The birthplace of the Renaissance, the cradle of Western modern civilization. Many are the nicknames that Tuscany’s capital earned throughout the centuries. As one of the major tourist hubs and a must in every first-timer Italy itinerary or any of the best Italy guided tours, there are so many things to do in Florence that only one trip is never enough.
In this article, you will find some of the best places to visit in Florence so you can decide for yourself what to do the first time you are here and what to leave for your next holiday. And if you have some more time on your hands, try to include any of these day trips from Florence such as a tour to Pisa and an excursion to Siena medieval town.
Things to do in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance
This guide aims at empowering you to plan and organize your trip on your own including deciding when it’s better to rely on a professional tour leader or when you can manage to do everything by yourself. We will tell you what are the most important things to do in Florence, how it works and how to use the local transport, where to stay in Florence and even a mention of day trips from Florence that you can take if you have some little extra time.
While getting under the skin of a place like Florence probably a year is barely enough, we think that if you can devote three full days of well-organized sightseeing, you will manage to take home some pretty good insight into the rich past and culture that exude around every corner. If you are wondering what to do in Florence, read on and get inspired.
Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, Dome, and Crypt
Located in Piazza del Duomo in the very heart of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral bedazzles you with a breathtaking facade part of an astonishing complex. Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Baptistery of Saint John complete the scene of an art-soaked historic center and are some of the most important things to see in Florence.
If you haven’t reserved your tickets online before arriving, the first thing to do is to walk down to Piazza del Duomo and buy your tickets. You can do so from the ticket office or the ticket machines at the entrance. Once you have booked your ticket, you need to reserve your space if you want to climb up the Dome (Cupola). This is the only place in the Santa Maria del Fiore complex that requires a booking, but if you want to skip the queue, you can book your spot also for the bell tower or Campanile di Giotto as it’s called in Italy.
If you are lucky, spaces for the Dome will be available within a couple of days, but if you are planning only two days in Florence during high season (spring and summer), we highly recommend you book your place online before coming.
We have seen many tourists with the wrong tickets and the wrong bookings coming to the entrance of the Dome and being sent away. This is why if you don’t feel confident and you absolutely don’t want to miss the Dome (which you don’t, we can bet on it), we suggest booking a tour that will sort out everything for you and will make you skip the line. The city is packed with artwork and tourists which is why pre-organized tours are way less time-consuming and more interesting.
Walks of Italy provides excellent and informative tours in Florence and many other cities in Italy. Use their services and get the most out of your trip. With their VIP David & Duomo Tour, you will skip the line and have exclusive access to the dome terrace.
Santa Maria del Fiore tickets: 15 €, it’s valid for 48 hours from the time of the first validation and includes Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Dome (Cupola), Baptistery of St. John, Giotto’s Bell Tower and Museo Dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. You can buy the ticket from the ticket office located in the northern corner of the square, in front of the Baptistery. The official website for Santa Maria del Fiore tickets and bookings if you are planning it your own: https://www.museumflorence.com/.
Note: After buying the ticket you HAVE TO book (it’s free) date and time for the Cupola (Dome). Your ticket has 48 hours window to visit all the 5 monuments in the square. Keep in mind that although in the same square, they are all different buildings and you need to queue for each one of them separately.
Dome opening hours: Daily 8.30 am-7 pm
Cathedral opening hours: Daily 10 am-5 pm
Crypt opening hours: Closed on Sundays
Dress code: Modest for the cathedral.
How to get there: On foot, 10 minutes from Santa Maria Novella train station.
The Baptistery of St. John (Battistero di San Giovanni)
The Baptistery is also located in Piazza del Duomo and faces the Cathedral. Even though sometimes neglected by tourists, its beauty and history make it one of the best things to do in Florence. Dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, the Battistero di San Giovanni was built in the 11th century on the site of a Roman building and is one of the oldest buildings in Florence.
The interior dome is entirely covered with mosaics displaying scenes from Genesis, the Angelic Hierarchies, the life of Joseph the Patriarch, the life of Christ and Saint John the Baptist, mainly done by artists such as Cimabue, Coppo di Marcovaldo and Maestro della Maddalena.
In the Baptistery there are benches to sit and admire the amazing ceiling and beautiful mosaic work. The decorative details of St. John Baptistery are amazing but to go upstairs closer to the ceiling you need a guided tour. We suggest visiting the Baptistery even if you have limited time for a day trip from Rome to Florence.
