There’s no shortage of free attractions in Florence art lovers can enjoy. Here’s how you can see beautiful art in Florence without spending a penny.
First we should mention that ticket prices in Florence are relatively cheap compared to other European destinations. The most expensive attractions are the Cathedral Complex (18 euros) and the Uffizi Gallery at 20 (12 euros in low season, from November to March). The other museums & attractions are between 5 and 10 euros.
Saying this, there are plenty of artistic jewels that can be visited without digging in to your wallet!
⇒ Florence on a budget, how to save money when visiting Florence.
Free Attractions in Florence – Church Visits
1. Orsanmichele Church
A small and interesting church near Piazza Signoria. Orsanmichele is a treasure chest containing something extremely precious to the city of Florence, a miraculous Madonna. The painting is guarded in a splendid Gothic marble tabernacle by Orcagna. From the outside you wouldn’t think it’s a church as it has an unusual shape. The building started its life as a market and later was turned into the city’s granary.
Some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance worked on the statues that adorn the exterior, visible while you walk along Via Calzaioli (today these statues are copies, the originals are in the Orsanmichele Museum above the church). The entrance to the church is tucked away in via dell’Arte della Lana (open every day between 10am and 5pm).
2. Santo Spirito Church
Santo Spirito, located in the Oltrarno, is another church that is very significant in Florence’s history. As part of his studies in anatomy, the young Michelangelo used to come here to dissect corpses from the hospital next door. In return he sculpted a wooden Crucifix for the priory as a thank you.
Santo Spirito is a perfect example of Renaissance architecture; elegant, geometrical and simple. The planning was done by Brunelleschi in 1444, but he died before the building was completed. If you’ve also visited the church of San Lorenzo, you’ll find similarities in the architecture. The decoration of the chapels and the lavish main altar is created in Baroque style.
You can see the Crucifix by Michelangelo in the Sacristy by paying the 3 euro entry ticket. (Piazza Santo Spirito in Oltrarno, open 9:30-12:30am and 16-17:30pm weekly day – festive 11:30-12:30am and 16-17:30pm – closed on Wednesday).
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3. San Miniato al Monte Church
Set on a hill overlooking Florence, this church is a few short steps up from Piazzale Michelangelo. From here you can enjoy the best view of the city (for free, of course!). One of Florence’s oldest churches, San Miniato boasts a striking Romanesque façade and a fascinating interior. There’s a Medieval patterned floor, a luminous 13th century mosaic, some gorgeous frescoes and a crypt.
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Admire the frescoes by Renaissance Masters
Florence is famous for its beautiful frescoes. And, incredibly, some can be seen for free.
4. Frescoes by Ghirlandaio in the Basilica of Santa Trinita
The Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio is famous for the Tornabuoni Chapel in S.M. Novella Church. Very skilled in perspective and portraiture, he had the most important workshop in Florence. In 1488 he counted Michelangelo amongst his apprentices, no less.
The Santa Trinita Church contains one of his masterpieces, the fresco cycle dedicated to the life of Saint Francis. You’ll find it in the Sassetti Chapel, on the right transept.
It’s a fine example of his elegant style. The details are stunning and tell a lot about the period of time when he was painting, as he depicts the costumes and portraits of his contemporaries. The beautiful altarpiece is also by Ghirlandaio: “Adoration of the Shepherds”. (Piazza Santa Trinita – the church is open daily from 8-12am and 4-7pm)
5. Last Supper fresco by Andrea del Castagno in Sant’Apollonia Refectory
If you want to be alone while contemplating an amazing work of Renaissance art, this might be just your chance. Of the many ‘Last Supper’ paintings in Florence, this is the most interesting and dramatic. Andrea del Castagno, in 1477, worked at the decoration of the refectory of the Benedictine nuns at Sant’Apollonia convent. This fresco is considered his best work.
The skilful use of perspective creates an illusion of depth. Andrea del Castagno creates a claustrophobic space, that gives a sense of menace. The black bearded Judas sits on is own opposite John and Christ. Above his head the marble panel shows very hostile colours.
Leonardo da Vinci is very likely to know this work when he painted his Last Supper. (You find it in Via XXVII Aprile, 1 – open Monday to Saturday from 8:15am-1:50pm, closed 2nd and 4th Monday of each month and open 2nd and 4th Sunday)
The entrance to Florence’s Cathedral is free!
You need a ticket to climb the Dome and the bell tower (combined ticket for the Cathedral Complex costs 18 euro), but you can see the interior of the Cathedral for free. The entrance is through the left door on the facade. Admire the vast space of this church that, at the time of construction, was the biggest ever built.
Check out Dante’s portrait and the frescoes of equestrian monuments by Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello. The stained window glasses are the work of Renaissance masters such as Donatello and Ghiberti. Notice the representation of the Holy Lamb, symbol of the Wool Guild, in charge of the construction of the massive Cathedral. And remember to look up – the Dome interior is lavishly decorated with late 16th century frescoes.
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Loggia dei Lanzi, an open air sculpture museum
In Piazza della Signoria, right in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, there’s a unique art space. A loggia that contains some great examples of classical and Renaissance statues. Unlike the David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, which is only a copy of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the statues in the Loggia are all original works.
You find the bronze “Perseus” by Cellini, with incredible details and elegance. On the far right, notice the snake-like “Rape of the Sabine Women” by mannerist master Giambologna. The Medici lions guard the entrance, but nobody asks you for a ticket.
Top tips for saving money while appreciating art in Florence
Every first Sunday of the month most museums are free all around Italy. In Florence the following ones are free: Uffizi, Galleria dell’Accademia, Medici Chapels, Pitti Palace museums and galleries, Bargello Museum, Palazzo Davanzati, Archeological Museum.
To save money, when booking the Uffizi Gallery or the Accademia make sure to book directly from the official site. There are other sites that look official but they are not, and they charge more for the reservation. Booking fee for the Uffizi on the official site is 4 euro. You can also book by phone: +39 055 294883 . You can choose a date and time. Tickets cost 12 euros (from 1st November to 31st march) and 20 euros from 1st April to 31 October), plus 4 euros for the booking fee. By booking you won’t completely avoid the queue but it will shorten it considerably.