Are you looking for tips on things to do in Florence?
As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Laurel Perry Turner who owns and operates an authentic Tuscan tour company, specializing in experiencing Tuscany, not just visiting.
Since her first visit to Italy, almost 6 years ago, she was hooked and has traveled the region extensively since.
Laurel shares with us her insider tips on the best things to do in Florence.
Why visit Florence?
Florence can very well be considered one of the art and cultural centres of the world.
Your first step into the city, will be back in time. Allow yourself to be swept away into the Renaissance as you are surrounded by beautifully preserved, architecturally perfect, historical buildings and breathtaking art at every turn.
Every few steps you will be taken by the smells wafting from the trattorias, osterias, cafes and pizzerias! You will be surrounded by the sounds of the lively conversations in one of the most beautiful languages in the world! Even the complaining children sound beautiful! (Although, the Italians may not agree!)
In the end, it is the culture of hospitality and the kindness of the Italian people that make you never want to leave.
Things to do in Florence
Both cards will get you into all of the major museums without waiting in line. Go to The Tuscan Traveler to see a great comparison of both cards and which, if either, would be best for you.
Top 10 “on the beaten path” things to do in Florence
Commonly known as, “The Duomo”, Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore is impossible to miss. It is the skyline of Florence. Building began on the huge Gothic duomo in 1296 and it was consecrated in 1436.
Inside Brunelleschi’s Dome you will find one of the most breathtaking pieces of art you will ever see. It is well worth the stairs you will climb to walk around the inner walls to see the paintings up close and to see an amazing view of the city from the outside.
The Campanile, bell tower, is in Piazza del Duomo. You can climb the 414 stairs to get an incredible view, but if you are choosing between climbing the duomo and the tower, go with the dome.
The Baptistery is from the 11th century and one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Here you will find Ghiberti’s famous bronze doors, the “Gates of Paradise” (they are reproductions, the originals are in the Duomo Museum).
The Galleria degli Uffizi holds the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art. It is essential to buy reservation tickets before going to avoid the long line. Trust me on this one, the line can be hours, as they only allow so many people in the museum at one time.
Your reservation is not a ticket, just a pass to get in the much shorter line to enter. In the museum you will see works from Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, da Vinci, and Raphael.
Florence’s Galleria dell’ Academia, holds Michelangelo’s David, easily the most famous sculpture in the world. One of my favorite parts of this museum is the collection of musical instruments, I never tire of this exhibit. It is also quite advisable to get reservations for this museum.
On the other side of the Arno River, you will find Giardino di Boboli, a beautiful and sprawling English style garden on a hillside behind the Pitti Palace. It is a lovely place to slow down and enjoy the greener side of Florence.
Palazzo Pitti, Pitti Palace, is Florence’s largest palazzo, once owned by the Medici family. You can visit 8 different galleries in the palace. Be prepared, it is massive and can wear you out quickly.
Piazza della Signoria, the historic and political center of the city, is just off of the River Arno and next to the Uffizi Gallery. Here, you will find statues including the Fountain of Neptune and a replica of the Statue of David.
I love watching as tourists stand in awe, clicking away at the breathtaking show of art filling the piazza! It was this square where the famous Bonfire of the Vanities was held.
Protected by an imposing statue of Dante, it sits with its beautiful facade in front of a modest piazza. The Santa Croce was built for the common citizens of Florence, just a 15-minute walk from the much more grand Duomo.
This is my favorite church in Florence. It houses tombs of the likes of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini and the empty tomb of Dante. For this reason, the Santa Croce is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie).
Florence keeps the empty tomb of Dante in hopes that one day it shall be filled with his decayed remains. They are currently housed in the city of Ravenna, his final resting place, after being exiled from Florence.
It is a must to see the sun setting over the city from Piazzale Michelangelo! This is, by far, the most famous view overlooking the city and has been reproduced on countless postcards and photographs. You will also find a bronze replica of David that is thought to be safeguarding the city.
You can either take the hike up to the top, take the bus, or hire a cab. If you choose to walk to the Piazzale, make sure you wander through the Oltrarno, the neighborhood on the other side of the Arno river from the duomo, which is all too often overlooked. At the very least, try to walk down after the sun sets.
The Ponte Vecchio was Florence’s first bridge to cross the Arno River and is the only surviving bridge from Florence’s medieval days. Lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelery, you’ll have a great view of the city along the Arno River.
This bridge is a true landmark of the city of Florence. At night, it can be quite romantic to take in a local musician busking at the center of the bridge, while gazing upon the city lighting up the river.
