How to do Florence on a Budget
Florence is an Italian city best known for its art. Home to the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Galleria dell'Accademia (where Michelangelo's David masterpiece resides), visitors from around the world flock to see famous statues and paintings by Raphael, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci among others. The good news is you don't have to break the bank to get some world-class culture. You can view sculptures, paintings, and other works of art for less—or for free—if you know where to look.
Whether you're a history buff, art lover, or just passing through, there's something for everyone in Florence. Stroll the medieval streets admiring Florentine architecture (it's best to do this accompanied by a scoop or two of gelato!), take in views of the city's famous Duomo, and take tons of photos of the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio at sunset for a memorable—and free—day on the town. And whatever you do, don't forget to bring your camera! Here are some great ways to get the biggest bang for your buck when visiting Florence.
Visit the Statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia—for less
You can't go all the way to Florence and not see David. For a budget-friendly way to visit Galleria dell'Accademia, try investing in a Firenze Card, which remains valid for 72-hours, covers admission to 60 museums, galleries (including Galleria degli Uffizi), historical villas, and gardens, and includes a three-day transit pass—great for taking cheap, scenic rides around the city. While the $81 (72 euro) price tag might seem a little steep, keep in mind that most of the included museums charge between $9-–$28 (8-–25 euros) each and you can now visit 60 of them over a three-day period. You'll also have access to a separate, shorter line for Firenze Card holders.
Visit the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence's famous Duomo
No trip to Florence is complete without a look inside the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, one of the most easily recognizable landmarks in the city. Fortunately for budget travelers, admission to this 13th century gothic cathedral is free (although you can pay about eight euros per person to climb the 463 steps of Brunelleschi's dome for sweeping views of the city or opt for the all-inclusive $12 (10 euro) ticket that lets you tour the Galleria dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi's Dome, Giotto's Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, and the Crypt of Santa Reparata). Step inside the cool marble interior during a hot summer day and check out Giorgio Vasari's magnificent frescoes featuring the Last Judgment and a beautiful clock built in 1443 by Paolo Uccello that still works today.
See free art—and famous replicas—in Piazza della Signoria
Visit replicas of popular sculptures like Michelangelo's David and Judith and Holofernes, grab a snack at one of the outdoor restaurants and cafés, or stroll the Piazza, taking in the sites on your own. You can also view Cellini's statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head, sculptures by Donatello, and Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines in the square's open-air sculpture gallery, as well as other works like Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus, and an impressive fountain featuring Neptune near Palazzo Vecchio, a 14th century palace that overlooks the Piazza.
Visit Piazzale Michelangelo for beautiful panoramic views of Florence
For a change of pace, take a ride on the #12 or #13 ATAF bus (tickets cost about $1.35 (1.20 euro) per person and are valid for 90 minutes) from the Santa Maria Novella train station to Piazzale Michelangelo for amazing panoramic views of Florence from the top of the hill. You'll get a beautiful 20 to 30-minute ride over the Arno River through the Florentine countryside to a scenic square overlooking the city, complete with a replica of Michelangelo's David and plenty of vendors to help you find the perfect souvenir.
Explore sites south of the Arno River
Visit Ponte Vecchio, the city's famous medieval arched bridge, now home to an assortment of shops and restaurants, and a regular spot for free musical entertainment. Cross the river to Florence's Oltrarno District to see how the super-wealthy Medici family once lived—admission to the Boboli Gardens, Pitti Palace, and several museums associated with the Medici Treasury are included with the Firenze Card (mentioned above), or you can purchase tickets for from seven euros ($8) per person. A three-day combo ticket is also available for from about $13 per person.
What's Cookin' in Music City?
Sure, Nashville has earned its rep as Music City. Where else can you kick back and enjoy a family-friendly show like the Full Moon Pickin' Party, featuring country headliners plus bluegrass and roots artists in a public park under a full moon? Or Bluegrass Nights each Thursday through the end of July at the legendary Ryman Auditorium? But there's another kind of jammin' going on in the country music capital. Imaginative chefs are transforming the city's food scene—check out the James Beard nominations and placements on top American restaurant lists. From upscale eateries to buzzy food trucks on the streets of hip nabes like East Nashville and The Gulch, here's what's cookin' in Nashville: Lockeland Table. This upscale kitchen serves up contemporary riffs on classic Southern cuisine by chef Hal Holden-Bache, a West Virginia native and 12-year veteran of the Nashville restaurant scene. Its menu, including crab and corn fritters, wood-fired pizzas topped with housemade sausage, and main courses such as Niman Ranch bone-in pork loin or Carolina Mountain trout with honey bourbon glaze, earned it a James Beard nomination for 2013 best new restaurant. 1520 Woodland St., lockelandtable.com, pizzas from $11 Margot Cafe & Bar. Inspired by her Tennessee childhood and training in New York City, chef Margot McCormack specializes in rustic French and Italian fare, focusing on the freshest, highest quality seasonal ingredients. The menu changes daily and may include simple but elegant choices such as green garlic risotto or housemade linguini with pickled ramps, crimini mushrooms, and parmesan. 1017 Woodland St., margotcafe.com, entrees from $16 Hoss' Loaded Burgers. C'mon—sometimes you just want to bite into a ginormous burger, right? Hoss' Loaded Burgers brings the beef right to you. Well, sort of. You can find out where this popular Nashville food truck happens to be parked by texting "burger" to 88000 and flag down a stuffed burger like The Big Easy, a 1/3 lb patty of local grass-fed beef crammed with creamy melted provolone and topped with Cajun spices, Creole remoulade, and red onion. hossburgers.com, burger from $7, fried $2
