no alt text

Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 14 December, 2022
Expert travel writer: Nicky Swallow

Recognised as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence harbours an estimated one million works of art, some 70 museums and more than 60 churches crammed into a compact plain surrounded by on three sides by hills.

The city’s small size (pop. 365,000) makes it simple to navigate, while its 11 million annual visitors guarantee a constant buzz, although during peak season, the sheer volume of tourists can seem overwhelming.

This being Tuscany, food and wine are of primary importance, and there are restaurants galore, from authentic, family-run trattorias to outposts of gourmet, new-wave Tuscan cuisine. Florence is also famed for its fashion brands: Pucci, Gucci and Ferragamo all started here. With so much to see, this capital of culture merits multiple visits.

Orientation

The L-shaped Piazza della Signoria was the tradition centre of civic power in Florence, and today remains the city’s central focal point; it’s home to the 14th-century town hall (Palazzo Vecchio) and the world-famous Uffizi Gallery. Ponte Vecchio and the cathedral (the Duomo), are close by.

Most of the main sites and boutiques – including the prime shopping strip, Via Tornabuoni – are within 15 minutes’ walk of one another.

The River Arno runs on an east-west trajectory through the city centre. Many of the markets and major sites are found in the historic zones north of the river, but there is also plenty to see in the arguably more ‘authentic’ Oltrarno neighbourhood south of the Arno.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Baptistery of St. John
Experience

Baptistery of St. John

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

The octagonal, Romanesque Baptistery, thought to originate in the Dark Ages, is one of Florence’s oldest buildings. It is famous for its three sets of ornate bronze doors although the ones you see today are copies (the originals are in the Cathedral Works Museum).

Best for ages: 18+ | £4

Website >
Overview >
Ponte Vecchio
Experience

Ponte Vecchio

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Florence’s oldest bridge spans the Arno at its narrowest point and was spared from bombing by the retreating Germans after World War II. Thronged with tourists, it is famous for its glittering gold shops which replaced the original foul-smelling butcher’s shops in the 1590s.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Website >
Overview >

Pitti Palace

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Housed in the city’s most imposing palazzo, Florence’s second-largest art gallery is home to masterpieces by Raphael, Rubens, Botticelli and Van Dyck.

Best for ages: 18+ | £9

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Brancacci Chapel
Experience

Brancacci Chapel

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

This side chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine church (separate entrance) is decorated with world-class frescoes by 15th-century artists Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi. Highlights of these seminal works which profoundly influenced the Florentine Renaissance include Masolino’s Temptation of Adam and Eve and Masaccio’s The Tribute Money. Book ahead to climb up and see them up close.

Best for ages: 18+ | £7

Website >
Overview >
Florence Gelato Festival
Experience

Florence Gelato Festival

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Gelato (ice cream) was invented in Florence in the 16th-century, where it first appeared during banquets at the Medici court. For five days in late May, this festival celebrates this fact with a festival dedicated to all things gelato (including frozen cocktails).

Best for ages: 8+ | Free | 5 days

Website >
Overview >
Florence’s Central Market
Experience

Florence’s Central Market

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

The first floor of Florence’s traditional produce market, Centrale Mercato, was transformed in 2014 into a dazzling food hall where producers offer everything from freshly-made mozzarella, truffle pasta, barbequed ribs, artisan bread and cheeses to hand-made chocolates. Pair a guided tour (to find ingredients) with a Tuscan cooking class after.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

Website >
Overview >

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Best of Florence Private Tour: Highlights & Hidden Gems With Locals

Best of Florence Private Tour: Highlights & Hidden Gems With Locals

Florence

This is not just another city tour; this is the best of Florence from a unique perspective! Get to know Florence on a city tour that gives y...

€160 | Rating 4.94 / 5 [140 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Best of Florence: Half, 1 or 2-Day Private Guided Florence Tour

Best of Florence: Half, 1 or 2-Day Private Guided Florence Tour

Florence

See the highlights of Florence that most interest you on a customized private tour with your local tour guide. Duration of Half day tour is...

$525 | Rating 5 / 5 [6 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Best of Florence: Small Group Tour Skip-the-Line David & Accademia with Duomo

Best of Florence: Small Group Tour Skip-the-Line David & Accademia with Duomo

Florence

Experience the Tuscan capital's top attractions on a small-group walking tour through Florence. Begin with skip-the-line access to view Mich...

