I’ll be the first to admit, before traveling to Florence, I was pretty skeptical. I had heard time and time again about how great Florence was, and I was convinced the city just had to be a tourist trap. After all, the city is one of the top study abroad destinations in the world for American students, and I figured this had to mean that Florence was a culturally watered-down, tourist-friendly in Italy.
Well, that prediction was off.
Florence entirely blew me away, and I think it does a lot to earn its lofty reputation. Despite being a city of less than 400,000 people, Florence really has a lot to offer its visitors, and there are so many great experiences to be had here. One taxi driver told me that Florence’s main industry is certainly tourism, but Florence doesn’t exist for the tourists. By that, she meant that Florence would definitely die without the tourists, because the tourists do make up the vast majority of economic activity in the city, but Florence doesn’t change itself for the sole purpose of attracting tourists.
It is not an Italian Disney World. Florence attracts so many visitors simply because it is a stunning, clean, vibrant city with a storied history that is well-preserved. This large amount of tourists has also really increased the amount of English spoken in Florence, and I even ranked it as the best city to visit in Italy for people who don’t speak Italian. This post is going to focus on the best things to do in Florence, Italy, plus everything you need to know to plan a great trip to Tuscany’s capital.
Is Florence, Italy Touristy?
Before visiting Florence for the first time, I had heard time and time again about how touristy it is. I heard about the city being a tourist trap, I heard about there being an absence of authenticity and culture, and I heard that it was one of the most overhyped cities in Europe.
Well, I have traveled through a lot of Europe and nearly every region in Italy. When I tell you that this reputation about Florence is false, I say it with a lot of experience and expertise. Florence is definitely touristy, but it isn’t a tourist trap. The city exists off of tourism and is well-equipped to handle massive amounts of tourists, but it doesn’t alter its identity strictly to appeal to tourists. I think Venice is that way, but I definitely do not think this about Florence.
Florence is definitely touristy, but it isn’t a tourist trap.
As you’ll find in any major tourist hotspot, prices in Florence are higher than they are in the rest of the region and some other major Italian cities. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. But nowhere in Florence will you find something as absurd as the €80 25-minute gondola rides in Venice.
Florence has a lot of natural draw, and this is what brings the tourists in. Florence doesn’t do anything above and beyond to convince tourists to come, but rather it is a storied city with an incredible past, and they do a great job of preserving and presenting it. That’s all.
Best Things to Do in Florence, Italy
1. Visit the Duomo and Climb Brunelleschi’s Dome
Florence’s Cathedral, known popularly as the Duomo, is the city’s most famous place. This medieval cathedral’s construction started all the way back in the 1400s, and it has been a grand symbol of the city ever since. The church itself is massive and can be seen in the sky from miles away. While the inside of the church is not very ornate by European cathedral standards, the outside is stunning and imposing.
While seeing the church is one thing, climbing it is another. The Florence Duomo is the sight of Brunelleschi’s Dome, and you can climb all the way to the top of it and look out over the Tuscan countryside for miles. Climbing Brunelleschi’s Dome is easily one of the best things to do in Florence, and this is no secret. In peak months, tickets to climb the dome sell out days or weeks in advance. If you want to climb the dome, I recommend either buying a ticket online in advance of your trip or buying a ticket as soon as you get to Florence. We showed up in July and the first available tickets were three days later in the evening. For more information about tickets and hours of operation, be sure to visit the Duomo’s website.
2. See the Tombs of Italy’s Heroes at the Basilica of Santa Croce
Before visiting Florence, I had no idea that this church existed. The Basilica of Santa Croce is the final resting place of some of the most famous people in Italian history, including Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Gioachino Rossini. It is also the largest Franciscan church in the world, with sixteen devoted side chapels. Galileo’s body was hidden here in secrecy for 95 years before the Catholic Church allowed him to be officially buried within the confines of the church.
The artwork in this cathedral is stunning, and the historical significance is astounding.
They even have the cloak of St. Francis of Assisi!
One of the best things to do in Florence, Italy is absolutely spending an afternoon in Santa Croce.
3. Admire Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery
While the Duomo is the most famous thing in the city, Michelangelo’s statue of David isn’t far behind. The statue of David is one of the most recognizable artworks in the world, on par with works like the Mona Lisa. This statue is absolutely massive, and the detail is simply incredible. Michelangelo actually created the David fairly early in his career, and it is often considered the best sculpture he ever made.
The David is housed in the Accademia Gallery, along with many other breathtaking works of art. Florence is known as the Art capital of Italy, thanks to generations of investment in the arts by the Medici family. While the David is only one statue in a city of renowned statues, it is one that you certainly don’t want to miss. Probably every Florence travel guide on the internet will tell you that visiting the statue of David is one of the best things to do in Florence, Italy, and I don’t disagree one bit.
