05 Sep Free Self Guided Walking Tour of Florence Italy: One or Two Day Itinerary
If you’re visiting Florence, Italy for just one or two days – or you want to get to know the main attractions of the city quickly – this free self guided walking tour of Florence is perfect for seeing Firenze by foot.
You’ll find two versions of our suggested Florence walking tour itinerary in this post, plus some food and gelato recommendations. The first itinerary is for doing Florence in one day on a low budget (no entrance fees and cheap food). The second itinerary is still for budget travelers, but it includes visiting a couple museums and other places of interest. If you don’t go into the museums, this itinerary can also be done in a single day, however, it’s more manageable spread out over two days.
These itineraries and walking routes are based on my previous study abroad experience in Florence, our recent visit together in Fall 2017, and – of course – lots of research online! If you’re an independent budget traveler like us, these are the top things to do in Florence that we would recommend. Buon viaggio!
Florence walking tour map
This map includes our one day walking tour of Florence Italy in blue, plus optional attractions and places to eat for a two day visit in brown. For free access to the interactive Google MyMaps version of this map, just input your e-mail address below and we’ll send you the link:
A. Il Duomo
Also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, il Duomo is the most iconic attraction in Florence. You don’t have to start here, but this is an absolute must see and it gets crowded quickly, so we recommend heading there first thing. For crowd-free photos in peak season, 7am is best (though you won’t be able to go inside until later).
Florence’s Duomo is the third largest church in the world. Entrance into the main sanctuary is free (check the website for opening times, which vary by day). Note that a dress code is enforced – knees and shoulders must be covered and hats removed – and visitors are expected to be respectful and quiet.
B. Mercato Centrale
If you’ve had an early start to see the Duomo, you might be ready for an Italian espresso (caffe) or cappuccino and some snacks. We enjoyed our morning coffee at the Mercato Centrale in the typical Italian way: standing in front of the coffee bar.
The San Lorenzo central market is a two-story indoor market with fresh produce, meat, cheese, and local food products on the ground floor; open 7am to 2pm Monday through Saturday. From 10am to midnight, you can visit the Mercato Centrale second floor (or European “first floor”) for a wide variety of eateries. On the streets surrounding the building are outdoors stalls with leather goods, jewelry, clothes, and souvenirs.
If you’re here around lunch or dinner, check out our recommendations below for some delicious places to eat in the market. You can also gather fresh fruit, meat, and cheese for a picnic – just note that only the vendors are allowed to touch the produce in Italy.
C. Piazza della Republica
Little remains of the Piazza della Republica’s historical significance as the old market and forum. It’s not necessarily worth going out of your way to see, but since it’s central and on the way of our tour, we’re including it here. Grab a bench to watch the street performers and tourists if you need to rest your feet.
D. Piazza della Signoria
One of the most famous pieces of art in Florence is The David by Michelangelo. This impressive, biblical statue is now housed in the Accademia (included in Walking Tour #2 below), but a replica can be found at the statue’s original location – Piazza della Signoria. For those of us on a budget or who don’t have time to wait in line for museums, a free viewing of the replica in this grand square can be just as good.
But The David isn’t the only draw to this Piazza. It is home to the Old Palace, Florence’s town hall, as well as an outdoor gallery of statues. And it’s immediately adjacent to the famous Uffizi Gallery.
E. Uffizi Courtyard
The Uffizi Gallery has one of the best known collections of artwork in the world. With limited time and budget, you can always enjoy walking through the long courtyard, Piazzale degli Uffizi, for free. It’s a short scenic way to get from Piazza della Signoria to our next stop: Ponte Vecchio.
F. Ponte Vecchio
Another iconic landmark in Florence is the old bridge, Ponte Vecchio. It was the only bridge in Florence not destroyed by the Germans during World War II, and it’s well known for all the jewelry shops that can be found on the bridge.
Above the shops, you’ll notice a passageway with windows. This is part of the Vasari Corridor, an elevated passageway that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. It was constructed in 1565 so Duke Cosimo Medici could move securely between his home and “office.”
G. La Strega Nocciola Gelato
Let’s take a gelato break! By now, you’ve probably seen countless gelaterias on your journey, but not all gelato is the same. We’ll talk about this more in the gelato section below – yes, it deserves its own section. For now, delight your taste buds at La Strega Nocciola. If you like hazelnut, or nocciola, it’s their signature flavor. Out of this world creamy.
We have an uphill climb ahead, so this is an important stop for reinforcement.
