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Ahh Florence. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. It showcases some of the best-preserved examples of Renaissance architecture and still retains a lot of its traditional Tuscan culture.
Whether you’re a couple looking for romantic activities or you’re looking for a city break with the family, you’ll find there are plenty of things to do in Florence to suit any type of traveller.
It’s well known for its museums, galleries, ornately designed basilicas, and piazza squares.
But how do you know what to do in Florence? With so much to see, how do you put together your Florene itinerary? To help you out, we interviewed Laurel Perry Turner who owns and operates an authentic Tuscan tour company, specializing in experiencing Tuscany, not just visiting.
Since her first visit to Italy, almost 6 years ago, she was hooked and has traveled the region extensively since. Laurel shares with us her insider tips on the best attractions in Florence, where to eat, sleep, and how to around.
Go take a look!
Is Florence Worth Visiting?
Florence can very well be considered one of the art and cultural centers of the world.
Your first step into the city will be back in time.
Allow yourself to be swept away into the Renaissance as you are surrounded by beautifully preserved, architecturally perfect, historical buildings and breathtaking art at every turn.
Every few steps you will be taken by the smells wafting from the trattorias, osterias, cafes, and pizzerias! You will be surrounded by the sounds of lively conversations in one of the most beautiful languages in the world!
Even the complaining children sound beautiful! (Although, the Italians may not agree!)
In the end, it is the culture of hospitality and the kindness of the Italian people that make you never want to leave. For all these reasons and more, Florence is 100% worth visiting.
Florence also makes for a fabulous choice for a place on your Italian honeymoon itinerary.
The Florence Museum Gold Pass will help you skip the queues and arvel at the Statue of David, explore Uffizi Gallery and enjoy views from the top of Brunelleschi’s Duomo without hassle and with an audio guide. Get your pass here.
Things to Do in Florence
So without further ado, here are the top attractions in Florence! Whether you’re looking to find the best of Renaissance art or you simply want to kick back and relax in a piazza, don’t miss these sites!
1. Visit the Duomo, Baptistry and Bell Tower
Commonly known as, “The Duomo”, Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore is impossible to miss.
It is the skyline of Florence. Building began on the huge Gothic duomo in 1296 and it was consecrated in 1436.
Inside Brunelleschi’s Dome you will find one of the most breathtaking pieces of art you will ever see.
It is well worth the stairs you will climb to walk around the inner walls to see the paintings up close and to see an amazing view of the city from the outside.
The Campanile, otherwise known as Giotto’s bell tower, is in Piazza del Duomo.
You can climb the 414 stairs to get an incredible view, but if you are choosing between climbing the duomo and the tower, go with the dome.
The Baptistery is from the 11th century and one of the oldest buildings in Florence.
Here you will find Ghiberti’s famous bronze doors, the “Gates of Paradise” (they are reproductions, the originals are in the Duomo Museum).
2. Explore the Uffizi Gallery
The Galleria degli Uffizi holds the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art.
It is essential to buy reservation tickets before going to avoid the long line. Trust me on this one, the line can be hours, as they only allow so many people in the museum at one time.
Your reservation is not a ticket, just a pass to get in the much shorter line to enter.
In the museum, you will see works from Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael. One of the highlights of the museum is the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli – you could easily spend a whole day here.
3. See the Statue of David at Accademia Gallery
Florence’s Galleria dell’ Academia, holds Michelangelo’s David, easily the most famous sculpture in the world.
One of my favorite parts of this museum is the collection of musical instruments, I never tire of this exhibit. It is also quite advisable to get reservations for this museum.
4. Relax in the Boboli Gardens
On the other side of the Arno River, you will find Giardino di Boboli, a beautiful and sprawling English-style garden on a hillside behind the Pitti Palace.
It is a lovely place to slow down and enjoy the greener side of Florence.
5. Sip Espresso at Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti, Pitti Palace, is Florence’s largest palazzo, once owned by the Medici family. You can visit 8 different galleries in the palace.
Be prepared, it is massive and can wear you out quickly.
6. Admire the Statues of Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria, the historic and political center of the city, is just off of the River Arno and next to the Uffizi Gallery.
Here, you will find statues including the Fountain of Neptune and a replica of the Statue of David.
I love watching as tourists stand in awe, clicking away at the breathtaking show of art filling the piazza! It was this square where the famous Bonfire of the Vanities was held.
7. See Dante’s Tomb in La Basilica di Santa Croce
Protected by an imposing statue of Dante, it sits with its beautiful facade in front of a modest piazza.
The Santa Croce was built for the common citizens of Florence, just a 15-minute walk from the much more grand Duomo.
This is my favorite church in Florence. It houses the tombs of the likes of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini, and the empty tomb of Dante.
For this reason, Santa Croce is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie).
Florence keeps the empty tomb of Dante in hopes that one day it shall be filled with his decayed remains. They are currently housed in the city of Ravenna, his final resting place, after being exiled from Florence.
