I fell in love with Florence over the years without ever having set foot in the city. Through books, movies, video games, and more, Florence captivated my imagination. It felt like I knew the city before I ever went, yet nothing prepared me for seeing the city for the first time. I cried actual tears when I finally laid eyes on the Duomo. Like seriously, no shame. I rolled out of bed at 7 AM, still accustomed to waking up early for our hiking days up in the Dolomites. In my pajamas, I started making my way over to the Duomo. I turned the corner and there it was. The sun was just starting to peek out from behind the colossal building standing in front of me. It was angelic.
Let me tell ya, it was a sight worthy of tears. The feeling was pure magic, like I had met an old friend for the first time in decades. It was about another hour and a half before the plaza started becoming populated with other tourists. I had done three or four laps around the cathedral by then, and finally decided to settle for an overpriced espresso steps away from the Duomo. The people-watching made it worth it. There I was looking like I’d just rolled out of bed (because I had) while other people were doing photoshoots in flowy dresses and the like. And I’m supposed to be the travel influencer, hey?
That surreal morning set the tone for what turned out to be a whirlwind love affair with Florence.
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How To Get to Florence
God, travel in Italy is so easy. Trains, planes, automobiles, whatever your preferred mode of transport, you can get to Florence hassle-free. I’d recommend taking the train. With Florence being a hugely popular travel destination, you’ll have no problem finding your way there.
Florence has an international airport and you’ll find some good flight deals depending on where you’re coming from. This makes Florence great for short trips from other major European destinations. A quick look on Google Flights shows me that Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and a few other cities have direct flights to Florence for less than $50 one-way. If you’re already in Italy, though, I’d recommend getting to Florence by land. It’ll be cheaper, and a lot more sustainable way to travel!
Flixbus is your best friend when traveling city to city in Italy. You’ll also be able to find local buses from the bus stations, but oftentimes, these will make many stops. I had to settle for a local bus when we missed the last train back from Lucca, and it turned the hour-long journey into a nearly three-hour adventure. Flixbus is usually pretty reliable, and will take you from point A to point B with minimal stops. As a backpacker on a budget, Flixbus is your best friend in Europe.
Trains are the way to go in Italy. With Florence being a major destination, you won’t have to wait too long to catch a train there, no matter where you’re coming from. There are a bunch of high-speed trains going to and from Florence, but these ones will be a lot more expensive. If you don’t mind making a short layover and switching trains here and there, it should be more affordable. Trenitalia is the company you’ll want for the cheapest tickets possible. Italo is what you’ll want for the high-speed trains. I only took one of the high-speed trains and that was from Florence to Milan. It cost me nearly $70 for the 2-hour ride and I don’t really think it was worth it.
As a budget traveler headed to Florence, I’d recommend going by bus. Trains are great, too, if you can find a cheaper one. The cheaper trains might not be direct, so if you don’t mind doing a little city-hopping en route to Florence, it’s a good option.
Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy whenever you’re out adventuring. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $45 a month.
Where To Stay in Florence
Florence is a very walkable city. I’m not going to lie, I expected it to be a little bigger, but I was thankful it wasn’t. I was stressing myself out in Venice trying to see every little alleyway and hidden gem. Venice was a lot bigger than I expected, and Florence was pleasantly the opposite.
For travelers, the ideal area to stay is halfway between Santa Maria del Fiore and Santa Maria Novella train station. You’ll find yourself close to the heart of Florence. From here, the best things to do in Florence are walking distance. If you find a place close to both the train station and the city center, then you’re in good shape. It puts you within minutes of Florence’s best attractions, but also close to the train and bus station for any day trips. There are plenty to choose from, like Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and San Gimignano to name a few.
This is where I stayed for the majority of my time in Florence. If you like a good, cozy atmosphere, this is for you. I stayed here for four nights before the hostel filled up and I was forced to find somewhere new. The people here were amazing. One of the workers was Albanian, and if you know my love for Albania, you know that we got along swimmingly. The guests were also a perfect storm, including a fellow Filipino and all the Latinos that I have been missing in Europe. Seriously, what are the odds that my 4-bed dorm would be a Mexican, a Chilean, a Venezuelan, and myself?
My Friends hostel is great if you aren’t looking for anything too fancy. It’s very budget-friendly, and one of the best values you can get in Florence. Breakfast is included, which is a huge plus. It’s not just a basic jam and bread breakfast either. It’s self-serve, so you can cook yourself eggs, have some toast or croissants, and then wash it down with juice and coffee. For the price, My Friends is a great deal. I also liked the travelers I met there more than I did other hostels. It has much more of a backpacker vibe than other hostels I’ve stayed at in Italy.