The Bargello is the national sculpture museum, located in Florence. The castle-like building was built in 1255–1350 as the original seat of government. It contains the greatest collection of Renaissance sculpture in Florence and is one of the best collections in Italy. What you must see here is the huge room filled with Donatello’s masterpieces.
Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Florence
You will hit most all of Florence’s major neighborhoods while exploring the sites, but it is the neighborhood across the river you don’t want to miss. The Oltrarno, “Across the Arno” is the artisans’ neighborhood, filled with quaint streets and wonderful shops and restaurants.
It is, by far, the most missed gem by tourists in Florence. The Oltrarno’s lively tree-filled center, Piazza Santo Spirito, is unique unto itself. Lined with bars and a more bohemian style crowd, this is where you will find the locals.
Where to Eat in Florence
- Gusta Pizza – These guys are so busy, they don’t even need a website! The lines can sometimes be long, but it will be well worth the wait. Some of the best pizza in town! You get see reviews and get information on them on Tripadvisor.
- Authentic Tuscan Cuisine – La Beppa Fioraia- Tratoria Storica Fiorentina is a favorite of the locals. It is a bit on the higher end, but not outrageous. This lovely restaurant is worth the walk to the other side of the river. The food is incredible and the staff quite friendly.
- Gelato – Is there anything more important in Italy? You must know that not all gelato is the same! Don’t be fooled by the pretty displays, go with the recommendations and where you see a line, there is a reason for it. Remember, it is essential to eat at least 2 scoops a day!
- My favorite gelateria is La Carraia. Located across the river, but right on it, La Carraia is not only delicious and fresh, but you can get a scoop for only one euro!
You Can’t Visit Florence Without Eating …
The bistecca alla Fiorentina, the Tuscan t-bone! This mouth-watering piece of meat will never allow you to taste steak the same again! While I am a bit biased, as this is the place where my travelers stay, Bellavista Impruneta Hotel Ristorante is known for having the best Florentine bistecca around.
It is a stunningly beautiful 30-minute bus ride through the Tuscan countryside to the small village of Impruneta where you will find this gourmet treat. They also offer gluten-free options.
Where to Drink in Florence
Dolce Vita – I love this place! Located in the Oltrarno neighborhood across the river, this is really a “locals” place to be.
It is quite hip and the award-winning bartender turned owner, Dario, will be sure to take good care of you! The crowd here is 20’s-50’s and feels really comfortable for everyone.
Zoe – Zoe is a lively place to have a drink with great music and a bit of a younger crowd. The bartenders are friendly and eager to show off their skills!
Negroni – A couple doors down from Zoe, this is a place loved by visitors and locals alike! If you are looking for a great drink and good quality food for an aperitive, this is your place!
Best Place for a Night on the Town in Florence
My favorite thing to do in Florence at night is to explore the sites! Visit the museum in Palazzo Vecchio at night and you will get a treat like you never imagined! No lines, no crowds, and a beautifully quiet view of some of the greatest masterpieces in the world!
Plus, there is nothing like seeing all of the buildings and statues lit up in the night sky! Stop into Dolce Vita for a cocktail and a little aperitivo and enjoy a lovely tour of the city under the stars!
Where to Stay in Florence
In the city – Hotel David – This is an absolutely lovely hotel that is conveniently located. It is not central, so you can avoid the crowds and all the night-time noise. The rooms are spacious and quite comfortable. There is WiFi, free parking and gluten-free menu options. Family owned and operated, it is really a wonderful place to stay.
Outside of the city – Bellavista Impruneta Hotel Ristorante – If you would like to get a little taste of the countryside while still being close to the city, this is the place for you. Bellavista is located in the quaint village of Impruneta, just a 30 minute countryside drive or bus ride from the city. Owned and operated by the Becucci family for over 100 years, authentic Tuscany is what you will find here.
There is always someone ready to answer any of your questions and help you in any way. Comfortable rooms, gourmet cuisine, and as the name implies, beautiful views! The village of Impruneta is a gem all to itself!
For more places to stay in Florence choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com. You get free cancellation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.
Markets and Shopping in Florence
Piazza Santa Trinita – This piazza sits just off the river, Via de’ Tornabuoni, is home to Gucci, Armani, Ferragamo, Versace, and many more. Here, you will find beautifully quaint streets lined with the biggest names in high fashion. Even if haute couture is not your thing, it’s worth the window-shopping stroll.
San Lorenzo and the Mercato Centrale – Centered on the Medici’s old church of San Lorenzo, between the train station and the Duomo, these streets are filled with markets! Here you will find the massive indoor food market, and San Lorenzo’s famous leather markets.
