Small in size but a giant on the world stage, there’s a long list of wonderful things to do in Florence. With a treasure-chest of art, enthralling Renaissance architecture and vibrant culture, get the most out of this Italian city with our curated guide to Florence.
With remnants of Roman history, mediaeval fortresses and handsome Renaissance buildings, Florence transports you to another era. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, prominent artists sought lucrative commissions that have blessed the city with a bounty of art not seen anywhere else.
Witness the ethereal beauty of Botticelli’s masterpieces, admire exquisite frescoes in quiet churches, and appreciate Michelangelo’s sculptures all left behind in this city of grandmasters.
But to experience the best of Florence, you just need to step out onto the street. Amongst the elegant Italian architecture, urban life stays true to the city’s heritage.
A thirst for culture is found in crafty cocktail bars that co-exist alongside ageing wine bars, unassuming chapels with era-defining art, quiet streets with humble restaurants and world-class galleries devoted to the finest art in the world.
For an excellent excursion from Florence, read our guide to spending a day in Siena.
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IN THIS GUIDE
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN FLORENCE
01 – SEE WORLD CLASS ART AT THE UFFIZI
Few galleries in the world have amassed such a prestigious collection of art as the Uffizi in Florence. Wander through the collection to witness the progression from early medieval works with staid images and gold gilt backgrounds, to renaissance masterpieces with perspective, realistic figures, and human emotion.
Our highlights were the Coronation of the Virgin by Lippi and The Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca. Both are in Room 8 and mark the start of the early Renaissance period. Botticelli’s masterpieces adorn Rooms 10-14. Don’t miss Spring and the Birth of Venus depicting figures from classical mythology, as well as The Cestello Annunciation, a striking homage to the Virgin Mary. There are only 20 Leonardo da Vinci surviving paintings in the world; the Uffizi has two of them as well as Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, the only panel painting he completed in later life.
To skip the queues, book your timed entry tickets online in advance which you need to pick up from the ticket office. We highly recommend downloading the free Ufizzi App which provides an audio commentary and itinerary to cover the most important pieces. Bring your own headphones with you.
Alternatively, a guided tour of the Uffizi is a great way to get the most out of this remarkable exhibition.
02 – TAKE IN THE GOTHIC GRANDEUR OF THE DUOMO
The green and white marble façade of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as simply the Duomo, is the heart and soul of Florence. Admired from several vantage points across the city, the whole complex includes the duomo, the campanile (belltower) and the Baptistry of San Giovanni.
After 100 years of construction, the cathedral was still missing a dome. The favoured plans required it to be 46 meters across and positioned 55 metres above the ground. At the time it seemed an insurmountable challenge until Filippo Brunelleschi’s ingenious design enabled the construction of one of the most recognisable icons in Florence.
The duomo is free to enter, however, the queues can be very long, and the interior is not especially ornate. Our recommendation is to admire the building from the outside (including the remarkable Baptistry doors) and head up the dome instead. The climb to the top of the dome gives you a glimpse inside plus you can book tickets in advance to avoid the queues.
03 – CLIMB UP BRUNELLESCHI’S ICONIC DOME
The dome of the duomo lacks the typical supporting buttresses of Gothic architecture because Florence was not keen on adopting a style that had become popular with their enemies in the north. It also had to be big. Constructing such a massive dome required ingenious engineering solutions.
Filippo Brunelleschi designed an internal octagonal dome supporting the external tiled dome and in doing so, kicked off the Renaissance architectural style.
Apart from the excellent views of Florence from the top, climbing the dome provides the opportunity to see the two most impressive aspects of the duomo interior. Inspect the 16th-century marble floor on your way up, then stop under the dome interior to admire the enormous painted representation of the Last Judgement.
The best time to climb the dome is in the late afternoon when the golden light is working its magic on Florence below.
04 – TRY THE FLORENCE CAFE SCENE
It’s not hard to find a traditional café in Florence where the atmosphere is vintage, the food authentic and the waiters as old as the framed photos occupying every inch of available wall space.
But in the birthplace of Renaissance, it seems only fitting to also try from the selection of cafes reinventing themselves and offering a more artisanal re-working of traditional Tuscan eating and drinking.
Our top choice for coffee in Florence is SimBIOsi Organic Cafè. They have a very good organic pizza restaurant on via dei Ginori 56R, but just around the corner on via Guelfa their espressos, slow brews and pour-overs are made with individual attention to detail. Inside, the medieval walls with contemporary art provide a great place to enjoy your coffee.
