Florence has something different than other cities in Italy. Some say Florence is more romantic than Venice, others say Florence is like an outdoor museum with art and statues everywhere. In my opinion, Florence will certainly leave an impression on you, whatever you are looking for and everything you need to see is within walking distance.
Of course, everybody has heard of Michelangelo’s David statue but to have the privilege of seeing it in real life and close up is unforgettable. When you stare up at David, it is like losing yourself in something grandiose. No words, video or photo can give you the same experience of seeing it for yourself.
Florence certainly has some incredible places to visit, however, they aren’t a well-kept secret, so be prepared to queue! If you don’t want to lose precious time in queues, the easy solution is to buy tickets in advance. We use GetYourGuide because they are professional, and you can cancel your visit if you change your mind. See below for some recommended tours. To be honest, there is no risk if you opt for an original GetYourGuide tour. If you don’t enjoy it, you can ask for a refund. Below are my 21 reasons why you should go and visit Florence.
Where is Florence?
Florence is located in Italy in the region of Tuscany. In fact, it is the biggest city in Tuscany with a population of 349,296.
Florence is easy to reach; it has an international airport “Amerigo Vespucci” and a railway station with connections to other major Italian cities.
Alternatively, you can fly to the nearby city of Pisa. Once you arrive, look for the signs for the PisaMover which is a fully automated ecological shuttle which links the airport to Pisa Central Station. The transfer to the station costs 5 Euros and the journey lasts around 5 minutes.
From Pisa Central Station, there are various trains which connect to Florence. We took the Trenitalia high speed train which reached Florence in 49 minutes at a cost of about 8 Euros. When you buy your ticket, the first train is not always the quickest, so look carefully at the journey time.
What to Do in Florence?
1. Piazza della Signoria
The Piazza della Signoria is totally unique in the world! Nowhere else will you find sculptures from masters like Michelangelo in a public place. The great thing is that you don’t need to queue or to pay to see them! Just open your eyes and enjoy this special place. There are three different areas on the piazza:
- First, there is the square where you will find David (the original is in the Galleria dell’Accademia), along with Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli and the Fountain of Neptune (Fontana del Nettuno) by Ammannati.
- The second area is the Loggia dei Lanzi which is an arched open-air sculpture gallery. The loggia is impressive with its four arches and decorations but below are magnificent sculptures including the Perseus holding Medusa’s head. It’s hard to believe that all of this is outside!
- The third part is the Palazzo Vecchio which is a museum and the Town Hall of Florence. The building was built to impress and as a display of power. When you are standing in front of it, you can’t fail to notice this. If you have time, the museum is not the most well-known, but it is one of the most interesting in Florence with its secret routes and definitely worth a visit.
2. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a must as all the facades are made of marble. At this time, the architect had no problem with money! The Cathedral and the Baptistery were designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. From the outside, it is certainly one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. The façade is extremely detailed, and I recommend you take your time to look at this closely.
The entrance to the cathedral is free but you need to arrive early, if you don’t want to spend too much time queuing. Since the queues can be very long, our advice is to wake up early and start your day with the cathedral. To be honest, the inside of the cathedral was disappointing as it is rather plain and empty compared to the magnificent exterior.
You can also buy a ticket to climb the Dome. It is a little bit challenging but worth the view from the top! The combined ticket option also gives you access to the crypt, the magnificent Baptistery of St John (one of the oldest buildings in Florence) and the bell tower (where there are also some stairs to climb!). GetYourGuide is a reputable company and we use them when we need tickets to skip-the-line. The GetYourGuide original ticket offers you the ultimate tour experience and, if you don’t enjoy it, you can ask for a refund. You can book your Dome tour here.
3. The Central Market San Lorenzo
The San Lorenzo market is a good place to see the variety of food available in Florence. Locals come here to shop. If you happen to be staying in accommodation with a kitchen, it’s a good idea to shop here for provisions and ingredients. This market is also a great place to have lunch and taste local food. The focaccia with a variety of toppings like sausage, artichoke and potato with pork were delicious! This is an ideal place to experience local life.
4. Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery)
The Galleria degli Uffizi is a museum situated next to the Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence. The building is a masterpiece in itself, but inside you will find la crème de la crème in art. They display the art of some of the best artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Giotto, Da Vinci … the list is long! It is one of the best places to go and visit. Unfortunately, the Uffizi Gallery isn’t a secret which means you will need to wait and queue if you don’t have a pre-booked ticket.
As mentioned above, we highly recommend that you consider buying your tickets in advance with GetYourGuide. Some of the benefits include a private access, small groups, hidden highlights and a full refund if you didn’t enjoy the tour. GetYourGuide offer this as they are confident that they will offer you the best experience. Check the link below for more information. To have a local guide is the best option because the museum is so big. Local guides will explain all you need to know, avoid you getting lost in the museum and will share secret areas which most tourists miss.
