Florence is where the Renaissance began. For centuries the Italian city was at the heart of medieval culture, history and literature, as artists and merchants turned Florence into a creative hub the likes of which Europe had never seen before.
This was the home of the Medici Family, this is where Michaelangelo’s David was sculpted, where Dante wrote his infamous works and where the modern Italian language was born. This intense history is recognised today, as much of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and tourists flock here from across the world to marvel at the architecture, the heritage, and the art galleries and museums that are filled with historic treasures.
There are many great places to visit in Florence, and to help inspire your trip to the Rennaissance capital of Europe, here’s our ultimate guide to visiting the city.
This ultimate travel guide to Florence will show you all the most beautiful places in Florence, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Florence and things to do in Florence which will help you in planning a trip to Florence.
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Table of Contents
How to Get to Florence
Being an incredibly popular tourist destination as well as being very centrally located within Italy and being the capital of Tuscany, Florence is an easy city to travel to. Florence’s main airport is found just outside of the city, and many travellers these days will arrive with budget airlines from other major European cities. Cheap, no-frills tickets can be purchased with the likes of Ryanair and Easy Jet, connecting Florence with cities such as London and Paris at an excellent price.
Florence is also well connected to the Italian train system, and you will find regular departures to most large cities, particularly, of course, the likes of Rome, Milan or Venice. International trains also arrive from European capitals, however, these are nowhere near as frequent or as cost-effective to take as flying.
Intercity buses also connect Florence to the rest of Italy, and with many European capitals too.
How to get around Florence
Florence has a fairly compact historic centre, and the easiest way to get from sight to sight is to walk through the medieval streets. Bicycles are also well suited to the maze of alleys and streets that you find in the centre, whereas driving around by car is hazardous even for locals who know the dense layout of the city.
Florence also has a bus network, with cheap tickets across the city, and if you need to get out into the suburbs then this can be the best way to travel. There is also a tram system, however, it’s limited to just one line across the city.
What to expect in Florence
Florence is a city of history and culture, but being home to attractions of high renown, you can expect it to be a busy, if not chaotic place. Navigating your way through Florence is relatively easy even if you are travelling to Italy for the first time, as it’s a city that’s very much set up for tourism.
The local Italian dialect of Florence is the basis of ‘standard’ Italian, meaning that even if you speak a little of the language you’ll be able to understand and converse with the locals on a much easier level than in other cities where accents are more pronounced. English is not spoken by everyone but in the touristy areas, you can expect at least a basic level of understanding.
Like all of Italy, the Euro is the currency in circulation in Florence, and you’ll find plenty of banks, ATMs and money changers across the city.
The best time to visit Florence
Florence will be busy all through the year, no matter the weather or season, but it gets particularly crowded during holidays and in the summer months. Winters can be chilly, but there are many great museums offering shelter from the adverse weather, while summers can be brutally hot in the city centre.
The shoulder seasons can offer the most pleasant weather for experiencing the city, with spring and autumn being wonderful times of year to visit, with fewer crowds and potentially lower prices on accommodation too.
Things to do in Florence
Duomo di Firenze
The Florence Cathedral – Duomo di Firenze – is one of the city’s most easily recognizable attractions and the historic church with its enormous dome dominates the city’s skyline. The cathedral dates back to the 13th century, but the project was so vast that it took over a hundred years to complete the building work. You can even climb to the top of the dome, for impressive views over the historic centre of Florence.
Another of the best Florence must-see sights is Giotto’s Campanile. This striking bell tower is located right next to the iconic Florence cathedral and stands over 80 metres in height. The tower is a work of art and you will find that it’s intricately designed to incorporate colourful frescoes on its vast exterior.
San Lorenzo Market
The San Lorenzo Market is not only the best place to shop in Florence, but it’s an experience in itself. The market is huge, offering both indoor and outdoor sections, and you can find almost anything here. It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs and an even better place to visit for food. The Mercato Centrale section of the market is the most authentic and historic part of this sprawling shopping area.
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most famous Florence attractions to visit in the city. The gallery dates back to the 16th century and the basis for the collection is formed from the vast quantity of artwork owned by the Medici family. This is the place to visit to soak in the Rennaisance era culture and heritage as many thousands of works kept here date back to this important period in the city’s history.
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is a masterwork of local architecture. The striking building is dedicated to a local saint but was financed by some of the most powerful families in medieval Florence who wanted to ensure that they had their own place to be buried.
Located on the opposite side of the Arno River to the major attractions in the historic centre, the Piazzale Michelangelo is the best place to find excellent views over Florence. From here, you can see the city arrayed before you along the river, and it’s particularly beautiful at sunset. The area is dedicated to the artists Michelangelo and you can find many recreations of his most famous works here.
The Pitti Palace is an important Rennaisance era building, constructed b the powerful Medici family during their rule over Florence. Today, the former palace serves as an intriguing museum, where you can learn more about the city’s history.
The Boboli Gardens are an integral part of the Pitti Palace complex, and the ambition and grandeur will amaze you. The gardens were sculpted on the orders of the Medici family, to complement their vast palace in size and scale.
