Florence is among the most popular tourist and incentive destinations in the world. If asked which Italian cities they would be interested in visiting, most travellers would put Florence in their top three options, together with Venice and Rome. We can hardly blame them, of course: Florence is unbelievably beautiful and its history is strictly linked to some of the most remarkable artistic masterpieces in the history of mankind. This is the hotbed of the Renaissance, where unparalleled peaks of human ingenuity were reached and artworks of surpassing beauty were created. Florence, however, is also among the most expensive cities in Europe and your stay is unlikely to be cheap. This doesn’t mean you can’t travel to Florence on a budget of course: here are a few handy tips on how to explore this incredible city without breaking the bank.
6 things to do in Florence for free
1. Take a free guided tour of Florence
Yes, there are guides that are going to take you on a tour of the city for free (they won’t be offended if you tip them though). There are two different tours, with a fixed schedule. If you want to take part in the Renaissance Tour, you don’t even have to book in advance: just show up at 11 a.m. at Santa Maria Novella and be ready to walk through the city centre for a couple of hours. If you are interested in the Medici Tour, you should meet your guide at 4 p.m. in the same place and you will be taken through the fascinating history of the powerful Medici family, that shaped the destiny of both Florence and Italy as a whole. Beware though: you will be tired by the end of either tour. Wear comfortable and get ready for a long walk or two.
2. Feed the piglet
The piglet is not – you might have guessed – and actual piglet, and you don’t have to feed it. The Porcellino Fountain is located in the vicinity of Ponte Vecchio and the bronze statue at its centre quite clearly represents a boar, rather than a piglet. The original Greek statue was copied in Roman times and the Roman version was made of marble. Pope Pius IV had it cast in bronze and donated it to Cosimo I De’ Medici. The boar was initially destined to be purely decorative, until Ferdinando De’ Medici decided to turn it into a fountain, to bring water to the merchants that traded goods under the so-called “Loggia del Porcellino”. A local superstition says that travellers should deposit a coin in the piglet‘s mouth and, if the coin falls through the grid at the boar’s feet, then the traveller will have good luck and a prosperous year. Just like the Trevi Fountain, the proceedings of this tradition go entirely to charity.
3. The Basilica di Santo Spirito
As usual, if you are travelling on a budget churches are an excellent option. Florence is no exception to this rule and you will get so see some of the best and most popular Renaissance masterpieces free of charge. You will be spoilt for choice in the city centre, of course, but it is also worth making your way to the area known as Oltrarno, to visit the beautiful Basilica of Santo Spirito. Not only you will be standing in one of the most magnificent examples of Renaissance architecture, but you will also be surrounded by the works of artists such as Filippo Lippi, Andrea Sansovino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and many others. And, of course, you will see the beautiful Crucifix that Michelangelo sculpted when he was only seventeen years old. You will also notice a Pietà, identical to the one in St Peter’s, but the one in Santo Spirito is a copy by Nanni di Baccio Bigio, completed in 1549.
4. The Cathedral
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, usually referred to simply as Duomo, is the most important church in Florence and one of the most iconic buildings in Italy. If you see a skyline of the city in a postcard or a painting, the huge, graceful cupola designed by Brunelleschi is likely to be the first element that catches your eye. This majestic gothic church was built in the XIII century on the same spot where the old cathedral used to stand. The construction was completed in the XV Century and restored in the XIX Century. The characteristic white and green marble exterior creates a stark contrast with the austere and almost severe architectural and decorative style of the church’s interior. Here you will have the opportunity of seeing the spectacular frescoes by Giorgio Vasari, including the Last Judgment, which the artist, who died in 1574, left unfinished. One of his pupils completed it five years later. If you are not afraid of either heights of exercise, you should take the opportunity to climb the stairs that take to the cupola: the view is unlike anything else you will experience in Florence.
5. The Rose Garden
If you visit Florence in springtime or summer, you should definitely visit the Rose Garden in San Niccolò. This lovely park, created by architect Giuseppe Poggi, opened to the public at the end of the XIX century and it was meant to celebrate the fact that Florence had just become the Capital of Italy, replacing Turin, in 1865. The original garden included a collection of roses started by Attilio Pucci, but a number of different species have been added since and it now includes a Japanese garden, as well as several sculptures by Jean-Michel Folon. When it first opened to the public, the garden was only accessible in May, but the policy has since changed and this relaxing oasis in the Oltrarno quarter can be visited all year round. If you visit it in the fair season, of course, you will see the Rose Garden at its glorious best, and you will be welcomed by an explosion of blossoming roses and dizzying scents.
6. Piazzale Michelangelo
One of the reasons why it is worth visiting the Rose Garden in every season is that you will be able to make your way to Piazzale Michelangelo which is – with the possible exception of the Duomo’s Cupola, the best point from which to contemplate the beauty of Florence. Chances are most of the photos for the postcards you will be writing have been taken from here. On the square itself you will see bronze copies of some of the most important works of art in the city, including the famous David (another copy is on display in Piazza della Signoria, while the original is kept in the Accademia Gallery). The Piazzale is overlooked by a graceful arcade, also designed by Giuseppe Poggi, which was originally meant to host a museum entirely dedicated to the works of Michelangelo, but the project was never completed and the arcade is currently home to a restaurant where you will be able to dine while looking down on one of the most breath-taking sights in Italy. The whole of Florence will be opening up before you, from Santa Croce to the shimmering Arno River, from the Duomo to the countless bridges and alleys that make this city unique and magical.Doing business in Italy? Find the perfect venue for your meeting!