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The best things to do in Florence for first time visitors

Best things to do in Florence Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

As the capital of Tuscany and birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is packed full art, beauty and cultural riches. Unfortunately you won’t be the only person visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy that attracts millions of visitors a year, so it’s good to know where to start and what to see if you’re a first time visitor. I’m sharing my tips on the best things to do in Florence and how to make sure that you don’t spend your precious holiday time in endless queues for tickets, by booking ahead or taking one of the many excellent tours available.

Best things to do in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

1. Visit the Duomo, Cathedral of Florence

The Duomo in Florence sits at the heart of medieval city, a religious complex that includes the cathedral itself with its crypt and famous Brunelleschi Dome, the Baptistery, Bell Tower and separate museum. When you arrive in Florence be sure to buy the combined ticket that admits you to the different parts of the complex and is valid for 72 hours, especially as you may want to secure a timed ticket to climb the dome. If you are in Florence for a few days, I’d recommend visiting different parts of the complex on separate days or pick out the most interesting elements, since to visit it all on one day is quite overwhelming.

Let’s start with the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly known as the Duomo, meaning the House of God. Built on the site of an earlier cathedral, work was started at the end of the 13th century and continued for 150 years, with a gap where the dome was to be, since the architectural solution to support it had not yet been worked out. The west facade of the cathedral is covered with intricate pastel coloured marble which looks old but in fact is a 19th century restoration in typical Florentine style.

The Duomo in Florence, Italy

Once the rest of the cathedral had been completed, a competition was held in 1418 to design the dome, which was won by Filippo Brunelleschi who studied the Roman Pantheon to come up with the double layer egg shaped design. By building two domes, one inside the other, the weight could be more evenly distributed, to support the huge size and weight of the dome.

The interior of the dome was painted in golden tiers with scenes of the Last Judgement by Giorgio Vasari who was commissioned in 1572 by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. You can climb the dome only with a timed ticket which you need to book when you buy the combined ticket for the Duomo complex, but bear in mind that the access is via a narrow workman’s staircase of 463 steps, so may not be one for the claustrophobic!

At the back of the cathedral is the separate museum, which contains sculptures and other masterpieces from the greatest artists at the time of the cathedral’s construction, including the original golden doors of the Baptistery by Ghiberti.

Read more: How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

Best things to do in Florence - The Duomo in Florence, Italy

The Duomo in Florence, Italy

Visitor information for the Duomo

A visit to the Duomo Cathedral is free and opening hours are 10am – 4.30pm although visits on Sundays are limited unless you are attending a service. However, you may find there’s a long queue to enter the cathedral, especially in summer. As this is a place of worship, you should be modestly dressed to visit the cathedral with clothing covering knees and shoulders.

To visit other parts of the Duomo complex, such as the Baptistery, Bell tower, Cathedral dome, Museum or Crypt, you will need a joint ticket which covers one visit to each of the attractions. This ticket lasts 30 days from date of purchase but once you have visited one of the monuments, you need to visit the rest within 72 hours. Duomo opening hours for each of the attractions in the complex vary, opening from 8.15 am and closing up to 7pm – more details on opening times are on the Museums of Florence website.

 

Where to buy tickets for the Duomo in Florence

Duomo tickets can be purchased from the ticket office opposite the Baptistery on the northern side of the square, where there are both ticket machines and manned ticket windows. Tickets may also be purchased online from the Museums of Florence website. The cost of the combined Duomo complex ticket is €18.

If you wish to climb the Brunelleschi Dome, you need to book a timeslot for this at the same time that you purchase the joint ticket, whether that’s online or in person at the ticket office. In summer these timed slots are in high demand, so you may need to book a few days ahead. It’s best to reserve a timed slot as soon as you arrive in Florence, or instead climb the bell tower which I think is an excellent alternative, since you can then take amazing photos of the dome from the tower!

There’s lots more useful information about visiting the Duomo Florence with guided tours available from Ciao Florence.

2. The Baptistry in Florence

Well worth a visit as part of your joint ticket is the octagonal Baptistery of St John, sitting like a jewel box in front of the cathedral. The Florence Baptistery is the oldest part of the Duomo complex and was built in the 13th century on the site of an earlier baptistery that dated back to the 3rd or 4th century. Within the early Christian tradition, large numbers of adults would be baptised at one time through immersion in a large bath, so a separate building was required for this important ceremony of rebirth.

