What to See and Do in Florence, Italy | A Complete Guide
Are you traveling to Florence and wondering what to see and do? There are lots.
Florence is the capital of the Italian Renaissance, and it has some pretty spectacular points of interest. It’s also the capital of Tuscany and located about 280km (173 miles) north of Rome, and 310 km (192 miles) south of Milan.
The Medici Family ruled over Florence and Tuscany for almost three centuries giving this city some of the most beautiful and famous monuments in the world.
How To Get to Florence
Arriving by Train
Florence, Firenze in Italian, is very easy to reach by train. The central train station “Firenze Santa Maria Novella” is conveniently located downtown, walking distance from all the major attractions. Also, you can drive to Florence from nearby cities such as Bologna, or further south like Rome or Naples.
Flying to Florence, Italy
If you are flying into Florence, you might consider flying to Pisa instead. The airport in Pisa is far better connected than the Florence airport. Once you are at the Pisa Airport, you can take the 5-minute Pisa Mover train to Pisa Centrale, then you can take a train to Florence (Santa Maria Novella).
Museums to See in Florence, Italy
Uffizi Gallery – An Iconic Florence Art Gallery!
The Uffizi Gallery is a museum of antique paintings and is probably one of the most famous in the world. The gallery is located near the Palazzo Vecchio (City Hall) right in the center of the city. The entrance cost is €20.00 plus the €4.00 entrance reservation. Also, if you are planning to visit Pitti Palace and the Duke Gardens, you may find that it’s more convenient to buy the 3-day pass that covers all the three monuments for €38.00 plus €4.00 reservation fee.
I recommend buying the tickets in advance to skip the massive lines at the ticket office. The Gallery is open every day from 8:15 am to 6:50 pm.
Lastly, if this is your first visit, it can be a good idea to take a guided tour because the exhibit can be slightly overwhelming.
Palazzo Vecchio: A Must See and Do in Florence!
Palazzo Vecchio (The Old Palace) is the Florences’ City Hall and indeed, a must-see and do! The Palazzo Vecchio is situated on the Piazza Della Signoria. You can easily recognize this palace by its clock tower.
Visiting hours are:
- October to March: from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm except for Thursday that is open from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm
- April to September: from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm except for Thursday that is open from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm
- Last admission is one hour before closing.
In front of the Palace, you can see the replica of the famous Michelangelo’s David. To be sure, the original stood here until 1873. Then, it was moved to the Accademia Gallery to protect it from the elements.
On the left side of the Palazzo, you can see the Loggia Dei Lanzi. Under the arches of this building, you can admire some other amazing sculptures of the Renaissance, like Benvenuto Cellini Perseus.
On the right side of the Palace, you can admire the Fountain of Neptune, a 16th-century fountain of Neptun and sea horses.
Palazzo Pitti and Boboli’s Gardens
Pitti Palace was the residence of the Duke of Tuscany. Nowadays, it’s a museum with several paintings, masterpieces, and some stunning rooms. Notably, there are many paintings by Raphael – the famous painter, not the turtle :-).
The Palace is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8:15 am to 6:50 pm. Tickets are €16.00 plus a €3.00 entrance reservation. Then, inside the palace, you can see the Palatine Gallery and the Royal apartments – a real gem in the heart of Florence.
Connected to the Palace are the Boboli’s Gardens. The Duke used it has his private garden. Then, with the many fountains, statues, and water features, it became the inspiration for the Italian Style gardens all over the world. Boboli Gardens is most certainly a must-see and do while in Florence.
Free Things to See in Florence, Italy
Like many cities in Italy, Florence offers lots to see for free, and on a budget. Churches in this section are free, however, some might require a reservation. Churches that charge are considered museums, and as such, are in the museum section.
Ponte Vecchio, The Original Bridge in Florence
Ponte Vecchio is probably one of the most iconic bridges in the world. An icon, this bridge has many jewelry stores built on it. Further, it’s the only original bridge left in the city. Unfortunately, all the other bridges in Florence were bombed by the Germans to stop the allied troops in world war 2. Then, they were rebuilt shortly after the way. However, they did not dare to bomb the Ponte Vecchio because it was too beautiful.
On the bridge, there is the Vasari Corridor, a passage that, in the old days, allowed the Duke of Florence to go from his palace to City Hall without having to walk among commoners. This secret passage is open to the public for special visits. (Read more here)
Piazzale Michelangelo, il Belvedere – A Must See and Do in Florence
The Piazzale Michelangelo viewing point is certainly worth seeing and is about 5 minutes by taxi from the Centro. Alternatively, you can walk there in about 20 minutes. The view of the city from this spot is quite stunning. It’s also iconic, as the Duomo and its dome dominate it.
San Lorenzo Market
The San Lorenzo Market is Florence’s old food market. Here inside, you will find stores that sell typical Tuscan food and wine. On the upper floor of the market, you can sit down for a typical Florentine meal.
Santa Maria Novella and The (Very) Old Pharmacy
The Church of Santa Maria Novella and its convent is another remarkable complex in Florence. Nearby, you can see the Old Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, and as a tip, you might want to check a map of Florence to get to it. Here, the monks used to use the herbs from their garden to prepare medicines. Nowadays, the pharmacy produces essences, soap, and fragrances. Inside it is quite stunning and worth a visit.
