Florence is undeniably one of the most charming cities in the world. The capital of Tuscany region in Italy, it’s home to some amazing masterpieces and the cradle of Renaissance. Its spirit still evokes the Florentine Republic. Nestled in the middle of endless vineyards, it’s home to world-class fashion, lively nightlife, and impressive cuisine. From fine art to entertainment, Florence has it all and is one of the best cities for a short city break. Here you’ll find your guide to Florence with everything you need to know for your first trip, from getting around the city, where to stay and what to see and do.
Florence’s history can be traced back to the times of Julius Caesar, but the foundation of the modern city was laid in 1115, with the formation of the Florentine Republic. With a past illuminated by arts and culture, the city was home to famous artists, writers, and thinkers over the years. Brunelleschi, Giotto, Leonardo Da Vinci, Dante, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo Galilei are just some of the illustrious personalities who lived or worked here. In Florence, suggestive architecture, splendid public gardens, world-acclaimed museums, and haute-cuisine restaurants blend perfectly with the Italian dolce vita. Read on to find out the best that Florence has to offer.
What to See and Do
Here are some of the best things to do and see in Florence:
- Visit the Dome of Florence – Brunelleschi’s Dome has been overlooking Florence for centuries; the postcard-perfect place of this enchanting city. The tallest building in Florence sits in the heart of the city and captures the attention with its green marble façade and intricate patterns. The stunning Dome bears the signature of many artists, including Vasari, Arnolfo di Cambio, and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Besides the imposing dome, the bell tower by Giotto completes the architectural splendour of this cathedral. You can buy your priority entrance ticket here.
- Check out Palazzo Vecchio – Dominating Piazza Della Signoria, the giant Palazzo Vecchio was once the battleground between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, and is now the centre of the social, civil, and political life of the city. No visit is complete until you snap an Insta-perfect picture of it; and while you’re here, don’t forget to look up for the hidden portrait sculpted by Michelangelo on one of the tiles on the façade.
- Stroll along the Uffizi Galleries – An unmissable landmark, the Uffizi Galleries gather important artworks by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Botticelli, and Giotto, to name just a few. Plan a full day here; put on your most comfortable shoes, and enjoy the show.
- Indulge in the Florentine cuisine – Florence is famous worldwide for its rich cuisine that pairs perfectly with a glass of Montepulciano wine. In good old Italian style, get ready to delight yourself with tasty antipasti, traditional sweets, and the cherry on top – a 1.2kg Florentine steak.
- Relax at Palazzo Pitti – The historical residence of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and the largest monumental green areas in the city, Palazzo Pitti and the adjacent Boboli Gardens are the perfect place for a relaxing afternoon. Inside the palace, get lost among art galleries and the Royal Apartments. Then, enjoy the architectural details and perfect landscape in the splendid gardens that surround the building.
- See Michelangelo’s statue of David – The sculpture now at the Accademia Gallery is one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces. He started the project to create the statue at only the age of 26 in 150. It is now one of the most well-known and famous sculptures in the world. Book a gallery tour with GetYourGuide to learn more.
Tours and activities
Below you can see some tours and activities you may be interested in. Click the “More things to do” button for lots more ideas.
Where to Stay
Florence’s high class is reflected by the lodging options too. The city offers an abundant choice of chic accommodations for all tastes and budgets. From backpacker-friendly boutique hostels to luxury hotels, Florence will spoil you with choices.
- Budget – Hostel Archi Rossi – Strategically located in the heart of Florence at just a stone throw’s away from Santa Maria Novella Train Station, the Archi Rossi is within walking distance from the main tourists’ sites, while its interior reminds of a museum. It offers a wide range of lodging options, from 6-bed dorms to single, double, and family rooms at competitive prices.
- Mid-range – Hotel Porta Faenza – Established in the renovated home of a famous family of Florentine merchants, Porta Faenza impresses with terracotta stonework and a fine collection of medieval tools. Historic aspects blend with modern comfort at just a short walk from the main sights; a great choice for the lovebirds or families visiting the city.
