Florence is, by all accounts, an art lover’s paradise. A number of the top things to do in Florence involve art, and they’re attractions for which visitors will line up even if they’re not art aficionados – these are famous masterpieces we’re talking about here. And while I will happily pay for the privilege of seeing those gobsmackingly gorgeous paintings or sculptures in Florence’s many museums, I also like to know there are some things to do in Florence that won’t continue to eat away at my travel budget.
In other words, I love resting my wallet in between museum visits with some of the free things to do in Florence.
You may notice that the list of free attractions in Florence isn’t as long as the one for Rome, for instance, or even the one for Milan. I hope there’s enough here, however, to help budget-conscious travelers make the most of a visit to Florence without needing to spend a fortune.
Here’s a list of things that are always free – there’s never an admission charge to get in – plus a few that offer free hours on certain days of the week or to certain visitors at all times. Enjoy an extra helping of gelato with the money you’ll save.
Free Things to Do in Florence: Always
San Miniato al Monte || creative commons photo by gaspa
- Duomo – One of the most recognizable and popular attractions in Florence, the multi-colored cathedral, is free to enter. There’s a fee to climb into the dome, but not to visit the church’s interior.
- Loggia dei Lanzi – This raised terrace on one side of the Piazza della Signoria is decorated with several sculptures (they’re mainly replicas of originals that are safely on display inside Florence’s museums). Talk about high-end public art.
- Piazza della Signoria – This is one of my favorite people-watching spots in Florence, provided it’s not too crowded. The Palazzo Vecchio stands proudly at one side (with a replica of the “David” in its original location), the open-air sculpture gallery of the Loggia dei Lanzi is on another side, and almost hidden in the pavement is a large, round paving piece that indicates the spot where fanatical monk Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498. Perhaps fittingly, the marker is a dark red color.
- Piazza del Duomo – The square in front of the Duomo is almost always busy as visitors try (in vain, usually) to find the perfect spot from which to get a photo of the cathedral’s facade. It’s an unexpectedly cramped space, which is what confounds most photographers. The other thing that draws a crowd is a set of doors on the Baptistery that were dubbed the “Gates of Paradise” by a young Michelangelo when they were first unveiled. The doors on the building today are replicas (the originals are beautifully displayed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo), but they’re gorgeous replicas.
- Fontana del Porcellino – This bronze boar statue at the Mercato Nuovo has an unusually well-polished snout, because rubbing it is said to bring good luck.
- Mercato Centrale – This huge and fantastic indoor public market is a feast for the senses. It’s busy with local shoppers stocking their pantries at the various food stalls, and with happy diners enjoying delicious freshly-made dishes from the vendors upstairs. (If I were you, I’d plan to arrive hungry and willing to spend a few euro for a fabulous lunch.)
- Santa Maria Novella Farmacia – Not far from the church of the same name, Santa Maria Novella is the oldest continually-operating pharmacy in the world. There’s a museum in which you can check out antique tools of the trade, and a shop where you can browse the perfumes and soaps (some of which are still made with the original recipes).
- Piazzale Michelangelo – If you’ve ever wondered where all those gorgeous photos overlooking the entire city of Florence are taken, the answer is almost surely the Piazzale Michelangelo. The square itself is nothing to write home about (it’s a parking lot with a David replica in the center), but the views are worth the uphill walk.
- San Miniato al Monte – Once you get to Piazzale Michelangelo, keep walking up the hill to the San Miniato al Monte church. It’s an overlooked gem with 13th-century mosaics. Visit the church’s cemetery to pay your respects to Carlo Lorenzini, the creator of “Pinocchio.”
- Le Cascine Park – Need a break from the crush of people in the city? Visit Florence’s biggest park on a nice day to chill out with the Florentines. Stop at Mercato Centrale first to pick up provisions, and you can enjoy a picnic while you’re there. (Note that on Tuesdays there’s a huge outdoor food market at Le Cascine, which might be great for picking up picnic goodies but isn’t ideal if you’re in search of a little peace and quiet.)
- Ponte Vecchio – The Ponte Vecchio is the most popular bridge in Florence, lined with historic gold and jewelry shops. It was the only bridge in the city not destroyed by the Nazis.
- Piazza della Repubblica – This square occupies part of what was once the ancient Roman forum in Florence. Today, it’s lined with charming cafes and shops, and there’s an antique carousel in the center.
Guided Tours in Florence
Free Things to Do in Florence: Sometimes
Accademia Gallery || creative commons photo by Clayton Tang
In case you’re wondering, when attractions are free on one day per month, lines can be extremely long. This is probably one of the times I’d go on a skip-the-line tour instead.
- Uffizi Gallery – First Sunday of the month; visitors under age 18 every day
- Accademia Gallery – First Sunday of the month; visitors under age 18 every day
- Bargello – First Sunday of the month; visitors under age 18 every day
- Medici Chapels – First Sunday of the month; visitors under age 18 every day
- Pitti Palace – First Sunday of the month; visitors under age 18 every day
My friend Alexandra also notes that, following the lead of the state-run museums listed above, some of Florence’s city museums also offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month… But they don’t seem to do this as regularly, so she says it’s worth checking in advance. This would include the following places: Palazzo Vecchio, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria Novella church, Museo del Novecento, and Museo Stefano Bardini.