Florence (Tuscany)

The Essential Guide to Florence

Florence, the regional capital of Tuscany, has often bewitched its visitors, with a rich history stemming from the Roman times (whose remains can be seen under the Palazzo Vecchio and the Cathedral). The artistic heritage is the reason many come to visit, with artists like Michelangelo, Donatello, Ghiberti, all making their mark here, and that's just the beginning. There is much to see and experience in this vibrant city thanks to ancient nobles like the Medici who were largely responsible for much of the progress the city has enjoyed in its illustrious past.

Planning your trip to Florence - what you need to know

Best times to visit Florence

Florence is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy and Europe, so much so that a ‘real’ low season no longer exists, except for a short window between early January and late February. The winter months are relatively less crowded, especially during the week, with lower room rates. High season typically runs from early April to late October, plus Christmas and New Year; that is when hotel rates are higher and museums at their most crowded. In terms of weather, Florence has hot and humid summers with average daytime highs of about 95 °F (35 °C); winters are cool and wet, with snowfalls a rare event. Cold showers may continue until Easter. The most pleasant times to visit are late spring and early fall.

Language

Italian is the first language of Florence. Many locals, and especially those who work in restaurants, hotels, museums and places associated with tourism, speak English and other languages.

Currency  

Florence, just like the rest of Italy, uses the euro. You'll see the symbol € used to show prices. Other currencies are not accepted.

Credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are generally accepted, but always have cash on hand for businesses such as street food stalls, craft markets, small independent shops and trattorias, and small-priced service items like tours, laundry, audio guides, etc. 

American Express and Diner’s Club cards are not widely accepted in Italy, so check with your hotel or restaurant in advance if you plan on using them.

Traveling to Florence - how to get there

Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci airport (FLR) is located only four kilometers from the city center, and is reachable in about 15 minutes by taxi, or in about 20 with the Busitalia "Vola in Bus / Firenze Airline“ shuttle, which operates between the airport and the central railway station of Santa Maria Novella. By car, it is just off the A11 and A1 Firenze Nord exit. The cheapest option is the Tramway Line T1, which, at €1.50, connects the airport with Santa Maria Novella station. 

Florence airport is connected to some of Europe’s major airports, including London Gatwick, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Paris. 

Pisa’s G. Galilei airport (PSA), about 80 km from Florence, has a larger runway than Amerigo Vespucci, which means larger aircrafts may land there. It is also served by low cost airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet.  

The main train station in Florence is Santa Maria Novella, served by hundreds of trains every day, including Frecciarossa and Italo high-speed trains. 

*Check our ultimate guide to train travel in Italy

If you are getting into the centro storico by car, check with your hotel for the need to have a driving permit as the center has many ‘limited traffic zones’, or ZTL.  

How to get around in Florence  

Florence is best explored on foot. Most of Florence’s attractions are concentrated in its small city center, and you can reach them all within a few minutes or 20 at the most when heading to Oltrarno, on the other side of the Arno river. 

If you wish to reach the famous panoramic viewpoint at Piazzale Michelangelo, you may take bus no. 12; if you don’t mind walking, it is only 20 minutes on foot (with uphill stretches) from Ponte Vecchio. 

There is no subway in Florence. 

Driving in Florence is not recommended (nor needed). Most of Florence’s historic center is closed to unauthorized traffic during the day. A car may be useful for trips out of town, such as a day trip to Chianti, where you may tour the wineries and drive along pleasant countryside roads amid rolling hills and cypresses. 

Insider's tip 

Whenever possible, book your tickets for museums and monuments well in advance. Booking online will cost a few extra euros, but it will allow you to enter through a different line from those without a ticket, saving you time. This is especially true for the Uffizi Galleries and the Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David.  

Florence’s state-owned museums, galleries, archaeological sites, parks and gardens are free to enter on the first Sunday of each month. As you may expect, on those Sundays they’re popular with locals, too, so plan to show up early or visit one of the lesser-known sites. 

Many of Florence’s most popular museums, such as the Uffizi, Accademia and Pitti Palace, are closed on Mondays. Plan your visit accordingly. There are many other great places open on Mondays, including the Boboli Gardens, located directly behind Pitti Palace, open every day; all of the Cathedral complex, the Opera del Duomo Museum, the Medici Chapels, the Brancacci Chapel, Palazzo Vecchio and others. Check the official tourism website of the city of Florence and individual websites for detailed information.   

What to see in Florence 

The Renaissance was officially born in Florence, a city that is often referred to as its “cradle.” A different way of thinking about man and the world, inspired by local culture and humanism, contributed new ways to produce literature, art and architecture. The departure from tradition, which began in the very early years of the 15th century by masters such as Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, was not immediately accepted by patrons, and largely misunderstood; later, the Renaissance took hold and spread to other Italian courts and to Europe, thanks to the movements of the artists.

The second phase of the Renaissance took place at the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent, from about 1450 until his death in 1492; The last phase, datable between 1490 and 1520, sees the presence in Florence of three geniuses who greatly influenced the generations to come: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Raphael Sanzio. 

And now we all get to enjoy their artistic and architectural marvels. 

  • Museums

The Uffizi boast an outstanding collection of ancient sculptures and paintings, from the Middle Ages to the Modern period. The collections of paintings from the 14th-century and Renaissance period include masterpieces that are famous worldwide such as Primavera and Birth of Venus by Botticelli; other featured artists include Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. The Uffizi occupy the first and second floors of a large 16th-century building designed by Vasari. The museum includes a precious collection of ancient statues and busts from the Medici family.

Smaller and more specialized than the Uffizi, the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze is best known as the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. It also has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, mostly from the period 1300–1600.  

