With many things to do in Florence and considered one of Italy’s important cultural and historical hubs, it’s easy to see why so many travelers flock to this city. Florence, or Firenze in Italian, is the quintessential Italian riverside city filled with some of the country’s best sights and foods.
It’s famed for world-class cuisine, museums, classic works of art, and the surrounding Tuscan countryside. The architecture in Florence pulls you in and begs for you to get lost in its historic heart.
Florence is known for being the birthplace of the Renaissance period and packed full of history. Walking the narrow cobbled stone streets, it appears as if little has changed with marble basilicas, dark chapels, gas lanterns, and enchanting frescos. Florence is located in the central north of Italy, known as Tuscany, halfway between the landlocked country of San Marino and the world’s most iconic leaning structure, Pisa.
When many think of Italy, it’s generally the Colosseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the canals of Venice along with delicious treats of gelato, pizza, and pasta and while that’s generally a true statement, places like Florence are becoming more and more popular to those wanting to see the other side of Italy.
Florence, out of all the places I visited in Italy, had the most charm, with a constant relaxed vibe from the river Arno to the gardens of Boboli and beyond. This Italian city is easily a highlight of any trip to Italy!
Best Things to do in Florence
Wander Through Boboli Gardens
One of the best things to do in Florence is visit the Boboli Gardens. Giardino di Boboli or The Boboli Gardens tops the list of the most impressive gardens I have visited anywhere in Europe, and I am generally not fond of heavily mowed lawns, manicured hedges, and water fountains, but the caretakers of The Boboli Gardens do an exquisite job in maintaining an extremely large area of land to such perfection.
I was born and raised on a farm, 500 kilometers from the closest city, and often feel overwhelmed by the chaos of cities. To cope I often seek out the botanical gardens for peace and quiet. For me, it takes the top spot for what to do in Florence.
Located behind the Palazzo Pitti, a grand Rennaisance palace that was built in 1458. The historic gardens date back to the 16th century and are considered the first of the grand Italian gardens famed for the century.
A certain charm lay over Giardino di Boboli that reminds me of the movie ‘The Secret Garden.’ Giardino di Boboli is also a great place to watch the sunset over The Arno River as the last rays of light hit Piazza Del Duomo.
- Price: €10 Full / €5 Reduced (Summer March 1st – October 31st) €6 Full/ €3 Reduced (Winter November 1st – February 28th)
- Hours: Open daily from 8:15 a.m. — Closing times vary from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Location: Plaza Piti
Gaze Upon Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral)
Florence’s beating heart must be Piazza Del Duomo and the Florence Cathedral. The cathedral is one of the world’s largest cathedrals built in the late 12th century and is an icon of Florence and visible throughout the city.
The interior of the Duomo is fascinating. The dome was the largest in the world until the modern era with new construction materials. It is great to see ancient monuments and artifacts hidden in its interior. However, we love the view of the cathedral from various vantage points throughout Florence, especially during sunset and sunrise.
If you want to explore the cathedral, you might want to do so early as possible to avoid the lengthy wait times. Entry into the cathedral is free; however, if you wish to visit the crypt dating back to the 15th century, the dome, baptistery, and the museum are all combined into a cumulative ticket for €18. If you’re for a more in-depth experience, you can book a guided tour along with an expedited ticket to avoid the lines here
- Price: Free — €18 Combined Ticket (Entry to the crypt, baptistery, dome, and museum)
- Hours: Everyday 8:30 a.m. — 7:00 p.m. (Saturday until 5:40 p.m.)
- Location: Duomo di Firenze
Explore the Arno River
The waterways of Europe were the original highways and sources of trade, so many classic European cities and towns are based along waterways. Florence sits on the Arno River and is the city’s central point. A walk along the central waterway is an awesome way to take the historic city.
A walk here is wonderful for photographs of Florence and provides great viewpoints of the famed Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The Arno is a classic Italian river with an array of bridges a few hundred meters apart, meaning you can easily walk from one side to the other to catch views from a different perspective.
- Quick fact: if you follow The River Arno for long enough, it will lead almost directly to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Mediterranean!
Cross the Ponte Vecchio Bridge
Just as the rivers of cities were vital lifelines of cities, so were the bridges. With its long history, Italy is filled with famed bridges such as the Rialto Bridge of Venice and the Ponte Vecchio of Firenze. The Arno River has more than one bridge that crosses its flow, yet none of those bridges hold more attention than the famed Ponte Vecchio.
The original bridge was constructed by the Romans and dated back millennia, but the current bridge dates were constructed in 1345 after several versions were swept away in floods. Its historical significance was even spared by Hitler as the Germans destroyed all the bridges in the region during their retreat in 1945, except for the bridge under explicit instructions.