Ostello Bello is a chain of hostels that you’ll find throughout Italy. If you’re a newbie traveler, this is a great introduction to hostels and backpacking. While it is a bit pricier, it comes with a lot of extra luxuries. It’s a really nice hostel, and one of the only ones in Florence with a party vibe. While I loved staying at My Friends Hostel, the Venezuelan girl and I were the only ones down for a good time. At Ostello Bello, it seemed like everyone was pretty down to have fun. Everyone gets a welcome drink, and I gladly took advantage to have an Aperol Spritz.
The rooms are nice and spacious. As far as a hostel goes, they do everything right. It’s got the social vibe that you’ll want if you’re solo traveling.
The Best Things To Do in Florence
The entire city of Florence feels like a museum. There is so much history on every corner of the city. Literally every stone has a story, and one could spend years wandering around without ever uncovering every story. I approached Florence the same way I do every city, just walk. Of course, I knew that there were some must-sees, but for the most part, an aimless wander through the city will give you a better feel for Florence as opposed to ticking boxes on a checklist.
But if a checklist is your style, then a checklist I have for you.
Il Duomo – The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Cupola, and Campanile
While the Cathedral itself is free to enter, you’ll have to shell out a little extra to see everything else. The campanile, the copula, and the baptistery will all cost you extra. And I’m not talking just a few euros here and there. The cupola costs 20 euros to enter, the campanile costs 15 euros, and I’m not sure about the baptistery. The cupola was almost always sold out, so the campanile was the only one I paid extra for. If you want a beautiful view of the Duomo and Florence, I’d say it’s worth it. Just prepare for the 400 steps.
This is another of Florence’s most iconic landmarks. You can’t miss it. It’s the big tall tower that is annoyingly off-center. Come to the plaza to admire the multitude of stunning sculptures. That includes a giant replica of David that you can look at if you don’t want to pay to see the real thing. You can also wait in line and pay to enter Palazzo Vecchio, but I didn’t, so I don’t exactly know what’s inside. Sure, I can google it, or I can leave it to my imagination.
Accademia – Statue of David
I mean, how could you go to Florence without seeing the Statue of David, right? The original David is held in the Accademia. It costs 12 euros to enter, and depending on which day you go, you might have to make a reservation. Weekends, typically, you’ll need to reserve in advance. However, you can do it same day in person, but your time slot might not be until a couple of hours later.
Wow. I don’t have anything negative to say about Uffizi. I was a bit hesitant at first to shell out 20 euros for an art gallery, but this is among the best of the best. Make sure you give yourself at least three hours to explore Uffizi. I rushed through it because I procrastinated doing everything until my last day in Florence. Even then, I spent at least two hours. Uffizi has it all.
Plaza Michelangelo for Sunset
This has gotta be one of the best sunset spots in Europe. Make sure to bring a sunset beer or two and get here early. It gets crowded.
Here’s one of those places that I didn’t really understand the hype for. The name means old bridge, and originally dating back to 966, it is indeed an old bridge. It isn’t particularly breathtaking or awe-inspiring, but it’s close to town so might as well check it out. Like Rialto in Venice, the bridge is lined with shops, although it isn’t as cool as Rialto. It’s one of the only parts of Florence that didn’t make me feel starstruck when I saw it. The other places, I was like “omg, I know you!”.
Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens
If you haven’t had your fill of museums and art, then Pitti Palace is another must-visit while in Florence. That and the nearby Boboli Gardens are a great way to fill your day. Some of the museums housed in Pitti Palace are the Gallery of Modern Art, Costume Gallery, and the Carriage, Silver, and Porcelain Museums.
Day Trip to Pisa
Famed for its Leaning Tower, Pisa is so much more. Well, maybe not so much more, but it definitely impressed me. The city is beautiful and much bigger than I expected. As a traveler, there might not be enough to keep you occupied for more than a day, but it is definitely worth the day trip. Even it is just to get your cheesy picture with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Say, why does it lean anyway?
Day Trip to Lucca
While you can couple Pisa and Lucca together on a single day trip, I think Lucca deserves a little more of your time. This quaint city isn’t as touristy as Pisa, and is one of my favorite smaller towns in Italy. The fortified city of Lucca is about an hour away from Florence, but if you’re taking public transport, you’ll need to pass through Pisa anyway.
For more on this beautiful Tuscan town, check out this quick travel guide to Lucca.
Day Trip to Siena and San Gimignano
Siena is another big city about an hour away from Florence. If you’re looking for a change of scenery, then a day trip to Siena is a great choice. If you can couple it up with the smaller village of San Gimignano, definitely do so. You can catch a train to Siena and then catch a bus to San Gimignano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Don’t limit yourself to just these suggestions. As a backpacker on a budget, I did find myself skipping a few of Florence’s attractions to save some money. I would have loved to go up to the cupola, or visit every art gallery I could. I missed out on a lot of restaurants recommended to me because they were a bit too pricy. Despite Italy being one of the more expensive countries I’ve visited, I still had an absolute blast while sticking to a budget.
Florence was no different. Like I said, it has been a city that I’d dreamed of visiting since I was a little kid. It did not disappoint.
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