Florence (Firenze to locals) is the capital of the Tuscany region and one of the most exciting cities in Italy, a place characterized by its love of art, commitment to good gelato, and presence in novels. It is considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, was once the center of medieval European trade, and has been called “the Athens of the Middle Ages.”
This yellow-building-ed, terracotta-roofed city is the perfect introduction to Italy — not as sprawling as Rome, easier to navigate than Venice, and full of art, history, and culture to experience.
Though summer is, obviously, the sunniest time to visit Florence, it’s not the most ideal season. Instead, head there during May or October. These months are slightly less crowded than those in the summer, and a bit less humid, too. Just make sure to book early.
Speaking of making early plans, the attractions in Florence are very popular and it’s typically best to buy your tickets ahead of time. Purchase tickets for the Uffizi Gallery online, and get a combined pass for the landmarks in Piazza del Duomo (the Cathedral and Duomo, Giotto’s Campanile, and the Baptistery). If you plan on frequenting a great number of Florence’s 72 museums and art galleries, the Firenze Card may be best for you.
Florence’s museums abide by various schedules, so be sure to check if they are closed on certain days of the week or have special opening hours.
While navigating Florence, it’s best to see the city on foot! Florence is incredibly walkable compared to larger European cities — you can get to all major sites in the city within 30 minutes or less. The taxis in Florence are fairly expensive, so it’s best to only use one if you need quick transport from the train station when you arrive. If, by chance, you do need to travel to the outer suburbs of Florence, the city’s bus system is inexpensive and easy to navigate.
Though the major stores and restaurants will accept credit cards, like many cities in Italy, it’s easiest to carry cash while in Florence (especially if you plan on stopping at some of the local markets or buying souvenirs from street vendors). Even the establishments that accept credit cards usually won’t allow you to use one for small purchases.
Looking to bring home a souvenir or two? Florence is known for its leather and paper goods. Check out the local stationary stores or leather workshops and pick out a handmade, usable treasure. Florence has been a center of art for centuries, and is still a haven for artists of all kinds. Find street artists around the Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery, in the Piazza di Santa Croce, and around the Duomo.
In addition to acting as the historical center of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is also where gelato was born. For that reason, the city has more gelato shops than any other in Italy. So eat gelato, and lots of it! The best way to know if a gelato shop is of good quality is to look at the color of the pistachio — it should look natural, not too bright. Also make sure to check the prices. A small cup or cone shouldn’t cost more than a few euro.
You’ll notice that locals tend to eat dinner later at night; it’s not uncommon for families or groups to be eating at 9 p.m. Do as they do! Keep in mind that you’ll likely pay for water at restaurants, and that the waiters aren’t being rude. Restaurant staff in Italy typically don’t check in after they bring your food — they let you eat in peace and rely on you to let them know if you need something.
Finally, take the Italian cuisine home with you by taking a cooking class! Florence is the perfect place to learn from the locals themselves. Try MaMa Florence Cooking School, or search for unique dining/learning options on the EatWith website.
Brush up on your Italian, grab your camera, and get ready to explore Firenze!
Envision perfect photos from Florence with the help of our Instagrammer’s Guide to Florence, then check out our Florence Travel Recommendations article for more suggestions on food, shopping, and activities around the city.
Header image by Nico Schinco of the Ponte Vecchio and Arno River.