You don’t have to spend a fortune to see some of the best of Florence’s art, churches, gardens, and festivals.
In Florence, the “city of the lily,” astounding sights abound. The arbiter of the Renaissance, the city’s history is told through its palaces and paintings. Lucky for travelers, once you arrive there is plenty to see without spending a dime. Beyond free admission to museums on certain days, there are streetwide festivals, live music, and famous views, all accessible to the public. These are some of the best experiences one can have in Florence, free of charge.
Festa della Rificolona
If you are in Florence on September 7 and 8, don’t miss one of city’s biggest street parties, celebrating the Virgin Mary’s birthday. Festa della Rificolona is said to date from the 17th century when citizens across Florence and outside its city walls carried lanterns to guide their pilgrimage to the church of Santissima Annunziata, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, on the eve of her birth. The tradition continues today and you’ll find the streets decorated with hundreds of colorful paper lanterns as soon as the sun sets on September 7.
Fiesole Antiques Market
For just the price of a bus ticket you can ride up to the northeast hills above Florence, to the town of Fiesole. The town is small, but on the first Sunday of the month its piazza holds an antiques market of vintage clothing, homewares, and other decades-old finds. You can spend an afternoon perusing the market for treasures to take home with you, and if you need a break from combing through the past, you can make your way up a hill toward the church of San Francesco, where there is a small park with an overlook and views of Florence.
Giardino delle Rose
Florence has no shortage of gardens to linger in. One of the most beautiful is Giardino delle Rose, which is less crowded than the popular Giardino di Boboli, has no entrance fee, and provides terracotta skyline views. Its terraces are blooming with 400 varieties of roses in springtime and are decorated with 12 sculptures by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, including a sleeping cat, and a suitcase that provides a window into the world. There’s also a Japanese garden on the lower level that is peaceful year-round.
As you walk around the center of Florence, Il Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore, or Florence cathedral) is a monument that can’t be missed. Standing before it and marveling at its intricate green and white marble facade will leave you in awe. Climbing up to the top of Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, which is considered a 1400s feat of engineering innovation, or to Giotto’s bell tower, will require a ticket, but visiting the church is free. Although you can expect to wait in line, it’s worth it. Inside, you’ll see frescoes by Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno, relief sculptures by Luca della Robbia, and stained glass windows—some of which were designed by Donatello.
Florence may be known as an epicenter of Renaissance art, but if you want to see something different, and for free, head to Le Murate, a former convent and prison that is now a contemporary art gallery and events space. Artists from across the globe exhibit here with a particular emphasis on multimedia installations which make use of former prison cells as showcasing rooms. Some weeknights and weekends there is live music in the building’s courtyard.
Listen to Live Music at La Cité
You’re unlikely to visit Florence for its nightlife, but if you want a lively night out, the Oltrarno, whose streets are lined with bars and restaurants, is one option. La Cité, a popular Oltrarno bookstore, is a budget-friendly café for reading and studying by day and lingering with a cocktail at night, and features an eclectic mix of live music with no cover charge.
Loggia dei Lanzi
Piazza della Signoria (the square in front of Florence’s city government building, Palazzo Vecchio), is one of the most grand piazzas in Florence, but what makes it even more so, is its open-air sculpture gallery—Loggia della Signoria, also called Loggia dei Lanzi. The 14th-century loggia, or arched gallery, is to your right as you walk toward the Galleria degli Uffizi. It is free to enter at any time of night or day to sculptures including “Abduction of the Sabine Women” by Giambologna, and Cellini’s “Perseus with the head of Medusa.”
INSIDER TIPFlorence’s city-run museums (like Galleria degli Uffizi) are free the first Sunday of every month.
This could be the most famous view of Florence’s skyline at sunset, or any time of day, where you can see the major architectural sites of the city, like Il Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and Palazzo Vecchio and the hills that surround them, from above. Be ready for crowds, whether you stand in Piazzale Michelangelo or sit on the steps leading up to it, as you watch terracotta rooftops transform into pink hues. After you snap a few photos, you can admire a copy of Michelangelo’s David.
San Miniato al Monte
The Romanesque church San Miniato al Monte is a bit more challenging to reach than others in Florence, with its location high on a hill near Piazzale Michelangelo, but it’s one of the most beautiful free attractions in the city. The working monastery has mosaics dating from the 1200s and monks who file into its crypt to sing Gregorian chants at sunset. City views from its courtyard are spectacular.
Even if you aren’t looking to buy produce to cook at home, walking through the local outdoor market, Sant’Ambrogio, can be an activity all on its own (and a free one at that). Every morning an entire city block is filled with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, local honey, and plants. It’s the kind of place where farmers who know what a regular customer wants before they ask for it, making it fun to people-watch.
INSIDER TIPHead inside the building behind the market for fresh cheese, pasta, and meat.