- Luxury – Hotel Bernini Palace – As you would expect from a 5-star luxury accommodation, Bernini Palace is located in the pulsating heart of Florence. Featuring antique furniture and Murano glass decors, the hotel mixes Italian and Moroccan styles in perfect harmony. Most rooms are decorated in classic style and feature Renaissance Florence décor, while panoramic views can be enjoyed from the rooftop terrace.
When to Go
Florence is located in a basin protected by hills at the south and the slopes of the Apennines at the north. The city has a temperate climate with hot summers and cold winters. If you don’t like extremes, the best time to visit is from March to June. This is when the blooming flowers dress the city in a romantic allure, or from September to November, a good time to admire Tuscany’s foliage. Visit holiday-weather.com for the averages throughout the year.
Getting Around Florence
Arriving at the city
Florence airport is located about 5 miles from the city centre, which is easily accessible by car, taxi, or bus.
- Vola in Bus – Florence’s airport shuttle service Vola in Bus is one of the cheapest ways to get from the airport to the Santa Maria Novella train station, in the city centre. Buses leave the airport every half an hour and the transit time is about 20 minutes.
- Taxi – Most taxis in Florence operate a fixed fare from the airport to any point in the city centre; a better choice than the bus if you want to be dropped off at your lodging’s doorsteps.
- Rental car – Undeniably your best option if you want to visit the rest of Tuscany too. Most major rental car companies operate from the airport, but it could be cheaper to book your car in advance. Most hotels in Florence offer free parking facilities, but the city is not the most car-friendly in the world.
- Train – If you’re staying in other parts of Italy then you could get the train to Florence to visit. Trains in Italy are generally high quality, fast and cheap.
- Day Tours – Another possible option is an organised day tour such as from Rome.
Within the city
The best way to move around Florence is on foot. All major sights are within walking distance from one another, and the city centre is not the most accessible to cars. If you don’t feel like walking, you have the following options:
- Bus – The cheapest way to get from one part of the city to another is with public transit. Hop aboard one of the ATAF buses, validate your ticket once you’re on, and enjoy your trip.
- Taxi – Uber is not an option in Florence, but you can use local taxis. They tend to be expensive though, so if you don’t want to drain your bank account, you should use them sporadically.
- Scooter or bike – Riding a bike or scooter is a fun and economical way of visiting Florence. Rental shops are scattered throughout the city, and you can rent for any period from a few hours to a few days. If you plan to ride a scooter, most rental companies will ask to see your passport and driving licence.
General Tips and Info for Visiting Florence
- Florence is one of the most visited cities in the world; if you want to visit the museums but don’t want to spend hours waiting in the queues, book the tickets in advance.
- Italian cuisine is arguably the best in the world. While the Florentine steak is a staple, you should also taste the popular street foods, such as Lampredotto (cow’s stomach) or tripe sandwiches.
- Take a day trip from Florence to explore Tuscany’s countryside. Don’t forget to validate your train ticket at one of the yellow machines in the train station to avoid fines.
- Italy is part of the Eurozone, and the local currency is Euro. The cheapest way to exchange your currency is by withdrawing cash directly from your bank card at any ATM. Consider Monzo if you’re travelling from the UK to save on bank fees.
- Learn a few common phrases in Italian before you go. While English is spoken in most touristy places, street food vendors, smaller shop owners, and people in the countryside usually speak Italian only.
- Florence has a low crime rate and is typically considered safe. As in most major cities, though, pickpocketing is frequent. Keep your belongings close to you and lock your valuables in the hotel room to avoid disappointment. Read more tips to avoid being pickpocketed.
Further Reading and Resources
There are many travel online resources, but nothing can beat a good travel guide to help you make the most out of your visit. Your best bet is the Florence and Tuscany Guide by Rick Stevens.
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