A walk through Florence, the heart of the Renaissance, on my first day of class
I’ve been in Florence for a two weeks now. For the first few days, I was a full-blown tourist. I was in a honeymoon phase where all I wanted to do was take pictures, buy overpriced souvenirs, and eat new Italian food.
After the first honeymoon phase died down towards the end of the week, I started to notice a few things as I spoke to the locals.
They had some interesting things to say about tourists. For them, spotting tourists is really easy. Tourists make for easy targets for theft, scams and price gouging because we don’t know the area as well, we don’t speak the language as well, and we can’t read the people as well. While at first I couldn’t differentiate between locals and tourists, after a few sessions of people watching, I began to see what they saw.
I present you with tips to fly a little lower under the tourist radar and stay smart:
4 Tourist Giveaways (beyond the typical camera and map)
Wearing sport shoes (and sports clothing in general). Italians are more formal, and more into neutral colors. They know how to walk on the cobblestones comfortably (and in heels!) without the help of extra-padded Nike runners.
Walking in the middle of the streets. Watch where you are. Italians will honk and yell at you.
Wearing heavy makeup. Unlike other parts of Europe or America, women in Florence do not wear heavy makeup on a daily basis.
Tipping. Tips are included. Always.
7 Smart Tourist Tricks
Leave your pinchy flats at home. While you want to fit in with the locals, keep in mind that you are walking the entire day. My walk to school alone is 20 minutes on the cobblestones of Florence. On days where I have tours visiting art museums, my fitbit tells me I’ve walked 8 to 10 miles. If you’re lucky, your hotel has an elevator, but even then they are extremely small. Don’t make the mistake of chafing your heels; wear boots or comfortable sandals.
Gelato should cost no more than 2 euros. Move a little away from the tourist center where gelato goes for 4 euros. Plus, mom and pop shops hand-make their gelato (“artigianale”) and it tastes much better.
Carry a refillable water bottle in your bag. Water costs a few euro and 1 euro if you’re away from the tourist center, but there are free, drinkable water fountains at all major cathedrals and tourist attractions. Stay economically hydrated–after all, you’re walking pretty much all day.
Sitting down in a restaurant costs more money. Taking food and sitting on the steps saves a few euros each lunch. But please, don’t do this for dinner. That’s just tacky.
Avoid beggars and selfie stick sellers. Once you open a conversation, they are very persistent until you buy. However, don’t be rude.
Haggle in the street shops. The leather market and Ponte Vecchio are tourist traps. Learn how to negotiate to avoid being scammed. Better yet, learn how to negotiate in Italian! When a merchant heard me speak Italian, he was so impressed he gave me few euros off of the wallet I wanted to buy.
Walk with purpose and watch where you are going. Self explanatory. There is a lot of horse poo on the street from horse carriages even though they wash the streets every night. Watch for those.
Florence is a city you will fall in love with if you are ready for what it has to offer. If you respect the city and adapt to its people, your time here will be a breeze, as was mine.