28 Jul Visiting Florence for £50
Travel in Italy doesn’t come cheap, especially if you’re visiting during peak season in one of the country’s most popular tourist hotspots: Florence. The former Italian capital is filled with architectural and artistic treasures, from the Cathedral of Santa del Fiore to Michelangelo’s famous David statue and everywhere you turn there are intriguing tours on offer, tasty gelato stalls and restaurants selling fresh pasta. It’s definitely all too easy to burn through your hard-earned travel cash in Florence, so how did Andrew and I fare when we were challenged to have a great day out for just £50?
The WeSwap £50 Challenge
Living frugally is a big part of our travel style and we always track our travel costs wherever we go. Since leaving the UK in 2013 we’ve learned how to stretch our savings while still making the most of our travel experiences. Of course, this was a lot easier when we were travelling and living in Asia where the cost of everything is so low; now we’re back in pricey Europe we’ve learned that we definitely need to keep a tighter eye on our finances. So, when WeSwap asked us to test out their pre-paid travel card on a budget day out in Florence, we were keen to take on the challenge.
Visiting Florence on a Budget
We normally withdraw cash abroad using our Norwich and Peterborough current account which has zero fees, making it a good option for full-time travellers from the UK. However, if you’re taking a shorter trip, a pre-paid travel card is a secure alternative which allows you to preload money onto the card before you travel then spend it abroad. WeSwap kindly loaded £50 onto our pre-paid card which we swapped into €58.98 online to spend in Florence. There was a fee of 1.4% to swap the money immediately, which meant that the exchange rate was 1.18 Euros per Pound (rates are lower if you swap your money further in advance). Here’s what we managed to do with that money.
Combo Tickets to Il Grande Museo Del Duomo
Some of Florence’s most famous and impressive sights are situated on the Piazza del Duomo, one of the grandest squares in the city. This is also one of the busiest hotspots in Florence and since we were visiting during late July it was constantly choked with crowds and long queues of people waiting to get a look inside the grand white, red and green patterned buildings. We purchased a combination sightseeing ticket which gave us access to all the sights situated on the Piazza, including:
Even though we arrived at the Dome before its doors opened at 8.30am, we still ended up standing in line for an hour before we finally made it inside to begin the steep, long climb up windy stone staircases to the top. We were able to pass through the inside the Dome along a balcony just a few feet from the ceiling, so we could examine the elaborate ceiling paintings of hellish creatures with tails and snake heads toiling away beneath peaceful heavenly scenes. Climbing one final ladder we emerged at the very top of the Dome, from there the views stretched out over the red rooftops of Florence.
The Cathedral of Santa del Fiore and The Crypt of Santa Reparata
The Cathedral cuts an impressive figure in the Florence skyline given that it’s supposedly the third largest Church in the world. Although the white stone façade is covered in green and red marble patterns and ornate windows, the inside is remarkably plain and simple, but it’s still a sight worth seeing. It’s free to get into the Cathedral but we used our ticket to get access to the Crypt of Santa Reparata below where we saw some of the remains of this old basilica, thought to be one of the earliest Christian complexes in Italy.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
This tall, skinny, gothic bell tower was my favourite building on the Piazza del Duomo, even though we had to squeeze up 414 steps on a spiral staircase, passing people descending along the way, to get to the top. There were several platforms to stop at along the way and gaze out at the view from all angles; at one point the bell above us started tolling, its vibrations reverberating through the building. From the very top we were able to look across to the top of the Dome and the rest of Florence.
The Baptistry of San Giovanni
The Baptistry is a smaller, octagonal Church with a domed roof; I found it the most peaceful building to visit as there were less people inside and we could sit down with our heads tipped back to marvel at the golden-edged mosaics which adorn the entire roof, depicting religious scenes.
The Opera Museum
This museum is full of statues and sculptures from the medieval and renaissance periods, most of which were originally made to decorate the buildings on the Piazza del Duomo. Many of the pieces inside the museum were made by famous artists like Donatello and Michelangelo; you can also learn about the history of the buildings on the Piazza by exploring the 25 rooms in the museum.
Price: €30 (€15 per person) for a combo ticket which is valid for 48 hours.
Lunch at the Mercato Centrale
We love visiting food markets when we travel to get a taste of local dishes and soak in the atmosphere; some of our favourites include La Boqueria in Barcelona, London’s Borough Market and the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We often find that food markets are a great place to pick up a cheap lunch and we have fun browsing the stalls, taking photos and watching locals and tourists shop. So, we were keen to check out the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) in the San Lorenzo area of Florence.
Outside the market there’s a maze of stalls selling leather handmade goods and tourist souvenirs; the produce, meat and cheese stalls are all inside on the ground floor. We wandered around, tasting pieces of biscotti and Sicilian sun-dried tomatoes, perusing the cheese and olive selections and photographing the colourful displays of fruit and veg. On the first floor food hall, where you can buy a range of freshly-cooked Italian dishes, we bought plates of delicious ravioli and gnocchi for lunch.
Price: €19 for two pasta dishes.
Exploring on Foot
Our favourite thing to do in any city we visit is just wander around and stumble across its treasures. Florence is jam-packed with grand piazzas, towers and churches, ornate statues and windy side-streets, cobbled paths and bridges. The city itself is small enough to discover by foot and branching out from the Piazza del Duomo we wandered our way over to the political hub of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria. This square is full of replicas of famous statues like Michelangelo’s David and an open-air sculpture gallery, the Loggia dei Lanzi. The square is dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), which has a spiky tower stretching into the sky.
Our wanderings took us onwards through other squares to the Ponta Veccio, a famous bridge lined with shops and buskers; it’s actually the only bridge stretching in Florence to survive the bombings in WW11. This took us over to the Oltrarno, the other side of the bridge, which is supposedly the more authentically Florentine area of the city where artists, writers and musicians settled. You can also find the peaceful Boboli Gardens here; we enjoyed the quieter feel of the streets and as darkness fell we were able to get some views of the river speckled with city lights.
Being in Italy, we felt it would be wrong not to end the day with a gelato; we both chose a scoop of cheesecake flavour which I combined with sharp passion fruit and Andrew with creamy panna cotta. British ice cream just doesn’t come close to Italian Gelato!
Price: €4 for two cups of gelato.
Transport around Florence
We opted to stay in a cheaper area just outside of the centre of Florence to keep our costs down. From there, we had to buy 90-minute bus tickets to get into and back out of the city.
Price: €4.80 for four 90-minute bus tickets.
So there you have it, even though Florence is undoubtedly a more expensive destination, we managed to have a great day out there for just €58 (unfortunately, this didn’t cover our pizza dinner and breakfast was included with our accommodation, but we were close)! Thanks to WeSwap for sponsoring our day out in Florence, as always, we’ve shared our honest opinions in this post.
Have you got any money-saving tips for visiting Florence?