Things to see in Florence - Baptistry in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

The Baptistery in Florence, Italy

The dark green and white marble patterns of the Baptistery exterior give way to a rich and ornate patterns of pink marble in the interior walls and floor, culminating in the dome decorated with glowing golden mosaics that depict scenes from the Last Judgement. One of the best known masterpieces of the Baptistery is the East door, known as the “Gates of Paradise’ that was designed by Ghiberti showing scenes from the Old Testament in intricate relief. The bronze doors on display are copies of the gold covered originals which can be seen in the cathedral museum.

You may also enjoy: Watch my video with all the best things to do in Florence

Baptistery in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Baptistery in Florence

3. Climb the Bell Tower in Florence

One of the top things to do in Florence is to climb up for a view over the red tiled rooftops of the Medieval city. One option is to climb the Brunelleschi dome of the cathedral, but you’ll need a timed ticket for this and they are often allocated days ahead. Another possibility is to climb Giotto’s bell tower or Campanile beside the cathedral which has the advantage of wonderful views of the dome itself and does not require a timed ticket, although if you are able to reserve one you can skip the line.

Need a hotel in Florence? I can recommend Hotel Balestri where I stayed on my visit to Florence, a four star hotel that’s perfectly located for a city break, just a 5 minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. If this hotel’s not right for you check out other Hotels in Florence.

Things to do in Florence - climb the bell tower in Florence

Bell tower in Florence

Since tickets for the dome had already sold out on the day of my visit, I decided to climb the 415 steps of the bell tower, luckily securing a timed ticket to skip the line, since the numbers entering are limited.

The bell tower is beautifully faced in patterns of white, red and green marble and was designed by Giotto in the 14th century. Work started on the tower in 1334, but when Giotto died in 1337 only the first part of the bell tower had been completed. Andrea Pisano continued the building to Giotto’s design, including the niches with statues of the saints on the second level. After a break for a couple of years due to plague, the campanile was finally completed in 1359 by Francesco Talenti with airy double windows and a panoramic roof terrace at the top.

Tickets for the bell tower in Florence are included with your joint ticket for the whole Duomo complex, so once you have bought this, you’re good to go.

You may also enjoy: The best day trips from Florence – what to see and how to get there

Top things to do in Florence - View from the bell tower

View from Campanile in Florence

On the way up there are three stages where you can take a much needed break and stop for photos. I wouldn’t recommend the tower for the claustrophobic, since the stone stairs are narrow and it’s often a bit of a stop-start negotiation to let other people pass. It was definitely worth the climb though, to get those views of the beautiful Brunelleschi dome.

4. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Another of the top things to see in Florence is the Uffizi, the art gallery of Florence that houses the masterpieces of the Renaissance and is a must for art lovers. Because the lines for the Uffizi are often long, it’s a good idea to either take a tour, or to book a timed ticket online to enable you to skip the line.

Top Florence attractions - Uffizi in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Uffizi in Florence, Italy

The building of the Uffizi in Florence was originally the offices of state (Uffizi means offices) for Cosimo I de’ Medici, with views over the River Arno at one end and the Medici residence of Palazzo Vecchio at the other. Later it became the gallery to house the Medici art collections and was one of the first art museums to open to the public in 1765.

Behind one of the unmarked doors in the Uffizi, there’s a secret passage known as the Vasari corridor that leads across the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the river, enabling the Medici to travel around the city without risking their lives in the streets of Florence.

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Uffizi Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Uffizi Florence, Italy

There are so many masterpieces here that you’d probably need a whole day to do justice to the gallery, but a couple of hours on a guided tour or visiting independently is enough to see some of the most famous highlights. You’ll want to gaze at the lovely goddesses in Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera and visit Filippo Lippi’s enchanting Madonna with two angels, a portrait of the nun who became his lover and their children.

