What to do in Florence, Italy: A feast for the five senses

Adam Jones | 17/04/2019
cityscape of the Duomo in Florence. Landscape of Florence.
Duomo in Florence

While many people will roam the Tuscan hills, at the heart of Tuscany lies its capital — the cultural, artistic, and culinary jewel that is Florence. Considered the home of the Italian Renaissance, Florence was Europe’s most important city for around 250 years, the delights of which remain today.

What to do in Florence? We’ll provide you with a quick Florence travel guide that covers the not-to-miss Florence attractions.

Art in Florence

Two of Italy’s most iconic pieces of art reside in Florence.

The first is Michelangelo’s David, the world-renowned sculpture housed in the Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze. Beyond David, the gallery has an extensive collection; you may want to set aside an afternoon to visit Italy’s second most popular museum. Sign up for our Accademia Gallery Skip-the-line tour to save time and gain quick access to this popular attraction.

The second must-see work of art is Botticelli's Birth of Venus, housed at the Uffizi Gallery. Not only the most popular museum in Florence Italy, the Uffizi is the the most visited in the entire country. It contains the vast collection of the House of Medici, one of Italy’s ruling families for generations. It is considered one of the world’s first modern museums and one of the greatest in the world to this day. Definitely set aside some time to spend here if you’re an art lover. Again, book a Skip-the-line tour to avoid long line-ups to enter the Uffizi.

Other Florence museums of note include the Bargello for its sculptures, the Pitti Palace for its treasures and sumptuous Boboli Gardens, and the Gucci Museum for its modern Italian fashion.

Discovering Florentine architecture

Florence city center is truly an architectural smorgasbord that is easy to view by strolling around the city.

The most important building to see is Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo di Firenze. This is more than Florence’s cathedral, it’s a symbol of the city itself. After posing a challenge to many architects, the dome was finally finished by Brunelleschi, making it one of the engineering marvels of the Renaissance. The cathedral itself is free to enter, though you may want to purchase tickets for the dome, campanile, and Opera del Duomo museum. We recommend climbing either the dome or campanile for the most extraordinary views of Florence.

Take a stroll through the Piazza Signoria to check out its amazing sculptures and wander over to the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city and home to jewellers since the days of the Medici.

If you want a bit of an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, you have a few options. Enjoy the gorgeous landscaped Boboli and Bardini Gardens or take a bus to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a square on the hill that has great views of the city, especially at night. Both are hands-down among some of the best things to do in Florence.

To experience Florence the way the locals do, try the Santo Spirito. This piazza isn’t overly frequented by tourists and can be a great place to have a quick bite to eat, rest and chat, or to have a nice glass of wine. Not all the things to do in Florence have to be fancy.

Where to stay in Florence

If you can manage it, we recommend staying in the city center. It will allow to easily access most of the city’s famous sights and Florence tours.

Hotels in Florence Italy can really vary in price and quality, but here our three of our picks for every budget.

For those on a budget, try the Casa Howard, a beautiful guest house that’s halfway between a boutique hotel and a bed and breakfast. Located in an elegant Florentine palazzo with themed rooms, doubles can start for as low as €90 a night.

For a mid-range holiday, the Loggiato Dei Serviti might be more your style. It’s a 16th century convent that’s been transformed into a boutique hotel filled with lovely antiques. The service is excellent. Make sure you attend the wonderful breakfast in the courtyard. Rooms start around €185 a night.

If you want to fall into the lap of luxury, there’s no need to peruse all the hotels in Florence Italy. Just stay at the Palazzo Vecchietti, long time home to five-star luxury. The writer Dante himself called this palazzo “Paradiso”. Enjoy one of the 14 exquisitely decorated suites or apartments, many with high ceilings, terraces and views. Rates start at about €225 a night.

What and where to eat in Florence

The many great restaurants in Florence will provide you with an extraordinary variety of Tuscan cuisine to sample. A traditional meal could be a Bistecca alla fiorentina — a gargantuan, rustic bone-in steak that can sometimes weigh several pounds. You might also have some crostini toscani, a crusted bread cover with an unctuous Tuscan paté.

For street food be sure to find a trippaio a food cart that serves a Florentine fast food original — lampredotto, a tripe sandwich that Florentines have enjoyed for the past 1000 years. It’s served with a parsley or basil sauce along with herbs and tomatoes on a hearty Tuscan roll. 

Where to eat in Florence? Everywhere! If you’re for some fine dining options try the Enoteca Pinchiorri, one of the top Tuscan restaurants in the city. Expect the finest wines and exclusive ingredients. If Enoteca Pinchiorri is a bit too busy, try Filipepe, purveyor of the city’s best seafood with a tasty selection of shellfish.

That should be enough to get you started exploring Florence, the gorgeous capital of Tuscany.