Guide to the 15 Best Things to Do in Florence, Italy

September 21, 2020

by Rina Bernardo

View of Florence Duomo and Giotto's Bell Tower

As one of the must-visit cities in Italy, Florence is home to many architectural and historical wonders. The Italian city is also the capital of the Tuscany region, known for its rolling hills, artistic legacy, and rich history. While many tourists visit Venice for its canals and Siena for its picture-perfect medieval landscapes, Florence is also one of the most visited cities in the country. Every year, an average of 13 million people visit the city, proof that there are plenty of things to do in Florence, Italy. 

So, what makes Florence a popular tourist destination? Is Florence worth visiting? Continue reading and learn which Florence attractions should be on your list.

 

What Is Florence, Italy Best Known For

 

View of Florence cathedral fro a distance

Photo by Giuseppe Mondì on Unsplash

Florence is popularly known as the birthplace of the Renaissance because of the abundance of Renaissance art and architecture scattered all over the city. The city is also known as the “Athens of the Middle Ages” because of its influence during this period. Florence has an abundance of museums and art galleries, with the Uffizi Gallery and Galleria dell’Accademia being the most visited ones. Additionally, Florence is a popular destination for its stunning architecture, a breathtaking blend of Gothic and Baroque styles. 

In 2010, Forbes declared Florence as one of the most beautiful cities in the world because of its artistic and architectural significance. Additionally, the Historic Centre of Florence was hailed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. 

 

15 Best Things to Do in Florence Italy

 

 

1. Visit the Florence Cathedral

 

Visit Florence Cathedral, one of the best things to do in Florence Italy

Photo by Larry Koester on Flickr

Also known as Duomo di Firenze, or simply as Duomo, Florence Cathedral is perhaps the most iconic attraction in Florence. The Duomo stands out from miles away and is the largest church in Italy. The Duomo is also the largest brick dome constructed. Its construction began in 1296, using the design by Arnolfo di Cambio. The cathedral was completed in 1436 with the iconic dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. Florence Cathedral is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Centre of Florence, proof of its timeless beauty and splendor. 

Admire its intricate design and learn more about its history as you explore the place. Walk around the baptistery and find masterpieces by Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and more. 

Tourist tip: Skip the long queues and book skip-the-line tickets to get priority access to its structures.

 

2. Walk Along Ponte Vecchio

 

View of Ponte Vecchio from the Arno River

Photo by Jeff Ackley on Unsplash

Find shops lined with selling gold and silver jewelry and other trinkets at Ponte Vecchio. The medieval Ponte Vecchio (Italian for ‘Old Bridge’) is one of Florence’s iconic sights. Furthermore, it is the only bridge that survived World War II. It was built to replace a broken bridge caused by flooding in the Arno River and was filled with butchers, goldsmiths, and jewelers. In 1593, a decree allowed goldsmiths and jewelers to set up shop in the bridge. Although the Arno flood in 1966 damaged the bridge, it still stands up to this day and welcomes thousands of visitors every day. 

Walk past shops selling jewelry and buy one to take home as a souvenir. Also, watch the sunset from the bridge. Don’t forget to take postcard-perfect shots of the sunset!

Tourist tip: For a different perspective of the bridge, hop on a boat and go on a cruise around the Arno River. 

 

3. Admire Renaissance Art at Uffizi Gallery

 

Uffiizi Gallery courtyard at dawn

Photo by dalibro on Pixabay

Visit the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most popular things to do in Florence, Italy. The museum is near Piazza della Signoria in Florence’s historic centre. Its proximity makes it perfect for travelers who want to visit different sites in a day. As one of the world’s visited museums, the museum houses some important Renaissance works of art. Aside from paintings and sculptures, Uffizi Gallery showcases Renaissance altarpieces, manuscripts, and tapestries. 

Find works of art like Michelangelo’s The Holy Family, da Vinci’s The Annunciation, Rembrandt’s Self-portrait as a Young Man, and more in the Uffizi Gallery. See the iconic Birth of Venus painting by Botticelli in the museum. Take note that since the Uffizi Gallery is one of the busiest and most popular attractions in Florence, it’s best to purchase morning tickets. Book skip-the-line tickets is also a good idea.

