Think of Florence and more than a few clichés come to mind, primarily that Florence is “one of the most beautiful city’s in the world”. People who have been will wax lyrical about beauty and enchantment around every fanciful corner. Websites and blogs will mimic popular rhetoric about the exceptional architecture and art heritage of the city, and the numerous galleries and museums that still exist as a result, and they’re not wrong, Florence is all of those things. But Florence is also a lot more.
We were there for three nights to see this art beauty for ourselves, but after just one evening our aim changed to searching for alternative culture. When tourists grossly outnumber locals, and when you need to stand in a line for an hour to pay €15 to see the same thing everyone else is, maybe that thing is just not worth it.
We arrived to Florence Santa Maria Novella station via bus from Rome, courtesy of Megabus (now flixbus). Our journey took 3.5 hours, cost €6 each one way, included WiFi, and was about as good as you could hope for a bus ride. You can make the journey faster by taking a train, but the main attraction to the bus on this occasion was the low price point.
Trains from Rome can be found through Trenitalia, tickets start from €9.90 off peak, but normal tickets are €19.90 per person one way and the journey takes only 1.5 hours. If you are short on time then this is the way to go. The main station with the most connections is Santa Maria Novella.
It’s worth having a look at a ride-sharing site like Blablacar for getting into Florence. A seat in a car will cost between €13 and €17 and might take around 2.5 hours from Rome.
If you are flying directly to Florence, the airport is only 6km outside of the city centre and has a regular city bus departing every 30 minutes. Just for reference; a one way flight with Vueling from London to Florence can be booked for as low as €55.
Getting around Florence is easy on the bus, a single journey costs €1.40. Buy tickets from a shop before you board, and if you are staying a few days consider buying a multi-pass as they make travel cheaper.
Hint – Book trains off-peak and in advance for cheap tickets, where as bus tickets can still be cheap when purchased on the day of travel.
We chose a double room about 20 minutes bus ride from the city centre using Airbnb. Our room cost €39.30 per night inclusive of Airbnb fees and cleaning fees. Something to note here; the room was advertised at €31 per night, but it wasn’t until we went to book that the additional fees appeared. By that time we had made our choice, but it’s still a bit sneaky.
Hostels in Florence start from around €18 to €20 per night for a dorm bed in a well reviewed hostel. For the best places you might pay somewhere between €25 to €30 per person per night. Check out Hostel Gallo D’Oro and Academy Hostel for two of the best rated hostels in the city.
Double rooms in a central bnb start from around €30 per night and average around €60 per night. A whole apartment will cost from €40 per night, with an average of €90 per night for somewhere really nice.
Florence has around 35,000 hotel beds, some of which can be booked for as little as €45 per night for a double room. On average you should expect to pay around €65 to €85 per night for somewhere good, and between €150 and €200 per night for somewhere a bit fancy.
We stayed slightly out of the city centre in Novoli, about a 20 minute bus ride to the city centre, which we found to be fine. If we returned we would probably try to stay somewhere near the Piazza Santo Spirito, as that’s where we found ourselves time and again.
The amount of people (mostly Americans?) surrounding every monument and statue, lining up for hours in front of museums and galleries and crowding into churches, really put us off many of the main ‘attractions’ in the city. At this point we had been travelling for six weeks or so, frequenting a lot of major tourist attractions and hot-spots through various cities on a daily basis, and just needed a break. It happens. So rather than waste time recommending places we skipped, here’s a link-list of the main tourist sights in Florence:
We did actually get up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for an epic view over the city, it’s worth the walk and is free. Take a few drinks up and admire the view at sunset.
Our favourite place in Florence was Archea Brewery, purveyors of the finest amber nectar. Make sure you check their Facebook page for opening hours before you visit. Mostodolche is also worth a visit as they also brew their own beer, although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Archea.
If you’re looking for a good meal a local favourite in Florence is Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, a big juicy T-bone steak served by weight. We splashed out on a nice meal at Trattoria dell’Orto, where our meal for two and wine came to €47.90, including the ridiculous €2 per person ‘cover charge’.
Another good spot for food is Thai street food restaurant Ic Che Thai. It’s not super cheap but it’s real, tasty and fresh, and it’s a blessing after weeks of bread and cheese (not complaining there…). We spent €30 on a good meal for two including wine.
Go to My Sugar for out of this world gelato. It’s honestly just the best thing.
A cool area to visit is Piazza Santos Spirito, which is lined with good bars and restaurants. We grabbed a bottle of wine and sat on the church steps people watching for a couple of hours until a band started up in front of said church. Around 10:30pm the piazza comes to life with line dancing groups, swing classes, live art and chaos.
Hint – Find the earliest walking tour in the city and do that on your first day, you will get a good overview of the main sights while it’s still relatively quiet.
Florence for three nights;
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