18 Things to Do in Florence
Want to admire art’s greatest masterpieces? Hungry for the world’s most delicious pasta? Those are just a couple of the best things to do in Florence. And trust me. It gets better.
Florence is one of my favorite cities in the world due to the sheer amount of wonder it has to offer. When I walk down the streets of Florence, I feel drenched in history and culture. The architecture is astounding. The art is world famous. The food and wine make my mouth water. Not to mention, the hotels are stunning.
Best Things to Do in Florence
With so much to do, it’s all quite overwhelming. If this is your first trip to Florence, you probably don’t know where to start. So let me help you.
The Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)
The Duomo dominates the Florence skyline, and you can see it almost anywhere in the city. At one point, the dome was the largest in the world. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can climb 463 steps to the top of the dome. It will offer you an astounding view of the city. But the line can be long, and the way is a bit cramped at some parts. So I prefer to stay on the ground to admire the Duomo’s beauty.
The Uffizi Gallery
First, I should mention that the gallery itself is gorgeous. It takes an artist’s perspective to construct the perfect building for housing artwork. So, fittingly enough, the horseshoe-shaped Uffizi was designed by Italian painter Giorgio Vasari.
But don’t spend too long marveling at the architecture. Uffizi is known for its superb collection of Renaissance art. You’ll need to set aside a couple hours to really take it all in. The crown jewel of the collection is The Birth of Venus. Keep your eye out for that.
While we’re talking about art, one of the best things to do in Florence is visit the Accademia Gallery. In fact, it should be mandatory when you visit Florence. The Accademia has a relatively small collection of sculptures and paintings. But it is also home to David. Even if you aren’t artistic, you can still appreciate the detail and the scale of the sculpture.
But you and a thousand others will want to stand and gawk at David. There will be a considerable line. So for both the Accademia and the Uffizi, I recommend purchasing tickets beforehand. Get Your Guide is the website I use to purchase tickets ahead of time.
Another famous landmark in Florence is Ponte Vecchio. This colorful, medieval bridge features a variety of shops built directly on top of it. Jewelry is the most popular item sold here, but to be honest, it’s all overpriced. So just come for a nice stroll and admire the architecture. You can also walk along the Arno River and admire Ponte Vecchio from afar.
Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace
The Boboli Gardens are a historical park designed for the Medici family. The gardens were the first of their kind and set a trend for courts and gardens in Europe at the time. But you can still come to enjoy the idyllic beauty. Throughout the park, you’ll find statues, fountains, and caves.
While there, you can easily get to the Pitti Palace. It was the place of residence for the Medici family, and in the 18th century Napoleon used it as a power base. The palace is now a museum with a large collection of luxurious goods and paintings.
Although the Boboli Gardens are more popular, the Bardini Gardens are just as good if not better. They are pretty and green but without all the crowds. At the top of the gardens, there is a baroque staircase that leads you to a wonderful view of Florence. To make it even better, there is a little bar here. So kick back your feet, enjoy the view, and sip on something nice.
Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is the main square in Florence. It is filled with wonderful statues and sculptures, including a replica of David and the Fountain of Neptune. But the square is also a political and historical hub dating back to the Florentine Republic. Here you’ll find the Palazzo Vecchio, which acts as the town hall and holds a wonderful collection of artwork, frescoes, and even Dante’s death mask. You can take a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio and its secret tunnels, or climb to the top to get a better view of Piazza della Signoria.
Next to the iconic Duomo is another stunning structure: Giotto’s Campanile. The freestanding bell tower is a magnificent example of Florentine gothic architecture. The ornate sculptures and marble features are a beauty to behold. At 278 feet tall, the tower also gives a great view of the Duomo. So if you want to take some gorgeous photos, it’s worth climbing to the top.
It’s no secret that Italy has good food. So it makes sense that one of the best things to do in Florence is visit the city’s biggest market. You’ll find an incredible assortment of cheeses, oils, meats, and fresh pasta. These delicious ingredients are the foundation of Florentine cuisine. But if you want to cut straight to the finished product, you can visit the food court upstairs. They have everything from pizza to gelato. There’s even a truffle bar. Yum!