€74 | Rating 4.78 / 5 [456 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Bicycle Guided Tour in Florence

Bicycle Guided Tour in Florence

Florence

Come discover Florence by bike! The Bike Tour of Florence is available every day, starts at 10 AM, 3 PM and it takes two hours. The meeting ...

€29 | Rating 4.5 / 5 [22 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

In Piazza della Signoria Hotel

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

This elegant guest house offers warm hospitality and an atmosphere of genteel ‘Old Florence’ steps from Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi Gallery.

Official star rating:

Hotel Palazzo Guadagni

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Set on lively Piazza Santo Spirito, this charming three-star hotel has bags of character in addition to modern facilities and services. The top-floor loggia is a magical spot for an aperitivo.

Official star rating:

AdAstra

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

An aristocratic mansion set in a magnificent private garden, AdAstra offers 16 beautiful rooms filled with antiques, up-cycled retro pieces and quirky design touches.

Official star rating:

Grand Hotel Minerva

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

A centrally-located 4-star hotel with comfortable modern rooms, a rooftop pool, and rooftop bar which is an unbeatable spot for sunset cocktails.

Official star rating:

When to go

Florence is almost always crowded with visitors. If you can, avoid summer (June-August) when temperatures can be unbearably hot and the streets unbearably crowded. Unless you’re in town to participate, also avoid the Pitti menswear fashion shows (January and June), when 30,000 industry folk swarm into town. Visit during spring or autumn for the best combination of warm weather and manageable crowds. If you want to avoid queues altogether, visit in the winter (avoiding Christmas, New Year and Carnival).

Getting there and away

Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci airport is at Peretola, 5km outside the city centre. There is a frequent tram service from just outside the Arrivals Hall to Santa Maria Novella train station; the journey time is 20 minutes.  Alternatively, take a taxi (approximately 30 minutes).

Many  flights land at Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport, a one-hour train ride or 70-minute bus journey west of Florence. There is a shuttle train (The People Mover) from Pisa Centrale train station to the airport. Alternatively, you can catch a taxi, but be prepared for a hefty bill.

Getting around

Florence’s plentiful, efficient but expensive taxis can be picked up at taxi ranks or contacted by telephone (they can’t be hailed on the street). A network of minibuses links up key points in the historic centre and two new tramlines connect the station to the city’s northern and western suburbs.

Given its compact and car-free centre, the best way to get around Florence is to walk or cycle, and there is an increasing number of cycle lanes.  Download the Mobike app to use the fleet of bright orange bikes.

Where to stay

If you want to stay in the thick of things (and don’t mind battling with the tourist hordes), book accommodation around the Duomo-Piazza della Signoria drag. The Oltrarno neighbourhood south of the river is quieter and more ‘Florentine’ and is home to some lovely small hotels.

But Florence is so small that wherever you stay, the main sites will rarely be more than a 30-minute walk away. If you opt to stay out of the centre, check that the hotel provides a shuttle service into town.

Where to eat or drink

As a rule of thumb (although there are some notable exceptions), steer clear of the most touristy areas when you are searching for somewhere to eat in Florence. There are few good restaurants near the Duomo, for example, while neighbourhoods such as Santa Croce, the Sant’Ambrogio market area and San Niccolò are far more interesting gastronomically speaking, and this is where the Florentines go to eat.

The Oltrarno neighbourhood, south of the river, has a particularly buzzy and eclectic dining and drinking scene.

Where to shop

Florence’s designer drag is Via Tornabuoni, in the historic centre north of the river, but the surrounding streets are home to equally glamorous shops. For low-priced leather goods, try the market in San Lorenzo or the shops around Piazza Santa Croce. For classier, handcrafted artisanal products – from gloves to handmade shirts – head to bohemian Oltrarno. Florence’s out-of-town discount fashion malls are increasingly becoming an essential shopping stop.

What to buy

Since Renaissance times, Florence has been renowned for its world-class craftmanship. Centuries-old techniques have survived in Florence, and the Oltrarno area – the city’s artsy south bank – is today crammed with artisans’ ateliers selling hand-made, high-quality wares.

Also look out for fashion and accessories by local designers, leather goods, herbal beauty products, handcrafted shoes, ceramics and household linens, gold jewellery, olive oil, Tuscan food and wine.

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination

Other guides relevant to this destination

Tuscany destination guide

Tuscany, Italy

The astonishingly beautiful region of Tuscany has it all: art cities and ancient hill towns, high mountains and long sandy beaches, alongside luxurious hotels and some of Italy’s best food and wine.

Website >
Overview >