The Duomo – If You Only See one thing in Florence…
Here you will find probably the most famous building in the city. The Duomo is stunning with its marble facade and Giotto’s bell tower next to it. Further, you can admire Brunelleschi’s dome towering over the cathedral. The Brunelleschi Dome was the biggest dome ever built until the Vatican was built. In the piazza, you can also admire the baptistery with the famous golden door (Porta del Paradiso). If you want to go inside the duomo, I suggest going early because the lines outside are usually very long.
Santa Croce – An Oasis of Peace
Santa Croce is a huge Florentine monastery in the heart of the city. Inside it is an oasis of peace. Here, Santa Croce hosts the tombs of some of the most famous Italians of the past, such as Galileo Galilei.
The sanctuary of the convent is quite remarkable and worth spending some time in it.
Nearby Cities or Areas to Visit
You might be wondering what are the places to visit that are nearby. Indeed, there are two easily accessible and nearby areas you might be interested in.
If you’ve never seen the leaning tower of Pisa, then, you must plan an afternoon trip to Pisa from Florence. Pisa is just 83km away from Florence and will take about 1/2 a day to see. Considering the number of tourists, I recommend visiting Pisa in the later afternoon. The easiest way to get from Florence to Pisa is to take the train. Trains to Pisa and back run about every 15 minutes, and it takes about 45 mins to get from Florence to Pisa.
NOTE: The walk from the Pisa train station to the leaning tower is about 20 minutes.
First, Cinque Terre means 5 lands. As a result, there are 5 towns that make up the Cinque Terre. They are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
The best, and most famous of the Cinque Terre are Vernazza and Manarola.
To get to Cinque Terre, you’ll either take the train, perhaps to the first village of Monterosso, and then go from there. However, if you decide to drive, you’ll need to drive to La Spezia, then take a train or a boat into the Cinque Terre. Either way, it’ll take you about 3 hours each way to get from Downtown Florence to any of the beginning of the Cinque Terre. As a result, if you plan on visiting Cinque Terre from Florence, I highly recommend spending the night.
The best way to get from Florence to San Gimignano is by train, and it takes just over an hour. San Gimignano is worth visiting, as it features several picturesque ancient towers. However, we recommend arriving early, take some photos, visit the shops, have lunch, all before returning to Florence.
What Are The Typical Foods of Florence?
Like most towns in Italy, the foods are regional – meaning every region, and perhaps every town has their own famous food. Florence is famous for their beef, and boy is it ever delicious.
Fiorentina (AKA T-Bone, but Better)
The food in Florence is excellent. For instance, the most typical dish is the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, a giant T-bone cooked rare and sliced for sharing between 2-3 people. Here, you will find that many restaurants offer this famous dish and is sold by the KG.
Also, when in season (usually late September to November), mushrooms and truffles are a typical dish in Florence. Pizza, on the other hand, it is not a typical Tuscan dish. Yes, you can find many restaurants that serve pizza in Florence, but it is not the real, local experience.
Tuscan Crostini is another typical appetizer in the area. And, the most popular crostini topped with chicken liver pate.
If you’re looking for street food, you can find quick and delicious Porchetta sandwiches. Porchetta is slow-roasted pork that is deboned and heavily seasoned with a blend of Tuscan herbs.
We found a great little shop near the Porcellino Market, called “Antica Porchetteria Granieri 1916,” that does this sandwich to perfection. These guys were super nice to us and gave us a sample!
What Not to Eat in Florence
Unfortunately, with Florence being a top-rated tourist destination, it’s also home to many restaurants that target tourists.
For this reason, If you see a restaurant that shows a menu with many photos, stay away as the chances are that it is not a typical place that serves real Tuscan food.
Frequently Asked Questions about Florence, Italy (FAQ)
Florence is a small city, and many people move around until well after dinner. So yes, Florence is an incredibly safe city. As with any city however, keep an eye on your wallet, and leave the expensive jewellery at home.
Yes, tap water pretty much all over Italy is perfectly safe (and delicious) to drink.
To get a good feel for the city, you should stay a minimum of 2 nights before visiting other cities.
Yes, Piazzale Michelangelo is 100% free. Parking is a nominal fee, and there are street vendors of all types ready to offer you something to buy. Piazzale Michelangelo is also one of the very best places in Florence to take a picture.
Florence, Italy is a very walkable city. Also, most of the downtown areas of Florence are “ZTL”, meaning off limits to car. There are, however, taxi’s pretty much everywhere to get around Florence, and trains that will take you pretty much anywhere in Italy.
Yes! Florence is a very walkable city with only one hilly area – going up to Piazzale Michelangelo. If you have mobility issues, I’d recommend taking a quick taxi ride up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the best views of Florence.
Florence is famous for their leather goods. For example, leather bags, wallets, luggage, purses, belts of varying quality are available for purchase all over Florence.
I hope that these few notes about Florence will help you have a great time in this fantastic city.
Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.