Tourist tip: During Sunday, admission is free, but expect a higher amount of crowds.

 

4. See the Original David by Michelangelo at Galleria dell’Accademia

 

See the famous David sculpture at Galleria dell’Accademia

Photo by Fernando Tavora on Unsplash

Also known as the Gallery of the Academy of Florence, the Galleria dell’Accademia is another well-known museum in Florence and in Italy. It is best known for having the original sculpture by Michelangelo, David. The art museum was founded in 1784 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo to help train young artists. Since then, millions of visitors came to the museum, and is one of the best things to do in Florence, Italy.

Find Michelangelo’s David, a symbol of Renaissance art and an icon of strength and beauty. At the Hall of the Prisoners, see some of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures called “slaves”. The Galleria dell’Accademia also houses a collection of musical instruments including a piano made by Bartolomeo Cristofori for the Medici family. 

Tourist tip: To avoid crowds, purchase your tickets for the off-season (November to March).

 

5. Grab a Bite at Mercato Centrale

 

Fresh fruit and vegetable stalls at Mercato Centrale

Photo by Timitrius on Flickr

Get to know Florence through its cuisine and delicacies at Mercato Centrale. This popular site was a creation of Giuseppe Mengoni, the man who designed Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Mercato Centrale is a two-level food market with dedicated eating areas. Find butchers, fruit and vegetable vendors, fishmongers, and specialty shops on the first floor. On the other hand, the second floor is the eating area. The second floor also has stalls selling baked delicacies, cheese, wine, and more.

Sink your teeth into local delicacies as you visit one stall after another. The glass windows guarantee that you get fresh food, and you get a sneak peek into how these are made. Stop by the wine booth and get a chance to try the famous Chianti wine. At one of the stalls, enjoy a delicious cup of gelato. 

Tourist tip: To save money, make sure to check all stalls before buying something. Chances are, you may find a cheaper price for the same item or meal.

 

6. Stroll at Piazza della Signoria

 

Equestrian statue of Cosimo I at Piazza della Signoria

Photo by DEZALB on Flickr

Rich in culture, a walk at Piazza della Signoria is one of the free things to do in Florence, Italy. It is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s town hall. Piazza della Signoria is also witness to some historical events and gruesome executions. In 1497, the so-called Bonfire of the Vanities happened here when supporters of Girolamo Savonarola gathered and burned objects considered as “occasions of sin”. During the 1500s, people gathered around the square to listen to announcements, and for feasts and tournaments.

Learn more about the history of this place as you explore its corners. Find imposing statues and paintings scattered across the square, including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. A replica of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes are also at the square. Take pictures with the statues and sculptures, or just enjoy a relaxing walk while you soak up the atmosphere.

Tourist tip: Because of their proximity from one another, visit Piazza della Signoria before heading to the Uffizi Gallery, or vice versa.

 

7. Relax at Boboli Gardens

 

One of the statues at the outside garden in Boboli Gardens

Photo by Raul on Flickr

Located behind Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens is one of Florence’s “green lungs”. The popular attraction is also an example of the Italian garden. It was built and designed for the Medici family and its layout became an inspiration for several European courts. The open-air museum is filled with statues from different periods, fountains, and caves. Boboli Gardens also houses the famous Grotte de Buontalenti, designed by Bernardo Buontalenti.

Escape the heat of the sun during summer and visit the Boboli Gardens. Stroll past perfectly manicured gardens and admire the blooming flowers in spring. Catch sweeping views of Florence at the Kaffeehaus as the sun sets over the city. Find colorful flowers like camellias and several species of roses in the garden. Some rose species found include the Tuscany Superb and Variegata di Bologna.

Tourist tip: Exploring Boboli gardens involved a lot of walking and uphill climbs. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes, especially during summer.

 

8. Sample Florentine Gelato

 

Eat authentic Florentine gelato

Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay

A trip to Italy isn’t complete without tasting the famous gelato! This frozen dessert is popular for its variety of flavors and is a much-loved sweet treat worldwide. According to most stories, Florence is credited as the origin of this dessert thanks to the illustrious Medici family.