Admission fee: 15 €, it’s valid for 48 hours from the time of the first validation and includes Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Dome (Cupola), Baptistery of St. John, Giotto’s Bell Tower and Museo Dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. You can buy the ticket from the ticket office located in the northern corner of the square, in front of the Baptistery. Official website for tickets and bookings if you are planning it your own: https://www.museumflorence.com/.
Hours: Daily 8.15-10.15 am and 11.15 am-7.30 pm. On Sundays 8.15 am-1.30 pm. Baptistery has limited hours during weekends.
How to get there: On foot, 10 minutes from Santa Maria Novella train station.
For more information on tours around Florence, check out Walks of Italy.
Giotto’s Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto)
The works for the bell tower, 85-meter tall, started with the famous artists Giotto di Bondone in 1334, carried on with Andrea Pisano after Giotto’s death and ended with Francesco Talenti in 1359. The tower, finely decorated with statues, huge windows, and reliefs representing different stories, from the creation of men to daily activities and professions, the planetary system, the arts, the Christian Sacraments and the human virtues, is no less than stunning.
Probably the most beautiful campanile in Italy, this is one of the best things to see and do in Florence. Totally worth climbing its 414 steps to enjoy a view of Florence historic center.
Admission Fee: 15 €, it’s valid for 48 hours from the time of the first validation and includes Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Dome (Cupola), Baptistery of St. John, Giotto’s Bell Tower and Museo Dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. You can buy the ticket from the ticket office located in the northern corner of the square, in front of the Baptistery. The official website for tickets and bookings if you are planning it your own: https://www.museumflorence.com/.
Note: The stairs are narrow and may not be easy for some to go all the way up. Not recommended if you are claustrophobic or have heart conditions. However, the climb is well worth the 360-degree view of Florence.
Hours: Daily 8.15 am-7 pm. Booking (free) is not mandatory but if you are going in high season it’s highly recommended to avoid spending hours in the line. If you didn’t book, we suggest you go early morning as the line becomes bigger after 10 am. The ticket is valid for 48 hours, so you can leave the bell tower on the second day after you have seen it all (and so you don’t climb the dome and bell tower on the same day!).
For more information on Giotto’s Bell Tower and tours around Italy, check out Walks of Italy
Museum of Opera of Santa Maria of Fiore
The Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore is also located in Piazza del Duomo, right behind the Cupola. The Museum displays the masterpieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, Ghiberti, Arnolfo, Verrocchio, Antonio Pollaiolo, Luca della Robbia in a collection comprising of some 750 works created in the span of more than seven centuries, including the original door of the Baptistery “Gates of Paradise”.
Admission fee: 15 €, it’s valid for 48 hours from the time of the first validation and includes Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Dome (Cupola), Baptistery of St. John, Giotto’s Bell Tower and Museo Dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. You can buy the ticket from the ticket office located in the northern corner of the square, in front of the Baptistery. The official website for tickets and bookings if you are planning it your own: https://www.museumflorence.com/.
Opening hours: 9 am-7.30 pm. Closed every first Tuesday of the month.
See the David of Michelangelo
Arguably one of the world’s most famous sculptures, Michelangelo’s David perfection is what draws so many visitors to the Accademia Gallery. The Accademia features more artwork, and even if they are all pretty shadowed by the David, they still are worth viewing.
This is the gallery that showcases the largest number of Michelangelo’s artwork, so even if you are staying only one day in Florence, don’t miss it.
Address: Via Ricasoli 58/60.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8.15 am-6.50 pm.
Entrance fee: 12 €.
Duck into San Lorenzo Basilica
Even though Santa Maria del Fiore is the city’s main cathedral, San Lorenzo Basilica, Florence’s oldest, was the place the Medici family wanted to be their personal temple, and this alone should be a reason to include it on your list of things to do in Florence. The first church on this site was built in 393, blessed by Sant’Ambrogio and devoted already back then to San Lorenzo. The facade, even though Michelangelo Buonarroti himself designed the project, was never concluded.
Underground is the Museum of the Treasure of San Lorenzo which displays the precious donations made to the church mainly by the same Medici with an aim to make it stand out in the crowd.
Paying an extra amount for as little as 2 € you can access the Laurentian Medici Library, a collection of rare books and pieces belonging to the important family.