Over the centuries, the Ponte Vecchio has been home to several shops that line the bridge. Originally the shop fronts were occupied by butchers who would cut and chop up meat to sell while discarding the scraps into The Arno. Now, the shops are occupied by jewelers and art dealers. Each storefront has its own distinct color, which can be viewed from standing upon the Ponte Santa Trinita Bridge or roads running adjacent to The Arno River.
At one point in time, Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge to connect the north and south sides of the river, and a daily commute past the butcher storefronts wasn’t exactly an ideal thing to do, especially early in the morning. During the rule of The Medici, they ordered that jewelry stores replace the butchers and the throwing of the meat into The Arno be ceased.
- Location: Ponte Vecchio Bridge
5.) Enjoy the view from Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence has few viewpoints as good as the lookout high about the banks of the Arno River; however, getting there is a bit of a burner on the calves or if you prefer, take a bike or Vespa to the top as the views are the best anywhere in Florence.
If you know what Florence looks like, it was probably taken from Piazzale Michelangelo. Getting that epic shot of the city can be tricky because it is one of the most photographed places in Italy, so get there extra early for sunrise or sunset shots.
One of our favorite times to photograph in busy spots is what is commonly referred to as the blue hour just after sunset, as most photographers leave once the sun drops below the horizon. If you’re a photographer wondering what to do in Florence at sunset, this is a solid photo spot.
- Location: Piazzale Michelangelo
6.) Climb the Tower at Palazzo Vecchio
One of the cool things about Florence is that most of its main tourist attractions are within 10 minutes walking distance of one another and if you go to the famous lookout of Giardino del Bardini, you will see just how close everything is together.
The Palazzo Vecchio is the only other structure in Florence that will give the Piazza del Duomo a run for its money in size. Like most cathedrals and churches in Italy and Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio is one of the oldest and dates back to the late 12th century.
What you will notice about Palazzo Vecchio is its castle-like tower or Torre d’Arnolfo, which stands almost as tall as the dome of Duomo. The tower itself is nearly the height of a football field, 94 meters to be exact, which can be climbed from the inside, revealing a spectacle of views once at the top.
If you are keen to take the narrow staircase to the top of the tower, make sure to get there early as crowds build to lengthy queues early.
- Price: €14 Full / €12 Reduced Museum & Tower
- Hours: Everyday 8:30 a.m. — 7:00 p.m. (Saturday until 5:40 p.m.)
- Location: Palazzo Vecchio
7.) Explore the Palazzo Pitti
If you are planning to walk around the manicured gardens of Boboli, be sure to spend an hour or so discovering some of Florence’s most delicate treasures and artifacts in Palazzo Pitti. The palace and gardens at one point belonged to the Medici Family who are credited with the birth of the Rennaisance.
Expect to see a lot of old Renaissance era paintings framed with gold to jewels that were worn by the Medici family. Most notable are a large collection of Raphael paintings and
When I visited Palazzo Pitti, it was not as busy as Duomo or Vecchio so it doesn’t matter what time you arrive but a quick tip if you are traveling on a budget, buy your ticket before 9 am to save 50% on the normal price! Also, it’s important to note that the gardens and palace are separate tickets.
- Price: €16 Full / €8 Reduced (Summer March 1st – October 31st) €10 Full/ €5 Reduced (Winter November 1st – February 28th)
- Hours: Open every day from 8:15 a.m. — Closing times vary from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Location: Plaza Piti
8.) Scoppio Del Carro – Exploding Cart of Fireworks
During Easter, a tradition lives strong and vibrant with the annual Scoppio Del Carro or explosion of the cart which basically sees a cart jam-packed full with fireworks set alight in a glorious display of whizzing and bangs, you might want to bring ear and eye protection, things get crazy.
If you’re interested in attending the festival Visit Florence has a great post with the details and history of the festival here.
- Date: Easter Sunday. The procession starts at 10:00 a.m. and fireworks begin at 11:00 a.m.
- Location: Piazza Del Duomo (Between baptistery and cathedral)
- Cost: Free (expect large crowds)
9.) Admire David by Michelangelo
France has the Mona Lisa, Australia has the Big Banana and Nepal has Mount Everest but one thing these countries do not possess is a chiseled man standing in a glorious pose known to Florence as David. Yes, I’m talking about Michelangelo’s David, and visiting is one of the best things to do in Florence.
David is possibly the most famous sculpture of all time now and long into the future. Why go and see David? David was made from a single piece of marble by a 29-year-old way back in 1504 to which it once stood outside in the streets of Florence.