8. Witness Incredible Views from Piazzale Michelangelo
It is a must to see the sun setting over the city from Piazzale Michelangelo!
This is, by far, the most famous view overlooking the city and has been reproduced on countless postcards and photographs. You will also find a bronze replica of David that is thought to be safeguarding the city.
You can either take the hike up to the top, take the bus, or hire a cab.
If you choose to walk to the Piazzale, make sure you wander through the Oltrarno, the neighborhood on the other side of the Arno river from the duomo, which is all too often overlooked.
At the very least, try to walk down after the sunset.
9. Shop Along The Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio was Florence’s first bridge to cross the Arno River and is the only surviving bridge from Florence’s medieval days.
Lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, you’ll have a great view of the city along the Arno River.
This bridge is a true landmark of the city of Florence.
At night, it can be quite romantic to take in a local musician busking at the center of the bridge, while gazing upon the city lighting up the river.
9. Visit The Bargello
The Bargello is the national sculpture museum, located in Florence.
The castle-like building was built in 1255–1350 as the original seat of government. It contains the greatest collection of Renaissance sculptures in Florence and is one of the best collections in Italy.
What you must see here is the huge room filled with Donatello’s masterpieces.
10. Check Out The Palazzo Strozzi
At the Palazzo Strozzi, you will find a constant rotation of exhibits. It is often overlooked because the current exhibits will not be listed in the guidebooks.
I try to never miss an exhibit here when I am in town! Mixing the ancient with the modern, Palazzo Strozzi has never disappointed me.
With all exhibits in English as well as Italian, the breathtaking presentations are certainly an underrated gem of the city.
11. Wander Around The Oltrarno Neighborhood
You will hit almost all of Florence’s major neighborhoods while exploring the sites, but it is the neighborhood across the river you don’t want to miss.
The Oltrarno, “Across the Arno” is the artisans’ neighborhood, filled with quaint streets and wonderful shops and restaurants.
It is, by far, the most missed gem by tourists in Florence.
The Oltrarno’s lively tree-filled center, Piazza Santo Spirito, is unique unto itself. Lined with bars and a more bohemian-style crowd, this is where you will find the locals.
Be sure to check out the San Miniato al Monte basilica, a true architectural wonder in the area.
12. Try Traditional Tuscan T-Bone
The bistecca alla Fiorentina, the Tuscan t-bone!
This mouth-watering piece of meat will never allow you to taste steak the same again!
While I am a bit biased, as this is the place where my travelers stay, Bellavista Impruneta Hotel Ristorante is known for having the best Florentine bistecca around.
It is a stunningly beautiful 30-minute bus ride through the Tuscan countryside to the small village of Impruneta where you will find this gourmet treat.
They also offer gluten-free options.
13. Shop ‘Till You Drop at the Markets
Florence has a few markets that are perfect for shopping for souvenirs to take home. Here are some of our favourite markets…
Piazza Santa Trinita – This piazza sits just off the river, Via de’ Tornabuoni, and is home to Gucci, Armani, Ferragamo, Versace, and many more.
Here, you will find beautifully quaint streets lined with the biggest names in high fashion. Even if haute couture is not your thing, it’s worth the window-shopping stroll.
For more luxury shopping, head to the Mall Firenze.
San Lorenzo and the Mercato Centrale – Centered on the Medici’s old church of San Lorenzo, between the train station and the Duomo, these streets are filled with markets!
Here you will find the massive indoor food market and San Lorenzo’s famous leather markets. Leather goods are one of the biggest trade items in Florence so if you’re wondering what to take home, keep an eye out for some leather shoes, purses, wallets, and journals.
It is a fun and lively place to visit and don’t be afraid to haggle with prices.
14. Visit the Palazza Vecchio at Night
My favorite thing to do in Florence at night is to explore the sites! Visit the museum in Palazzo Vecchio at night and you will get a treat like you never imagined!
No lines, no crowds, and a beautifully quiet view of some of the greatest masterpieces in the world!
Plus, there is nothing like seeing all of the buildings and statues lit up in the night sky!
15. Take a Day Trip to Chianti
Taking a drive through the Chianti, home to the most well-known Italian red wine in the world is something every Tuscan visitor should do.
Extending over the provinces of Florence and Siena and covering all of the area between, Chianti offers a unique landscape with green, rolling hills covered with fields of vineyards and olive groves, small stone villages, and countryside homes in stone.
You will want to find yourself in Sienna at the end of your drive. Second only to Florence in importance in the history of Italian art, Siena is a must-see in Tuscany.
Stop and people-watch in Piazza del Campo, one of the most beautiful piazzas in all of Italy, as you soak in all that Siena has to offer.
Take a virtual tour of Siena and get a taste of how magnificent this city really is!
If you do not want to hire a car and drive yourself, you can take a bus or hire a day excursion driver to bring you there.
Where to Eat in Florence
- Gusta Pizza – These guys are so busy, they don’t even need a website! The lines can sometimes be long, but it will be well worth the wait. Some of the best pizza in town! You get to see reviews and get information on them on Tripadvisor.
