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Florence: Simple strategies for saving on dining

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Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio Florence
Have lunch with the locals at the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio in Florence. Photo: Tom Meyers

Florence is a city rich in history, art, music and yes, amazing food. The good news is: You do not have to be rich to eat well. Whether you are visiting Florence or living here on a budget (like me), here are some simple ways to stretch your dining dollar.

Go to the market

Going to the markets in Florence is a beautiful experience, as they offer a fantastic combination of smells, amazing fresh fruit and vegetables, and no shortage of people watching opportunities. And don’t forget your camera, because you will always find something neat to photograph.

The two main central markets in Florence are the Mercato di San Lorenzo and Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. These are both wonderful markets, open everyday except for Sundays until about 1:30 p.m.

Okay, now here’s the thing, to save your precious euros when going to the market you should know a few tricks. Many of the food stands in these markets cater to tourists and have the prices to match. I recommend taking a nice long walk around the market, looking at each stand. Look to see who is buying what at each stand. Head to the stand that has the most locals hanging around (normally this will also be the least fancy of the stands). Don’t be afraid to ask a local which stand they prefer.

At the markets, as well as in the supermarkets, all produce is sold by the kilo, so it’s always a good idea to ask how much something costs, if you are not sure. You can also order by price. In this case you would say, for example, “I’d like €3 of apples.” This way you will always know exactly how much you’re spending, especially if you are not familiar with metric quantities.

As far as the other outdoor vendors selling clothing and household items… bargain to your heart’s content! Unlike in the retail stores around town, at the market you can bargain and sometimes get the vendor to dramatically reduce the price. When you are bargaining, I recommend having the amount of money you are offering for the item already in your hand for the vendor to see. I have had more luck that way. Happy Bargaining!

Florence picnic

Enjoy a picnic with friends in Florence. Photo: CreativePrincess

Enjoy a picnic

For tourists visiting Florence, eating out every meal gets expensive quickly. Fortunately, you have access to great produce and local food products, so instead of heading to yet another restaurant, take a break and pick up some fresh vegetables at San Lorenzo market and some locally made cheeses and breads at Sant’Ambrogio. You can even check out the supermarkets around town for some cheaper, yet quality food supplies.

Now, where to go to have your picnic? You could go to any of the many public parks in Florence–during the day Le Cascine Park or anywhere along the Arno River would be a great choice. I would also recommend heading to any big piazza, such as Piazza Santa Croce or Piazza della Repubblica, as they’re fantastic for people watching.

I also recommend going to the Boboli Gardens to have a picnic, as the lovely gardens offer a lot of space. There is however, an entrance charge of €7 at the Boboli Gardens. On a nice sunny day, I’d say it’s worth it.

Don’t sit down with your caffe

When going to a bar for a coffee or tea, remember that there are sometimes two different prices for drinks: bar prices and table service prices. Table service (meaning they take your order and serve you at a table) is about double the price of ordering and consuming your drink at the counter. Not all bars will charge you for table service, so it is important to ask before you order.

Snack on an “Apericena”

I love enjoying an “Apericena” with friends, as it’s definitely cheaper than going out to dinner at a restaurant and often much more fun, as well.

Now, to clarify: An “Aperitivo” is a before dinner drink, normally accompanied by some light finger-food and snacks like chips, olives, or bread with dips. An “Apericena,” however, includes a drink of your choice, accompanied by a buffet of food, typically including different pasta salads, risotto, couscous, little sandwiches, etc.

The cost of an Apericena is typically around €5 to €8. After a couple of rounds at the buffet I’m usually a posto (“done”). A dinner and cocktail for under €10 is a great deal. If you have a special diet or allergies to certain foods, make sure you take a look at the buffet before you order anything, or better yet, ask one of the staff what is in each dish. There are many Apericena spots around the city, so don’t be afraid to be selective.

Also in our guide: Heading to Florence and watching your budget? Be sure to swing by EuroCheapo’s guide to Florence, with recommendations for budget hotels, cheap eats, sightseeing and more.

About the author

Living full time in Florence since May of 2010, Taylor Zerbey, a freelance photographer and writer, is in constant awe of the Italian way of life; be it for their no nonsense attitude about eating top quality food and wine, their penchant for enjoying life or their impartial attitude towards public urination. Taylor is a 2007 graduate of The University of Hawai?i at M?noa, earning a Bachelor's degree in Photography.

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One Response to “Florence: Simple strategies for saving on dining”

Caroline says:

This is tremendously helpful! I’m planning a trip to Italy in the near future and I can’t wait to try the markets. Thanks for the tips!

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