Find plenty of gelato shops in Florence, perfect for a quick pick-me-up on a busy day of exploring. Try the lavender-flavored gelato at La Strega Nocciola, located across Ponte Vecchio. After visiting the Uffizi Gallery, take a break and have gelato at Gelateria dei Neri. La Carraia is one of the popular gelato shops for its generous servings and affordable prices. Walk along the off-the-beaten-path and find a number of shops that offer quality gelato.

Tourist tip: The best gelato shops in Florence post their ingredients in a visible spot. This assures that they only use fresh and natural ingredients. Also, make sure to look for gelato shops that use flat paddles instead of ice cream scoops. 

 

9. Climb Giotto’s Bell Tower

 

Climb tot he top of Giotto

Photo by Palmik on Pixabay

Get the best views of Florence at Giotto’s Bell Tower. This campanile, along with the Baptistery, is part of the buildings that make up Florence Cathedral. Its Florentine Gothic architecture was a design by Giotto, a well-known painter and architect. At 84.7 meters tall, Giotto’s Bell Tower is an imposing landmark boasting intricate designs that tell a story. 

Challenge yourself and climb up 414 steps to the top of the tower. Marvel at the breathtaking view of Florence at the top, and spot the Florence Cathedral and Palazzo Vecchio. Take note that there are no elevators or shortcuts that take you to the top, so this is only recommended for travelers who don’t suffer from heart problems, claustrophobia, or vertigo. The activity is also one of the most popular things to do in Florence, Italy, for families with children.

Tourist tip: To access all sites of the Duomo complex, purchase 5-in-1 tickets that include the church, crypt, dome, bell tower, and baptistery.

 

10. Catch Panoramic Views at Piazzale Michelangelo

 

Panoramic view from Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking the Historic Centre of Florence

Photo by brando on Flickr

Located in the heart of the Oltrarno, Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the most visited places in Florence. The Oltrarno is also home to other notable sites such as the Pitti Palace and the Basilica di Santo Spirito. The piazza a creation of Giuseppe Poggi, built to honor the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. Find a bronze cast of the iconic David sculpture at the piazza, facing Florence.

Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo and marvel at the views of Florence. The piazza is also a famous spot to watch the sunrise and sunset. Start your day by visiting the piazza and watching the sunrise. From Piazzale Michelangelo, spot iconic Florentine sites like the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the Bargello Museum, and more. Nonetheless, relaxing at Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the best free things to do in Florence, Italy.

Tourist tip: To avoid large crowds, visit Piazzale Michelangelo early in the morning to catch the sunrise. 

 

11. Marvel at the Grandeur of Pitti Palace

 

One of the rooms of the Palatine Gallery in Pitti Palace

Photo by Dimitris Kamaras on Flickr

The Pitti Palace (also known as Palazzo Pitti) is the largest museum complex in Florence. The palace was once the residence of the royal families of Tuscany. The Medici family bought the palace in 1549 and was then used as a power base by Napoleon. The palace is now a museum housing the country’s most precious paintings, jewelry, and other possessions.

At the Palatine Gallery, find more than 500 Renaissance paintings including works of art by Raphael, Filippo Lippi, and Titian. Be in awe at the opulent Royal Apartments, 14 rooms used by the Medici family. Find gold-ornate chandeliers and intricate ceilings as you walk past its rooms and halls. The Treasury of the Grand Dukes also hosts a collection of stone vases, crystals, and ivories owned by the Medici family. Don’t miss the Carriages Museum and see carriages and conveyances used by the Grand Ducal court.

Tourist tip: It will take more than a day for a thorough tour of the exhibits. Booking tickets good for 2 or 3 days is recommended.

 

12. Visit the Church of Santa Maria Novella

 

Exterior of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Photo by Marco Verch on Flickr

Florence’s Church of Santa Maria Novella is the city’s main Dominican church. Furthermore, it is the first great basilica. It is famous for its distinct exterior, a work of Fra Jacopo Talenti and Leon Battista Alberti. Its interior is filled with frescoes, with the fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuto da Firenze in the Spanish Chapel being the most prominent one. The Gothic-Renaissance building also contains art pieces and funerary monuments financed by influential families in Florence. 