Admission fee: 8.50€ for the basilica, the library, and the underground Treasure Museum. For the Cappelle Medicee is another 8€ to be bought at a separate entrance behind the church.
Opening hours: Daily 8.15 am-4.30 pm.
Visit the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, located in its namesake of Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, very close to the city’s main train station, is one of the must things to do in Florence. The Dominican basilica, built and decorated in an eclectic style that mixes Romanesque and Gothic elements, has many beautiful chapels and paintings, a big garden, a cloister and a small museum.
The exterior is the work of Fra Jacopo Talenti and Leon Battista Alberti, while inside you can admire artwork from some of the most important artists of the city, from Giotto, Masaccio, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio, the owner of a workshop that had Michelangelo as a pupil.
Admission fee: 5€. Note: The ticket office is at the entrance to the church, in the yard.
Dress code: Modest.
Opening hours: 9 am-7 pm. Sundays and religious holidays 1-6 pm.
Piazza Della Repubblica
The former main square of Florence, Piazza Della Repubblica is now framed with outdoor bistro-style cafes and restaurants (a little pricey). Here you can also find small eco-cars to rent to go around the city.
It’s a good place to take a break after visiting some monuments, especially if you are with kids as there is a nice carousel. Surrounded by brand shops, it’s not unusual to see here some street art performances.
The oldest bridge on the Arno river in the city, Ponte Vecchio has been one of the top things to do in Florence for a long time. The only bridge that crossed Florence until 1218, it was destroyed by a big flood and rebuilt in 1345, when it was given the appearance we see today.
In 1966, Ponte Vecchio managed to bear the impressive amount of water that destroyed the river’s banks and flooded the city. Today, this quaint bridge is the symbol of Florence and hosts a wide selection of jewelry shops tempting tourists from all over the world.
Being the birthplace of the Renaissance, museums in Florence are brimming with immortal masterpieces by the most famous artists. At the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s oldest museums opened to the public in 1591, on display are the works of painters such as Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, Lippi, Botticelli, Titian, Giotto, Cimabue, Caravaggio and Piero della Francesca.
It is one of the most amazing artwork galleries in the world, filled with precious statues and paintings that display the progression of art from the 12th through the 20th century. It’s here that you can admire the world-famous Spring and Birth of Venus by Botticelli, both commissioned by the Medici. For art lovers, the Uffizi Gallery is definitely one of the best things to see in Florence.
We recommend Walks of Italy’s Uffizi tour to skip the line and have a thorough explanation of the art and the historical context where it was produced.
Click here for more information and the current prices for Walks of Italy’s Uffizi tour.
On the terrace of the top floor, there is a nice cafe with a beautiful view of the Cupola and adjacent Palazzo Vecchio.
Admission fee: 13€+4€ for pre-booking from their official website http://www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/uffizi/default.aspx. Note: Once booked, you can collect your ticket at the office n. 3 10/15 minutes before your time.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8.15 am-6.50 pm. Closed: on Mondays, 1st January, 1st May, 25th December. You will have to leave the backpack in the cloakroom or carry it on your chest instead of your back, as long as it is not too big.
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
Located in Piazza Della Signoria, one of the top squares in Italy, Palazzo Vecchio, the former Palazzo Della Signoria, was built in the 13th century on the ruins of Palazzo di Fanti and Palazzo dell’Esecutore di Giustizia. The entire palace rests on the site of an ancient Roman theater dating back to the 1st century.
In front of the entrance stand two big statues, one is a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original was moved to the Accademia Gallery) and the other is Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli.
Admission fee: Palazzo Vecchio ticket costs 10 € and an additional 4 € if you want to go up the tower
Hours: From April to September: 9 am-11 pm, on Thursday 9 am-2 pm (the tower closes at 9 pm). Note: If you have a backpack, you need to leave it in the cloakroom.
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) and Giardini Di Boboli (Gardens of Boboli)
Florence is crammed with wonders on both sides of the river. Pitti Palace is a complex of galleries and huge gardens, and one of the not-to-miss Florence attractions. The palace was built in the 15th century with an original design by Brunelleschi and completed by his pupil Luca Francelli.
It has been used as a residence by several royal families and in 1549 was bought by the Medici following the decline of the Pitti dynasty. It currently houses several impressive museums, among which are the Palatine Gallery and the Royal Apartments and is adjacent to the elegant Boboli Gardens.
