Frommer's lists prices throughout this guide in the local currency. (US$ are sometimes used for overseas tour operators, denoted with a "$"). However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/currency/converter to check up-to-the-minute rates.
Despite the ongoing financial crisis in much of the world, Tuscany is as popular as ever and it remains a relatively expensive destination. In Florence, you can expect to find roughly the same prices for services as you would in Rome and Milan, which are generally lower than London, New York, and Paris, but higher than the rest of Southern Europe. Like anywhere else, prices for everyday goods and services like groceries and haircuts will always be greater in a high-rent city like Florence than in the countryside. Still, travelers from North America and the U.K. will be giddy about the savings on what they might consider luxuries but are basic staples in Italy -- fine wine, cheese, cold cuts, and an impeccable cappuccino that costs less than two euros.
Euro coins are issued in denominations of .01€, .02€, .05€, .10€, .20€, and .50€ as well as 1€ and 2€; bills come in denominations of 5€, 10€, 20€, 50€, 100€, 200€, and 500€.
Traveler's checks, while still the safest way to carry money, are going the way of the dinosaur. The aggressive evolution of international computerized banking and consolidated ATM networks has led to the triumph of plastic throughout the Italian peninsula -- even if cold cash is still the most trusted currency, especially in smaller towns or cheaper mom-and-pop joints, where credit cards may not be accepted.
You'll get the best rate if you exchange money at a bank or one of its ATMs. The rates at "Cambio/change/wechsel" exchange booths are invariably less favorable but still a good deal better than what you'd get exchanging money at a hotel or shop (a last-resort tactic only). The bill-to-bill changers you'll see in some touristy places exist solely to rip you off.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM, referred to in Italy as a "Bancomat." ATMs are easily found in the cities of Tuscany and Umbria, but are not as common in smaller towns and villages. While every town usually has one, it's good practice to fuel up on cash in urban centers, ideally during business hours. (International circuits seem to go off-line on occasion late at night and on weekends.) The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe. Go to your bank card's website to find ATM locations in Florence, Tuscany, or Umbria. Be sure to check with your bank that your card is valid for international withdrawal, and that you have a four-digit PIN. (Most ATMs in Italy will not accept any other number of digits.) Also, be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee, although this is not common practice in Italy. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank. If at the ATM you get a message saying your card isn't valid for international transactions, don't panic: It's most likely the bank just can't make the phone connection to check it (occasionally this can be a citywide epidemic) or else simply doesn't have the cash. Try another ATM or another town.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Tuscany and Umbria these days, especially in hotels and larger establishments. However, it is always a good idea to carry some cash since some small businesses may only accept cash or may claim that their credit card machine is broken to avoid paying fees to the credit card companies. Visa and MasterCard are almost universally accepted at hotels, plus most restaurants and shops; the majority of them also accept American Express. Diners Club is gaining some ground, especially in Florence and in more expensive establishments throughout the region. Note: It is an unfortunately common practice among many restaurants in Italy to claim that the credit card machine is down when, in fact, it is more often the case that the owner simply doesn't want to pay the merchant fees. On more than one occasion we've insisted that they try it just in case, as we had no cash, and -- surprise -- it's been instantly fixed! The best way to avoid this chicanery is to inform the waitstaff upfront that you intend to use a credit card. If they tell you it's broken, you have the option of finding a restaurant where the machine "works."
Chip and PIN cards represent a change in the way that credit and debit cards are used. The program is designed to cut down on the fraudulent use of credit cards. More and more banks -- across Europe -- are issuing customers Chip and PIN versions of their debit or credit cards. In the future, more and more vendors will be asking for a four-digit personal identification number or PIN, which will be entered into a keypad near the cash register. For now, traditional "swipe" cards are commonly accepted in central Italy even though they are being phased out elsewhere, and "chip" cards are also commonly accepted.
Finally, be sure to let your bank know that you'll be traveling abroad to avoid having your card blocked after a few days of big purchases far from home. Note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency). Check with your bank before departing to avoid any surprise charges on your statement.
For help with currency conversions, tip calculations, and more, download Frommer's convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the "Travel Tools" icon.
What Things Cost in Florence (€)
Taxi (from the train station to Santa Croce) 15.00
Public bus (to any destination) 1.20
Double room at Helvetia & Bristol (very expensive) 420.00
Double room at Antica Dimora Johlea (moderate) 170.00
Double room at Locanda Orchidea (inexpensive) 75.00
Continental breakfast (cappuccino and croissant standing at a bar) 3.00
Lunch for one at Da Rocco (inexpensive) 8.00
Dinner for one, with table wine, at Giostra (expensive) 65.00
Dinner for one, with table wine, at Il Santo Bevitore (moderate) 30.00
Dinner for one, with table wine, at Le Mossacce (inexpensive) 18.00
Glass of wine 2.50-7.00
Coca-Cola (standing/sitting in a bar) 2.00/3.50
Cup of espresso (standing/sitting in a bar) 1.00/1.75
Admission to the Uffizi Gallery 6.50-11
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.