Five Free Things to Do in Florence (Firenze), Italy

Updated on April 22, 2019
Anne Harrison profile image

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10 and have travelled widely since, but somehow I always return to this most magical of cities.

Ah, Florence (c) A. Harrison
Ah, Florence (c) A. Harrison

1. Visit the Duomo

No matter how often I visit, I am always drawn to the Duomo. Since her construction, the cathedral has been the heart of Florence. Free to enter, by midday the queue snakes around the sides of the building to blend with the crowds filling the Piazza Duomo.

For me, the wait is well worth it. Entry numbers are limited, and much of the cathedral was cordoned off to visitors, so that the spacious majesty of the cathedral dominated. Everyone spoke in hushed tones which echoed around me in fluttering whispers.

It is easy to miss the patterns of coloured marble on the floor when lost in awe at all around me. Standing beneath Brunelleschi’s dome, I stared up at Vasari’s masterpiece, where devils and demons swirl beneath a triumphant Christ in The Last Judgement.

Many medieval houses still line the Piazza Duomo; Donatello’s studios were at No.28. A plaque marks the spot where Dante once sat watching the cathedral rise to the sky. Banished while it was still under construction, he was never to see the Duomo completed.

Florence's Duomo (c) A. Harrison
Florence's Duomo (c) A. Harrison

2. Tour Europe's Oldest Pharmacy

Beginning life in a monastery in 1212, the Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is the oldest still-functioning pharmacy in Europe. Age hasn't diminished her beauty, and amazing aromas followed me as I walked through room after room with ornate marble floors and high vaulted ceilings. One room was entirely covered in frescoes, another filled with old pharmaceutical equipment (including a piece which looked remarkably like a medieval Dalek).

Using the herbs growing in their medicinal garden for creating healing salves and lotions, the monks were also the first to use alcohol as a base for their perfumes, (rather than oil). They were even commissioned to create a perfume for Catherine de Medici upon her marriage to Henry II of France: Acqua della Regina (Water of the Queen).

The Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is at Via della Scala,16, not far from the Cathedral Santa Maria Novella. Once I had been, I kept seeing other old pharmacies as I walked around Florence. The arches where the monks of San Marco once sold their wares are still visible in the outside wall, each decorated with a carving of what was for sale.

My medieval Dalek (c) A. Harrison
My medieval Dalek (c) A. Harrison

3. Walk the Streets

Florence is perfect for walking. I might set out with a destination in mind, but I always find so many other things along the way: a side street that just begs to be explored, an entrancing shop, an unexpected view.

Some of Florence's oldest streets are down by the Arno, near the tourist-packed Ponte Vecchio but mostly missed by the throngs. At the beginning of the Via della Terms (which takes its names from the Roman baths once here) is a medieval Torre, or tower; another is at no 13. The Via dei Neri follows the bend of the old Roman port. Many streets around here have plaques marking the height of the floods of 1333 and 1966.

In the nearby Piazza del Limbo stands the Santi Apostoli, said to have been founded by Charlemagne in 786. Beneath the cobbles of the square is an old cemetery where babies who died before being baptised were buried.

I was in the heart of Florence’s shopping district when the sound of music called me outside; a parade was passing, everyone deck in medieval finery and carrying flags. I could hear the music for the next hour as they would their way through the streets.

Such is Florence.

Just another day in Florence (c) A. Harrison
Just another day in Florence (c) A. Harrison

4. Enjoy the View at the Piazzala Michelangelo

A short bus trip, or a steep walk, leads to the Piazzale Michelangelo. From here is the classic panorama over Florence. Bridges arch gracefully over the Arno, and the Duomo and Baptistry dominate the skyline. In the distance, small towns dot the hills surrounding Florence.

The square is crowded not only with tourists, but with buskers and markets stalls. No matter how crowded, it always feels a happy place. Jazz fills the air from nearby cafes, and there is always a place to buy a gelato, or to sit and sip on a prosecco and enjoy the view.

Another short walk away is the church of San Miniato al Monte. Begun in 1018, this is one of the city's hidden gems. The outside façade of green and white marble belies a simple, dark interior. At the far end, steps lead up to a raised choir, or down to a crypt, where a sung mass is often in progress. Delicate frescoes cover the walls, befitting the simple but stunning architecture. In a city overflowing with impressively beautiful places, San Miniato al Monte is not to be missed. After visiting, I feel I am leaving a past world to re-enter my own.

An easy downhill walk leads to the backstreets of the Oltrano, via the Porte San Miniato, to a cluster of cafes and restaurants in the San Niccolo area. I was staying near here, and each night I felt spoilt for choice, each was so delicious.

View from the Piazzale Michelangelo (c) Anne Harrison
View from the Piazzale Michelangelo (c) Anne Harrison

5. Visit Free Art Galleries

Despite the queues outside the Uffizi, there are other museums in Florence, many of which are free. The most obvious examples are the churches, all decorated with amazing art. The Duomo may be an obvious example, but there are others in abundance.

Above the altar in the Chiese di Ognissanti is a Madonna and Child by Giotto, as well as a crucifix recently attributed to him. There is a Last Supper by Ghirlandaio, while his Madonna della Misericordia boasts a portrait of the young Amerigo Vespucci, who was to give the new world its name. In 1571 the Franciscans brought to the church one of their most treasured relics, the habit worn by St Francis when he received the stigmata on Mt Verna in 1224.

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata boasts a painting finished by an angel, the face of the Madonna completed as the monk-artist slept. A few minutes from the Ponte Vecchio is the Chiesa di Santa Felicita. When finished with the 16th-century artwork, walk to the altar then turn to see the Vasari Corridor. It runs through the nave and enabled the Medici to attend Mass unseen by the great unwashed.

The Piazza della Signoria has been the centre of political activity in Florence since the Middle Ages. The imposing façade of the Palazzo Vecchio, (which still functions as the town hall) has remained virtually unchanged since it was built (1299–1302). Its bell was used to summon the population to the Piazza della Signoria in times of trouble.

Various statues line the square, and in the covered Loggia to one side. Most impressive of all is a copy of Michelangelo's David (the original once stood here). It is a great place for a quick art fix; crowded with tourists, performers, and the occasional policeman in impressive uniform, it is also a great place for people watching.

Statues in the Piazza della Signoria (c) Anne Harrison
Statues in the Piazza della Signoria (c) Anne Harrison

There are many free things to do in Florence, from people watching to walking along streets once known to the Romans. Many museums are free on the first Sunday of the month—simply keep an eye on their websites. Then there are markets and festivals . . . almost too many things to do!

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Anne Harrison


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • lizmalay profile image


        6 months ago from USA

        I miss visiting the city of Florence terribly. It's been years since my last visit. I remember I booked a hotel not far from the Duomo. Now, I enjoy reading other people's stories about their trip to this historical city. Thank you, Anne, for sharing your story.

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        12 months ago from Australia

        Thanks Liz (just found your comment, sorry for the delay in replying). I totally agree with your husband; churches should be free. Usually the smaller, less well known ones are, and they often have amazing art work! Anne

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        13 months ago from UK

        This is a useful and well-structured article with great illustrations. So often admission charges can add up when in foreign cities. It is very helpful to know where free admission is available. My husband complains at having to pay to go into cathedrals and churches, as he believes that they should be free to enter. It is good to know that the Duomo in Florence is free entry.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)