It is recommended that you buy your tickets in advance during the peak season, as the lines get very long and your ticket usually includes a specified entry time. For more information on tickets, visit the Accademia Gallery website.
4. Catch a Sunset and Go Gold Shopping on the Pontevecchio
Florence is seated on a river, and there are a series of bridges connecting one side of the city to the other. In World War II, all of those bridges were destroyed except for one – the Pontevecchio. The Pontevecchio is the oldest bridge in the city, too, and that is how it got its name, which literally just means old bridge. The Pontevecchio is famous for its world-class gold jewelers, and going shopping for gold here is a fun activity if you have the money to burn. If you don’t have the money to burn, I advise shopping for gold elsewhere, as you definitely pay a premium on the bridge.
Florence’s bridges are also a fantastic place to catch a sunset! While the Pontevecchio is a good choice, the bridge directly to the west, named the Ponte Santa Trinita, is even better. Try to get there early, as it tends to get pretty crowded!
5. Tour the Elaborate Pitti Palace
The Pitti Palace, or Palazzo Pitti in Italian, is one of the most elaborate buildings in all of Florence. This palace was built by an elite family and was slowly expanded and passed around the elite over centuries. At one point, and for a long time, this was the palace of the Medici family when they were regaining power in the city. The Pitti Palace is very large and very grand, and its interior walls and ceilings are all masterpieces.
The famous Boboli Gardens are located on the palace grounds, and they deserve a visit as well. A tour through the Pitti Palace shows just how well-off the Medici were, and this striking building belongs on any list of the best things to do in Florence, Italy. For information on tickets and hours of operation, visit the Pitti Palace website.
6. Wander Through the Uffizi Gallery
While The Accademia Gallery has the David, the Uffizi Gallery has the best collection of art in the whole city of Florence. Featuring renowned artists like da Vinci and Caravaggio, the Uffizi Gallery is considered one of the best and most important museums in all of Italy.
Many people think that the David statue is located in the Uffizi Gallery, but this is not correct. The David statue is located in the Accademia Gallery, which is about a mile away from the Uffizi Gallery. Still, the Uffizi Gallery is loaded with incredible works of art, and art enthusiasts could literally spend days exploring its halls and galleries. It is recommended that you buy your tickets in advance during the peak season, as the lines get very long and your ticket usually includes a specified entry time. For information on ticketing and hours of operation, visit the Uffizi Gallery website.
(Angel’s full name is ‘Angel Gabriel’ named after The Annunciation to Mary. In her childhood home there is a replica of this exact painting. What an awesome surprise to find the original during our time at the palace!)
7. Drink an Aperitivo in the Piazza Della Signoria
Aperitivo is one of my favorite Italian traditions, and there is no better place in Florence for an aperitivo than the Piazza della Signoria. Aperitivo is essentially an Italian happy hour, but done so much better than other countries. At aperitivo, drinks usually cost more than they do during regular hours, but they come with snacks for the table.
I think that aperitivo is an experience that visitors to Italy simply should not miss out on. If you are interested in trying it out but want some more information, be sure to check out my post all about aperitivo. I highly recommend reading that post before you sit down at any restaurant’s or bar’s aperitivo. You’ll be thankful that you did!
8. Attend Mass at San Miniato Al Monte
San Miniato al Monte is the oldest church in all of Florence, and you can really feel it the second you walk in. This church was built nearly 1,000 years ago and is nothing short of magical. Sitting in this church, I could only wonder how people were able to build such an elaborate structure so long ago. It really is breathtaking.
San Miniato al Monte is located at the top of a hill a bit outside of the old city, so you will definitely need to take a taxi or a car to get there. I recommend going to mass here whether you are Catholic or not, as the ambiance in this church is really cool. Even if you opt not to go to mass, I recommend checking out the church and taking advantage of the incredible view of the city from right outside the church’s doors.
9. Sit Down for an Olive Oil Tasting
Extra virgin olive oil is one of Italy’s most prized products, and Tuscany is world-famous for its extra virgin olive oil production. We sat down at Olivia, which is a restaurant right across from the Pitti Palace, for a curated olive oil tasting and had a really great time.
From learning about the production of olive oil to differentiating its flavor profiles, this is a really cool, local experience that I highly recommend having. Part of our tasting involved guessing which of the four oils we tasted was not extra virgin, and it is actually such a crazy difference. Even if you don’t like olives or olive oil, I highly recommend going for an olive oil tasting anyway. You just have to!
How to Get to Florence
Being such a popular tourist city, you would think that Florence is easier to get to. However, if you are flying to Florence, you probably won’t even be able to fly right into the city’s airport. It is tiny. Here’s everything you need to know about how to get to Florence by both air and land.
