Florence charms visitors with its mix of majestic chapels and fortified palaces. Elegant gardens spread out near museums that house Renaissance masterpieces. The Arno runs through Florence at the base of the Apennines, and picturesque stone bridges like the Ponte Vecchio cross over it, allowing you to easily explore both halves of this idyllic Mediterranean city.
Throughout Florence’s public spaces and piazzas, almost everywhere you look there’s a magnificent marble Renaissance sculpture by a great Italian artist. When not exploring the city’s art-filled spaces and magnificent landmarks, you may easily find yourself pleasantly lost inside a lively Florentine flea market. Make your visit a memorable one with these 10 best things to see, do and try in Florence.
The DuomoClimb Giotto’s Campanile for sweeping views over Florence
(Photo via Anthony G. Reyes/Flickr)
The Duomo (or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, to give it its full name) is Florence’s main cathedral. Its large tiled dome and adjacent bell tower rise over the city’s skyline. Marvel at the cathedral’s Gothic frontage, with its 3 massive bronze doors and lunettes covered in coloured marble and ornate reliefs. Access is free, but renting an audio guide costs around €2.50. Inside, you’ll find a fine display of mosaics throughout, but more are attracted to the beautiful bell tower, Giotto’s Campanile. At around 84 metres high, it’s one of the tallest structures in Florence. You can walk up the 414 steps to its top, with pauses for panoramic views (and a rest) at its 3 midsection floors.
- Opening Hours: Monday – Wednesday from 10am to 5pm, Thursday from 10am to 4pm, Saturday from 10am to 4.45pm, and Sunday from 1.30pm to 4.45pm
- Location: Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Italy
- Tel: +39 055 230 2885
Piazzale MichelangeloTake in great views over Florence from a hilltop square
(Photo via Tim Adams/Flickr)
The 19th-century Piazza Michelangelo is among Florence’s best viewpoints. A full-sized bronze replica of Michelangelo's David looks over the Arno and the city from the square’s centre (the original statue’s in the Galleria dell'Accademia art museum, downtown). The piazza’s atop a hill on Arno’s southern bank, which you can reach either by going up the flight of stairs of “Poggi’s Ramp” from the lower Piazza Giuseppe Poggi, or by a scenic drive from the city centre via the tree-lined Viale Michelangiolo.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 9.30am to 1pm and from 3pm to 7pm, Sundays from 3pm to 7pm
- Location: Viale Michelangiolo, Florence, Italy
Ponte VecchioCross over the Arno on a Florentine icon
(Photo via anglogean/Flickr)
Ponte Vecchio is one of Florence’s oldest bridges over the Arno, linking both halves of the city. It‘s very picturesque when viewed from the next bridge to the west, Ponte Santa Triana. Crossing Ponte Vecchio, you’ll find it’s lined with a variety of small jewellery and watch shops and bustling with pedestrians around the clock. Prices tend to be touristy, though. It’s your main access for visiting two of Florence’s piazzas: the downtown Piazza della Repubblica and the Piazza dei Pitti, with the adjacent Boboli Gardens on Arno’s southern bank.
- Location: Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
Boboli GardensRoam through a garden of Renaissance sculptures and fountains
(Photo via Andrey O!/Flickr)
The Boboli Gardens offers you a splendid walk through well-manicured grounds adorned with numerous Renaissance sculptures and fountains. Walk up tree-lined pathways to its hillside and you’ll discover some of the most splendid views over Florence. It’s also home to the 16th-century Fountain of Neptune by Italian bronze sculptor Stoldo Lorenzi. The gardens are a bonus after you’ve admired the wonderful architecture and artworks of the Palazzo Pitti palace houses. Regular tickets cost around €10, but there’s free access on the first Sunday of each month.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 8.15am to 6.30pm
- Location: Piazza dei Pitti, Florence, Italy
- Tel: +39 055 265 1838
Basilica of Santa Maria NovellaAdmire 1 of the best examples of Italian Gothic architecture
(Photo via Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr)
The 15th-century basilica of Santa Maria Novella is one of Florence’s most beautiful Gothic churches. Its façade shows spectacular examples of Italian Gothic style, featuring coloured marbles in a combination of green and white. Pay about €7.50 to get inside this vast church and you’ll find more colours through its central arches, plus masterpieces by some of Italy’s greatest. The highlight artwork is the Trinity, by Masaccio. Some consider the church’s frescoed interiors to be far better than the Duomo’s.
