How you spend your time – and how much of it to spend – in Florence depends on what you want to do. I plan Italy trips for clients who allocate just one day to the city, and for others who stay a full week. Florence is one of Italy’s most touristy cities, but travelers flock there for good reason. So, what to do in Florence? Here are some recommendations.
Soak up its rich history.
Trick the kids – or anyone – into learning some history in Florence, because just by being there and looking around, you’ll see evidence of so much interesting history. I recommend kicking off your visit with a guided walking tour to provide context on the historical periods, families, art, and architecture that have shaped the city. If you’ve heard Italy described as a living museum, a visit to Florence will make you understand why.
Appreciate Renaissance art.
Florence is the place where the Renaissance was born and it is chock-full of gorgeous – and significant – works of art. If you don’t want to miss the most well-known galleries, hit the Accademia Gallery to see David, spend half a day in the Uffizi Gallery, and if you have time, don’t miss the Bargello.
Enjoy iconic views.
Climb up the 400+ steps to the top of the dome of Florence’s Cathedral or Duomo and enjoy the breathtaking views. Walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, from where the photo above was taken, for a terrace above the town. Or, if you don’t like all that upwards movement, have a drink while enjoying views of the river.
Eat Tuscan food.
Florence is home to bistecca alla Fiorentina aka steak so put that on your must-eat list, along with gelato of course! Visit the Central Market on one of the mornings you’re there – it’s an incredible food market! Take a food tour for an introduction to local food and tips you’ll be able to use for the rest of your holiday. If you’re overwhelmed at the food options and not sure how to identify the “best” gelateria or sandwich place for lunch – what with so many options! – get the Eat Florence app to guide you. Florence is also a great place to take a cooking course!
Shop till you drop.
Visit Florence’s San Lorenzo market, a place I’ve acquired many bags, belts and shoes, but beware: some people feel like they’re in a tourist trap. For more local shops head to the Oltrarno neighborhood on the other side of the river, and shop for jewelry, hats, silk, or take these suggestions to visit some artisans.
Sample 700 years of music.
After enjoying the views over the city from Piazzale Michelangelo, head to the nearby church of San Miniato al Monte to listen to monks chant their daily vespers. Or, go to an evening of Opera at St Mark’s Anglican Church which has turned more than one of my clients in to an opera lover! Or, do dinner-with-a-show at the very unique Teatro del Sale. Check the calendar (scroll down, it’s on the left) and see what’s on during your trip. Or go see an opera or other show at Florence’s gorgeous and relatively new opera house. Florence is a city full of students so if none of those appeal, it’s not hard to find some modern dance beats after dinner.
After a few days in this tourist mecca, it’s nice to get out of the city for a day. Great day trips include:
- The city of Lucca, just over an hour away on the train
- The city of Siena, about an hour away by bus
- The Leaning Tower and city (don’t forget about the city!) of Pisa, about an hour away by train depending on which train you get
- A day trip in the Chianti wine region.
- The city of Bologna, just 35 minutes away by train.
Getting to Florence
If possible, take the train. Then walk everywhere once you are in Florence. You do not need a car in Florence and if you have one, you’ll pay to park it and you won’t use it. You cannot drive in the historic center: apart from the fact that there are a lot of pedestrian areas, it is illegal to drive in the Limited Traffic Zones in Italian cities. You can get around by taxi and there are electric buses. Or, rent a bike.
Planning a trip to Florence
Italy Beyond the Obvious will help make your trip truly memorable. Take advantage of our Italy trip planning services for a customized itinerary, or get coaching assistance with our Italy travel consulting services. And if you like what you read, why not subscribe to the Italy Beyond the Obvious blog and get free updates?