Melaleuca bakery + bistro right beside the River Arno has hard-to-walk-past pastries, a regularly changing brunch menu and excellent coffee.
05 – ADMIRE TOMBS AND FRESCOES IN SANTA CROCE
The handsome façade of Santa Croce and gorgeous square of the same name may seem like enough to take in. Embellished significantly after renovations in the 1860s, the basilica is a stunning spectacle in an already picturesque square.
Step inside however and enter a world that was the preferred final resting place for notable figures in Italian history. Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, are all buried in elaborate tombs inside the imposing basilica. There are also commemorative shrines to Leonardo da Vinci and Dante.
There are 16 chapels within the church, many decorated with beautiful art. Don’t miss the impressive frescoes by Giotto di Bondone who also designed the belltower of the duomo, and the huge crucifix by Donatello.
For more stunning frescoes in the area, the baptistry in Siena is considered to hold some of the most important medieval art in the world.
06 – BE AWED BY THE SIZE OF PALAZZO VECCHIO
The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence and a civic treasure. A Medieval fortress was built upon the ruins of a Roman theatre and later restored into a series of beautiful Renaissance chambers. The result is a cultural microcosm of Florence; a demonstration of the wealth and power of the Medici family, lavishly decorated by the brushstrokes of several Florentine masters.
The most imposing room is the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred). The greatest Florentine artists were employed to depict victories of the Republic on panelled ceilings and huge frescoes, which include unfinished works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
A stunning staircase designed by Giorgio Vasari leads to the Renaissance chambers on the first floor, including the Room of the Four Elements which feels like you’ve walked into a Botticelli painting. Don’t miss the two small but glorious chapels and the views across the rooftops of Florence to the duomo.
07 – ADMIRE THE STATUES OF PLAZA DELLA SIGNORIA
Located between Palazzo Vecchio, the Duomo and the Ufizzi Gallery, Plaza della Signoria feels like the natural centre of Florence. It has existed since Roman times and found notoriety as the location of the Bonfire of the Vanities where the righteous religious burnt objects considered to be sinful.
It’s one of the squares we love visiting every time we’re in Florence. Outside the Palazzo Vecchio – the town hall of Florence – a copy of Michelangelo’s David overlooks the crowds below. Next door, the portico of the Loggia dei Lanzi contains some of the most evocative sculptures in Florence. Two of Giambologna’s works, The Rape of the Sabine Women, and Hercules and Nessus are stunning.
But our favourite is probably Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini. It’s amazing that such world-class works of art can still be admired completely free of charge.
08 – VISIT DAVID IN THE GALLERIA DELL’ACCADEMIA
Under the direction of Donatello, Florentine sculptor Agostino di Duccio originally began working on a huge lump of marble in 1463. Upon Donatello’s death, the project was abandoned, and the marble was left neglected in a workshop of the duomo.
In 1501, a 26-year-old Michelangelo was commissioned to take up the project to produce a statue of David to go on the roof of the duomo. He worked on the sculpture for 2 years by which time it was obvious the massive statue would never get to the roof of the cathedral. It was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio before it was moved in 1873 to the Galleria dell’Accademia.
In addition to its most famous resident, there are plenty of other great works in the gallery. Four incomplete Michelangelo statues greet you at the entrance, and the huge paintings in the tribune hall and Allori´s intricate attention to detail are all worth a venture further into the gallery.
09 – SEE MICHAELANGELO’S SCULPTURES IN THE MEDICI CHAPELS
The Medici family came to prominence in the early fifteenth century. Making their wealth in banking and steadily accruing political power, they became the predominant force in Florence. Their hegemony produced four popes and two queens of France. The church of San Lorenzo by Filippo Brunelleschi (of the duomo fame) became the family church and their final resting place.
The highlights in the church are the impressive Medici Chapels. The first, Sagrestia Nuova or New Sacristy, was commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1520 as a tomb to hold his illustrious family members. It was designed by Michelangelo and contains several his magnificent statues (Dawn and Dusk, Night and Day and Holy Mary) all rising above an austere black and white tiled floor.
The second is the Cappella dei Principi or Chapel of the Princes. The octagonal chapel of monumental proportions was constructed in the early 16th century and it’s one of the best things to see in Florence. Every wall is covered in green and red marble stretching to a dome, 59 metres above the floor. Due to the gaudy opulence of the chapel, the Medici family were still paying it off when the last family member died in 1743.