H. Piazzale Michelangelo
On the south side of the Arno River is a large square with panoramic views of the city: Piazzale Michelangelo. You can reach it via the rose garden or by walking up from Porto San Niccolo. The square has some bronze copies of Michelangelo’s statues, but the real draw is the view.
This is a popular place for tourists to watch the sunset with a picnic. If the uphill walk is too much, the overlook can also be reached by bus #12 or #13. We suggest walking up via the stairs the follow the rose garden – you can pop into the garden for a breather – and taking the Piazza Poggi stairs back down, past the tower of San Niccolo.
Additional Stops for a 2 Day Itinerary in Florence
The first version of our walking tour was completely free – with the exception of food along the way. Of course, you can expand your self guided walking tour if you have more time or your budget allows for attractions with a price tag. Here is a suggested two-day itinerary for Florence with more info on the optional activities below.
1. Il Duomo
2. Visit Galleria dell’Accademia
3. Lunch at Mercato Centrale
4. Piazza Santa Maria Novella
5. Take out dinner from La Spada
6. Picnic on the river or Piazza della Republica
7. Piazza della Signoria
8. Visit Uffizi Gallery
9. Ponte Vecchio
10. Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
11. Picnic dinner at Piazzale Michelangelo
Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
Palazzo Pitti, or Pitti Palace, has been home to the wealthy Medici family, other ruling families, and was even a base for Napoleon. It is now a giant museum of royal apartments, modern art, silver, porcelain, costume jewelry, carriages, and more. A three-day ticket gets you into all of these galleries as well as the expansive Boboli Gardens behind the palace.
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella and Piazza di Santa Croce
It’s easy to get “church fatigue” in Europe with so many cathedrals and basilicas to see, but whether you go inside or not, the piazzas in front of the churches are important gathering places. Depending on which side of town you find yourself on, check out either of these two church squares. Browse the shops, people watch, grab a snack, and pop into the church if you’re up for it.
Florence Museums: Accademia or Uffizi Gallery
Art is a central part of Firenze’s history and it is said that the city is home to nearly one third of the all the world’s art treasures. We typically don’t visit many museums in our travels, to be honest (we’re more about the local life, not to mention keeping costs low). But as a student, I visited both of these famous galleries and most visitors to Florence will try to see one or both.
From May through September, be sure to book your Accademia and Uffizi museum tickets in advance to avoid waiting in hours-long lines. This does involve choosing a date and time for your visit in advance, as well as an extra booking fee. The Accademia – featuring the original David and other works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, etc. – is 8 euros at the door (12 euros online) with audioguides for 6 euros. The Uffizi Gallery – the most visited museum in Florence, home to 2200 works of art – costs 16.50 euros online. Both museums are open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15am to 6:50pm (closed on Mondays).
If history is more up your alley than art, then perhaps you’d prefer museums like Palazzo Vecchio, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Vasari Corridor (temporarily closed), or the Natural History Museum.
P.S. State museums like the Accademia, Uffizi, and Pitti Palace are free to the public on the first Sunday of the month!
Where to Eat in Florence on a Budget
It’s no surprise that food is a huge part of Italian culture, so eating is definitely something to look forward to in Florence!
A Note About Traditional Florentine Foods
We used some left over frequent flyer points to book a street food tour for the first day of our trip. We learned that regional foods particular to Florence include:
- Bisteccha alla Fiorentina (thickly cut steak, served mostly rare),
- cantucci con vinsanto (almond biscotti dipped in sweet “holy wine”),
- finnochiona (salami with fennel seeds),
- black and white truffles,
- balsamic vinegar (exclusively made from grapes originating in Modena),
- chicken liver pate,
- lampredotto (the second part of the cow’s stomach, much like tripe) and
- pecorino cheese served with honey.
Pasta is, of course, a staple of the nation. And though pizza is ubiquitous, our guide emphasized that it was not a Florentine dish and recommended eating pizza in its birth place of Naples.
I did some careful research on where we could enjoy good food in Florence without overspending. Generally, it’s not too hard to find reasonably priced meals – especially with fixed price menus at some restaurants – though the cost of eating out can still add up quickly. We countered this by doing grocery store breakfasts in our Airbnb apartment. Below are some of our recommendations for eating on a budget in Florence, starting with the cheapest options and going up in price:
Restaurante La Spada take out
La Spada was an old favorite from my study abroad years. It’s still around and run by the same family – in fact, it has expanded. Around the side of the restaurant, on Via del Moro, is the take out counter where you can order rotisserie chicken, lasagna, and roast vegetable sides to go (cash only).