It is a fun and lively place to visit and don’t be afraid to haggle with prices.
Events and Festivals in Florence
For a comprehensive calendar of major events, go to the events page in Life in Italy. This is where I get all my Italian news and information. This is an incredibly informative site if you are planning a visit.
Getting around Florence
Florence is a beautifully walkable city. Almost any site can be reached on foot. Just be sure to wear your most comfortable shoes, it will be worth the investment! The brick streets and uneven walkways are not conducive to small heels.
The bus system is quite reliable. Getting around by bus is pretty easy too, you just need to know where to get your tickets and what the routes are. You can get all of that on the ATAF site.
The Santa Maria Novella train station is conveniently located in the city and fairly easy to navigate. As with any train station, be aware of your belongings at all times.
Finding WiFi in Florence
I have never had any problem finding a bar (the Italian name for cafe’s) that offer free wifi to customers. I usually just get a coffee and a pastry and have a seat outside.
The city of Florence now offers free WiFi in 12 piazze and parks. Access is via password in compliance with Italian laws, and limited to one hour a day. Unfortunately, to get the password you’ll need an Italian cell phone. I’m hoping this will change soon.
Best time to visit Florence
No doubt, spring and fall. The summers can be quite hot and horribly crowded. The winter is a bit cold, but you will not encounter many tourists at all.
Visiting in the off-seasons will give you a much deeper experience to not have to fight the crowds and it will be significantly less expensive all the way around, especially the airfare!
Favorite Side trip from Florence
Taking a drive through the Chianti, home to the most well-known Italian red wine in the world is something every Tuscan visitor should do.
Extending over the provinces of Florence and Siena and covering all of the area between, Chianti offers a unique landscape with green, rolling hills covered with fields of vineyards and olive groves, small stone villages, and countryside homes in stone.
You will want to find yourself in Sienna at the end of your drive. Second only to Florence in importance in the history of Italian art, Siena is a must see in Tuscany.
Stop and people watch in Piazza del Campo, one of the most beautiful piazzas in all of Italy, as you soak in all that Siena has to offer. Take a virtual tour of Siena and get a taste of how magnificent this city really is!
If you do not want to hire a car and drive yourself, you can take a bus or hire a day excursion driver to bring you there.
Getting There and Away
You can either fly directly into Florence or into Pisa and take the train into the city. I prefer to fly Luthansa. With layovers in Germany, I find the airports to be accommodating and easy to navigate and the airline to be reliable.
I try to avoid a layover in Paris whenever I can, getting stuck in a massive airport can easily make you miss your connection.
My favorite 3rd party travel booking site is Skyscanner, I have saved hundreds of dollars booking through them. You can also take a bus or a train in, which will bring you to the Santa Maria Novella station, right in the middle of the city.
Best insiders tip for travel to Florence
Get lost! I love walking down random streets and experiencing the true quaintness of less-traveled paths. Just remember to be safe and always carry a map! If you get really lost, just ask anyone to lead you to the Duomo.
Palazzo Strozzi – Here you will find a constant rotation of exhibits. It is often overlooked because the current exhibits will not be listed in the guide books. I try to never miss an exhibit here when I am in town!
Mixing the ancient with the modern, Palazzo Strozzi has never disappointed me. With all exhibits in english as well as Italian, the breathtaking presentations are certainly an underrated gem of the city.
Taste Florence – If you really want to know about eating in Italy, take time for this Florence food tour! You will not be disappointed!
Don’t forget to stop into one (or a few) of the countless wine shops (enoteca) to find out what Tuscany is really famous for!
I love Florence because …
I am in love with falling in love! Every time I visit this remarkable city, I fall in love all over again! From the food to the culture, the architecture and the art, the language and the people… Florence is a city that you will hold in your heart forever!
Plan Your Trip to Florence
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Flights to Florence Car Rental in Florence BIO – Laurel Perry Turner lives with her three children in Clearwater, Florida. She is a travel and portrait photographer, writer, and owner of Capturing Tuscany, an authentic Tuscan touring company. Laurel is currently writing a book about the people of Giglio Island, Italy and their experience with the Costa Concordia disaster. You can follow her blog, Capturing la Vita. You can also connect with Laurel on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest Please share in the comments below.
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BIO – Laurel Perry Turner lives with her three children in Clearwater, Florida. She is a travel and portrait photographer, writer, and owner of Capturing Tuscany, an authentic Tuscan touring company. Laurel is currently writing a book about the people of Giglio Island, Italy and their experience with the Costa Concordia disaster. You can follow her blog, Capturing la Vita. You can also connect with Laurel on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
Please share in the comments below.