacks with the drinks such as bite-size sandwiches, canapes with various sauces, cheeses, frittata, zeppole, roasted veggies...until eventually they had evolved into offering pasta, meats, salads, pizza and basically...full meals. Hence the new name coined, apericena, because "cena" is the Italian word for dinner. The idea of the aperitivo is that you pay a flat fee (anywhere from ¤4 to ¤10 normally) and the snacks are served buffet-style. The apericena however has become a popular way to hang out in the evening and have a drink and light dinner with friends in an informal setting. It's also a great solution for a budget ¤10 or under dinner with drinks and delicious food included. Here are some of my favorite places in Florence for an awesome apericena.
Address: Via de' Benci 23R, Florence - ITALY
Open everyday 8am-3am.
Right off Santa Croce square Moyo has the best apericena in Florence, offering a vast variety of foods for ¤10 drink included. Every week they have theme nights such as Wok Fusion and Tex Mex.
Address: Via del Proconsolo 3, Florence - ITALY
Awesome spread of classic Tuscan and Italian dishes, apericena for ¤10 drink included. See our post for more info.
Address: Borgo degli Albizi 78R, Florence - ITALY
Open everyday 7:30am-2:30am.
Great atmosphere in this spacious cafe in the city center. ¤8 apericena with 6 different dishes to choose from and drink included - more limited variety comparing to Moyo or Donnini but excellent quality.
FREE MUSEUM VISITS
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Italy during the beginning of any month, take note that every first Sunday of every month, all state-run museums in all of Italy open their doors and offer free admission to everyone. This is a great initiative that was begun back in 2014 to give everyone (especially locals) a chance to visit and appreciate the culture, art and history that is hidden in every corner of this amazing country. The only problem is that the most popular museums such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia in Florence get packed and long lines form at the entrances so it is worth getting there early to avoid as much as possible long waits. The smaller museums normally don't experience this problem so you could also decide to take advantage of the day to visit as many as these as possible.
The hashtag used for this initiative is #domenicalmuseo and a complete list of all the state-run museums in the country can be found at this link to the website for the Italian Ministry of Culture and Environment. Unfortunately it's only in Italian, there doesn't seem to be an English version anywhere but it's pretty easy to figure out even if you don't know Italian!
SAVE 50% ON TRAIN TICKETS
Trying to figure out how to purchase train tickets in Italy can be complex but just think...it's so much easier today than it was, say, 10 or 20 years ago!
The primary train operator in Italy that was privatized in 2000 although the privatization is only formal since the Italian government retains a 100% interest on the company. When you travel by train in Italy, you will almost always be using Trenitalia whose official English language website is at www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en .
Trenitalia now offers several options for long-range travel (long-range meaning from one main Italian city to another) and different possibilities for saving money on tickets:
SAME DAY OFFER: Special discount prices are offered for anyone purchasing a roundtrip ticket with a same-day return (i.e. roundtrip within 24 hours) on any of Trenitalia's fast trains which are called Frecciarossa, Frecciargento and Frecciabianca.
WEEKEND OFFER: Special discount prices are offered for anyone purchasing a roundtrip ticket for weekend travel with departure on Saturday and return trip on Sunday.
FAMILY DISCOUNT: On ICN, couchette and WL trains - for families consisting of 2-5 people with at least one adult and one child under the age of 15, a 50% discount is applied for the children and a 20% discount for the adults.
KIDS TRAVEL FREE: On Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca and Intercity trains – for families consisting of 2-5 people with at least one adult and one child under the age of 15, children under 15 ride for free while the adults pay the regular base price.
2 for 1 offer: Two people pay only the price of one ticket! Every Saturday this offer is valid on all domestic trains (does not apply to regional trains, executive service level and couchette, VL and Excelsior services).
GROUP TRAVEL: Discounts of 10%-30% are applied on ticket purchases for groups of 10 or more people.