In the heart of Tuscany lies this medieval city which is the birth town of the Renaissance. Florence knows how to charm a person. Hands down, it’s our favorite city in Italy and in this post, we want to share some of our favorite places and things that you should not miss when you go.
By the way, we were totally fascinated by how the ancient cobbled streets had big retail names popping all over. Imagining Michaelangelo walking past the same streets as we pass by Michael Korrs. Florence is not staying behind in making its presence felt in the 21st century. Florentine people were some of the friendliest we’d met in Italy and the food was beyond delicious. If you are anything like the history buffs we are then you are in for a major treat.
How many days to spend in Florence?
In our opinion, you need at least 2 days to see the highlights and enjoy the city briefly. But to actually soak in the beauty of Florence without rushing yourself you will need 3-4 days or even more. Don’t forget there are plenty of day trips to take from Florence, such as Pisa, Siena, Tuscany countryside, winery tours etc. So if day trips are in your itinerary then definitely 3-5 days is a must. We initially planned to spend 2 days in Florence and on the 3rd day head to Chique Terre en route Pisa. But ended up using a good part of our 3rd day in Florence as well. Lucky we hadn’t booked the trains to Chinque in advance.
Best time to visit Florence?
As a norm, most people like to visit Europe in the summer. Which means you are going to be there with most people. So ideally spring or fall would be a perfect time to visit. However, we visited Florence (and rest of Italy) in the winter month of January. As apprehensive as we were in the beginning, we can now happily recommend the non-peak season of winter to visit Florence. Italy, in general, doesn’t get super cold unless you are in the mountains.
How to get there?
Trains: Italian cities are very well connected by trains, Trenitalia is their official train website, so no matter where you are coming from in Italy you will find a route to Florence. The main station in Florence is called Firenze Santa Maria Novella. We had booked our trains from Rome to Florence online in advance but it’s not very difficult to get last minute tickets if you are traveling in non-peak season. For example, to keep our schedule flexible we did not book our tickets to Cinque Terre from Florence but were easily able to buy them in person in January. TIP: Keep an eye on your luggage at all times in Italy, there have been cases of stolen luggage in Italian trains.
Cars: We’ve heard from a few friends who opted to drive because they wanted to enjoy the road trip through Italy. Personally, we went with the trains to be time efficient. In our 2 weeks in Italy, we wanted to see as much of the country as possible and save as much time in traveling. But if driving is what you prefer by all means enjoy the Italian countryside and smaller cities on the way to Florence and let us know your thoughts on it.
Things to see
Finally to our favorite part since we can’t stop raving about how amazing Florence is. PS: We both are big-time history buffs and Renaissance period have been our favorite from history lessons in school. TIP: Best way to see Florence is by walking since everything in the historic district of Florence is so close to each other.
So let’s jump into what to see in Florence starting with Cathedrals to Museums to famous landmarks/ picturesque spots and ending at shopping in Florence.
Piazza del Duomo
The most famous piazza or square in Florence is home to 3 very important structures which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site –
1. Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore a.k.a The Duomo
Brunelleschi, a famous goldsmith at the time, won the competition to be the lead architect of the most sorted after Dome in Florence. Fun Fact: The dome of Pantheon in Rome is said to be an inspiration to Brunelleschi for his dome in Florence. Medici: Master of Florence on Netflix? It’s a great show if you like period drama! You’ll actually get to see how the city of Florence got built amongst other political things. It’s FREE to enter the cathedral. However, if you want to go inside the Baptistery or climb on top of the Duomo or Bell Tower then you will have to purchase the Museum ticket which includes all three entries. TIP: As any European tower climb, these stairs are extremely narrow and circular so keep that in mind in case you are claustrophobic. All though I was feeling nauseous with the climb, I have to admit the ceiling fresco up and close made me forget all about it.. definitely worth taking the hike!
2. Baptistery di San Giovanni
Most people skip the Baptistery of San Giovanni which in our opinion was a hidden gem, just see the photos below. Highly recommend seeing this for its brilliant golden ceiling fresco, also if you’ve read Inferno you’d want to check this out! Another attraction is the golden door of the Baptistery facing the Cathedral. Fun Fact: It is said that Michaelangelo, the master himself, was so impressed by this door carving that he called them “the doors to Paradise”. Our understanding is that what we see today is a replica of the original door.
3. Campanile di Giotto a.k.a Giotto’s Bell Tower
The entrance fee for the top of Duomo, Baptistery and Bell tower is included in one ticket and costs €15. The best part is that this ticket is valid for 24 hrs so you can spread the two staircase climbs (Duomo and Bell Tower) in two days.