3 Ways Breaking Bad Fans Can Still Get Their Fix
As the commercials said, all bad things must come to an end. Breaking Bad may have ended, but we've got three ways fans of the show can still get their fix. If you're lucky enough to be anywhere near Albuquerque, N.M., where nearly the entire series has been filmed, catch a ride on The BaD Tour by the Albuquerque Trolley Company, a 3.5 hour open-air joyride that covers 38 miles and 13 main locations from the show including the exteriors of Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and Gus's houses, the car wash and laundry facilities that act as the meth-maker's storefronts, Tuco's headquarters, the ever-shady Crossroads Motel, and the infamous railroad tracks. To top it all off, you'll get a complimentary drink during a stop at Twisters Grill, the restaurant that doubles as Los Pollos Hermanos on the show. Tickets cost $65 per person including taxes and leave from Hotel Albuquerque at 800 Rio Grande Blvd NW in Old Town. Check website for available dates and to purchase tickets online. Please note that the tour is rated 'R' because of the show's dark subject matter and may not be appropriate for children. If you're short on time or if tickets happen to sell out due to the tour's popularity, the Albuquerque Trolley Company also offers an 85-minute long Best of ABQ City Tour, featuring a peek at several major sites from the show like Jesse Pinkman's house and Hank's DEA office during a fun trip through Historic Old Town, Museum Row, Nob Hill, the University of New Mexico, the historic Barelas neighborhood, and along Historic Route 66. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for children under age 12. Tours leave from Hotel Albuquerque at 800 Rio Grande Blvd NW in Old Town. If you'd rather discover the magic of the Breaking Bad locations yourself, the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau's website lists places of note and information for a self-guided tour of the hotspots like Los Pollos Hermanos and the Octopus Car Wash, both featured in the series. DIe hard fans of the show should not miss the chance to buy iconic "blue ice candy," rock candy colored to look just like the main characters' special product, from The Candy Lady, a specialty sweet shop located in Albuquerque's Historic Old Town. Also for sale are a slew of Breaking Bad t-shirts and other merchandise including Walter White's signature black hat. Blue ice candy packages sell for $1 each and are also available online—five packages for $5 and 10 packages for $10, plus shipping and handling. Walter White's hat replica sells for $45 in the store and online.
Budget Travel Loves Ocean City, N.J.!
One of the things I love about being executive editor at Budget Travel is that our readers are always ready to share their opinions. We've based whole feature stories and gorgeous slideshows on your favorite beaches, islands, theme parks—even lighthouses. And every year we hold a fierce competition for America's Coolest Small Towns, soliciting hundreds of nominations and holding a down-to-the-wire online vote in January. We love to hear when we've pleased you. We also like to know when you think we've, um, goofed. It happens. That's why when Ocean City, N.J., let us have it for leaving them off our recent "America's Most Awesome Boardwalks" story, it made my day. Seriously. Sure, the title "most awesome" is, by definition, a slightly subjective one and by its nature the list of 19 perfect plankways had to leave off a few great destinations. But the folks in Ocean City, N.J., showed the kind of local love that BT is all about—and we congratulate this awesome Jersey beach town on its "stronger than the storm" community spirit. So, what's so awesome about Ocean City, N.J.? For starters, why settle for one great oceanfront amusement park when you can have two? Ocean City shines like the lights of Broadway with two big Ferris wheels, coasters, water rides, go carts, and much more. There are more opportunities here for catching live entertainment than at most American boardwalks, including a summer concert series, Radio Disney on Tuesday nights, and Family Night each Thursday in July and August, with live shows and celebrations up and down the beach. And don't forget to fill your eco-friendly cloth bag (sold at the Music Pier Information Center) with fudge, taffy, antiques, and summer reading at Ocean City's shops. ocnj.us/boardwalk.
Mark Your Calendars: NYC Restaurant Week Starts July 20th!
It's our favorite time of year: NYC Restaurant Week is happening from July 20th thru August 14th. You'll find $25 three-course prix-fixe lunch deals and $38 three-course prix-fixe dinner specials at more than 360 restaurants throughout Manhattan, including four in Brooklyn (Benchmark Restaurant in Park Slope, Saul in Prospect Heights, The Gorbals Brooklyn and Cherry Izakaya in Williamsburg) and two in Queens (Water's Edge Restaurant in Long Island City and Haveli in Forest Hills/Rego Park). Visit the website to view a list of all participating restaurants like Angus Club Steakhouse, Birreria at Eataly, Fig & Olive, Nobu New York, The Palm Court, Tribeca Grill, and Les Halles. The event is sponsored by American Express—register your American Express card to earn a $5 statement credit when you spend $25 or more at participating restaurants. They're also running an Instagram photo contest this year: Tag photos from your fun and delicious Restaurant Week experiences with #NYCRestaurantWeek for a chance to win gift cards to select NYC restaurants—four photos will be chosen every week for four weeks, so don't miss out. In the immortal words of Julia Child, Bon Appétit! Please note that discounted prices are valid Monday thru Friday and some Sundays depending on the restaurant. Beverages, gratuities, and taxes are not included in the promoted price.