Eating well in Italy isn’t terribly difficult, but sometimes eating well on a budget isn’t as easy as you might think. In a city like Florence, which is extremely popular with both Italian and foreign tourists, restaurants that are in sight of famous attractions or have great views overlooking the river tend to be expensive – but of course those are the places most of us see first, since they’re in touristy areas. Budget dining in Florence is possible, though, if you know what to look for – and where to look.
Even if you’re just browsing, a walk through a food market in Florence is a great diversion. It’s also an excellent opportunity to find cheap eats. If the weather is conducive to eating outside, prowl the markets with an eye toward making a picnic – look for local cheeses, cured meats, fresh fruits and vegetables – and bring the spoils to the nearest park. Foodies who have packed a corkscrew (in your checked bag, of course) can complete the meal with a bottle of Tuscan wine – otherwise, a big bottle of fizzy water will do the trick.
Italians like to linger over meals, but there’s also a version of Italian “fast food” in Florence that’s easy on the wallet. Tiny hole-in-the-wall places make hot sandwiches to go (there’s nowhere to sit indoors, anyway) and many bakeries swap out their sweet morning pastries for savory focaccia-like goodies at lunch time. These places aren’t flashy, and you’ll have to look closely at shop windows lest you miss them entirely – but if you see a line forming, that’s a good sign.
Combine dining with learning – check out these Florence food tours!
Another great way to eat cheaply in Florence is to make lunch your big meal of the day. Restaurants often have similar items on their lunch and dinner menus, and the lunch prices are cheaper. Have a smaller meal at dinner and you’ll be spending less overall.
Generally speaking, it’s good policy to be alert at lunchtime in Florence – roughly 1pm – and take note of where the locals are going for their lunch. This will mean getting away from the main tourist areas like around the Duomo and Uffizi (which is a good way to pay less for a meal to begin with), and it also helps you find restaurants you may never see otherwise.