Piazza della Signoria
The Piazza della Signoria is one of the city’s main squares. Found in the historic centre, traditionally this was the centre of life and politics in Renaissance-era Florence. It’s a wonderful place to stroll through, and to admire the many medieval buildings found surrounding it.
Piazza Santo Spirito
The Piazza Santo Spirito is a much quieter public square than you can find in the historic centre of Florence. It’s a great place to relax and to enjoy some great Florentine food and drink, and every now and then you can even find a few antique markets being held here by the locals.
What to eat in Florence (traditional dishes)
Florentine food, like most Italian food, is quite simply exquisite and you’ll quickly fall for the many different local dishes. Of course, you can find plenty of pizza and other Italian staples across the city, but you’ll also want to indulge in a few traditional specialties.
Bistecca alla Florentina is a local favourite and consists of a perfectly cooked slice of beef steak served with plenty of garnishes and sides. Lampredotto is a local type of street food, a sandwich for the adventurous traveller which is filled with tripe, while the city is famed also for its great variety of gelato, which you can find almost anywhere.
Where to stay in Florence
Florence has a huge array of accommodation for travellers, as the city has long been a popular tourist destination. The historic centre is the most convenient place to stay in Florence, but you will find that the hotels here have much higher rates given the location in comparison to the surrounding areas. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in Florence.
You can find cheaper accommodation the further out you get from the centre. There aren’t many hostels for budget travellers, but you can get some great deals on local hotels and guesthouses. Most international chains have a hotel in the city, however many of these are located outside of the city centre too, with the historic areas being mostly devoted to boutique or independent accommodation. Airbnb is a really great option to find cheaper options.
Tours to do in Florence
With quaint historic streets and medieval architecture to explore and admire, one of the best tours to take in Florence is a walking tour. You’ll be immersed in the history and culture of the city as you stroll from sight to sight, being given a guided tour by a local who can take you to not only the most well-known attractions but to hidden, not touristy things to do in Florence.
Vespas are the classic Italian scooter, and they are a fantastic way to get around the city and out into the surrounding Tuscan hills too. A Vespa tour is one of the more unique things to do in Florence, allowing you to conveniently navigate the winding streets of the city, calling in at the most important attractions on the way, before heading further off into the countryside to explore the beautiful scenery and landscapes, as well as some good food. Don’t worry about getting lost, because you’ll have a Vespa tour guide accompanying you and leading the way through the traffic.
Italy is all about the food, and Florence is no exception, so why not join a cooking while you are in the city to delve into the sumptuous culinary world. On local cooking tours, you’ll be treated to an experience like no other, as you are guided through the many different dishes and culinary techniques present in Florence, and taught how to make some excellent Florentine dishes from excellent chefs.
Day trips from Florence
It’s easy to take a day trip to the Italian coastline to escape the city when you are staying in Florence, and one of the most iconic locations to visit is Cinque Terre. This is the heart of the Italian Riviera and this collection of five ramshackle villages are well known for their colourful houses and dramatic sea views. You can hike along the rugged coastal pathways from village to village as you to take the charming rural idylls of Cinque Terre.
No trip to Italy is complete without seeing the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, and from Florence, the city of Pisa is just one and a half hours away by car. Grab a picture in front of the dauntingly precarious structure, before enjoying the Pisas much less visited museums, galleries and other historic monuments too.
Chianti Wine Regions
Being situated in the heart of Tuscany, it would be a crime not to venture out into the surrounding countryside to explore the rural scenery and to enjoy a spot of wine tasting. The Chianti Region is one of the best wine producing areas in Italy, and you’ll find local wineries offering tours of their vineyards, complete with plenty of tastings accompanied by platters of cheese, olives and cured meats too. You can venture out by yourself, hire a classic Vespa scooter to get around or join a tour with local guides so you can overindulge in the wine and not have to worry too much about getting back to Florence afterwards.
Recommend budget tours in Florence
- Small Group Tour: Cinque Terre with the leaning tower of Pisa
- Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour
- Cinque Terre Hiking Day Trip from Florence
- Cooking Class and Lunch at a Tuscan Farmhouse with Local Market Tour from Florence
- Best of Florence Walking Tour with Skip-the-Line at Michelangelo’s ‘David’
- Taste of Chianti: Tuscan Cheese, Wine and Lunch from Florence
- Florence Vespa Tour: Tuscan Hills and Italian Cuisine
- Florence Cooking Class: Learn How to Make Gelato and Pizza
- Small-Group Wine Tasting Experience in the Tuscan Countryside
- Skip-the-Line Florence Duomo with Brunelleschi’s Dome Climb
- Early Access: Guided Uffizi Gallery Tour with Skip-the-Line Ticket
- The Duomo Complex and Its Hidden Terraces
- Ferrari Test Drive in Florence
- Siena and San Gimignano: Small-Group Tour with Lunch from Florence
- Duomo Sky Walk – Florence Heaven
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