Where to stay
First things first: accommodation. Florence is full of hostels, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs, and hotels. Almost anything you choose will be within walking distance to everything the city has to offer. If you’re on a tight budget, but don’t want to live like a backpacker, hostels and budget hotels are still worth looking into if you do it right. Don’t count them out; you can book a private room (be sure to ask if there is a private bathroom as well) just like a hotel, but without the fancy décor, and fewer amenities. Try 7 Santi Hostel for a local experience on the edge of the city center, or Hotel Bavaria or Academy Hostel for a historical building in the center. Hostels or Airbnbss are great choices for the budget traveler, but obviously budget is relative. If you have some extra cash for a swankier place to stay, see what kind of deals you can dig up on discount hotel websites.
What to eat
Between grocery stores, sandwich shops, street food, bars, and apperitivo, you can find cheap food easily while still getting to experience the culture. Bars, as coffee shops are called in Italy, offer pastries and simple sandwiches for cheap if you’re looking to keep it low cost (€2-€4). Sandwich shops are also a great choice for low budget but tasty food. There are plenty of small places around Florence that will cost you €4-€7 for a larger, more filling and better quality sandwich. Try SandwiChic, or La Prosciutteria for great quality for a great price.
As most avid budget travelers know, grocery stores are a must for getting local food without a restaurant price. You can find small grocery stores all over the city center, and good wine on the cheap, but don’t pay more than €7 for a bottle. If you find prices higher than that, you’re in the wrong place.
Gelato is a great Italian diet staple, too, and costing only €2-€4, why wouldn’t you eat as much gelato as possible? Another option is aperitivo. Basically an Italian happy hour, there is an appetizer buffet included with the price of your drink, so you can really get your money’s worth. Like most cities, lunch is easier to find at a lower price than dinner, so maybe searching for a good set menu price for lunch and having a sandwich for dinner would let you save money while still getting a restaurant experience. Try to stick to places called trattoria, osteria, or pizzeria instead of places with the word ristorante in the name, as they tend to cost less.
Staying away from tourist traps like restaurants with a view and the ones in or near the main piazzas can also save you money, and they generally offer better food. As a general rule, don’t pay more than €1 for an espresso (€1,10 max for a cappuccino), more than €8-€10 for a pizza, more than €9-€10 for something from the primo menu (pasta), or more than about €15-€22 for secondi (meat, fish, main dishes). A glass of wine can vary since it depends on the quality and brand, but just know that you can find a glass of wine for as cheap as €4-€7 at most non-touristy places. For those of you with a wine snob’s taste on a beer budget, don’t be afraid to order the house wine, it’s most likely a local Chianti.
What to do
So, you want to shop. Since you’re on a budget, why not go where you can get the most for your money and haggle at the outdoor markets? You can negotiate your price and walk away with some unique finds. There are also flea and vintage markets certain weekends of the month where you are sure to find some treasures. Florence also has an H&M, Zara, and a few other affordable yet fashionable Italian brand stores around.
Apart from shopping, Florence offers an amazing cultural scene. With all the amazing Renaissance architecture, history, and art in public, you can’t be bored. Exploring the city on foot is highly recommended; you can come across some great authentic hole-in-the-wall places where a dish of pasta could cost you €8 for tonight’s dinner. There are public statues to see, piazzas to sit and people watch, and great window shopping. Churches are everywhere, and most of them are free. If you see church doors open, head in to see the stunning art and architecture. If you plan your trip well enough, you could even get into some of Florence’s museums for free, as they are open to the public on the first Sunday of every month. Be sure to get there early to be admitted and see Renaissance masterpieces such as The Birth of Venus and other works by Botticelli and Raphael. There are also plenty of markets to explore, back alleys to get lost in, and even a free rose garden up near Piazzale Michelangelo.