Today David by Michelangelo can be seen (still posing) at the Galleria dell Accademia on the southern side of The Arno River.
- Price: €12 Full / €2 Reduced (+€4 prebooking fee)
- Hours: Closed on Monday. Open from 8:15 a.m. – 6:50 p.m.
- Location: Galleria dell’Accamdemia
10.) See Florence at Night
Most things at night look that little bit better and seeing Florence turn on its lights is truly incredible.
Florence’s streets at night especially in the warmer months have a certain vibe about it making it ideal to get out and see some of Florence’s cathedrals and cobble stoned streets under a shade of orange and yellow.
One of the best night time scenes is Florence’s Piazza Del Duomo shrouded in a bright array of lights which is best observed from up close or if you fancy going for a night stroll, head to the famous lookout point at Giardino del Bardini, high above the river Arno.
11.) Eat Your Way Through Tuscany
Without a doubt, Italy has the best cuisine on earth. Italy’s influence on the rest of the world comes in the form of food. No matter which town or city you go to in the world, Italian food is available and although you might think it’s good, it’s always better when it’s eaten in the country of origin.
Each region in Italy has its own delicacy and seasonal produce which can be found at local restaurants and market stalls. These small locally run and locally grown stalls provide you with the best taste of Florence. Buying from a market stall is going to save you loads if you are traveling on a budget or for a longer period of time.
I fratellini is all about the Panini, a marvelous creation often over indulged by myself and I am sure a lot of others. A Panini is a toasted sandwich with tomato, fresh basil and melted mozzarella cheese.
Nerbone is one of a few market stalls remaining in Florence since the 18th century and the reason it continues to thrive is through its tasty local produce and a specialty which can make tongues turn, Tripe.
For those who are hungry one of Florence’s most notable dishes is the Bistecca alla fiorentine. It’s a large porterhouse steak, or T-Bone, that is perfectly seared rare to medium rare over a wood fire. The steaks are generally massive and meant to be shared with the table like many dishes in Italy — family style.
12.) Live out Under the Tuscan Sun
Florence is situated in one of the most breathtaking countryside’s in Italy known as Tuscany. It’s easily the most well-known region of Italy and famed for its wine and food featured in a countless number of travel films and books.
Tuscany is known for rolling green hills and lush farmlands that produce some of the best produce anywhere in Italy. One of the best ways to explore Tuscany is to base yourself in Florence and do day trips around the region.
Tuscany is one of the most photogenic regions in Europe but to its equal is the local produce ranging from olives, grapes, salami, beef, and cheese or basically my food pyramid.
If you en-route to Pisa or just want a taste of Tuscany while staying in Florence, San Miniato is the place to be with 360 degree views of beautiful farmland, the Arno River as it flows to the Mediterranean and an opportunity to sample Tuscany’s finest produces.
13.) Witness a Game of Italian Football
Italy has some of the most talented football players and teams in the world and pretty much whoever you talk to in the streets of Florence will be a fan or plays the world game.
Florence over the past few years has had great success with their local team, ACF Fiorentina who play in the prestigious Serie A. When rival teams roll into town, the whole town talks football especially when rivals Juventus are in town.
If you happen to be in Florence during one of their games, don’t miss this epic opportunity to attend alongside 43,000 football fanatics! Stadio Artemio Franchi isn’t the biggest of stadiums in Italy, but it stands out with a gorgeous Tuscany backdrop dotted amongst the evergreen hills while holding a rich history through World Cup tournaments to Madonna performing live!
- Location: Artemio Franchi Stadium
14.) Hire a Vespa
This is probably the most Italian thing you can do in Italy, ride a Vespa otherwise known as a scooter.
If you don’t fancy peddling a bike around the cobble stoned streets, Vespa’s are another alternative and allow you to cover more ground than you would on a bike.
With there being so much to do in Florence, a Vespa can take you from the old town to the vineyards of Florence within 15 to 20 minutes making it a better option than hiring a car or going on a bus tour.
Make sure to hire a helmet when collecting your Vespa, cobble stoned roads are common and can be rough on the suspension.
15.) Learn About Art at the Uffizi Galleria
As you may have already noticed reading this article, Florence is home to some of the most treasured paintings from the Renaissance era.
The Uffizi Gallery, by all means, remains the most popular of galleries in Florence where paintings dating back to the 17th century are hung for all to see. By far the highlight of Uffizi is the works of Leonardo Di Vinci.
Like most cathedrals and galleries in Florence, Uffizi tops the list as the busiest so purchase your ticket well in advance or online to avoid Florence’s endless queues.
