Florence on the cheap

Spend a day?and less than 10 euro

Emily Matras
January 27, 2011

Florence has long been the capital of remarkable renaissance art, but you don't have to break the bank to see it all. Forget queuing for hours at the Uffizi, which heartlessly does not offer a student discount. Here's one way to spend an art- and history-packed day in Florence on a threadbare shoestring. 


Start your day at the Chiostro dello Scalzo on via Cavour. The cloister serves as an entrance to the chapel of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist, and its walls boast a remarkable fresco cycle by leading Florentine high renaissance master Andrea del Sarto. The frescos depict the life of St. John the Baptist; note del Sarto's expert use of grisaille.


Head over to the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio near the Santa Croce area. Home to cheap clothing, fresh produce and lots of locals, this market is much less touristy than the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. Duck inside the covered part of the market and ogle all the butcher stands stocked full of exotic-looking fish and wild game. Look for the boar's head hanging above a stall in the center of the market. Try lunch at Trattoria da Rocco, where certain primi piatti are steals at 3 euro and secondi start at 3.50 euro. On your way out of the market, grab a juicy apple, which you can get for as little as 30 cents, and save it for a healthy snack later.


Take a leisurely walk down the Arno until you reach piazza Ognissanti, just past Ponte alla Carraia. Overlooking the piazza is the Church of Ognissanti, founded in 1256 and boasting the first baroque façade of Florence. Take a stroll through the ornate, gilded interior, home to a few treasures. You're sure to have an unobstructed (and free) view of the notable frescos, which include Domenico Ghirlandaio's St. Jerome in His Study and, across the nave, Botticelli's complementary St. Augustine in His Study. Visit Botticelli's tomb in the second chapel of the right transept. You'll also find the family tomb of Amerigo Vespucci, explorer of the New World and the person for whom America was named. An important and recently restored crucifix by Giotto is here as well (see TF 131 for more). Depending on the day of your visit, you can see the dramatic Last Supper by Ghirlandaio in the refectory of the convent of Ognissanti. See how many symbolic references to the Passion of the Christ you can spot: there are many!


Just a short walk from the church is the world famous Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, on via della Scala. Founded by Benedictine monks in 1221, this was where the monks made medicines from the plants they cultivated in the cloister's gardens. The monks went public with their enticing elixirs in 1612, and many of the products sold today are still made according to their centuries-old recipes. The complex entices the nose, of course, but also the eyes. Wander through the rooms and be sure to look up at the ceilings, many of which are covered in gilt or frescoes. Old tools and containers are on display throughout the building, and a room in the back plays host to an interesting array of books on perfume-making and related topics; feel free to browse. Even if you don't buy anything, your nose will leave a little happier.  


Meander past the Duomo, taking via dei Servi to piazza Santissima Annunziata. On the right side of the piazza lies Brunelleschi's famous Spedale degli Innocenti, whose architecture, heavy on the arch, is echoed in the other buildings surrounding the piazza. The arcaded building in front of you is the Church of Santissima Annunziata, founded in 1250 by members of the Servite order. The church soon graced the pilgrimage circuit for a painting of the annunciation, begun in the church by a monk in 1252, and said to be finished by an angel while the monk was asleep. The baroque interior is home to many notable artworks, including a crucifix by Giambologna and a painting of the resurrection by mannerist Bronzino. The cloister of the Voti, first entered through the portico, is filled with famous frescos. Andrea del Sarto painted quite a few, including scenes from the life of St. Philip Benizzi.


Pick up a cheap dinner at one of the mini-markets of the chain Supermercato Il Centro; there's one nearby on via de Ricasoli. The express panini are great deals at 2.50 euro, and you can choose from all the toppings displayed. The real steal, though, is the water; depending on the brand, you can get a big bottle for just 18 cents. Enjoy your sandwich on a bench in piazza San Marco while watching the tourists stagger out of the Accademia, unaware of how much art is on display in this city-free.


Florence offers much more for the visitor on a budget. For example, did you know that Florence is one of the only places in Italy where you can hear Gregorian chants? Take the picturesque hike up to piazzale Michelangelo, where visitors can hear the late-afternoon vespers of the monks of the eleventh-century Church of San Miniato.


Did you know that entry to Florence's iconic Duomo is free, too? If time is tight, it might be best to plan your visit for an early morning. Another religious landmark located in the Oltrarno gives free entrance, the Church of Santo Spirito (if you find it open; see list). Once inside, along with admiring the church's three naves decorated with frescoes by Orcagna, Giuliano da San Gallo and Sansovino, take in the stunning design begun by Brunelleschi and later completed by Gaiole and Salvi d'Andrea. The crowning glory of the church is its world-renowned, breathtaking though somber wooden crucifix attributed to Michelangelo.


Seeking other low-cost alternatives? If it's a Thursday, take advantage of the free entrance to the Strozzina, Palazzo Strozzi's center for contemporary art, from 6:00pm to 11:00pm; otherwise the entrance is 5 euro. Be sure to check the website beforehand for forthcoming exhibitions.


A final bit of good news: Florence recently announced that all state museums will offer you, the art traveler, free entry on your birthday! See Italy News on page 6 for details.


What do you do and see in Florence for 10 euro or less? We are scouting out budget friendly Florence and we want you to help us. Show us your cheap Florence! Email inbox@theflroentine.net with feedback on what you think is cheap but cool in the city. Your ideas and suggestions will appear in upcoming articles. 


Emily Matras spent a semester abroad at Syracuse University in Florence last fall. Back in the United States, she studies English at Davidson College in North Carolina. She blogs about her European adventures at Aurevoiramerica.blogspot.com.


Chiostro dello Scalzovia Cavour, 69Monday, Thursday, Saturday; 8:15am to 1:50pm. Free entranceMercato di Sant'AmbrogioPiazza GhibertiMonday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 7am to 2pm; Wednesday and Saturday, 7am to 7pm. Free entrance

Chiesa di OgnissantiBorgognisanti, 42Daily, 8am to noon; 4pm to 6:30pmRefectory (Ghirlandaio's Last Supper): Monday, Tuesday and Saturday, 9am to noon. Free entranceOfficina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Via della Scala, 16Monday through Saturday, 9:30am to 7:30pm. Free entrance

Chiesa della Santissima

AnnunziataPiazza SS. AnnunziataDaily, 7:30am to 6:30pmFree entranceSupermercato Il CentroVia Ricasoli, 109(and various other locations)Hours vary by locationCentro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina, Palazzo StrozziPiazza Strozziwww.palazzostrozzi.orgTuesday through Sunday, 10am to 8pm; admission 5 euroThursdays 6pm to 11pmFree entrance

San Miniato al MonteVia Monte alle Croci

Tel. 055 2342731 - Open daily in summer, 8am to 12.30pm and 2:30pm to 7:30pml; in winter, 8am to 7:30pmFree entranceDuomo di Santa Maria

del FiorePiazza DuomoFor opening hours in English, see

www.operaduomo.firenze.itFree entranceSanto SpiritoPiazza Santo Spirito - Tel. 055 210030Open daily, 8:30am to noon and 4pm to 6:30pm; holidays and Sundays, 4pm to 6:30pm; closed Wednesday afternoons. Free entrance



more articles