A detailed travel guide to the top tourist attractions and things to do in Florence. What to see, when to visit and where to stay.
Are you current planing a trip to Tuscany? And now you are wondering about the best things to do in Florence? Then you are not alone! An average of 13 million tourists visits the city and the surrounding area each year (so, make sure to read my full Tuscany guide here).
Florence is one of the most cultural and historical cities I know. Dante, Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo, Raphael, and Leonardo Da Vinci all left their eternal mark on the city with a population of 380,000. I visited quite a couple of times and felt it’s about time to write a detailed Florence travel guide for you! For me, it is truly one of the top places to visit in Italy!
Whether it’s climbing medieval towers, exploring Renaissance palaces, eating Italian ice cream or driving around on a scooter, there are just so many fun things to do in Florence. It’s easy to spend 3 days or more in the capital of Tuscany and a logical step after visiting Milan or Rome (read my guide).
But let’s start with the list of my favorite tourist attractions in Florence, shall we?
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1. Florence Cathedral
The Cattredrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the one spot you must-see when you are in town. The outstanding medieval complex is the third-largest church in Italy and famous for its multi-colored marble exteriors.
The free-standing dome is a true marvel of architecture and was conceived by the (now) famed architect Filippo Brunelleschi. You can climb all the way to the top, but you will have to buy your tickets days in advance (you can buy them here). Hard to believe it was built in the 15th century!
There is usually a huge queue to get inside Florence cathedral, so if you are short on time, you might want to skip it. Why? Other than a magnificent fresco on the underside of the dome, it’s rather austere.
Instead, get yourself tickets for the Baptistery of Saint John in front of the church, where you can marvel at the gigantic golden mosaic under the octagonal dome. It also happens to be one of the oldest buildings in the city (construction started in 1059!)
Insider tip: If you can’t get tickets for the cupola, climb the Campanile tower instead. The view is actually even better, as you get to see the fantastic cupola of the Duomo from here.
2. Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery is my personal favorite place in Florence. The former seat of the city magistrate is now home to one of the finest collections of art on this planet.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michaelangelo – the list of the world-famous artists on display in the venerable halls of the museum is as long as illustrious. You will also be able to see the outstanding collection of Roman sculptures of the Medici family on the upper floor.
Note: You should calculate 3-4 hours for visiting the Uffizi Gallery and definitely buy your tickets in advance (you can do so here) – or face queues of 2-3 hours in the peak season.
3. Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio or Vecchio Bridge is probably the most iconic sight in Florence. The medieval bridge across the river Arno still features an impressive line of colorful little shops.
These days, you’ll only find jewelers there, but it was once a row of butchers. The oppressive stink made the city council vote for less odorous trades to ply their craft on the important connection between the two sides of the city.
Tip: Catch the best view of the bridge from in front of the Uffizi gallery. Ponte Santa Trinita on the other side is also good, but the houses are less colorful from that side.
4. Palazzo Vecchio
The town hall of Florence should definitely be on your list of things to do in Florence. From the top of the 94-meter high tower, you will be able to enjoy the best view in the city.
Inside, you will be able to experience the full splendor of the Medici and all those who followed them ruling the city. The Salone dei Cinquecento, the hall of the Five Hundred, is certainly the main sight. A gigantic chamber of epic proportions (170 ft long and 75 ft wide) with frescos adorning all sides.
Take your time and stroll through the endless corridors on the second floor, where you will find the former living quarters of the priori and of course the world-famous Hall of Geographical Maps (Stanza della Guardaroba).
5. Pitti Palace
Florence might be famous for its Renaissance art, but the city hardly stopped flourishing after the death of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. On the other side of the river, you have to stop by at the Palazzo Pitti. In 1549, the Medici acquired the property from the Pitti family and turned it into the chief residence of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany – which it remained ever since. Even Napoleon used it as a power base in the 18th century.
Inside you are able to visit the staterooms. But actually Pitti palace is another famous art gallery. Raphael, Tizian, Carravagio or Botticelli – the unique collection is almost as fabulous as the one in the Uffizi (which is why you really shouldn’t visit it on the same day).
Note: Definitely also visit the treasury museum on the ground floor. It may be in need of a better light concept, but the outstanding precious items in gold, ebony, and diamonds are worth a visit nevertheless.
6. Galleria dell’Accademia
Michelangelo’s colossal statue of David belongs to the top artworks ever created by mankind. He captured both a timeless beauty in pure white marble and introduced a novel twist on an old topic. You don’t see David vanquishing Goliath, but instead, a youthful man concerned about the battle ahead.
If you want to see Michaelangelo’s David, you have to go to the Galleria dell’Accademia some 500 meters North of Florence cathedral. While the statue is certainly the centerpiece, there are actually quite a lot of other lovely art-works to be seen. So, bring some spare time to breathe it all in.
Note: If you want to avoid the lines, absolutely book your tickets in advance. You can do so here.
7. Boboli Gardens
You’ll find the green lung of the city right behind the Pitti Palace. The fantastic Boboli Gardens offer a welcome respite after visiting all the churches and museums.
