Florence, Italy, is a small city that is packed with so many things to do. From history to art, shopping to eating, there is something fantastic for every visitor to relish in. No matter the street you turn onto, you’re bound to find art in the architecture and beauty in the everyday. Within just minutes of being in this spectacular city, you will realize how it inspired an entire artistic and cultural movement and became the birthplace of the Renaissance. The centuries-old cobblestone streets are lined with amazing restaurants, fantastic stores (both designer and bargain), and wonderful people.
Sprawling the banks of the Arno River, Florence is steeped in history and was once the capital of Italy. Though it was, at one time, a powerful banking city, Florence has gone through its ups and downs, many of which are chronicled in the city’s fine museums, churches, and palaces, in addition to within the streets themselves. It’s easy to pop in and out of Florence in a day or two, checking each of its famous landmarks off of your list and thinking that you’ve “seen” the city, but really getting to know this charming city in Italy could take forever. And maybe even forever wouldn’t be quite enough.
Top 10 things to do in Florence
Whether it’s your first or your fifth time visiting, your trip to Florence absolutely must include these top 10 highlights.
1. Sleep in a Centuries-Old Palace. Any good vacation starts with a solid home base, and Florence has plenty of options. Budget-friendly hotels can be found closer to the train station and may be less fancy but don’t skimp on service. On the other hand, there are some absolutely gorgeous hotels in Florence–some housed in historic buildings and centuries-old palaces. There are so many fantastic hotels, many of them right in the historic center, so choosing one might be difficult. But, rest assured, any one will provide an unforgettable home away from home. Since the city is so small, you won’t have to worry about where your hotel is located in relation to the main attractions–everything is within walking distance. That said, the Duomo area is where most everything is concentrated, so if you want to stay in the heart of the action, that is the place you want to look. Other lovely areas that are a bit less touristy and are still very convenient are Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, and San Marco.
2. Climb to the Top of the Duomo. You’ll see it as soon as you come into town: the big red dome that tops Santa Maria del Fiore, the duomo. While you can go inside of cathedral for free, it’s worth the inexpensive ticket price to climb the 463 narrow steps, emerging on the tip-top of the cupola to see a breathtaking 360° view of Florence.
3. Pay a Visit to David. Michelangelo’s most famous statue stands proudly in Galleria dell’Accademia, just down the street from the Duomo. Famously carved out of a single piece of Carrara marble, David is elegant, strong, and absolutely perfect. It’s a must-see for art-lovers and everyday tourists alike–anyone going on holiday in Florence will love seeing this iconic figure.
4. Snap a Photo at the Ponte Vecchio. This picturesque bridge spanning the Arno River is one of Florence’s—and Italy’s—icons. The amazing jewelry stores on the bridge lock up at night, each one looking like a treasure chest, while the other side of the shops makes for a picturesque view from along the banks of the Arno. No Florence vacation is complete without a photo in front of the yellow houses on the bridge sitting quaintly in the background.
5. History and Leather. Some of Italy’s most well-known names are memorialized in the lovely Santa Croce, including Galileo, Michelangelo, and Dante. While they’re not all buried there, the amazing statues that commemorate their accomplishments are stunning. While you’re here, be sure to visit the tucked-away leather school, where you can buy some high-quality leather goods and see students learning their craft.
6. Try Bistecca Fiorentina. Every city and region in Italy has its own specialty dishes, and one of Florence’s will leave you stuffed beyond belief. Bistecca Fiorentina consists of a thick steak (which you normally select) cooked ever so slightly so that the outside gets a nice char but the inside is rare. Ask the staff at your hotel where to find the best steak nearby and make sure you bring a friend to split this huge feast!
7. San Lorenzo Market. It’s such a pleasure to leisurely walk through the daily San Lorenzo Market. You may not be moved to purchase anything, but the experience of wandering among the stalls selling everything from tourist souvenirs to clothing is something every visitor must experience. Though you may be tempted to purchase some leather goods here, look elsewhere as the quality is not always top notch.
8. See One of the Best Art Collections in the World. Since Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance, it should come as no surprise that some of the world’s most well-known pieces can be found in the city, and you can’t travel to Florence without paying a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, where you’ll find most of them. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera, as well as Caravaggio’s Bacchus are just some of the well-known pieces. While you’re there, be sure to head up to the terrace café, where you’ll also get a great view of the city.
9. Farmacia Santa Maria Novella. Housed in a former monastery, this tucked away gem sells amazing perfumes and soaps made right on premises using time-honored formulas. Entering the beautiful building is worth the trip alone—its glorious use of marble and dark wood makes it seem more like a castle than a pharmacy.
10. Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato. Take the number 12 or 13 bus (the staff at your hotel will be able to tell you where to find it) up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a jaw-dropping view of Florence. You’ll see the beautiful red dome rise out of a sea of yellow and green buildings. The majesty of the city will astound you. Head further up the hill on foot to San Miniato al Monte for perhaps an even better view.