Uffizi in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Uffizi in Florence, Italy

Then there’s the violent depiction of Judith slaying Holofernes by female artist Artemisia Gentileschi, one of a series on this theme that perhaps were her revenge on the man who raped her as a girl. Different rooms of the Uffizi are devoted to artists such as Caravaggio, known for his dramatic paintings that play on light and dark, Leonardo da Vinci who was not only a painter but a sculptor, architect and inventor, or Raphael whose painting of Pope Leo X with two cardinals is one of the gallery’s highlights.

More information: Galleria degli Uffizi website | Buy your timed Uffizi tickets online here | Take a small group guided tour of the Uffizi with Ciao Florence | Uffizi Gallery opening hours 8.15 am – 6.50 pm Closed Monday | Tickets €20 + online booking fee

5. Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria in Florence

Another of the places to visit in Florence that’s close to the Duomo complex is the Piazza della Signoria, where you’ll find the Palazzo Vecchio, residence of the Medici family. The square is something of an outdoor sculpture gallery, with the statue on horseback of Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the statue of Neptune in the fountain that also has his likeness. At the door of the Palazzo stands a copy of the David by Michelangelo which stood here until 1873, when it was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia and now lives under its glass dome.

Need a hotel in Florence? I can recommend Hotel Balestri where I stayed on my visit to Florence, a four star hotel that’s perfectly located for a city break, just a 5 minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. If this hotel’s not right for you check out other Hotels in Florence.

Places to visit in Florence - Palazzo Vecchio Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Palazzo Vecchio Florence, Italy

To one side of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence is the Loggia dei Lanzi forms an outdoor sculpture gallery, sheltered from the weather by the roof terrace cafe of the Uffizi. The sculptures display scenes of struggle and violence, with the twisting Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the bronze Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini triumphantly lifting up the gory severed head of Medusa.

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The Palazzo was originally the town hall of Florence known as Palazzo della Signoria, taken over by Duke Cosimo I de Medici as his residence in 1540, consolidating the power of the Medici family as rulers of Florence. Cosimo I later moved with his wife Eleonora and their eleven children to the Pitti Palace across the river, renaming it the Palazzo Vecchio or “Old Palace”.

Piazza della Signoria Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Piazza della Signoria Florence, Italy

It’s free to visit the internal courtyard of the Palazzo, to see the beautiful frescoes on the roof and walls of the loggia. If you have time you can also visit the apartments of the Palazzo that were used by the Medici family, climb the tower and visit the excavation of a Roman Theatre under the Palazzo.

More information: Palazzo Vecchio website | Open daily except Thursday 9am – 7pm | Tickets from €17.50 | Take a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio with Ciao Florence

Top Florence tourist attractions - Palazzo Vecchio Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Palazzo Vecchio Florence, Italy

Top Tip: On Piazza della Signoria visit the elegant Caffe Rivoire for a coffee and one of their delicious cakes, such as the cannoli filled with whipped cream and candied orange peel. Of course you’ll pay a premium for the waiter service on their terrace but it’s a small price to pay for a grandstand view of the crowds swirling around the Florence attractions to be found in the Piazza, which is one of the busiest spots in Florence. If you are short of time, copy the locals and order directly from the bar, eating at one of the small stand up tables inside, which is a cheaper option.

Read More: What to eat in Florence – 10 delicious things to try

Café Rivoire Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Café Rivoire Florence, Italy

Hotels in Florence

I can recommend Hotel Balestri where I stayed on my visit to Florence, a four star hotel that’s perfectly located for a city break, just a 5 minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. My window overlooked the river and despite being so central it was a quiet location, set apart from the busy tourist areas.

The decor was clean and modern with a glamorous Art Deco feel, plenty of marble and mirrors. Hotel Balestri does not have a restaurant, but there’s a sitting area and bar for your aperitivo, with plenty of restaurants just a short walk away. If this hotel’s not right for you check out other Hotels in Florence.

Hotel Balestri in Florence, Italy

Hotel Balestri in Florence, Italy

6. Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and Michelangelo’s David

Next on your list of places to see in Florence, is the statue of David by Michelangelo that’s housed under the beautifully lit dome in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Of course, like many of Florence’s highlights, you’ll be vying with other visitors to get the best view of the naked shepherd boy who killed the giant Goliath in the Old Testament story, so try to visit early in the day and pre-book a timed ticket to avoid the lines.

