The best things to do in Florence, the famous, artistic capital of Tuscany.
Florence remains high on many travelers’ bucket lists, as it should.
As the birthplace of the Renaissance, this beautiful area is home to legendary architecture and world famous artwork. As the capital of Italy’s region of Tuscany, Florence is full of amazing food and wine. As a hub for American study abroad students, this touristy city is crawling with fun nightclubs and entertainment.
If you are lucky enough to visit Florence, or Firenze as the Italians call it, here are some activities you should try to fit into your visit. Some of these things are touristy, but worth it. Keep in mind lots of the outdoor activities are more enjoyable in spring or summer because of the sunny weather, but the crowds get worse as peak tourist season approaches. Florence is still gorgeous in the winter, if you dress warmly and embrace the Christmas atmosphere.
1. Check Out The Uffizi Gallery
This two-story art gallery is packed with paintings, portraits, sculptures, and statues. Here you can find iconic masterpieces by Boticelli, Michelangelo, Giotto, and Leonardo Da Vinci. If you visit on the first Sunday of the month you can go for free, but the line gets incredibly long so be prepared to wait. Otherwise the gallery costs 20 euros and is open from 8:15am to 6:50pm and is closed on Mondays.
2. See Michaelangelo’s David At Galleria dell’Accademia
This art museum has less famous works than the Uffizi, but is home to one of the world’s most magnificent marble statues: Michaelangelo’s David. The cost to enter is 12 euros and it is also open from 8:15am to 6:50pm. Unless you’re an avid art fan, David is the most worthwhile artwork to see here.
3. Visit The Gucci Museum
This small museum costs six euros and is open every day from 10am to 8pm. If you’re not a huge fashion lover, it isn’t worth the money. But if you have a student ID card you can enter for free, in which case it can be cool to browse through the crazy patterned clothes and accessories and observe the vibrant art on the walls.
4. Watch The Sunset From Piazza Michelangelo
The best panoramic view over the city is from Piazza Michelangelo, which you can reach by following numerous winding paths or staircases up a hill. The hike is only about 15 minutes, and at the top you can chill on the giant stone staircase and watch the sunset. Most people buy a bottle of wine from the grocery store for a couple euros and bring plastic cups up to the stairs because Italy is awesome and allows you to drink responsibly in public. Or you can order prosecco from the cafe next to the stairs, if you’re feeling fancy and you can afford it.
5. Experience The Nightlife
After enjoying Piazza Michelangelo, continue the festivities at one of Florence’s many bars or clubs. Study abroad students and travelers alike tend to congregate at Green Street Bar and Lion’s Fountain, two lively, casual bars within a five minute walk of each other. Popular nightclubs include Space and Babylon, both of which play different types of amazing dance music. Jazz Club is a more hole-in-the-wall type of place, where you can pay 7 euros to hang with locals and listen to funky live music. The best part about Florence is how small the city center is, so you can walk everywhere without having to pay for cabs or Ubers.
6. Eat Gelato
No matter what Italian city you visit, gelato is a must. Take every opportunity to enjoy this creamy, delicious, heavenly version of ice cream because the second you leave Italy you will miss it terribly. Florence has no shortage of gelato shops, but try to avoid the ones in crowded, touristy areas where the gelato is piled up into a mountain and is a little too vibrantly colored. The best tasting gelato looks the least impressive, and sometimes it’s even hidden from view in the deep, refrigerated compartments. Edoardo’s next to the Duomo has amazing gelato with interesting artisan flavors like mango or red wine sorbet, and they even have vegan flavors.
7. Browse The Shops
Florence is full of tacky souvenir shops, but you can also find many gems selling unique crafts and other goods. Signum is an aesthetically pleasing craft store near Ponte Vecchio that sells, maps, stationary, postcards, and other artsy trinkets. Next to the Duomo, you can also find Move On Record Store, where you can browse through records of every genre. The Leather Market is an outdoor street full of stalls so it isn’t a store. But this is a great place to find some authentic Italian leather for decent prices if that interests you.
8. Climb To The Best View Of The Duomo
Florence’s largest, most famous, and arguably most impressive landmark is the Duomo, also known as The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. You can pay to climb the Dome of the Cathedral, and pay to climb Campanile di Giotto, the tower next to the Duomo. But for all you budget travelers out there, the best view of the Duomo is free and slightly hidden. On Via Roma at the front of the Piazza Del Duomo, there is a brown door with a small plaque inscribed “Las Terrazas Del Duomo”. You can walk in for free and take the stairs or elevator to the 5th floor, then follow the stone staircase to the rooftop and enjoy an amazing view of the entire Duomo and the surrounding landscape.
9. Eat At Gusta Pizza
Every study abroad student in Florence has posted a picture of a Gusta Pizza on Instagram, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s overrated and not authentic. The pizza here is absolutely incredible, and a classic Margherita costs six euros. You can watch the chefs mold the dough, spread the sauce, toss on the toppings and throw them in the giant oven at incredible speed, and every pizza is cooked to perfection.
10. Tour The Boboli Gardens
For a taste of nature in Florence, pay seven euros to stroll through the greenery of the Boboli Gardens. Open from 8:15am to 6:30pm, this beautiful park has lots of statues and sculptures from the 16th-18th centuries. The gardens are also free on the first Sunday of the Month, though of course the line is always super long. The 7 euros is worth it otherwise but if you don’t feel like paying and still want somewhere to relax in the sun, the slanted concrete right in front of the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens is a popular spot to chill out and picnic.
11. Sample Food At Mercato Centrale
For the biggest conglomeration of amazing food, visit the Mercado Centrale. On the first floor you will find fresh produce, dried fruit and nuts, and little shops selling olive oil, balsamic vinegar, truffle spreads, packaged pasta and desserts. La Pasta Fresca is a take away pasta stand on the first floor where you can order a plate of homemade pasta with your choice of sauce for only five euros. The lemon ricotta ravioli is to die for, and the walnut sauce is a delicious change from the usual red sauce or pesto. The second floor of the market has more ready-to-eat food where you can order a fancy sit-down meal or a quick pasta or panini to take away.
12. Walk Along Ponte Vecchio
This picturesque bridge that arcs over the Arno River has been standing since Roman times and is known for its shops that run along the sides. Though the stores mainly sell sparkling jewelry worth more than most people can afford, it’s fun to window shop and imagine what the stores on this bridge were like hundreds of years ago. The best views of the bridge are from the perpendicular streets that line the river, and from the neighboring bridge, Ponte Santa Trinita.
13. Take A Day Trip
A couple of days is definitely enough time to cover all these wonderful activities in Florence. So if you find yourself with extra time and want to embark on a day trip, here are two options:
13a. Wine Tasting in Tuscany
Tuscany is one of the most famous wine producing regions in Italy and the world. With lush green countryside and endless hills of vineyards and olive trees, venturing outside Florence means you will see stunning natural scenery. Wine tastings make an easy day trip where you can sample traditional Tuscan wines, and the tour companies are endless. Smart Trip offers cheap wine tasting day trips for students, whereas CiaoFlorence is a classic tour company that caters to all ages.
13b. Cinque Terre
For some of the most breathtaking views of the Italian coastline, visit Cinque Terre. Take a bus or train to La Spezia, then take trains in between the five cities of Cinque Terre, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The trains between these beautiful, tiny towns are super straightforward and quick, so you can visit some or all of the destinations in one day before heading back to Florence.
(Here is my article dedicated solely to Cinque Terre)