One of the things I love the most about Italy is that there is just so much to do. Whether you’re into the beautiful architecture or want to sample some of the local food, there is something for everyone to enjoy and Florence is no exception!
The capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, Florence is known for its impressive art scene and its central role in the Renaissance movement. Unsurprisingly, the city is also ranked in the top 15 fashion capitals in the world making it the perfect destination for shopaholics.
I fell in love with the stunning architecture during my visit to the city and wanted to share some of the things that make Florence a must-visit if you’re travelling to Italy. To show you what makes this city so magical, I’ve put together a guide on the best things to do in Florence to help you plan your own trip!
What To Do In Florence
Here’s a map showing you everywhere I’m going to talk about in this guide!
Free Things To Do In Florence
There are plenty of things to do in Florence if you’re on a budget. Here are some of my favourites to help you get started.
1 – Visit the Duomo aka Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore
The most iconic building in Florence, the Duomo towers above the rest of the city and is the perfect landmark for finding your way around.
Located in Piazza Duomo, work on the cathedral began at the end of the 13th Century, with the impressive Renaissance dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, later added in the 15th Century.
The 4th largest cathedral in the world, it’s actually free to enter the Duomo, however, you will need to but the single “Grande Museo del Duomo” pass to visit other attractions in Piazza del Duomo.
It’s also worth noting that any group larger than 4 people will have to rent a radio or audio guide (around 3 Euros) to keep the noise level in the Duomo down.
Whilst you’re admiring the exterior, you might spot something unusual. Located underneath the dome you’ll find the figure of a bull, although no one is sure why! Rumoured to have been a tribute to the working animals who contributed to the Duomo’s construction or act of revenge by a rejected lover, whatever it’s meaning, the bull is a feature it’s in own right!
2 – Admire the sculptures in Piazza Della Signoria
Central to political life in Florence since the 14th Century, Plazza della Signoria is a unique L shaped square that has countless monuments including fountains, important buildings and an open-air sculpture museum.
The original home of the famous ‘David’, you can see a replica sculpture as well as other famous works of art in Loggia dei Lanzi (the building with giant arches). Top Tip: You can actually have a free guided tour of this area by local art students!
Another key feature is the stunning Neptune’s fountain, built between 1563 and 1565 to celebrate the opening of a new aqueduct. Also known as the Biancone, or great white, the fountain was carved from marble and bronze and was designed by Baccio Bandinelli.
3 – Rub the nose of the Porcellino Fountain
Like most cities, Florence has its fair share of myths and legends, with the Porcellino Fountain being one of the most popular.
Located near Mercato Nuovo and close to the Ponte Vecchio, the fountain features a figure of a boar which, according to legend, can bring visitors luck if a ritual is performed.
As per superstition, visitors first touch the nose of the bronze boar to ensure a return trip to Florence. After this, place a coin into the mouth of the boar and let it fall into the fountain below. If the coin falls into the grates where the water hits, it will bring luck, if it doesn’t, it won’t.
4 – Walk Across Ponte Vecchio
The only bridge across the Arno in Florence until 1218, the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, is a must-visit when in the city.
Whilst the current bridge was rebuilt in 1345 after a flood, it was the only bridge across the Arno that survived following World War II.
One unique feature of Ponte Vecchio is the building that can be found on it. Not uncommon at it’s creation, the bridge has houses businesses since the 1300s and is now home to a handful of jewellery shops. It’s because of these businesses that you would be forgiven in thinking you were walking along a normal street!
Obviously, you can’t get a view of the bridge whilst you’re on it. Instead, I recommend walking along the Ponte Santa Trinita or standing at the entrance for the Hotel Lungarno to get the perfect photograph.
Other Things To Do
I’m all for free things to do, but sometimes it’s worth spending some money on admission prices to see the best the city has to offer.
Here are some more of my favourite things to do in Florence that are worth the entry fee:
Religion plays a huge role in Italian life, and Florence has some of the most beautiful churches around. The Church of Santa Croce is most famous for being the burial place for people such as Michelangelo and Galileo and is well worth a visit. Other stunning churches that are often overlooked include Santa Maria Novella Church and San Lorenzo Church. Just remember to dress respectfully as most impose strict dress codes!