I previously wrote a blog post where I ranked the best airports to fly through when visiting Italy, and you will quickly notice that Florence’s airport doesn’t make the list. This is pretty shocking considering the droves of tourists that visit Florence, but nevertheless, it’s just how things are. Florence Peretola Airport (FLR) is the second-busiest airport in Tuscany, but there is a wide gap between it and the overall busiest airport in the region: Pisa.
If you want to fly to Florence from another country, your best bet is to fly into Pisa International Airport (PSA). This is located just an hour outside of Florence, and it offers significantly more international flight routes than Florence’s airport. When we flew home from Florence, we flew out of Pisa International Airport and had a very smooth experience. You can get between Florence and Pisa International Airport by train in just over one hour, making the journey very doable and practical.
The best way to get from the Pisa airport to your hotel in Florence is by booking a private transfer with our partners at Welcome Pickups.
Welcome Pickups offers personalized, private, comfortable rides from the airport into the city for about the same price as a standard taxi. They monitor your flight status while you are in the air, and a driver will be waiting for you holding a sign with your name on it as soon as you arrive.
If you can’t find a good flight into Pisa, there are several other airport options out there for you. Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) is only three hours away by train, and Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO) just announced a direct high-speed train line from the airport in Rome all the way to Florence without the need to switch trains. This service takes less than two hours. Rome Fiumicino is the largest and busiest airport in Italy, which usually means it will have the best flight options, too. I wrote all about that in my guide to finding cheap airfare. Florence’s train station is only an 8-minute walk to the Duomo, so you likely will not even need a taxi.
As I mentioned above, it is very unlikely that you will actually be flying into Florence’s airport. If you are flying into either Milan, Rome, or Pisa, or you’re already somewhere else in Italy, the best way to get to Florence is by train. I have said this time and time again – Italy has one of the best train systems in the world. I love using Trenitalia, and I even wrote a full post about using trains in Italy.
Florence has just one main train station – Santa Maria Novella. This station is just an 8-minute walk from the Duomo, which is the heart of the old city. There is really not much need to take a taxi from the train station to most places in the old city unless you have a lot of luggage or are unable to walk medium distances.
Train tickets can be bought on Trenitalia’s website or app in advance, or you can buy them directly at ticketing kiosks in the stations. By high-speed train, Florence is less than three hours from Rome, Naples, Milan, and Bologna. I also highly recommend visiting all of these cities if you have the time! If you are interested in these cities, be sure to read my Bologna travel guide, read my Rome travel guide, andread my Milan travel guide.
How to Get Around Florence
BY FOOT | TAXI
Despite its popularity, Florence is actually a very walkable city and there is not much of a need for public transportation. Most of the city’s most popular attractions are found within the old city, and they are usually entirely walkable from one another. While you could take a taxi, taxis are often slower than walking because of the heavy pedestrian traffic during the peak season.
If you need to go from one end of the city to the other, you might be inclined to take a taxi. Similarly, if you are going somewhere that is further outside of the city, like San Miniato al Monte, you might be better off opting for a taxi. However, for attractions that are located within the old city of Florence, you’re usually better off just walking.
Florence does have public transportation, but it probably will not be very useful to you. The public transportation mostly links the new city to the old city, and there are not many touristy things to do in the new city. Unless you find yourself going to an attraction in the new city, you will likely not use public transportation once while in Florence. I am usually a big advocate of public transportation, but in this instance, I think you’re better off just walking and relying on taxis.
The Best Time to Visit Florence
Florence is best during the shoulder seasons, in my opinion. This is because the weather cools off a bit, the crowds are diminished, and the lines to get into the main attractions are a fraction of the size that they are in the summer. If you were to ask me, the best time to visit Florence is between April and May or between September and October. The weather is very comfortable, and you are bound to have a pleasant experience.
The best time to visit Florence is between April and May or between September and October.
The most popular time to visit Florence is during the summer. There are many good reasons for this. The weather is beautiful, the city is alive, and outdoor dining really enhances the vibe of the city. However, with the summer come the droves of tourists, and with the tourists come longer lines, bigger crowds, and more congestion. While it is definitely better to visit with less congestion, we visited in the heart of July with a group of ten people and never had an issue getting a table at dinner, with or without a reservation.
Is Florence Worth Visiting?
If you’ve read this post all the way to this point, you know that the answer to this question is obvious. Is Florence worth visiting? Of course it is! This beautiful, historic, vibrant city is packed with great things to do, and I find it hard to even come up with negative things to say.
Yes, the prices are a bit higher than some other places in Italy, but they are nowhere near the stratospheric price levels of Venice. Yes, the crowds can get old, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble doing the things you want to do and eating at the places where you want to eat, even in the peak of July. Florence is this popular for a reason, and I believe that it is without a doubt worth visiting.
That’s all we have for you about Florence! Hopefully this post is helpful as you start planning your journey to Italy’s art capital. I really do think that Florence is worth visiting, even for more than a week.
If you’re planning a trip to Florence, let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!