Stroll past different chapels and admire the works of art on the walls and ceilings. Get a chance to find one of Boticelli’s earlier works near the entrance. You can also find Masaccio’s The Trinity, a principal example of Renaissance paintings. Other works of art found at the church include Brunelleschi’s The Crucifix, Vasari’s Madonna of the Rosary, Pisano’s Madonna with Child, and more.

Tourist tip: The best time to visit the Church of Santa Maria Novella is early morning. The church opens as early as 9:00 AM.

 

13. Taste Authentic Bistecca alla Fiorentina

 

Sink your teeth into a hearty slab of Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Photo by McPig on Flickr

Eating Bistecca alla Fiorentina is one of the best things to do in Florence, Italy, especially for foodies. Bistecca alla Fiorentina, also known as Florentine style beef steak, is a must-try food in Florence. The steak is taken from the sirloin cut of the Chianina-breed cattle, known for its delicious meat. It is then seasoned with spices, grilled, and served rare. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is normally served with salad or cannellini brands with olive oil. 

Sink your teeth into this Florentine staple at local trattorias around the city. Head to Osteria di Giovanni, located between Piazza Santa Maria Novella and Piazza Goldoni, and enjoy a bowl of ribollita with your steak. Near Ponte Vecchio, try Mamma Gina’s Bistecca alla Fiorentina with a tomato and bread soup. 

Tourist tip: To preserve its taste, Bistecca alla Fiorentina shouldn’t be sprinkled with lemon.

 

14. See More Art at Bargello Museum

 

Courtyard staircase heading up to Bargello National Museum

Photo by aiva. on Flickr

Once a barracks and prison, Bargello Museum is now a famous art museum showcasing more of what Florence has to offer. The Bargello was originally built in 1255 for the Capitano del Popolo and was the headquarters of the Florentine police until 1859. In 1865, the Bargello opened as a museum, displaying an impressive collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures. 

Find works of art by Michelangelo, Donatello, and Giambologna at the Bargello Museum. The Donatello Room contains most of his works, including St. George and David (not to be confused with the one by Michelangelo). In addition to Renaissance artworks, Bargello Museum also includes a collection of goldwork and metal objects from the Middle Ages to the 16th century. 

Tourist tip: A thorough visit to the museum takes about 1.5 hours.

 

15. Visit the Basilica di Santa Croce

 

Outside view of Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence

Photo by djedj on Pixabay

The Basilica di Santa Croce is the main Franciscan church in the city of Florence. Located less than a kilometer from the Duomo, it is found on the Piazza di Santa Croce, one of the main town squares in the Historic Centre of Florence. Aside from being a place of worship, Basilica di Santa Croce is a burial site for famous Italians like Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, and Niccolò Machiavelli. As a result, the basilica earned its nickname as ‘Temple of the Italian Glories’.

Admire this Gothic Revival basilica’s facade and interiors. Marvel at its sixteen chapels, adorned with frescoes by Giotto and his students. Find Dante Alighieri’s cenotaph, an empty monument built in honor of a person whose remains are elsewhere. For peace and quiet, enjoy a walk at one of the three cloisters within the complex. 

Tourist tip: There are different entrances for solo tourists and groups in the Basilica. Solo travelers enter through a side door while groups enter through the front door.

 

Is Florence Worth Visiting?

 

With an array of historically and culturally rich monuments, Florence is definitely worth visiting. Art lovers and enthusiasts in particular will love the museums and the fact that every corner of the city is as picture-perfect as it gets. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence also offers plenty of attractions and monuments. Through these attractions and monuments, you can learn more about this period. It is a city filled with art, history, and romance. Compared to other Italian cities, Florence is also easier to navigate and most sites can be reached within a walking distance.

There are also plenty of things to do in Florence, Italy. Try Florentine gelato, one of the best Italian desserts in Italy, or a savory slab of Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Explore the Historic Centre of Florence and take photos of the scenery as you walk past cobblestone-laden streets. Whether it’s your first time visiting or not, you’ll never run out of activities and destinations. 

Experience La Dolce Vita and visit Florence!