Florence was the first city of this summer’s epic roadtrip through Tuscany and to be honest – it’s almost a bad thing that it came first, because it set my expectations so high! Florence was such a pleasure in its city aesthetic, incredible food, and warm Summer vibes. ☀️
One minute in the city and it becomes clear – you could return to Florence again and again without seeing it all.
But you have to start somewhere, right? This guide is not about going off the beaten track or the coolest neighborhoods tucked away in Florence’s corners, but simply searching for the very best and most essential Florentine experiences no one should miss in this beautiful city!
Grab a free map at the tourist center near the Duomo and you are set!
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Start the day off with Italian-style breakfast
I have adopted this pseudo-scientific idea that whatever the Italians do must be healthy. As the country with some of the longest lifespans in the world, Italy has to be doing something right. Very right.
Pizza, pasta, gelato, espresso standing up and enough olive oil to bathe in. Count me IN.
There’s something to it, I’m telling you. And the wisdom doesn’t end at dinner – rather, it starts with breakfast. Coffee and something sweet.
See the Florence Cathedral (known as the Duomo)
If there is one sight to see in Florence, this is the one. No other sight is as typically Florence than the orderly, emerald green patchwork facade of the Florence Cathedral. Even when the lines are long, they move quicky, and entrance is free.
Like many churches in Italy, the Florence Cathedral has a strict dresscode. If you’re a woman, cover your knees and shoulders or you will be turned away! If you’re a man, be glad your knees aren’t considered sexy 😉
It took a very creative use of a windbreaker to “extend” my tiny pencil skirt into church-appropriate attire. My effort was honored!
Pick your panoramic view of Florence
You’ve got two main choices for panoramic city views when you come to Florence – climbing the Duomo itself, or, climbing the Tower at Palazzo Vecchio.
But which of these several-hundred-stair-climbs is worth the huff and puff?
I picked the Tower of Palazzo Vecchio because it would actually provide views of the Duomo itself. It’s also a fantastic vantage point to peer down on Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. More details on that soon.
Not so keen on dropping that 💰 for a tough climb? The free option is Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers views of both the tower and the Duomo. No matter which vantage point you pick, prepare to be amazed by the old world beauty of Florence.
Browse leather shops and the open air leather market
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Florence is some kind of world capital for leather products. Italian leather is famous for a reason, and if you’re walking around central Florence you might suddenly find yourself in a sea of colorful purses and bags.
Tips for leather shopping in Florence
- Don’t be afraid to haggle. Even in the proper shops you can save some money this way – surely everything has a tourist markup!
- A lot of the same products appear in different stalls. Do some comparison before buying anything, prices and quality may vary.
- Look closely at what you’re buying. The stuff on the street won’t be as high quality as what you get in a shop, but can be good as a gift for someone who won’t notice ;)
- There’s a lot of fake leather. Check out this video about spotting fake leather to prepare yourself!
Stop for a gelato
In the words of our Airbnb host: “I have no idea why, but the gelato in Florence is REALLY GOOD.”
Italy is home to cool, uniquely Italian ice cream flavors like tiramisu and stracciatella, as well as fruity classics. It’s almost unheard of to get a single scoop, so get used to specifying two flavors.
As with most street foods, it’s best to do as the locals do: find somewhere with a line and then stand in it. Unfortunately I learned only after I was on my way out of town that Florence is home to a gelateria voted the best in all of Italy: Il Procopio. I will definitely head there as soon as I’m lucky enough to spend more time in Florence.
Pop in Mercato Centrale for any edible souvenirs
Something I love about Italians: everytime they go home, they bring back the wares. I’m talking parmesan and olive oil in kilos and liters respectively. After spending enough time in Italy myself, I’m beginning to understand why. It’s. just. DIFFERENT!
Smack in the center of Florence is the Mercato Centrale, the perfect place to pick up your own set of goods to take home in your luggage. While you probably can’t fit a barrel of wine or a complete wheel of cheese, a solid chunk of Parmesan goes a long way (and is cheaper and better than wherever you’re getting it now).
Wander the streets of Florence
If there’s any city that oozes Old World charm, Florence has to be it – and nowhere is this clearer than simply walking through the old town. Practically every street in Florence could sell a million postcards. So take your time, pick up another gelato, and stroll along the river or down any street you see.
Just don’t get ploughed over by a scooter while you gawk and the gorgeous Florentine streets and alleys! Easier said than done.
See Ponte Vecchio at dusk
With miniature buildings jutting out from its sides – Ponte Vecchio reminds me of a bridge with lovehandles. Its gorgeous, warm colors and noble arches will remind you once again that you could be in no other place than Florence.
Stroll through the shops on the bridge and down the bank of the river to catch a view of Ponte Vecchio from the west. Here the setting sun casts a warm glow over the bridge and the river, making for the perfect photo op!
Start your evening with aperitivi
As I was saying earlier – the Italians are a very healthy people and I’m sure the concept of aperitivo has something to do with that as well. The basic concept is buying a drink before dinner and getting to nibble on an Italian buffet for free.
Limoncello: delicious and dangerous.
Have beef for dinner
Florence’s most famous dish is Bistecca alla Florentina, also known as T-bone steak, Florence-style. Basically, you get either 1 or 1.5kg of beef, cooked briefly and served bloody.
Sadly, I underestimated my ability to eat a kilo of meat myself, so I didn’t order one – only to see the girl next to me devour one on her own. As turns out, 1kg of meat is totally doable with determination.
Not up for the challenge? You can still get some local beef, and it’s going to be fantastic. I had beef with truffle sauce (basically everything in Florence comes in a truffle variety), and it was divine, even though my boyfriend didn’t want to kiss me afterwards. You do what you must!
And as the saying goes: house wine is fine when you’re in Italy. You’ll spend enough on every other meal that going for the less expensive wine is totally acceptable (and encouraged!).
A few practical tips for visiting Florence
- Parking in Florence is hard. Parking within city limits is not allowed for non-residents whatsoever, and even locals are restricted to the neighborhood they live in! You’ll probably have to fork out some cash (in the range of 30 EUR) per day to park your car in a garage.
- Italian dinnertime is typically between 8PM and 9:30PM, or 10PM at the latest. Meaning – you’re not going to get the best restaurants if you wait too late into the night to eat. Show up at 7PM instead to beat even the locals to the dinner table.
- Visit in the shoulder season for fewer crowds – but not that many fewer – It takes a bit longer for the crowds to flush out of Florence, so you’ll have to wait until later in the Autumn before you can really expect to have some space to yourself.
Have you been to Florence? What would be your number one tip?
Share your thoughts in the comments!