Whilst I’m talking about religion, you can’t visit Florence and not see the Battistero di San Giovani. Located opposite the Duomo, the Baptistry is famous for being the place where Dante was baptized and is nearly 1000 years old! Featuring intricately carved bronze doors on its exterior, they’re worth battling the crowds to get a closer look.
Like most cities, Florence can get very crowded during peak season so you’re probably want to factor in some time to relax during your visit. If you’re searching for a spot to take time out, I recommend heading to the Boboli Gardens. A former haunt of the Medici family, the Gardens were laid out in the 16th Century and span an impressive 11 acres.
Alternatively, head to the less crowded by equally beautiful Bardini Gardens. Smaller in size, this garden offers incredible views of the city and features a spectacular Wisteria Tunnel which is at its best in mid-April or early-May.
Which Museum To Visit?
There are so many museums to visit in Florence that the choice can be a little overwhelming.
Here are my top picks to help you decide which one to visit!
For art lovers
- Galleria Academia – A relatively small art gallery, Galleria Academia is most famous for being the home of the original ‘David’ sculpture. Always crowded, make sure you book tickets in advance to avoid 5-hour queues.
- Uffizi Gallery – The 2nd largest museum in Italy, the Uffizi Gallery has an unrivalled collection of Renaissance art including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Fra Flippo Lippi’s Madonna.
- Bargello National Museum – An art museum held in a former prison, the Bargello National Museum is one of the oldest buildings in Florence and has a focus on sculpture.
- Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure – Connect to the art workshop of the same name, this museum features stone inlay work and mosaics with a focus on those with semi-precious stones.
- Gucci Museum – A tiny museum located next to Piazza Signoria, the Gucci Museum follows the history of the brand, complete with vintage Gucci clothes.
For history nerds
- Palazzo Vecchio – Originally built as a fortress in 1299, the Palazzo Vecchio still houses many government institutions and is used as the town hall. Offering Roman ruins, a medieval fortress and breathtaking Renaissance chambers, this building gives a complete insight into the many sides of Florence.
- Palazzo Pitti – Part art gallery, part history museum, Palazzo Pitti is a stunning building which houses exhibits ranging from modern art to fashion.
For science fans
- La Specola (The Zoological and Anatomical Museum) – The oldest scientific museum in Europe, La Specola is home to a range of scientific instruments, taxidermied animals and exhibits showcasing Italy’s contribution to science.
- Galileo Museum – Also known as the Museum of History of Science, the Galileo Museum features various scientific collections including a selection of valuable scientific instruments.
- Da Vinci Museum – Although Da Vinci was most famous for his art, this museum highlights his scientific work and has inventions built from his designs.
Whichever museum you choose, I strongly recommend walking the Vasari Corridor. A Km Corridor that is often overlooked, this stretch has great views of the city and connects 3 famous spots: Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery.
Where To Get The Best Views Of The City
One of the first things I look for when I visit a city is a viewpoint. I am obsessed. If you’re like me and love looking at a city from above, you’ll be pleased to know Florence has loads of them!
Two of the most famous viewpoints are from the Cupola and the Bell Tower. The Cupola, also known as Brunelleschi’s Dome, sees visitors climb the 463 very narrow, very steep steps up to the top of the Duomo’s dome. Not for the faint-hearted, this does require advanced booking but you do get to see the impressive interior murals up close.
Alternatively, choose the less crowded Bell Tower, known as Giotto’s Bell Tower, which gives a similar experience but also boasts views of the Cupola.
Stepping away from Piazza del Duomo, there are two other towers in Florence that give a great view. If you plan on visiting Palazzo Vecchio, I’d recommend going to the top of Arnolfo’s Tower Clock. Only opening up to the public in 2015, you’ll have to climb 400 steps but it is much less crowded than the Duomo.
Another option is the Tower of San Niccolo’, the only one of the city gates designed in 1200 to remain intact. Only 150 steps to the top, this tower is only open on summer afternoons but allows you to appreciate the cultural centre.
For those of you on a budget, you will be pleased to know that there are two free options. The most popular free viewpoint is Piazzale Michelangelo which gives you the classic view of the iconic Florence skyline. Although very hilly, this spot is crowded during sunset so get there early to get a good spot!
