Packed with art, history and old money, Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and one of the biggest tourist attractions in Italy. The city is filled with amazing museums and art galleries, and even the buildings along the streets are examples of striking architecture and the culture that continues to permeate the area. Tickets to the galleries are very pricey and visiting the museums involves a lot of standing in line. Fortunately with so much going on in Florence, budget travellers can see a lot of art and culture without breaking the bank.
Free Walking Tours
Florence Free Tour provides two tours a day – a Renaissance and a Medici tour – for only a tip at the end. Groups meet in front of the Santa Maria Novella church in the morning and afternoon for a walking tour of the city that takes less than two hours.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the main church of the city, and entrance to this third largest church in the world won’t cost you a penny. It was completed in the 15th century after almost 200 years of construction and the interior design melds a number of architectural styles. The exterior is faced with marble in shades of green and pink with a spectacular Gothic facade from the 19th century.
The main part of the church is free, but there are a number of rooms and buildings that have a fee for entrance. If you want to see them all, buy a combo ticket before you go in, otherwise just pay for the one part you wish to visit.
The Baptistery is the oldest building in Florence, dating back to the 5th century. There are no records to prove it, but it’s believed that building was once a temple of Mars, the god of war. There’s a fee to enter the Battistero and you may want to do that to enjoy the art, but visitors to the Duomo should at least have a (free) look at the outside of this curious, octagonal building with the plain but intricate facade. Be sure to check out the bronze doors with scenes from the Bible.
If you aren’t going to spring to see David (although you should), this square has a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s famous statue along with copies of some of his other sculptures. The real reason to come here though is for the panoramic view of the city from the terrace.
Spanning the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio was built in the 14th century to replace an earlier bridge that washed away. The shops that line the bridge originally held food merchants but have long since been replaced with tourist fare. Enjoy the history and the view, but do your shopping elsewhere.
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
Completed around the 14th century, the church is stunningly decorated thanks to the funding by prominent Florentine families who wanted to secure their burial chapels on the grounds. The stained glass windows date from the same era although a few have been damaged and replaced. The pulpit was designed by Brunelleschi and it was from this same pulpit that Galileo Galilei was indicted for heresy when he claimed that the earth revolved around the sun.
Piazza della Signoria
The large square in front of the impressive Palazzo Vecchio is where many locals and tourists come to hang out. The buildings that surround the square are all historic and the Loggia dei Lanzi is a series of arches that are effectively a poor man’s sculpture gallery filled with antique and Renaissance art. A copy of Michelangelo’s David stands at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Fountain of Neptune is prominent in the square.
Many of the churches in the city are free to enter and have works of art that date from the Renaissance or earlier. Some allow access to crypts or cemeteries and others may have open gardens. When visiting remember to look up as many ceilings were gilded or painted with frescoes.
The piazzas are fun to visit for the people watching as well as the culture. The Piazza della Repubblica is modern and pricey while the Piazza del Duomo is in the heart of the historic section. Visit one to watch the shoppers and the other to enjoy the variety of tourists.
While not free, Florence has some of the best gelato in the world. Don’t be so tight with a dime that you miss out on this very Italian treat that tastes even better in the warm climate of Florence.