- Opening Hours: Monday – Friday from 9am to 6pm
- Location: Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy
- Tel: +39 055 219257
Uffizi GalleryDiscover Florence’s treasure trove of arts
(Photo via Leonid Ll/Flickr)
The Uffizi Gallery is a 16th-century office building in the heart of Florence, where you can wander through a long row of rooms that house a vast collection of Renaissance artworks. The works are set in chronological order, and include religious artefacts that reflect the sense of piety of those ancient times. It’s home to some famous classical pieces, such as Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Caravaggio's Medusa and da Vinci’s Annunciation. Tickets are from about €6.50, but it’s good to pay a little extra for a guided tour – you’ll gain better insights and, most importantly, skip the usually long lines.
- Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday from 8.15am to 6.50pm
- Location: Piazzale degli Uffizi 6, Florence, Italy
- Tel: +39 055 294883
Oltrarno QuarterExplore beyond the Arno
(Photo via Brendan Campbell/Flickr)
The Oltrarno Quarter is worth exploring if you’ve covered most of Florence’s central hub. It’s considered one of the most beautiful parts of the city, and a historic cradle where you can find some of Florence’s grand monuments and palatial sites. These include Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens, as well as the popular viewpoint, Piazzale Michelangelo. You can cross over to the Oltrarno Quarter via several bridges, such as the landmark Ponte Vecchio, and most of the walks are pleasantly shaded along lush, tree-lined paths.
- Location: Oltrarno Quarter, Florence, Italy
Mercato CentraleEat, shop and mingle with locals at Florence’s famous flea market
(Photo via Timitrius/Flickr)
Mercato Centrale – Florence’s Central Market – is a fun and lively spot to visit. With the many food stalls to choose from, you can relax, eat and shop. It’s also great value, as the prices are reasonable for the fresh and authentic Tuscan food you get. You can sample the items from each vendor on display before you decide to buy anything, making it a great opportunity to discover the best flavours of the Tuscany region. Come early to witness how some of the dishes are prepared.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 10am to 12am
- Location: Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell'Ariento, Florence, Italy
- Tel: +39 055 239 9798
Chianti and ChianinaTry the best Florentine steaks and Tuscan wines
(Photo via Desire Wu/Flickr)
At the end of a day in Florence, consider settling for a specialty: a glass of Chianti Classico. These red wines from the Tuscan region are made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes, and are a good match to the best specialty dishes of this so-called “capital of Tuscany”. One of the dishes not to be missed is the T-bone Florentine Steak, known as Bistecca alla fiorentina. Using the marbled high cut of the Chianina breed of Tuscany, it’s woodfire-grilled rare, with a smooth and buttery texture that melts in your mouth. Plenty of Osterias and Trattorias all over Florence offer the steak, but a great spot to try is Trattoria dall'Oste Chianineria, near the Santa Maria Novella church.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 11.30pm to 22.30
- Location: Via Luigi Alamanni, 3/5r, Florence, Italy
- Tel: +39 055 212048
Pick Your Favourite GelatoFind the best gelato among the many available
(Photo via bkpdance23/Flickr)
Enjoying a good scoop of creamy Florentine gelato is a must when visiting the city, but finding the best can be quite a challenge – there are so many gelaterias serving their own special flavours. Gelaterias also serve some of the best espressos you’ll ever taste. Surprisingly, the best places are rarely found in Florence’s main historical centre.
Check out Cantina del Gelato, which has shops in several spots, including one near the Ponte Vecchio. They usually have around 20 good, bold and playful flavours, spanning tropical fruits and even spices, from about €3 for a medium serving.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 12pm to 11pm
- Location: Via de’ Bardi 31, Florence, Italy
- Tel: +39 055 050 16 17