If you’re looking for something a bit quieter, try the San Miniato al Monte viewpoint. Built between the 11th and 13th Century, the church here is worth the hike but combined with the view, it’s one of Florence’s best-kept secrets. Situated even higher than Piazzale Michelangelo, you can see the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio in addition to the medieval walls.
Eating & Drinking
This post isn’t a guide to what to eat and drink in Florence, however, food is a big part of Italian culture so the two kind of go hand in hand.
If you’re on a budget, I recommend visiting Mercato Centrale Firenze. On the ground floor, this is a local and authentic food market, with a food court on the 2nd floor serving artisan delicacies. I’d also advise making a reservation for Osteria Santo Spirito, a popular but affordable restaurant serving traditional Florentine food.
Alternatively, make like a local and visit a panino (panini) shop for a filling but cheap lunch. I recommend Osteria All’antico Viaio or Il Panino del Chianti.
If you’re feeling fancy, I recommend trying the truffle pasta from Savini Tartuffi. Located in Mercato Centrale Firenze, the chefs will prepare it right in front of you and then shave fresh truffles from San Marino on top of your meal. Alternatively, make reservations for Trattoria Za Za Trattoria Sostanza and try their Florentine steak. Quick heads up that it’s only open Monday to Friday.
Tuscany is famous for its wines so it would be rude to visit and not sample some wouldn’t it?! Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina is a popular wine bar with extremely knowledgeable staff. For a budget-friendly option, visit I Due Fratelli, a little hole-in-the-wall bar, established in 1875 and sells wine by the glass.
Not a wine drinker? Head to Archea Brewery and try some of the local craft beer.
No trip to Italy is complete without sampling some gelato. Gelateria del Neri and Gelateria Edoardo both have a great selection of flavours. La Carraia is widely considered to be one of the best but I liked Gelateria Della Passera which was considerably cheaper than the rest!
Where To Go Shopping
I love shopping. Whether it’s for gifts or for myself, I can never resist picking up something to remind me of my trip. As a major city, Florence has lots of great shopping opportunities and these are some of my favourites to help get you started.
If you’re looking to window shop or splurge on a luxury item, Via De’Tomabuoni is home the most expensive, designer shops in the city.
Markets are a big thing in Florence, and it would be hard to not visit one during your stay.
- Mercato delle Pulci – Known as Florence’s flea market and a great place to find antiques.
- Mercato Nuovo – The home of the Porcellino Fountain, this market is popular for souvenir shopping.
- Mercato di San’t Ambrogio – Outside this market offers clothing, ceramics and jewellery. Inside, you can find a selection of artisan food as well as sit down restaurants.
- Flower Market – Found in Piazza della Repubblica, this market is the best smelling shopping experience in the city!
I love finding shops unique to the city and there are a couple in Florence that really stand out. Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy is the oldest and most beautiful pharmacy in the world. Dating back to the 13th Century, the shop is full of ornate rooms selling luxury lotions perfumes and soap, some of which are still made with the original recipes!
After World War II, Scuola Del Cuoio, a leather school, was established to teach orphans a trade skill and therefore a means of earning a living. Still operational today, the school is the largest, genuine laboratory in Florence and I prefer this to the San Lorenzo Leather Market. Visit and watch students learn their craft, buy artisan products and even get your goods embossed for free!
Stationary hoards like me will be pleased to know that Florence is famous for its beautifully made stationery and hand-bound books. High-quality luxury items can be found at Giulio Giannini e Figlio and Pineider but more affordable options are available at Il Papiro.
Day Trips From Florence
If you have more time to spend in Florence, you might want to get out and explore the surrounding area.
Here are a few suggestions for day trips from Florence:
- Pisa – See the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
- Lucca – Known for its Renaissance city walls which you can walk on.
- Siena – The second largest city in Tuscany known for its stunning medieval brick buildings.
- San Gimignano – A historic town located in the Tuscany hills.
- Bologna – The capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and popular with foodies.
- The Cinque Terre – A chain of stunning seaside village on the Italian Riviera.
- Wine tasting around the Chianti Region
Have you visited Florence? What are your favourite things to do? Let me know in the comments below!
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