La Basilica di Santa Croce
Santa Croce Basilica was a last minute addition to our itinerary and so glad we did. Why? This is where we saw the tombs of legends. Legends like Galileo, Michelangelo, and many other Renaissance artists. FUN FACT: This is also where you’ll find a strikingly similar Statue of Liberty, perhaps the first ever Lady Liberty! You have no reason to miss it, it’s a short walk from Duomo and Uffizi. The only thing missing here is the tomb of their very own Frienze born Dante. You can learn all about Dante’s history at his house which is now converted into a museum in Florence. The entrance fee is about €6. Since this was a last minute addition, we bought the ticket in person but if you want to reserve online you can do it at their official site.
Uffizi Gallery holds some of the best of Renaissance artwork which you cannot and should not miss. I recommend booking your timeslot in advance. The entrance fee is €12 for full entry. For online ticket reservations, go to B-ticket website which is the official museum ticket site. Once you make the payment you will get an email, save that email as a proof to collect tickets at the entrance. Uffizi is closed on Mondays so plan accordingly.
Galleria dell’ Accademia
Go to Galleria to see “The David”, there isn’t much besides that. We honestly underestimated Michelangelo’s statue of David from the David and Goliath story. It is much larger and detailed than we imagined. This masterpiece is so close to a real human that if it wasn’t for the white marble we would’ve mistaken it for a human. Recommend booking this timeslot also in advance. The entrance fee for full ticket is €16.50. Galleria is closed on Mondays so plan accordingly. For online ticket reservations, go to B-ticket website which is the official museum ticket site. Once you make the payment you will get an email, save that email as a proof to collect tickets at the entrance. FUN FACT: David’s right hand is larger than the rest of his body and it was carved out of a single block of flawed unwanted marble by Michelangelo.
Museo Casa di Dante
Have you read Dan Brown’s Inferno? No, have you heard the old poem The Divine Comedy? Yes, then you have heard of Dante Alighieri, the famous Italian poet active in the early Renaissance period. FUN FACT: Florence was the birthplace and home of Dante until unfortunate political events got him exiled from his beloved city forever. The house where Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 is now turned into a Museum. Dante’s House Museum is closed on Mondays so plan accordingly.
Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Garden
Pitti Palace was the official residence of Florence’s famous banker family – The Medici’s in the 16th and 17th century. Pitti Palace has four museums and the entrance fee is €16 for a full ticket. Right behind the Pitti Palace is Boboli Garden whose entrance fee is €10 for a full ticket. For online ticket reservations, go to B-ticket website which is the official museum ticket site. Once you make the payment you will get an email, save that email as a proof to collect tickets at the entrance. We missed seeing these two because we only had 2 days! Telling you in advance that you need more time in Florence 🙂
Palazzo Vecchio at Piazza Della Signoria
Palazzo Vecchio is the actual working government office town hall of Florence which also holds a small museum and is famous for its hall of 500 exhibiting some of the finest work of artist Vasari. FUN FACT: Piazza della Signoria was where Michaelangelo’s famous David was originally inaugurated in 1504. Today there is a copy of David’s statue in the same spot. The original David has been moved to Academia Galleria. We didn’t get a chance to see the hall of 500 but hopefully, we will come back to Florence to cover all that we missed.
Ponte Vecchio, the oldest standing bridge from medieval times over Arno river, makes for a romantic walk. For a picturesque view of Ponte Vecchio walk to one of the adjacent bridges. A perfect spot to capture a beautiful sunset. It’s FREE to walk across the bridge.
You cannot return from Florence without seeing this postcard view of Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo. Located on top of a hill providing an aerial view of the city, another great sunset spot! If you are in a mood to hike take the park stairs up to Pizzale Michelangelo.
STREET SHOPPING AT San Lorenzo Leather Market
This famous leather shopping market in Florence is open 9am to 7pm from Tuesday to Saturday. If you are not a supporter of leather then, unfortunately, you will have to see a lot of it in Florence since it’s quite famous for it. Go to San Lorenzo market for the experience or perhaps buy small souvenirs or gifts but for quality leather shopping, I’d not recommend this local market. We ended up buying leather passport covers, a cross body purse as you see hanging in the 2nd photo (I quite like that) and leather belts. For premium quality leather stuff check out one of the many boutique leather showrooms in old town Florence and be ready to pay a premium price as well. TIP: You will get a better deal if you bargain at San Lorenzo market.
Where to Stay in Florence?
We stayed at Stanze del David Place, a lovely boutique hotel which is just 5 minutes walk from Piazza del Duomo. In fact, everything was within 10-15 minutes walk from where we stayed. Wherever you choose to stay in Florence, make sure you stay in the historical center or old town of Florence which is easily walkable.
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Where to Eat?
- Ristorante Paoli
- La Giostra Florence
- Taverna Divina Commedia
- Ristorante il Caminetto
- Gelato where ever possible!
FUN FACT: Did you know the famous cartoon character Pinnochio was born in Italy. Carlo Collodi, the creator of Pinnochio was a Florentine 🙂
We really hope this comprehensive guide comes handy in your Florentine trip planning. If you liked this post then do share with family and friends!