Places to see in Florence - Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

David at Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy

The Michelangelo David statue was one of a number of Old Testament sculptures that were commissioned to sit on the roofline of the cathedral, which explains why the head may seem disproportionately large, since it was designed to be seen from below. The block of marble had been lying for some years behind the cathedral, worked on but then abandoned by other sculptors, before Michelangelo aged only 26 took it on.

Once completed, the piece weighed six tons and was clearly too heavy to hoist up to the roof, so it was installed outside the Palazzo Vecchio. The Florentines took the David as a symbol of city pride, and to protect it from the weather it was moved in 1873 to a new location in Galleria dell’Accademia, and replaced with the current copy that now stands in Piazza della Signoria.

Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy

One you’ve admired the David, it’s also worth taking a look at the Hall of Prisoners that leads down to the sculpture, where unfinished works by Michelangelo are on display. They were intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II and seem to be struggling to be released from their blocks of marble. I also enjoyed looking at the plaster nymphs and maidens in the ground floor gallery, with rows of pretty girls in ringlets striking demure poses.

More information: Galleria dell’Accademia website | Open daily 8.15 am- 5.30pm | Tickets €12 | Ciao Florence offer several tours of the Galleria dell’Accademia including a small group, skip the line tour.

7. Have lunch in the Mercato Centrale in Florence

Having spent a few hours visiting some of these must see sights in Florence, you’ll probably be ready for lunch and I can recommend the Mercato di San Lorenzo, also known as the Mercato Centrale where there’s plenty of choice of delicious food. If you’re a fan of food markets like me, arrive in the morning to look around the ground floor of the market where there are plenty of stalls with luscious fruit and veg.

You’ll see fresh fish and meat including a stall or two that’s just for tripe, a specialty of Florentine home cooking. There are deli stalls that can make up a fine picnic of cheese and prosciutto, piles of cantucci, a twice baked almond biscuit that’s perfect to dunk in your coffee or bottles of limoncello to take home as a souvenir.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Top Tip: If you’re there around lunchtime and want to taste the famous tripe or trippa alla fiorentina, look out for the da Nerbone stall downstairs where they serve a hearty tripe lampredotto or boiled beef sandwich in a crusty bun. While we might feel a little squeamish at eating tripe, in Florence it’s considered a local specialty, and you’ll find it on the menu of many traditional Trattorias, cooked with a rich tomato or wine sauce.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Once you’ve admired all the beautiful fresh produce, take the escalators upstairs to the Mercato Centrale food court, which covers the entire first floor of the market with a huge choice of restaurant stands and a lively, café atmosphere. The food stands are set around the edge of this open, industrial style space, while tables are available in the middle where you can sit and eat your order.

Read More: What to eat in Florence – 10 delicious things to try

The system works efficiently, where you order and pay for your food at the individual stall, but give your drinks order to bar waiters who come around to each table. This is one of the best places to visit in Florence if you have a group of friends who all want to try different styles of food, or you just want to try a few different options yourself.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

I admired the oozing balls of mozzarella, deliberated over the wood-fired pizza ovens and the crusty sandwiches filled with soft cheese and sundried tomatoes. The fresh seafood was laid out on ice, while another stand displayed well matured beef, marbled with creamy fat, that would soon be cooked as the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Finally I stopped at the stall selling truffles for a plate of their antipasti covered with a generous layer of truffle shavings. Some of the top chefs and artisan food producers in Florence have their stalls here, so the standard’s as high as the prices are reasonable.

More information: Mercato Centrale in Florence website | Open daily 8am to midnight

8. Stroke the nose of Il Porcellino in Florence

In the old straw market, you’ll find the famous fountain of Il Porcellino in Florence, which means Piglet in Italian, where tourists pass by to make a wish. The bronze wild boar statue at Fontana del Porcellino is a copy by Pietro Tacca of an earlier Roman marble sculpture that was in the collection of the Medicis.

Need a hotel in Florence? I can recommend Hotel Balestri where I stayed on my visit to Florence, a four star hotel that’s perfectly located for a city break, just a 5 minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. If this hotel’s not right for you check out other Hotels in Florence.

