Florence is known for their museums. Look up Florence Attractions on Trip Advisor and you’ll find a long list including the Uffizi, the Academia Gallery, and more. So if you love art, buy a pass and start working your way down the list.
But if you’re just a casual admirer of art, like Tom and I, try enjoying Florence a different way. Below are 6 ways to see Florence without ever paying an entrance fee or walking through a turnstyle in a museum.
And since we are self-proclaimed foodies, I’ll start with our gastronomical encounters:
1) Eat This Sandwich At All'Antico Vinaio
We had the best sandwich of our entire life in Florence. That’s a huge claim to make, but its true and I’m putting it out there.
All’Antico Vinaio isn’t really a hidden gem. It’s number 1 or 2 on trip advisor and lots of people know about it, which is why there is often a long line. But we trusted the reviews, waited in line, and it was so worth the wait.
The servers' brusque manner reminded us of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. So rather risk being excommunicated from this sandwich sanctuary, we just asked the server to surprise us and make us what he wanted. We saw his face soften before our eyes and I think he was pleased with our flexibility, uncommon in most tourists.
So for our first sandwich (I say first, because we returned 3 times in 4 days) was served to us on warm, fresh focaccia bread with an artichoke spread, eggplants, pecorino cheese, and the most tender, flavorful salami you can imagine.
We ventured to try two other sandwiches before returning to this first and favorite option for our final meal in Florence.
The place is nothing fancy. We sat on the curb outside along with everyone else. No one spoke a word, except for the occasional sound of pure satisfaction in the form of mmm mmm good and oh my God, I would give my first born for another bite. But put your mind at ease, this sandwich won’t cost you your first born, just $7 USD.
But, if you come to Florence and prefer to sit at an actual table, the small market/restaurant across the street is owned by the sandwich shop and uses all the same spreads, meats, and breads.
Oh, and by the way, the sandwich was big enough to split for Tom and I (and Tom never splits).
2) Munch On Meat, Make Friends at La Prosciutteria
After we finished our first sandwich, we meandered down the street reading menus and looking for a cheap glass of wine to wash down all that salami. We found a charcuterie place called, La Prosciutteria, with glasses of wine for about $2 USD per glass.
So, we went in for wine, but we stayed for charcuterie. We weren’t even hungry, but as we stood sipping our glasses of wine, the servers passed wooden trays under our noses full of a diverse selection of cured meats, high-quality cheeses, and a complimentary array of olives, honeys, and preserves.
We couldn’t resist, so we ordered a small(ish) tray and then promised to return. The next night we came back and ordered the biggest tray we could (asking the server to make a selection for us (noticing a theme here?). We tasted wild boar, horse, the Tuscan delicacy, lardo, and other unique meats and cheeses, all of which were hand selected by our favorite server, Sandra.
To add to the enjoyment of the evening we scored the best seat in the house. There is one small table outside next to the street and the menu. As people came up to check out the menu, we engaged in conversation and made recommendations.
We parked ourselves at this table all evening enjoying wine, good food, and company as diverse as the selection of cured meats. We even made a new friend, Jaime from Chile, visiting Florence for a work conference. We became the three amigos and finished our night with a walk to and a drink at the locals’ favorite lively piazza, Piazza di Santo Spirito.
3) View The City From Piazzale Michelangelo
Before visiting Florence, we asked around for recommendations on what to do. We heard time and again that we had to go to the top of either the Bell Tower or the dome of the Duomo to view the city from up high.
But always looking to 1) avoid crowds of tourists in confined spaces and 2) avoid paying entrance fees, we sought out another vantage point.
Piazzale Michelangelo made us work for our view. We walked up a huge hill and many steps, but when we finally arrived we immediately understood why so many people recommended this view.
The sea of red-tile roofs is dotted with some impressive towers and the huge dome of the Duomo. Having walked past the Duomo every day on the way to and from the place we stayed, I can confidently claim that the Duomo actually looks bigger from afar.
We first saw the sight during the day, but returned two nights later (with a sandwich from All’ Antico, of course) for sunset and nighttime views.
It was a bit crowded when we first arrived at sunset, but by the time the sun was fully down, and the rain began to sprinkle a little, the crowds thinned and we had an unobstructed view of the city as the backdrop to our little picnic.
4) Attend Mass at the Duomo
The Duomo is huge and the marble, Renaissance façade is impressive from the outside. Walk around it, take pictures.
You can pay to walk inside, but why do that when you can get in for free during Sunday mass. We attended the 10:30am mass in Latin and heard the monks doing Gregorian chants. Times and languages for the services are posted on the Duomo website.
Tom and I are not Catholic, but were still welcomed. If you dress appropriately and be respectful, the mass is open to you.
5) Take A Walk And Learn
As Tom mentioned in a previous post, we discovered that most major cities offer a free walking tour. We did the Medici walking tour offered by Florencefreetour.com. It was so fascinating and we learned a lot about the Medici family and their impact on Florentine culture and the Renaissance movement.
We saw all kinds of architectural details that we had ignorantly ignored as we explored the city on our own the day before. And we even got to see some great art. Much of Florence’s famous art by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and more can be found outside.
Check out the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria, which houses many great sculptures. It is open-air and free to the public.
Most of these walking tours are offered daily. We learned that the guide can really make or break it. So if you don’t like the guide, duck out early (you didn’t pay anyway) and show up for the next one with a different guide.
6) Get Jolly With Some Café
As you probably have figured out by now, we aren’t staying in hotels very often on this trip. We are staying in people’s apartments booked through Airbnb.com. One benefit, besides the obvious price advantage, is that we are often based in a non-touristy area surrounded by a neighborhood full of locals. Florence was no exception.
One of our favorite things to do in Florence was to go to the local café near our apartment, The Jolly Café, in the morning or afternoon to use the wifi and enjoy an espresso. The café itself was nothing to write home about, it was typical in every sense, and that is exactly why we liked it.
Nothing about it was catering to tourists. The two gals that ran the place spoke absolutely zero English. We enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of the typical Florentine life as we worked, read and sipped our espresso. We saw neighbors congregate in the morning before work and then again in the late afternoon for a late-day pick-me-up and social round.
Sometimes the best way to see a city is by just sitting and observing and letting the city come to you.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!