I love Florence but it seems like everyone else does too so it is very expensive to fly into Florence. From Chicago a much cheaper alternative is to fly Turkish Airlines to Bologna. You’ll need to spend at least one night (or more) in Istanbul but that is a bonus rather than a sacrifice for me. Other airlines also fly to Bologna and a lot times at lower fares than Florence. Another alternative is to fly into Pisa.
Once you get to Bologna getting to Florence is easy. We arrived at the airport and took one of the many city buses that takes you to the train station. It costs 6 EUR a person and takes you through the whole town so it’s like getting a cheap tour. Once you get to the train station you can use one of the machines to buy a ticket. The cheapest available tickets the day I was there were 24 EUR. The only problem is that all the tickets were sold out for a couple hours. So we had to wait. There aren’t a lot of things to do near the train station with suitcases. But we walked down one of Bologna’s many arcades and went to an outdoor clothes market. You could buy really cheap clothes there. We also ate some gelatto. Not too bad a wait but not fun having to wait. The train drops you off at St Maria Novella, the main station in town.
Another option which we took on the way back is to take the Appennino Shutlle. This is a great service that takes you from Piazzale Montelungo (right behind the SMN train station) right to the Bologna airport and vice-versa. It costs 20 EUR if you purchase it online or 25 EUR onboard. At the Bologna airport you can pre-pay at the Welcome Center. The shuttle runs the following times:
The shuttles are rather small so I recommend you arrive a few minutes early because at some times they do fill up. Other times I saw no one on the shuttle. I do have to say I like the way they treat their customers. The shuttle we took was completely full but there were 4 girls who had purchased their tickets from a travel agent. Instead of telling them to wait for the next one and maybe miss their flight, the driver called his supervisor and a cab was ordered. The company paid for them to be taken to Bologna via taxi. That is good customer service.
We were dropped off on the far left hand side of the Bologna terminal and I assume that is where you catch the bus. I tried asking around but no one seemed to know about it. The departure times from the Bologna airport are : 7:50, 9:10, 10:10, 11:50, 14:00, 15:50, 18:00, 20:00, 22:00 and 00:30. Their website is http://www.appenninoshuttle.it
Next time you want to go to Florence see if it is cheaper to fly into Bologna and don’t worry about getting there.