Florence sightseeing - Il Porcellino in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Il Porcellino in Florence

Tacca’s original was moved to the Museum Bardini and replaced with a copy in 2008 but it remains a popular charm for visitors to Florence. Put a small coin in his mouth and watch it fall through the grill below, then stroke his nose, and your dreams are sure to come true!

Il Porcellino in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Il Porcellino in Florence, Italy

9. The Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Walking down Via Por Santa Maria from the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria will soon bring you to another of the most popular Florence tourist attractions, the Ponte Vecchio. Known as the “Old Bridge” this was built on the site of an earlier Roman bridge and was the only crossing point of the river until 1218. It’s the most famous bridge in Florence and of such historic importance that it was spared destruction by the fleeing Germans in World War 2, unlike other bridges across the Arno that were destroyed.

Top things to see in Florence - Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

The buildings on the bridge were originally designed to be defensive, but from the 13th century they became shops including butchers and leather tanners, leading to complaints about the stench from the waste that was being thrown into the river.

In 1593 the Medicis decided that the smell was unbearable and decreed that the shops on the Ponte Vecchio should be let to goldsmiths, a tradition that has lasted until today with most of the shops being jewellers. Unnoticed by most people runs the enclosed passageway above the shops known as the Vasari corridor, that leads from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace, enabling the Medicis to move from home to work unseen by the public.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

From the centre of the bridge, near the statue of the 16th century goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, is a great spot to take photos and admire the views from the bridge in both directions up and down the river, including towards the nearby Uffizi. It’s certainly a romantic spot and one that’s popular for an evening stroll in the Italian tradition of the passeggiata.

Best things to see in Florence - Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

10. The Pitti Palace in Florence

Crossing the river at the Ponte Vecchio, a short stroll through the Oltrarno district will bring you to the Pitti Palace. Named after its first owner, a Florentine Banker, the Pitti Palace was later purchased by Eleonora de’Medici, wife of Cosimo I, who decided that she wanted a home away from the bustle of the city with a large garden for her eleven children. The palace later housed the rulers of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine who succeeded the Medicis and was a residence of the Kings of Italy in the 19th century.

Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy

The Pitti Palace in Florence now houses four different museums, but there’s so much to see here that you may want to focus on one or two of the museums that interest you most.

The Treasury of the Grand Dukes – Also known as the Silver Museum, this is housed in the Medici summer apartments on the ground floor, with walls covered in 17th century frescoes. You can see the Medici treasures and jewels, silverware collected by the rulers of Habsburg-Lorraine and jewellery from the 17th century to the present day.

Palatine Gallery and Imperial and Royal apartments – These take up the entire first floor of the Pitti Palace, which was used by the Medici dynasty and house artworks from their collections, with frescoes, gilding and stucco in the Baroque style. The apartments were used by a succession of rulers over three centuries and are sumptuously furnished with silk wall hangings and sparkling chandeliers.

Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy

Gallery of Modern Art – These second floor rooms were used by the Habsburg-Lorraine family and overlook the Boboli Gardens and city of Florence. On display are paintings and sculptures from the late 18th century to the 1930s including neoclassical and romantic artworks.

Museum of Costume and Fashion – This is where I spent most of my time as I love fashion and textiles. I very much enjoyed the exhibition which showcased the couture collections of notable Italian women – wealthy of course, but also patrons of a different kind of artistic achievement just as the Medicis had been in the past.

Fashion museum in Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Fashion museum in Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy

The most startling part of the costume museum’s exhibits were the clothes of Eleonora de’Medici, her husband Cosima I and their son Don Garzia. Startling because these were the very clothes they had been buried in, which had been removed from the bodies when their tombs had been opened, pieced painstakingly together and put on display. While the doublet and tunic of Don Garzia was pretty much intact, Eleonora’s dress was just a jigsaw of delicate scraps, bordered by well preserved gold lace embroidery.

Further information: Pitti Palace website | Pitti Palace open daily except Monday 8.15am – 6.50pm | Adult ticket €16

11. Boboli Gardens in Florence

The Boboli Gardens sit behind the Pitti Palace and were laid out by the Medici family, creating the Italian garden style of terraces and fountains that would set the fashion throughout Europe. The garden is a tranquil contrast to the crowded streets of Florence on the other side of the river, the formal parterres offering a palate of cool green with little colour.