The fantastic formal garden dates back to the 16th century and is home to many artificial lakes, fountains, sculptures and even grottos. There’s also a little tea house and a belvedere offering a fantastic view of the old town. So, don’t miss it!
8. Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella holds the title of the city’s first great basilica and is also the principal Dominican church. But that’s not why you should be visiting. Instead, let yourself be amazed by the fantastic fresco’s adorning every inch of its wall. The high altar is really beyond amazing
There’s also a big cloister attached to Santa Maria Novella you really should reserve some time exploring. There are many little niches and chapels inside – each home to unique artwork from famous Renaissance artists and beyond.
9. Bargello National Museum
A noteworthy museum not many tourists have on their list of things to see in Florence is the Palazzo del Bargello. Which is quite ironic, as everyone wants to see Michelangelo‘s David Galleria dell’Accademia, but few know there are works from the famed artist at the National Museum as well.
There’s also plenty by Donatello and even a plastic rendering of the famous Anghiari Battle.
Note: The National Museum already closes at 2 pm. So, time your visit right!
10. Cappelle Medicee
A local once told me that if she had to pick only one attraction out of the many places to visit in Florence, then it would be the Cappelle Medicee. And truly, the domed chapel is beyond stunning. The whole interior is covered with marble inlaid with marble and semi-precious stones. You don’t want to know how much it costs and how many craftsmen it took. It’s mind-boggling!
But that’s not all: Make sure to visit the Sagrestia Nuova, which was designed and executed by Michelangelo. The serene Medici tomb with its clear lines and solemn statues is no less astonishing.
11. Basilica di San Lorenzo
The Basilica di San Lorenzo was concentrated in 393 AD and claims the title of the oldest church in Florence. It is the name of the larger complex that houses the Cappelle Medicee (though separate tickets are needed), the Laurentian Library by Michelangelo and the Old Sacristy by Filippo Brunelleschi.
The church looks rather austere from outside, as Michelangelo’s proposed facade was never completed. Inside is a whole different story. Brunelleschi created an outstanding Renaissance ensemble that looks modern even today. Hard to imagine this was actually conceived and built in the 15th century.
The lines are rather clean, there’s not much golden splendor or intricate stucco to be seen – but I guess that is part of the genius behind the design!
12. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
If you want to get intimate with Florence Cathedral, you simply have to visit the Cathedral Museum – better known as the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Inside, you will find the original doors of the Baptistery and many original sculptures and artworks that are preserved inside the museum to stand the test of time.
Most notably of all is certainly Michelangelo’s second Pieta, which is utterly divine. But don’t discount the rest of the collection either. The presentation is quite modern and will give you a very good understanding of all the work and genius that went into building one of the greatest churches on this planet.
13. Basilica di Santa Croce
South-East of the Duomo (roughly 500 meters) you will find the Basilica of the Holy Cross. It is quite the unique place as the church integrates stylistic quotes from all important Florentine eras into one conclusive ensemble. Marvel at the medieval crucifixes, the renaissance style frescos or the neo-Gothic marble facade.
You will also find quite a couple of outstanding graves inside. Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Dante, and Rossini were buried here. There’s even a commemorative plaque to Leonardo da Vinci. So, another must-see in Florence.
14. Explore Fiesole & the Medici villa
The Medici family left its mark all over the city. But if you want to see a more private side of their life, you have to head to the suburb of Fiesole in the hills to the North. Here, you will find a former villa of the Medici.
In Fiesole, you will also find a lovely little Etruscan museum and quite the well-preserved Roman theater. The view of Florence is also quite spectacular from the hills.
Insider tip: When in Fiesole, definitely make sure to stop at Bucca delle Fatte for the best pizza in Florence. I am not joking – it’s perfect and not the touristy stuff you’ll get served all over the old town.
15. Day trip to Pisa
You’ve probably heard of the leaning tower of Pisa before. But did you know it’s only 90 kilometers away from Florence? So, why not go on a day trip to see the medieval church complex in person. It’s worth it, promise!
Note: Absolutely make sure to buy your tickets to climb the leaning tower in advance! Consider booking a full Tuscany day trip (like this one)
16. Piazza della Signoria
You really cannot escape the fantastic Piazza della Signoria on your stroll through the old town of Florence. The fountain of Neptune and the Palazzo Vecchio are certainly dominating the square. While the Loggia dei Lanzi, a wide-open arched space housing important Renaissance art will, draw your attention just as quickly.
You’ll also find the Equestrian Monument of Cosmo I here, and of course many restaurants and gelaterias. So, take your time and breath it all in while sipping an Italian coffee or eating a freshly baked pizza.
Trivia: The square was already used by the Romans (when Florence was known as Florentina) and archeologists even found the remains of a neolithic site underneath.
17. Riccardi Medici Palace
If you got a little spare time in Florence, and you are not already sick of visiting all the churches and museums, then the Riccardi Medici Palace will be a great addition to your Florence itinerary. The palace is particularly famous for the outstanding Magi Chapel by Benozzo Gozzoli painted around 1459 for the Medici family.