- Authentic Tuscan Cuisine – La Beppa Fioraia- Tratoria Storica Fiorentina is a favorite of the locals. It is a bit on the higher end, but not outrageous. This lovely restaurant is worth the walk to the other side of the river. The food is incredible and the staff quite friendly.
- Gelato – Is there anything more important in Italy? You must know that not all gelato is the same! Don’t be fooled by the pretty displays, go with the recommendations and where you see a line, there is a reason for it. Remember, it is essential to eat at least 2 scoops a day!
- My favorite gelateria is La Carraia. Located across the river, but right on it, La Carraia is not only delicious and fresh, but you can get a scoop for only one euro!
Where to Stay in Florence
If you’re wondering where to stay in Florence, the Hotel David is an absolutely lovely hotel that is conveniently located. It is not central, so you can avoid the crowds and all the night-time noise.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable. There is WiFi, free parking and gluten-free menu options. Family-owned and operated, it is really a wonderful place to stay.
Just outside the city center is the Bellavista Impruneta Hotel Ristorante. If you would like to get a little taste of the countryside while still being close to the city, this is the place for you. Bellavista is located in the quaint village of Impruneta, just a 30-minute countryside drive or bus ride from the city.
Owned and operated by the Becucci family for over 100 years, authentic Tuscany is what you will find here.
There is always someone ready to answer any of your questions and help you in any way. Comfortable rooms, gourmet cuisine, and as the name implies, beautiful views! The village of Impruneta is a gem all to itself!
Getting Around Florence
Florence is a beautifully walkable city.
Almost any site can be reached on foot. Just be sure to wear your most comfortable shoes, it will be worth the investment! The brick streets and uneven walkways are not conducive to small heels.
The bus system is quite reliable. Getting around by bus is pretty easy too, you just need to know where to get your tickets and what the routes are.
The Santa Maria Novella train station is conveniently located in the city and fairly easy to navigate. As with any train station, be aware of your belongings at all times.
Getting To and From Florence
You can either fly directly into Florence or into Pisa and take the train into the city.
I prefer to fly Luthansa. With layovers in Germany, I find the airports to be accommodating and easy to navigate and the airline to be reliable.
I try to avoid a layover in Paris whenever I can, getting stuck in a massive airport can easily make you miss your connection.
My favorite 3rd party travel booking site is Skyscanner, I have saved hundreds of dollars booking through them.
You can also take a bus or a train in, which will bring you to the Santa Maria Novella station, right in the middle of the city.
Finding WiFi in Florence
I have never had any problem finding a bar (the Italian name for cafes) that offer free wifi to customers. I usually just get a coffee and a pastry and have a seat outside.
The city of Florence now offers free WiFi in 12 piazze and parks. Access is via password in compliance with Italian laws, and is limited to one hour a day.
Unfortunately, to get the password you’ll need an Italian cell phone. I’m hoping this will change soon.
Best Time to Visit Florence
No doubt, spring, and fall are the best time to visit Florence. In October and November, you’ll find the weather is still sunny but it’s a comfortable temperature (plus fewer crowds).
The summers can be quite hot and horribly crowded. The winter is a bit cold, but you will not encounter many tourists at all.
Visiting in the off-season will give you a much deeper experience of not having to fight the crowds and it will be significantly less expensive all the way around, especially the airfare!
Tips for Visiting Florence
Before you go to Florence, I have just a few suggestions to maximise your trip:
- Get lost! I love walking down random streets and experiencing the true quaintness of less-traveled paths.
- Just remember to always carry a map or download the offline Google Maps! If you get really lost, just ask anyone to lead you to the Duomo.
- Taste Florence. If you really want to know about eating in Italy, take time for this Florence food tour! You will not be disappointed!
- Don’t forget to stop into one (or a few) of the countless wine shops (enoteca) to find out what Tuscany is really famous for!
- Book your museum tickets in advance. The queues for tickets can be horribly long! Save yourself some time and book in advance.
- Don’t go mad on espresso. Coffee in Italy tends to be a lot stronger than what you might find in other countries in Europe, so be mindful of that.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Florence
I am in love with falling in love!
Every time I visit this remarkable city, I fall in love all over again! From the food to the culture, the architecture and the art, the language, and the people – Florence is a city that you will hold in your heart forever!
We hope this guide helped you to plan your trip to Florence and gave you some inspiration for what to do in Florence.
More Italy Travel Tips
Are you planning to visit other parts of Italy? Then you may enjoy these other guides…
BIO – Laurel Perry Turner lives with her three children in Clearwater, Florida. She is a travel and portrait photographer, writer, and owner of Capturing Tuscany, an authentic Tuscan touring company. Laurel is currently writing a book about the people of Giglio Island, Italy and their experience with the Costa Concordia disaster. You can follow her blog, >Capturing la Vita. You can also connect with Laurel on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
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Do you have tips on things to do in Florence? Please share in the comments below.
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