At Piazzale Michelangelo you’ll meet a large number of buskers and vendors selling souvenirs. But that’s not why you come here. You come for the views. Only here can you take in the whole city with views of the Duomo, Giotto’s Campanile, and Palazzo Vecchio. If you want a truly unforgettable experience and photo session, come during golden hour. The sun bathes the terra cotta homes in warm light, making the whole city appear part of a masterful painting.
The Abbey of San Miniato al Monte
Another scenic view of the city can be found at the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte. The abbey itself is quite stunning. Both the exterior and interior are so ornately designed that you may actually feel in the presence of God.
But the abbey also has a really interesting story. St. Miniato was an Armenian prince executed by Roman Emperor Decius after being denounced as a Christian. They tried feeding him to a panther, but the beast refused to eat him. Instead they beheaded St. Miniato. According to legend, he picked up his head, crossed the Arno River, and walked to his hermitage, where the abbey now stands.
The Church of Santa Maria Novella
Across from the city’s main railway station is the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The church is one of the most important Gothic churches in the entire Tuscan region. The exterior is the work of famous architects Talenti and Alberti. And inside you’ll find masterpieces from artistic greats like Masaccio, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, and more.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is one of the most underrated museums in Florence. The museum features many of the original works created for the Duomo and has been called “one of the world’s most important collections of sculpture.” In my opinion, the layout is more friendly and engaging than many of the historical museums. It also gives you a higher appreciation for the Duomo and the work that went into it. And given its proximity to the Duomo, the museum will also give you a great view of Florence’s most iconic landmark.
Explore Florence’s Food Scene
Florence is one of the great food capitals of the world. So one of the absolutely necessary things to do in Florence is eat as much as you can. Try the local dishes, such as Pappardelle al Cinghiale or Florentine steak (always served juicy and rare). Indulge your sweet tooth with several scoops of gelato.
Truthfully, there are too many good restaurants to name. You will have a hard time finding a bad meal in Florence. But I will get you started by giving you some recommendations.
For the fancy among you, head to Konnubio. This contemporary, Michelin-starred restaurant delivers an amazing dining experience with a high attention to detail. Osteria Cinghiale Bianco is a great choice if you want traditional cuisine served without all the fuss. The quaint restaurant has been an easygoing and dependable stop for food lovers for years. Finally, I recommend Coquinarius for an authentic meal with a great wine list. They have two locations: one by the Duomo, and one in the small town of Fiesole. The latter has a great view if you don’t mind leaving the center.
Tuscany is home to some of the most world-renowned wines. As the capital of Tuscany, Florence is surrounded by hundreds of amazing vineyards. That means you have an abundance of wine tasting experiences to choose from. Make sure to try out Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vernaccia, which the region is known for. If you want my opinion, here are the best wine tastings in Tuscany.
Day Trip to Siena or San Gimignano
Siena is known for its medieval, brick buildings and incredible central square, where horses race two times a year. The city expands outward from this square with charming, pedestrian streets, shops, and restaurants.
San Gimignano is a small town on a hill southwest of Florence. It has quaint homes and a wonderful view of the rolling, green lands of Tuscany. Another reason you should visit San Gimignano is that they are known to have the best gelato in the world. The gelateria is called Gelateria Dondoli, and you can find incredible flavors like Venere nera (ripe blackberry and lavender) and Champelmo (pink grapefruit and sparkling Vernaccia wine).
If you go to Florence during the summer, I suggest hanging out at one of the many rooftop bars in the city. You can enjoy an aperitivo, the sunny weather, and beautiful views all at the same time. I recommend La Terrazza at the Hotel Continentale. You get a perfect view of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio. The bar itself is led by some of the city’s best mixologists, so the drinks won’t disappoint either.
Or visit Three Sixty at the Grand Hotel Minerva. The 360 degree terrace lets you enjoy the Duomo to your east or the sunset to your west. It’s the perfect location for a romantic evening with your significant other.
Stroll the City Streets
Finally, to end our list of the best things to do in Florence, I recommend you go for a stroll. There is no better way to become familiar with a city than to go out and explore it yourself. Florence has many charming streets, each with their hidden secrets. Even I don’t know all the wonderful restaurants, cafes, and sights to see in Florence. Go out and discover the city for yourself. Just be sure to share your discoveries with me.