10 – GRAB LUNCH ON A QUIET STREET
Walking the little laneways that spread out from the duomo, you are regularly treated to glimpses of the rusty orange dome as it flickers between the buildings. But there are more than just architectural vistas tucked into these narrow alleyways.
One of our favourite things to do in Florence is to stroll the small streets radiating from the duomo and find a local place to have a quiet lunch while watching the world go by.
With that in mind, we highly recommend Malborghetto. Tucked on an unassuming lane in a quiet corner of the city, it has a small but excellent menu of daily specials with a good selection of pizzas. They only have 3 or 4 tables on the footpath so you need a bit of luck to grab one.
More central, Osteria Nuvoli is a delightfully no-frills restaurant just around the corner from the duomo. Snare one of the tiny wooden tables leaning against the wall and try their simple dishes at great prices. Don’t miss the biscotti with a very generous serving of sweet wine to finish up. It’ll make the afternoon go much smoother.
11 – GET LUCKY AT SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
In the western end of the centre of Florence, Santa Maria Novella is a 13th-century church with a greedy stash of art treasures.
The permanent highlight is Masaccio’s, Holy Trinity. The fresco was painted between 1425-1427 and as one of the first to use perspective, it’s an important way-marker in the development of Renaissance art. The church is packed with other goodies from Ghirlandaio frescoes, a Bronzino painting, and cloisters adorned with faded frescoes telling the story of Genesis.
But there’s an even more special treat for those that are lucky – or plan well ahead.
On the first Sunday of every month and every two days that precede it, the 16th and 17th-century paintings that hang in the church are lifted off the walls to reveal 14th and 15th-century frescoes behind them. Incredibly, they were only discovered in 2004 and were not open to the public until 2017.
12 – STROLL OVER PONTE VECCHIO
The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge stretching across the Arno River; and one of the iconic images of Florence. It’s believed that a bridge was first built here during Roman times and the road – now closed to traffic – was an important connection to other Roman centres.
Today it connects two busy tourist attractions in Florence: Piazza della Signoria and Santo Spirito on the other side of the river.
The bridge is lined on either side with shops which originally served the cities basic needs: fish and meat. After complaints about the smell, butchers and fishmongers eventually made way for leather goods and jewellery, which you can still find on Ponte Vecchio today.
It looks its best a dusk when the sun sets over the river and the bridge and buildings glow a yellowy-orange.
13 – CAPTURE SUNSET FROM PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO
Set on a hill in the southeast of town, Piazzale Michelangelo was constructed during Florence’s grand period of urban renewal in 1869. It was dedicated to the artist, but unfortunately, a planned museum to his works was never realised.
It’s not the prettiest square in Florence, but it does have the best view.
Take the 25-minute walk up from the centre to enjoy stunning views of the Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, and of course, the duomo dominating the Florence skyline. To the south lies grand Palazzo Pitti and its landscaped Boboli gardens.
Arrive for sunset. As the sun drifts over the horizon and the last rays of light hit the city. Brunelleschi’s glorious dome glitters like half a luminescent orange.
14 – DINE ON THE STREETS OF SANTO SPIRITO
There’s no better place to spend an evening in Florence than on the streets of Santo Spirito. This atmospheric neighbourhood has something for everyone. For good food at good prices on a lovely square head to Piazza Santo where Tamero keeps the food and wine flowing and the patrons happy.
For a bit more urban cool make your way to Via Santo Spirito where crowds lean under the soft glow of streetlamps sipping drinks while waiting for tables to become available.
Il Santo Bevitore is a former coach house with wood-panelled walls serving a modern take on Tuscan classics. Reservations are required. Next door, its informal sibling, Il Santino Gastronimo, serves a collection of tasty small dishes in the cramped interior or on tables on the footpath. If you simply fancy a drink, then join the hubbub on the street outside. Order a glass of wine and stand in one of the imposing doorways soaking it all in.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN FLORENCE
There are so many great things to do in Florence that they, unfortunately, couldn’t all make it on our list. If you have time, here are some other suggestions.
PLAZZO PITTI & BOBOLI GARDENS
In most other cities this would be high on the list of great things to do. But Florence is blessed with so many magnificent and unique buildings it does not quite make it. More European 17th and 18th-century grand house than Renaissance, it’s packed with art museums, grand apartment rooms and ducal treasures. Behind are the landscaped Boboli Gardens populated with ancient and Renaissance statues.