Best places to visit in Florence - Boboli Gardens in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Boboli Gardens in Florence

Walking up the hill, you will pass the small lake with a fountain enclosed by trees with statues, pavilions and grottos. From the top of the garden there are beautiful views of the red tiled medieval city and the Duomo framed by olive trees.

Boboli Gardens in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Boboli Gardens in Florence

Returning to the bottom of the garden, close to the palace, you’ll find the famous grotto by Bernardo Buontalenti which is next to the entrance of the Vasari corridor. The grotto was commissioned by Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici and features three decorative caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, statues and allegorical figures.

Further information: Boboli Gardens website | Open Daily except first and last Monday of the month 8.15am – variable closing time | Adult ticket €10

Boboli Gardens in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Boboli Gardens in Florence

12. Eat Gelato in Florence

When you visit Florence, one of the pleasures in between all the sightseeing, is to stop for a cooling gelato or two. On the main tourist routes, you’re never far from a shop selling gelato piled high in brightly coloured mounds, but if you aspire to the finer things in life then look out for shops that sell gelato artigianale.

Gelato in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Gelato in Florence

This is gelato that’s made on the premises, using only fresh ingredients and with no artificial colourings that you might suspect are in those brightly coloured gelatos. The colours may be more subdued, but the flavours are fresh and authentic, and you’ll typically be served from closed metal containers, choosing your flavours from a list on the wall.

Gelato in Florence Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Gelato in Florence

My favourite was La Strega Nocciola (Via de’ Bardi, 51) close to the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the river, with a stylish, modern feel, delicious flavours and room to sit inside while you contemplate what you’re eating. I also enjoyed the gelato at;

Vivoli (Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7) – tucked away in the backstreets near Santa Croce it’s a small, old fashioned looking cafe and gelateria with plenty of tempting cakes too.

Neri (Via dei Neri, 9/11) – a small gelateria that has a real neighbourhood feel and was packed with families choosing their afternoon treat, also serving waffles and iced yoghurt.

I normally find that the servings are deceptively large, so I always order the smallest size container rather than a cone, which is a bargain and still plenty of gelato to treat yourself.

13.Visit the beautiful churches in Florence

If you have any time left after seeing the major sites that I’ve mentioned, it’s well worth visiting some of the other beautiful churches in Florence, although you may want to spread them out to avoid church overload.

Santa Croce in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

Santa Croce was one of the churches I visited, with a beautiful exterior and interior covered in decorative, coloured marble, as well as small chapels decorated with frescoes by Giotto.This Franciscan church also contains the tombs of some of Florence’s famous names, such as Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo and Rossini. To one side, there’s a peaceful arcaded courtyard and chapel, which was a tranquil respite from the hot day and the crowds of Florence.

Santa Croce in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

Another church that I visited was Chiesa di Orsanmichele, built on the site of a former kitchen garden of the monastery of St Michael and originally used as a grain store to create a reserve in times of hardship.

Chiesa di Orsanmichele in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Chiesa di Orsanmichele in Florence, Italy

The exterior of the church is known for the sculptures housed in 14 different niches, which were commissioned by each of the different guilds and trades to show their favourite patron saint. There are many other beautiful churches in Florence such as Santa Maria Novella near the station, that house masterpieces by the greatest Renaissance painters and sculptors.

Chiesa di Orsanmichele in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Chiesa di Orsanmichele in Florence, Italy

14. Shopping in Florence for unique souvenirs

In between all the sightseeing, keep a look out for some of the authentic souvenirs of Florence that you’ll want to bring back from your travels.

Marbled paper from Florence – made into many different writing books, decorative objects and even mobile phone cases, this is a beautiful and inexpensive souvenir of Florence. One of the best known artisan shops for marbled paper is Giulio Giannini & Figlio who have a shop just opposite the Pitti Palace.

Souvenirs in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Handmade paper in Florence, Italy

Leather bags and wallets – you’ll find stall after stall of leather bags in the markets of Florence, but an interesting place to see artisans at work is the Scuola del Cuoio or leather school behind Santa Croce where you can buy classical styles.

