Florence, Italy is a city travelers either love or hate. There doesnâ€™t seem to be a middle ground for opinions in the Renaissance city. The first time I visited Florence, I didnâ€™t love it. The second time, I spent some more time with the city, getting to know the Renaissance open-air museum of a city without the crowds of July and its heat.
One of the more popular cities to visit in Italy, travelers often check off the standard Uffizi visit and trip to see Michelangeloâ€™s David and head out of town. If you arrive to Florence with but a backpack on your shoulders and little cash in hand, the city can seem overwhelming and expensive. Put the backpack down. Count up your change. Itâ€™s possible to have a budget friendly, solo traveler good time in Florence.
Florence Train Station People Watching
From the exterior, the Florence Train Station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, is the eyesore of the city. Resembling a giant brown box, step inside and you will find a city of activity. The lack of benches invites backpackers to take to the floor with pigeons looking for a leftover panino. People of all sorts get on and off screeching old trains, weaving frantically through the crowd they almost need turn-signals on their backs to make it out alive.
Not your ordinary activity in Florence, but if you get to the station early or stumble across it while exploring the historic center, you wonâ€™t be disappointed. Travel in chaotic Italian fashion transpires as you sit on your suitcase watching it all unfold in shades of sepia.
Finding Free Greenery in Giardino di Bobolino
On the opposite side of the River Arno that holds the Duomo, head towards Porta Romana. Pass under the old gateway to Florence and continue up tree-lined Viale Niccolo Machiavelli. The street inclines up a hill, weaving in and out of stately looking villas and embassies until it reaches Giardino del Bobolino. While the Boboli Gardens rest right in the center of Florence and provide that greenery many crave in a city covered in cobblestone, they do cost an entrance ticket. However, Giardino del Bobolino provides that craving for greenery absolutely free.
Quiet benches, fountains and footpaths make up this area of Florence where tree branches hang in a lazy fashion. If you continue to follow the road, you will eventually meet Piazzale Galileo that turns into Viale Galileo. From here, you can take in a view of Florence unlike any other. Completely alone at most times of the day, you can view both city and country in one click of the camera. The route eventually meets popular Piazzale Michelangelo where you can come back down from Florenceâ€™s secret garden.
Eat Your Weight in Gelato
Gelato is Florenceâ€™s specialty. While some may argue the famous Italian dessert was not invented in the Renaissance city, Florence wonâ€™t tell you otherwise. A man by the name of Buontalenti introduced the iconic Italian treat to the Medici family. Since then, gelaterias can be found almost every 10 feet in Florence and the rest of Italy.
Gelato makes for one of Florenceâ€™s most inexpensive meals, usually costing around 2 euros. If you have a sweet tooth, grab a gelato at some of the most famous gelaterias in the city including Vivoli or my personal favorite Gelateria Carraia. All of that loose change at the bottom of your backpack can add up to some satisfying snacks.
Bridge Hop At Night
While bar hopping in Florence will set your budget back a great deal, hopping from bridge to bridge throughout the city wonâ€™t. At night, there is a compelling glow about Florence. The streets desert as the crowds head in for the night to rest up for tomorrowâ€™s sightseeing. From the cityâ€™s bridges, you can let your imagination run back to Renaissance days.
Cutting through the city is the River Arno. In order to connect one side of the city with the other, bridges were constructed, with the most famous today the Ponte Vecchio. It was the only bridge in Florence spared during World War II. During the day, the bridge is a mess with tourists popping in the gold shops across it. At night, you can have it all to yourself. Hop over to Ponte Santa Trinita or Ponte alla Carraia for even better vantage points.
Florence can be done on a budget and alone. Whether it is befriending a confused backpacker in the train station after a session of people watching or taking a stroll that leads to a magnificent view, you donâ€™t have to hate Florence. Go ahead and love it.
Written by Suzy Guese