After 13 years of being away, I tried my luck ordering our student special, “speciale di Bruno,” and it worked! I walked away with a foil dish of juicy rotisserie chicken and heavily seasoned roast potatoes, plus an extra side of vegetables – all for 5 euros. Jedd and I split the meal, which was just as tasty as I remembered.
For quintessential Florentine street food, grab a lampredotto sandwich from a food truck. We saw one outside the Mercato Centrale and in Piazza Cimatori. Lampredotto comes from cow stomach – originating from the cuisine of the poor, back when it was financially essential not to waste any part of the animal. This savory meal is hit or miss for people, depending on whether you’re an adventurous eater. But being street food, it’s not expensive (under 4 euros).
As mentioned earlier, Mercato Centrale is not only a good place to pick up fresh picnic supplies, it also has an abundance of little eateries as well. Remember, the ground floor produce market is open 7am to 2pm Monday through Saturday. The eateries upstairs are open from 10am to midnight.
For a cheap and delicious pasta lunch, check out La Pasta Fresca on the ground floor. You can order uncooked pasta to make at home on one side, pasta to eat for lunch on the other side, and watch the pasta being made through the windows in between. Order your meal from the window by choosing a noodle and a sauce. Eat standing at the little counter or take it out with you for a picnic. We were blown away by the rich, savory walnut sauce (salsa di noci) on ravioli for 5 euros.
Upstairs is a newer food court area with lots of options, ranging from classic Italian to sushi and Chinese dumplings. Order and pay at a restaurant stall, then sit down at the communal tables where wait staff come by to take your drink order separately. We loved the wood fired margherita pizza at La Pizzeria Sud (8 euros). For something unique, try the loaded Popeye veggie burger at the Veg & Veg cart (8.50 euros).
If you’re looking for somewhere with more of a restaurant atmosphere that’s still budget-friendly, try La Prosciiutteria on Via dei Neri. Check out the menu on the wall and order a panino, salad, or prosciutto and cheese board from the counter. Seating is limited and there is no table service, so you’ll grab your own napkin, forks, and pull a drink from the fridge – or order wine from the bar.
For more casual dining with good quality food and wine, look for an osteria or fiaschetteria. Fiaschetteria Nuvoli was a stop on our guided food tour. Although very central, prices are still reasonable and locals still frequent this place for simple, traditional meals. Head down to the cellar to order plates of meats, cheeses, wines, and more.
We didn’t make it to this restaurant on Via de Bardi, but it was recommended by a local foodie tour guide for pizza and pasta.
Aritsanal Gelato in Florence
Gelato is ubiquitous but to get the true experience, choose your gelateria wisely. Gelato (the Italian word for ice cream) is typically made with less egg than other ice creams, and it’s churned more slowly to give a denser, creamier texture. We learned that the artisanal shops are fresher and use better ingredients. While heaping piles of gelato on the counter looks tempting, it’s a sign of low quality – look instead for gelato that’s displayed in smaller tins. This means it’s made daily in smaller batches.
You can typically order your gelato in a cup or a cone at varying sizes. Trying out a few samples before choosing your order and getting two flavors in one is usually allowed. Prices for a small tend to be around 2 or 3 euros.
Here are three fantastic gelateria in Florence, determined by online research and in-person taste testing:
La Strega Nocciola
We mentioned this one in our walking tour above. It’s on Via de’ Bardi, close to Ponte Vecchio on south side of river, open from 11:30am-10:30pm. Their namesake, nocciola, is hazelnut, and it’s wonderful.
This old-fashioned gelateria is on Via dei Neri, open 10am-midnight. They also serve espresso and granitas.
Another great artisanal gelateria if you’re in the Santa Croce area is Vivoli on Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, open 7:30am-midnight.
Where to Stay in Florence Italy
Florence has a very walkable town center, so it’s best to stay close in and walk everywhere – hence, this walking tour guide! I’d recommend referencing our Florence walking tour map as a reference and try to stay within the points of interest. There are cheaper places on the outskirts but it will require taking a public bus or walking into town – on top of all the walking you’ll already be doing.
We found a teeny little Airbnb right next to Mercato Centrale for under $50 – it was a perfect location and worth enduring the noises from nearby restaurant kitchens. It was great for having breakfast in our apartment every day to save money.
With our referral link, you can get up to $40 off your first Airbnb booking. You can also browse the hotel, hostel, and guest house options for Florence on Booking.com. (Disclosure: These are affiliate links and we will get a commission on your booking, at no additional cost to you.)
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