Gloves in Florence – you’ll see many small stores that specialise in beautifully soft leather gloves, with plenty of possibility to find something in your size and colour.

Sweet treats in Florence – feast your eyes at the windows of some of the old established chocolatiers in Florence, where you can also normally stop for a coffee and cake or an early evening aperitif. Caffe Gilli facing Piazza della Repubblica is one such that has windows full of fruity jellies and marzipan, that would be something special to take home.

Foodie souvenirs of Florence – The Mercato Centrale is also a great place to buy Italian foodie souvenirs, like the twice baked cantuccini almond biscuits that are designed to dip in your coffee, the bottles of limoncello or fat Tuscan olives you can find at the deli counters.

Souvenirs in Florence, Italy Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Souvenirs in Florence, Italy

Read next

What to eat in Florence – 10 delicious things to try – all the delicious Italian food, from pizza to gelato, truffles to cannoli as well as where to eat in Florence.

Delicious food in Florence

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2 days in Florence – our perfect weekend itinerary

The best day trips from Florence

18 top things to do in Florence, Italy

Florence Italy best things to do

Where to stay in Florence

I can recommend Hotel Balestri where I stayed on my visit to Florence, a four star hotel that’s perfectly located for a city break, just a 5 minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. If this hotel’s not right for you check out other Hotels in Florence.

Hotel Balestri in Florence

Hotel Balestri in Florence

Plan your trip to Florence

You’ll find more information to plan your trip to Florence on the Florence Tourism website and the Italy Tourism website

We can recommend these Florence Tours from Ciao Florence who offer unforgettable tours and experiences, led by expert guides in Florence and other Italian cities. If you’re planning to visit other parts of Italy, also check out the day trips from Florence that they offer.

If you need a travel guidebook for Florence, we recommend the DK Eyewitness Florence and Tuscany Travel Guide or the Rick Steves Pocket Florence guide.

The nearest airport is Florence Airport (FLR) which is 4 km from the city centre and the transfer takes around 20 minutes by bus or 15 minutes by taxi. Florence is well connected by rail to other cities in Italy, so you may also find alternative flights to neighbouring cities such as Rome or Pisa.

Once you arrive in Florence, most of the historic centre is pedestrianised, and it’s easy to walk to most of the main sites, although comfortable shoes are advised due to the cobbled stone surfaces.

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Audrey
    April 8, 2020 at 12:51 am

    If one would like to plan a vacation to Italy, would you say Florence is as much worthy as Rome? From what I can read, there is plenty to do in Florence to keep busy for a full week.

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      April 8, 2020 at 2:43 pm

      @Audrey You could easily spend a week in Florence but I’d say that 3 days would be enough to see the main sites, and the train system is quite efficient so if I had longer I might consider also spending a few days in Rome or using Florence as a base and then taking day trips to other interesting cities nearby – take a look at my article on the best day trips from Florence.

  • Reply
    Khalil Bouhajra
    April 13, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    Great and interesting blog, thank you for sharing, keep going

  • Reply
    Steeven
    April 15, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    Florence is such a romantic place! I am planning to go there next year with my girlfriend and for sure this list of things to do will help!

    Hoping virus won’t make us cancel our trip!

    Nice blog BTW,
    Steeven

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      April 16, 2020 at 10:31 am

      @Steeven I hope you manage to get to visit Florence, even if you have to wait a while

  • Reply
    Mary Smith
    April 16, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Florence is such a romantic place! Florence is my favorite and saved in my bucket list. I have heard a lot about Florence and even pictures are wonderful. I am not married yet, but it is going to be my honeymoon destination. Hahahaha

  • Reply
    Stella Wilson
    April 20, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Hey, thanx for writing this great florence italy travel guide. On my next travel to italy, i would love to visit, the art galleries and Ponte Vecchio.

  • Reply
    Sophie
    May 1, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    Hey Heather , thanks for sharing such a beautiful blog. When I’ll plan for my next trip to Italy it would be a great help.

  • Reply
    Simon
    June 20, 2020 at 3:30 am

    I never thought Florence could be this awesome, I want to go to the largest cathedral there, will probably bring my family with me as soon as traveling will be okay. That ice cream is a must try

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