Cosimo I de’ Medici and his wife Eleanor of Toledo chose Pitti Palace in 1550 as the new Grand Ducal residence; it soon became the symbol of the Medici’s power over Tuscany. It later became the home of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, which succeeded the Medici from 1737, and the Kings of Italy from the House of Savoy, who inhabited it from 1865. The palace still bears the name of its first owner, the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, who started its construction in the mid-1400s. Pitti Palace is on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio, and houses four important museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes, the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Museum of Costume and Fashion.

  • Churches and monuments

Florence’s Cathedral, or Santa Maria del Fiore, is the world’s third largest church, after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. It is 153 meters long, 90 meters high, and 90 meters wide. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, it was dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, the flower (‘fiore’) in question being a reference to the lily, symbol of the city. The Cathedral of Florence, also known simply as the Duomo, sits on Piazza del Duomo, where you can also find the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. Together they form the Cathedral complex, part of the Unesco World Heritage site that comprises the whole historic center of Florence. The Cathedral complex is Florence’s major tourist attraction and often the first site tourists flock to during a visit to the city. For this reason, it is advisable to book your entrance ticket in advance, especially if you want to climb up the world-famous cupola designed by Brunelleschi and Giotto’s Campanile. Many steps, but worth the effort! 

The Basilica di Santa Croce is the main Franciscan church in Florence, located on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 meters south-east of the Duomo. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, the poet Foscolo and the composer Rossini. 

The Ponte Vecchio was the first segmental arch bridge built in the West and therefore is considered an outstanding engineering achievement of the Middle Ages. It crosses the Arno River and was completed in 1345. It connects piazza del Duomo and piazza della Signoria with the area of Pitti Palace and Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno. Today, it is famous also for the shops of jewelers and art dealers, while in the past butchers, tanners, and farmers initially occupied the shops.

The 14th century Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence, overlooking the famous Piazza della Signoria, which holds a copy of the David and comprises a gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. It is a massive, crenellated fortress-palace in Romaneque style, the original seat of the Signoria of Florence, the ruling body of the Republic of Florence. Top attractions inside include the Salone Dei Cinquecento, whose walls are lined with monumental paintings of Medici and city history; Francesco I’s study, designed by Vasari and decorated with paintings, frescoes, and statues; the Sala dei Gigli, or Lily Room, with a large fresco by Ghirlandaio and the original of the famous bronze group Judith and Holofernes by Donatello.  

  • Parks and gardens

Directly behind Pitti Palace are the splendid Boboli Gardens, which constitute an integral part of the Pitti Palace visit. The Medici family established the layout of the gardens, creating the Italian garden style that would become a model for many European courts. The gardens are adorned with ancient and Renaissance statues, large fountains, and grottos, the most famous being the one by Bernardo Buontalenti

San Miniato al Monte, one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque-Florentine architecture in the city, is located on one of the highest points in the city and offers a picture-perfect view of Florence. To the left, you’ll see the hill where the Boboli Gardens stand, overlooked by the Forte Belvedere, the largest fortress in Florence built to protect the Pitti Palace and the Oltrarno area.

What to eat in Florence - eat like a local

The cuisine of Florence has a deeply Tuscan soul, and features five basic ingredients: saltless Tuscan bread; extra-virgin olive oil from the hills; meat (grilled, Florentine-style steaks, roasted and / or braised game such as wild boar, rabbit and deer), legumes such as beans and chickpeas, and Chianti wine.

Originally from the area of Florence and Arezzo, the ribollita is a typical example of how leftovers are always better the next day. Ribollita is a soup made with cannellini and borlotti beans, stale bread, black cabbage, kale, and inexpensive vegetables such as carrot, chard, potatoes and onion.

Meat lovers must try bistecca alla Fiorentina, one of the most traditional dishes in the city. Made with Chianina breed veal loin, it should be at least 5 cm thick and is always served on the bone, cooked on the grill over high heat for about 3-4 minutes per side.

Florentines are beans lovers. Fagioli all’uccelletto, a vegetarian side dish made with tomato sauce, garlic, sage, rosemary, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil, is a locals' favorite. 

Florence’s signature street food, lampredotto, is rather challenging for most: two slices of bread filled with succulent entrails, the bovine stomach.

Typical sweets include zuccotto, soft sponge cake soaked with alchermes, and stuffed with a delicious ricotta cream, and berlingozzo, a donut-shaped cake typical of the Carnival season. 

Florence Highlights

Inspired Stays
Art
Museums
Foodie Guide

What you can't miss in Florence

Where is Florence

Top Experiences in Florence

Best places to stay in Florence

Properties for sale in Florence

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Recipes From Tuscany

Recipes

Pappa al pomodoro---a piatto povero, “poor-man’s dish,” is another such creation by Tuscan farmers to make use of stale bread and bumper crops of tomatoes, a New World food introduced into Italy in the 16thc.

Recipes
Made with an olive oil-enrichened bread dough and studded with fresh rosemary and sweet sultanas, these delightfully sticky, criss-crossed buns were traditionally served on giovedì santo or Holy Thursday in the Renaissance city.
Recipes
Amy Gulick shares another recipe from the Italian cucina povera tradition— with simple, ‘poor’ ingredients invariably found in the pantry.
Recipes
Our food writer Amy Gulick shares a bit of local history in her area of Tuscany along with this tasty recipe for ricotta and rosemary schiacciata

What others are saying about Florence

@Coral asks:

I am planning on living in Florence for a year. Can anyone recommend a good agency for a long-term rental?

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What is the property market currently like in considering the CV-19 situation and what are the thoughts regarding how will it affected after CV-19 is (hopefully) ended?

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