Florence is one of those cities that’s a must-do on most Italy itineraries – and if it seems to be full of students year-round, that’s because it is. This Renaissance city is home to a major university, and also a popular place for study abroad programs from outside Italy. What does that mean for travelers? As guest contributor Erin Hutton explains, it means that there are plenty of opportunities to eat cheaply in an otherwise expensive city.
Finding Cheap Eats in Florence
You’re in Florence, enjoying the magnificent Renaissance architecture, and suddenly, you’re hungry. But your budget doesn’t allow for any of the easy-to-find expensive restaurants near the Duomo. What to do? Try a few of these tips:
Cappuccino and a pastry for breakfast
If breakfast isn’t included at your hotel or hostel, step into a coffee bar and rub elbows with the locals. A cappuccino or macchiato and a brioche is a popular light breakfast for locals dressed in suits and shiny black shoes for work.
Shop at the Mercato Centrale
Nonne in long fur coats chatting as they carry bulging canvas bags of fresh food. Fish mongers hollering the daily specials. The pungent scent of properly aged cheese. You’ve found the central market in Florence. Before purchasing the elements of your meal, take time to wander the market comparing products and prices. Many of the smaller vendors have a more limited selection but cheaper prices. Perhaps you’ll find Pizzicheria Ricci-Carlo tucked into the back corner of the market, a personal favorite vendor of deli meats and cheeses. With a short trip to the market, you can easily put together a picnic of salami, cheese, dried or fresh fruits, and nuts (and practice speaking Italian with the vendors).
Drop in for a sandwich at Mariano
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The first time I went looking for this hidden gem in the Santa Maria Novella neighborhood, I walked past it and had to backtrack. It’s just a little shop, barely large enough for a handful of people at a time. It’s packed tight with olive oils, balsamic vinegar, garlic braids, and cheese graters of all sizes and shapes. A woman in a long striped dress, presumably the owner, takes orders in Italian, speaking slowly for the few foreigners in the shop. Any of the sandwiches are good and inexpensive, but I recommend trying speck, a ham popular in northern Italy as well as Austria.
Lunch at Trattoria Mario
Located behind the Mercato Centrale, Trattoria Mario is a favorite lunch spot for locals and tourists alike. You’ll sit where they tell you to, with whomever they tell you to, and you’ll probably like it. The wait is long so a table for four will be filled with whatever combination of strangers is ready to eat. Mario is about community as much as food. It’s the perfect place for a solo traveler to meet some new friends over plates of inexpensive but delectable gnocchi, tagliatelle di carciofi, or osso buco.
Snacks from Focacceria Pugi
This bakery, located near the Accademia Gallery (home of Michelangelo’s David), is famous for it’s schiacciata, a thin Florentine bread made with olive oil. Get a plain slice with just a little salt or some with cheese and tomato. It’s a good supplement to a picnic created at the Mercato Centrale or just something to munch on while you wait in line at the Accademia.
Find a local lunch cart
These gems are located all over the city during lunchtime and sell fresh, hot sandwiches and cold drinks. Go for roast pork or get a little more adventurous with lampredotto, made with the fourth stomach of the cow. For something in between, tripe is a bit milder and very popular.
About the Author
Erin Hutton is a freelance writer and currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Chatham University. She enjoys travel, coffee, and books. She also hosts the blog My Green Palate.