5. Ponte Vecchio
Built in 1345, the Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in the city of Florence. This bridge is unusual as there are shops and houses on it. Long ago, the shops were Butchers and Fishmongers because they could throw the leftovers from the windows directly into the River Arno. Today, most of the shops are Jewellers and they don’t throw any leftover gold out of the windows! On top of the bridge, you may spot a hidden passage called the Vasari Corridor which is one kilometre long. It starts in the Palazza Vecchio and then passes through the Uffizi Gallery over the Ponte Vecchio, finishing at the Palazzo Pitti.
6. Bardini Gardens (Giardino Bardini)
In Florence, everything is art even the gardens! The Bardini Gardens will reconnect you with nature and natural beauty. If you want to escape the crowds of the city, this garden will bring you peace and silence. If you have time, it is a good idea to visit the Bardini Gardens. There is no queue and it is free. You can enjoy an hour walking around this beautiful garden. At the same time, you will enjoy some of the best views of Florence!
7. Piazzale Michelangelo
High above Florence, a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David looks down on the River Arno. Surrounding this statue is the Piazzale Michelangelo which is simply one of the best places to gain breath-taking panoramic views of Florence. Look out for a small terrace just below the main viewing area, as we think this offers the best views of the city.
To reach the Piazzale Michelangelo, you can either drive (there is a car park), take a bus (Number 12 or 13) or you can enjoy the pleasant walk. The walk takes about 20 minutes from the Ponte Vecchio along the river and then up the hill. Be warned that there are some steps to climb! Whilst you are here, make sure you also visit the ancient Abbey of Santa Miniato al Monte (see number 13).
8. Basilica di Santa Croce
How to describe the Basilica de Santa Croce? It is an impressive Basilica with Gothic architecture and beautiful frescoes. It is also the largest Franciscan church in the world and is the final resting place of some of the finest artists, sculptors, poets, writers and composers. Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, Rossini and Gallileo all have graves or memorials here.
The Basilica is also a museum. Inside, there are works of art by Donatello, Giotto, Brunelleschi, Vasari and plenty of others. With so much history inside and outside, the Basilica is another must see place to visit in Florence.
Although you have to pay to visit, there is much renovation work taking place on the ancient frescoes and your ticket price includes visiting the Franciscan monk’s refectory with the recently renovated ‘Last Supper’ panels by Vasari and outside cloisters.
9. Palazzo Pitti
The Palazzo Pitti or Pitti Palace houses a few museums. The palace is the largest architectural monument in Florence. You can buy a combined ticket which will also allow you to visit the Boboli Gardens (well worth a visit).
Oltrarno means beyond the Arno River and is a quarter of Florence on the other side of the river. This area is one of our favourite places to stay and eat as it reminds us of the Travestere area in Rome. For more information about Rome, you can check our article Is Rome worth visiting? Tourists usually stay on just one side of the river, but we love to explore and find hidden gems. So just cross any bridge in Florence and you will find yourself in Oltrarno. Oltrarno is divided into three areas: Santo Spirito, San Niccolo and San Frediano.
11. San Frediano
San Frediano was proclaimed the coolest neighbourhood in Florence by Lonely Planet. It is definitely a good place to wander and get lost. If you don’t know where to go, you can start by visiting the Basilica of Santa Maria del Camine.
12. Santo Spirito
In the Santo Spirito area of Oltrarno, you will find laid-back places to have a relaxing aperitif on a terrace. This area is well known by the locals. They come here to have a relaxing evening with friends. Immerse yourself in this charming and relaxed place. During the day, you will find lively markets where Florentines or Fiorentino (people of Florence) enjoy shopping.
13. St Minias on the Mountain (Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte)
There are three good reasons to visit the Abbey of St Minias on the Mountain. Firstly, the exterior of the Abbey is beautiful and is made of the same marble as the Basilica di Santa Croce. Secondly, the interior is atmospheric with an unusual mezzanine, intricate marble mosaics and ancient frescoes. Secondly, the Abbey offers an impressive view of Florence and its cathedral.
After the short climb from the Piazzale Michelangelo, we enjoyed sitting on a bench overlooking the beautiful city of Florence. Some consider it to be better than the view from the Piazzale Michelangelo. We will let you decide for yourself when you visit! The Abbey is also surrounded by a peaceful cemetery which includes the grave of the famous Italian direction, Franco Zeffirelli.
14. Florence Food
Food in Florence is amazing. If you taste just one thing, it must be Gelato (ice cream). Gelato in Florence is the best but avoid ice cream shops with fussy displays and lurid colours. Choose a simple shop where the ice cream speaks for itself. We found that the prices of ice cream in Oltrarno were cheaper, so head over the river and perhaps find the Gelateria La Carraia or the Gelateria Santa Trinita.
Pasta is also a must in Florence. If you want to try an authentic recipe, go for the Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini e Tartufo. This is pasta in a truffle and Porcini mushroom sauce which is simple but delicious!