- Price: €20 Full / €10 Reduced (Summer March 1st – October 31st) €12 Full/ €6 Reduced (Winter November 1st – February 28th)
- Hours: Closed on Monday. Open from 8:15 a.m. – 6:50 p.m.
- Location: Uffizi Gallery
How to Plan a Trip to Florence?
Best Time to go to Florence?
Italy is seriously perfect all year round which is amazing! With the mountainous Alps to the north of Italy and the Mediterranean to the south, Florence is situated in the most idyllic places, Tuscany.
Although Florence experiences perfect summer days, things can get very overcrowded and that’s not a good thing if you have to wait in line to enter a museum. Summer days are perfect for exploring Tuscany and its coastal areas.
For a more mellow experience, going in September to late October means a cooler climate with fewer crowds as prices drop for accommodation and tours.
How to Get around Florence?
Florence isn’t the biggest city in Italy and it’s also not the busiest making it a few options viable for freedom of exploration. I am a big fan of walking around cities and often throughout Europe, there will be one or two companies that have walking tours!
Walking tours are a fantastic way of learning about the city’s history, food, people and culture and the tour guides are awesome as well! Walking tours are generally cheap and you can spend anywhere from 1 hour to a whole day tour.
By far my favorite thing to do is hiring a bike which is so easy in European countries. Most hotels and backpackers have bikes readily available for hire for as little as 10 Euros. If you decide to hire a bike, be sure to get a bike lock as bikes often go missing if left unattended.
Where to stay in Florence?
Villa Cora, Florence
With all of the bells and whistles of a modern hotel, this new-comer on the Italian hotel scene places guests in their very own Tuscan dreams. The centerpiece here the 19th-century villa constructed by Baron Oppenheim, one of the principal financiers of the Suez Canal.
The villa is Italian decadence with parquet floors, monstrous mirrors, crystal chandeliers and a whole series of reception rooms. Guest at Villa Cora will not have to worry about being pampered because the hotel also houses one of the best spas in Florence offering a wide range of services.
The services and amenities do not stop there with a free shuttle bus that will pick you up anywhere in the city and an outdoor heated pool open year round. In the summer, the rooftop buzzes with guests and outside visitors at the champagne bar there to enjoy the warm Tuscan evenings.
Tips For Travel Around Italy
Throw Everything You Know About Italian Food Out the Window
Spaghetti bolognese is not everywhere and cannolis are only popular in Sicily, also you will never ever see pepperoni. Instead, you will find the real Italian staples like bruschetta al pomodoro, delicious prosciutto layering a pizza, and spaghetti alla carbonara instead of fettucini alfredo. And cheese!
Oh, don’t even get me started on the cheese in Italy. It’s delicious and fresh and nothing in your average supermarkets will ever compare. I worked at the American restaurant food chain Carrabba’s Italian Grill for 4 years. Trust me, the “Italian” food we think we know doesn’t even compare.
There is likely no region more famed for its food than Tuscany.
“Ciao,” “Grazie,” and “Non-Capisco” will go a long way
One of my top Italy travel tips is to learn a bit of Italian. The Italians are extremely friendly and polite people, but I still found that learning a few words in their language will get you a long way. It’s easy too! “Ciao” can be used for hello and goodbye, “Grazie,” is used everywhere to give thanks, and when a local mistakenly make you out for an Italian just simply say “Non-Capisco” (I don’t understand).
Choose Your Gelato Wisely
It’s an Italian fact that there is good gelato and crap gelato – even in Italy. Read your reviews online, and be sure to test out a few different shops. When you find the best, you will know. Our favorite gelato in Italy was hands down in Florence and was called Gelateria Della Passera.
How to Travel Around Italy?
Getting to Italy has never been cheaper with budget airlines such as RyanAir operating out of many Italian cities. If you are flying from a different continent the main hubs are Rome, Florence, and Milan. Once in Italy, the best way to get around is via train.
For long-distance routes it’s best to book beforehand with Trenitalia and reserve a seat. If you are traveling shorter distances it’s also possible to show up at the train station a buy a ticket there. Or get around Europe with a Eurail.
We’ve rented a car numerous times in Italy and it’s a great way to get around on your own schedule. An automatic rental car can go for as low €15 a day in the low season up to €45 a day in the higher seasons and will ensure you get to all the best places in Italy.
Knowing how to drive a manual car will often get you cheaper rates in Europe. If you’re traveling as a group it is worth your while to hire a car for your trip. Our best experiences have been with SiXT. Check car rental prices here.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get ultra low.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.