The Strozzi Palace holds temporary art exhibitions and it’s always worth checking out what’s on. While we were there Jeff Koons’s shiny sculptures were the perfect contrast to the palace’s grand square and old rooms.
The Bargello Museum is home to some fantastic sculptures. Dotted around a grand courtyard are works including those by Giamboligna and Michelangelo. It also contains Donatello’s bronze David, the first nude statue made since antiquity. The upper floor is a strange mix of ceramics, tapestries, artefacts, ivories and military equipment. If you really love sculpture the Bargello Museum could be for you, otherwise, you’ll have seen plenty by visiting the Accademia, Uffizi and Medici Chapels.
DUOMO, CAMPANILE & BAPTISTERY
While we think going up Brunelleschi’s dome is the pick of things to at the duomo if you have extra time and the queues are short then head into the church itself. The Baptistry is also worth a stop for its impressive marble pavement and the gold gleaming mosaic ceiling. Finally, the Campanile tower is another grand viewpoint over Florence but the top is covered in a wire mesh making the views obstructed and photography tricky.
BASILICA DE SAN LORENZO
The highlight of the Church of San Lorenzo are the Medici Chapels accessible by their own entrance. The rest of the church is accessed from the western side. It’s plainer than most of the other churches but keep an eye out for Donatello´s pulpit and the tomb Cosimo de Medici in the crypt below.
There are a host of markets worth pottering around in Florence. Mercato Centrale is the place to try local food and wine in a massive high ceilinged hall whereas Mercato del Porcellino is for all things leather. The smell alone is intoxicating.
TIPS FOR VISITING FLORENCE
HOW MANY DAYS IN FLORENCE?
We recommend 3 or 4 days in Florence to see all the main sights. But you could easily stay for longer and slow down the pace or add in some day trips. Just a short journey away is breath-taking Tuscan scenery, the inviting vineyards of Chianti and a number of cities just as intriguing as Florence.
PLAN YOUR DAYS WELL
Florence is a beautiful city, but many of the amazing things to do can feel a bit similar so try to split them up. Avoid seeing two churches or two art galleries back-to-back, instead plan to see them on different days to give your senses time to adjust. We would recommend the Uffizi Gallery on day 1, the sculptures of the Medici Chapels on day 2 and the Accademia Gallery on day 3.
BOOK THE MUSEUMS IN ADVANCE
Florence is an incredibly busy tourist destination, and everyone wants to see the big sights, so they get fill up fast. Ideally, book skip-the-line tickets a week or two before you arrive.
Fortunately, the online booking system allows you to book most of the major museums for specific time slots in one go. Take your email confirmation to the first attraction you visit to receive the physical tickets for everything you have booked.
BOOK THE CHURCHES IN ADVANCE
It is essential to book the duomo dome in advance. The other churches usually have availability at the door but it may save you considerable queueing time to also book ahead, particularly at Santa Croce.
Florence has a Museum Card which costs €72 and provides access to 58 museums over 3 days. We decided it was of marginal value for the time allowed, but if you are a Renaissance fan and want to see as much as possible, it may be worth it. Please note it does not cover the Duomo.
MAKE RESTAURANT RESERVATIONS IN ADVANCE
There’s no shortage of restaurateurs keen to feed the steady stream of tourists in Florence. But, you’ll find some restaurants have masses of vacant tables and others have a queue of patrons lining up. There’s a good reason for that, so we suggest making reservations where you can. In particular, if you plan on going to Il Santo Bevitore (which we think you should) book a few days in advance.
At the time of writing, the EU Green Pass was required to enter all indoor spaces in Florence including bars, restaurants, churches, shops, gyms and museums. For UK travellers the NHS COVID Travel Pass (Dose 1 and Dose 2) is accepted in place of the EU Green Pass. US travellers should bring their CDC vaccine card.
It might be a good idea to bring a printout of your EU Green Pass equivalent documentation, at least make sure your phone is well charged if you are using a digital version. Unvaccinated travellers are required to show proof of a negative COVID test within the last 48 hours to gain entry to indoor spaces.
MAP / THINGS TO DO IN FLORENCE
We have included our list of the best things to do in Florence on the below map so you can plot your course for your time visiting the capital of Tuscany.
Located in the north of Italy, Florence is an excellent base for exploring more of the country. With some exceptional hiking and exquisite lakes, here are some more of our guides from the region.
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Our 1-week Dolomites road trip itinerary
Best things to do in Bologna
How to spend a day in Siena, Italy
All our Italy guides
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