You should also try the antipasto Crostini as an appetiser. It is different types of Bruschetta topped with different sauces including tomato and olive tapenade.
15. Walk Along the Arno River
Whilst you are in Florence, make sure you wander along the Arno River and take time to enjoy the weather and views of the Ponte Vecchio. Don’t forget to stop and have a glass of wine or coffee or eat ice cream!
16. Galleria dell’Accademia (Accademia Gallery)
Visiting the Accademia Gallery is another of the things you must do whilst in Florence as you will have the once in a lifetime experience of seeing Michelangelo’s masterpiece of David sculpted from marble. Seeing the intricate details of the veins and muscles up close is truly awe-inspiring!
However, the Accademia Gallery is quite different from the Uffizzi Gallery. Here, you can enjoy a small collection of works of arts, plaster sculptures and a museum of musical instruments. It was interesting to learn how the sculptors made plaster models first and then scaled their creations onto marble.
No visit to Florence would be complete without seeing Michelangelo’s David, but we suggest that you perhaps visit this museum first and then head to the Uffizi Gallery afterwards to see its comprehensive collection of art.
Obviously, many visitors come to see Michelangelo’s sculpture of David. As a result, the Accademia can be one of the busiest museums in Florence. Once again, it can be very frustrating to wait hours outside the museum in a queue before being able to enter. So, we advise you to book beforehand to avoid queuing and a local expert guide can show and explain everything to you. This is a once in a lifetime experience for most people, so make it count. For an original GetYourGuide tour (with full refund if you didn’t enjoy the tour), click below.
17. Roof Top Bars
If you want to relax after your busy day, why not to try a rooftop bar? It is a great way to relax and to carry on enjoying the city with a glass of wine and a bird’s eye view. Below are some of the best rooftop bars in Florence:
La Terrazza at Hotel Continentale: Go to the top floor to have amazing views of the Arno River.
Empireo at Plaza Hotel Lucchesi: You will find an elegant rooftop with swimming pool and a stunning view. Before 19:30, the terrace is reserved for hotel guests but afterwards it is open to all visitors.
Divina Terrazza at Grand Hotel Cavour: Modern style rooftop but with close-up views of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Palazzo Vecchio. Open every evening.
18. Day Trips
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Florence is in Tuscany and from this city you can have plenty of interesting day trips in the region.
If you love wine, you can visit some of the best vineyards in Italy. Chianti is less than one hour’s drive from Florence. Don’t miss the Chianti Classico wine which has been produced in this area of Italy for over 2,000 years. You can recognize a Chianti Classico by the seal. The seal changed in 2013 and is now a black rooster with a Bordeaux coloured frame.
If you want peace of mind and don’t want to worry about making your own arrangements, you can book a tour to visit the Chianti area. What’s more, everybody can taste the wine because you will travel by bus. No driving required!
Alternatively, you could visit San Gimignano in Siena which is one of the most beautiful places in Tuscany. This medieval town will transport you back in time.
Cinque Terre is a coastal area composed of five towns and villages on the Italian Riviera. These towns and villages are just sublime because they are perched on the cliff and the colourful houses contrast with the blue of the sea.
19. Florence with Kids
You don’t need to avoid museums when you are visiting Florence with kids. For example, if you want to visit the Galleria degli Uffizi, there is a special tour for families where your kids can enjoy interactive activities. Book your family tour in advance, to avoid long waiting times with your kids!
If the weather is good, you could consider having a picnic in one of Florence’s park. These parks are very nice, and all the family will find joy and peace in outdoor green spaces.
The Leonardo da Vinci Museum is also a great choice if your kids are interested in engineering and inventions. This museum is extremely interesting and will inspire and interest older kids.
20. Go for an Original Coffee
In the corner of the Piazza Republica, you will find the Caffe Gilli. This coffee shop has been in business since 1733 and offers you the chance to immerse yourself in Italian style coffee. Order your coffee and pay at the register first, then ask the Barista for your coffee. We can also recommend the cakes!
Florentines drink their coffee at the counter. If you want table service, it will cost you a little more. However, the marble counter is the best place to drink your coffee like Italians. In case you don’t know much about different types of coffee, a caffe is an expresso and in Italy it is very small and strong whereas a Macchiato is an expresso with milk.
The best places to shop in Florence are local markets and other shops. Florence is famous for its leather and you will find everything you need from a pair of gloves to a belt or jacket. The best area to shop is around San Lorenzo street where there are plenty of stalls and a mixture of smaller independent boutiques and high-end shops.
Is Florence Worth visiting?
For me, Florence is definitely worth visiting. It is a very interesting city with vibrant areas, delicious food and is a treasure trove for art lovers. Florence is also a perfect destination for a relaxing and romantic getaway. The city also has a laid back feel as there is not much traffic in the centre and everything is in walking distance.
You will always remember your experience at the Accademia Gallery in front of David. It is a one-off experience like the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. So, book your tour in advance to have the best experience possible.
For more information about Florence, check Florence Tourist information
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