18. Vasari Corridor
One of the most peculiar buildings in Florence is the Vasari Corridor. It connects the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti via a secret passage above the ground. It’s roughly 700 meters long and home to an outstanding art collection of self-portraits.
Once, Cosomi I de’ Medici ordered Giorgio Vasari to build it for him. Having replaced the Republic of Florence, the duke was not especially eager to walk in public between the government palace and his residence. The best place to view the undulating length of the corridor is from the windows of the Uffizi Gallery on the second floor.
Note: The Vasari Corridor is currently undergoing renovation and will open to the public in 2021.
19. Day trip to Siena
If you thought Florence was the crowning gem of Tuscany, then you haven’t seen Siena yet. The medieval city is beyond fantastic. The Cathedral of Siena is out of this world and probably worth more than just a visit.
And of course, there is a fabulous and well-preserved old-town with many little museums and church just begging to be visited. You might also want to check out the oldest hospital in the world. The town is truly a world-wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site for a reason!.
Note: Visit during the bi-annual horse race, the Palio di Siena, for the extra kick!
20. Piazzale Michelangelo
If you are looking for the place with the best panoramic view of Florence, then the Piazzale Michelangelo is the place you need to visit. Sunsets are said to be the best time to enjoy the view, but the spacious terrace will be beautiful throughout the day.
The Florentine piazza was designed by Guiseppe Poggi and houses a couple of bronze copies of Michelangelo’s greatest designs hence the name. It’s truly a great place to all the bridges and church into one frame
Other things to do in Florence, Italy
Florence is not only a big city, but it’s also a very old city. As such, there are many other places to visit in Florence that I did not feature on this list. Time will be your main constraint. Know then, that there are quite a lot of other beautiful churches, museums and palaces sprinkled throughout the city.
I particularly loved the outstanding altar in Orsanmichele, but of course, you could also visit the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Museo Galileo and so many other points of interest in Florence like the Piazza della Repubblica or the San Lorenzo Market. If you are strolling through the Boboli Gardens, I highly recommend checking the fantastic porcelain museum (entrance is free) at the top of the hill.
Normally, the Firenzecard (85€) won’t pay off – but if you really plan to visit a lot of museums, then consider buying it. Unfortunately, you will still have to make reservations for the Cupola, the Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Academia – so it’s a bit awkward.
Note: I did not write about the amazing local food at all. But certainly, make sure to sample the amazing Tuscan food & wine. Pizza might be yummy, but there is so much more, so make sure you try something new as well!
Best hotels in Florence
Florence is both a big and popular city. There are probably a thousand different options and it’s really hard to take a pick. As there is no metro in town, it’s probably quite smart to pick a hotel in the city center – especially when your time is limited. Expect rather high prices, meaning 150-250€ a night for a 4-star hotel, 50€ for a hostel, and 600€+ for the luxury hotels.
The hills around Florence can be a good choice as well. They offer a fantastic view of the beautiful city and it’s often a bit easier to plan your day trip from there. Here are my recommendations:
The best luxury hotels in Florence:
- Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
- St. Regis Florence
- Belmond San Michele
(my favorite; it’s outside the city but there is a complimentary shuttle every hour and the view is amazing; read my review here)
Mid-price hotels in Florence:
Super budget hotels in Florence:
At the end of the day, you really have to decide what you want to do in Florence. A luxury hotel only makes sense if you plan time to use the pool or terrace after a long day walking through the city. If you just plan to sleep there and enjoy the nightlife, something more budget-friendly is probably the smarter idea
Best time to visit Florence
The best time to visit Florence is May or September when temperatures are warm, but not oppressive and the weather quite favorable.
The worst time to visit Florence is probably July and August. It will be quite hot in the city (above 30° Celsius / 86° Fahrenheit) AND this is the time of the school holidays in Europe, so it will be packed on top of that. Easter Holidays are also often quite crowded.
Other than that, and if you prepare wisely, you can basically visit Florence all year round. Winter is rather mild and sees fewer tourists. You won’t have the city all to yourself, but there will be virtually no queues and your visit will be so much more relaxed.
Further tips for visiting Florence
Florence is a very popular city among tourists. At the same time, a lot of the tourist attractions are very old and weren’t built with millions of tourists visiting them each year. If you want to see it all and avoid standing in line, you absolutely have to buy your tickets in advance.
It also pays off to go with a local guide, as there are so many details you could possibly get lost in – all the while missing out the highlights.
You might also be tempted to see everything in a day, but you will at least need 2 rushed days or 3 comfortable days to visit all the main attractions on this list of things to do in Florence.
Also, remember that you can use Florence as a home base for exploring a couple of other highlights in Tuscany. So, 5 days could be a good idea if you don’t want to change accommodation too often.
Most of the attractions in Florence close rather early and open somewhat late. 10 am until 5 pm is the norm. Thus, it pays off to plan your day wisely if you don’t want to stand before closed doors!
Last, but certainly not least, I recommend you to read my detailed Italy packing list, so you come prepared.