If you want to feel how the royal families lived, this is the place, just like how you see it in the movies, huge and beautiful. Both Palazzo Pitti and Giardini di Boboli are a must to be included among the things to do in Florence.
Admission fee for the Palace and Boboli Gardens: 23 € (10 € for the Gardens, 13 € for Palace, you can also buy them separately)
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8.15 am-6.50 pm. Consider spending some four hours between the museums and gardens.
Note: You need to leave your backpack in the cloakroom when you enter the museums and you can take it when you are off the palace and go to the gardens.
Click here for prices and availability for the Gardens of Boboli
If you are still wondering what to do in Florence, head to Piazzale Michelangelo. It was designed by Giuseppe Poggi and built in 1869 on a hill with one of the most beautiful views of the city throughout the day, especially during the sunset.
This is your go-to place for your postcard picture. From the city center, you can both walk up there or you can go by bus n. 12. Walking up the stairs and seeing the view is definitely one of the fun things to do in Florence.
Take a bite at Mercato Centrale
Make the most of your lunchtime with a stroll around the stalls of the crowded Mercato Centrale. This is, by all means, one of Florence tourist attractions, but you will still find delicious recipes from Tuscany and other Italian regions.
Here, you can both buy great Italian food souvenirs or have your meal of pasta, pizza, meat and even a scrumptious dessert.
Take a day trip
One of my favorite things to do in Florence has been taking day trips! In five days, we planned two day outings, one to Siena and one to Pisa. Very easy to reach by train and to explore in a day if you are only looking at seeing the most famous landmarks.
Where to eat: Restaurants in Florence
Sadly, in Italy often tourist areas equal not-so-great food. It’s pretty frustrating as these restaurants don’t do justice to the quality and diversity of Italian culinary tradition. Florence is not an exception, and while you can find fantastic eateries a stone’s throw from Piazza Duomo, low-quality restaurants are also common.
This is why we wrote a list of the restaurants we tried in Florence, liked and have no hesitation in recommending. They are in the city center or easy to reach and perfect for sampling well-prepared local delicacies as well as other Italian foods.
A great way to discover and try Tuscan cuisine is to join a great Florence food tour where an expert guide will reveal all the local delicacies.
Tips for planning your trip to Florence
Visiting Florence is often one of the reasons to travel to Italy. The birthplace of the Renaissance has so much to offer even in only its compact historic center that it’s impossible to skip if it’s your first time in Italy. However, proper planning is essential to make the most of your visit and avoid unpleasant surprises.
How to get to Florence
Florence has an international airport 30 minutes drive from the city center and it’s very well connected through public transport.
Depending on where you are, how you get to Florence varies. We took the train from Rome to Florence and we were in Santa Maria Novella station in less than 90 minutes with the Trenitalia high-speed train. Check out the Omio website for all the schedules and prices of all trains to Florence from several Italian cities.
Public transport in Florence
Buses and trams connect the city and are very organized. If you are staying for a couple of days and your hotel is not right in the city center, you might want to buy yourself a 10-ride ticket for 10 €.
Single-ride tickets have a 90-minute validity and cost 1.20 €. So if you buy the cumulative ticket you save 2 € and you only need to swipe it when you board the bus. You can purchase the ticket from the newsagent stand on the northern exit of Santa Maria Novella train station.
READ MORE: Tips for planning a perfect trip to Florence
Where to stay in Florence
In Florence, the most important monuments are within walking distance from Santa Maria Novella train station. Obviously, the ideal area to stay in Florence is around Santa Maria Novella station to Piazza di Porta Romana, but this is also the most expensive option.
Consider Ponte Vecchio bridge as the center of all the monuments you want to visit and it will become easier for you to know how far from the city center you are booking your Florence hotel.
The city offers different accommodation options at different prices. If you are looking for the best luxury hotels in Florence, some of the most popular and exclusive are Hotel Bernini, Savoy Hotel, and the Four Seasons.
Among the best things to do in Florence are also the day trips to Tuscany. The region is breathtakingly beautiful, so there are many Florence day trips you can take. Tuscany tours can take you to cities like Siena, Pisa or Lucca, or, if you prefer some relaxation, you can enjoy the famous countryside with a day out around Montepulciano or Chianti.
Click here for more information on Walks of Italy’s Tuscany Day Trip from Florence to Chianti, Siena and San Gimignano.
READ MORE: How to plan a perfect trip to Italy
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