Nestled on both sides of the Arno River, the charming Tuscan city of Florence appeals to culture aficionados, food and wine connoisseurs, art lovers, and those who enjoy a spot of designer retail therapy. With exquisite museums and galleries to explore, lively piazzas to dine in, and breathtaking vistas, Florence should feature highly on your Italian itinerary! Learn all about the highlights with our Florence Travel Guide.
How to Visit Florence
Two airports serve Florence. The first, Amerigo Vespucci Airport, lies a few miles from the city center and receives flights from major Italian and European cities. The second, Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport, is where many low-cost flights fly into. There’s a shuttle bus to Florence from the airport with a traveling time of just over one hour. You can also travel by train to Florence. The city is a railway network hub, therefore accessible from most Italian towns and European cities. Bus services operate throughout Tuscany and beyond, or you can explore the picture-perfect Tuscan countryside by car prior to arriving in the city.
How to Get Around Florence
Our Florence Travel Guide has you covered with the best ways to get around the city! Florence is quite compact and most historic attractions are accessible on foot. You can easily walk from Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell ’Accademia, and Palazzo Vecchio to Ponte Vecchio and River Arno in less than 5 minutes. There are small electric buses which also provide links between key areas. However, if you plan to drive, it’s worth noting that there aren’t a lot of parking spaces in Florence. It’s wise to only use your rental vehicle when traveling into the Tuscan countryside, other towns, and wineries in the region. Taxis are available throughout Florence from dedicated taxi stops, or you can opt for a fun bicycle or e-bike adventure!
Neighborhoods of Florence
Sant’ Ambrogio is a quaint neighborhood around 15 minutes walk from main attractions. Located east of the Duomo, it feels more like a village, with colorful fresh produce markets, al fresco cafes, cobbled lanes, and leafy piazzas. It’s a great area for dining too, with traditional trattorias and pizzerias peppering the neighborhood.
San Niccolo sits on the south side of the River Arno, close to Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, and the beautiful Boboli Gardens. This neighborhood is the greenest area of Florence, with verdant sculpted gardens and parks. In addition, it offers the best views of the city from the viewing platform at Piazzale Michelangelo. Speakeasy-style bars line the riverbank and some of the city’s top restaurants, artisan stores, and upscale independent shops can be discovered here.
If you want to be in the heart of Florentine action, San Lorenzo is a great choice. The neighborhood is just 3 minutes walk from the most famous square in Florence, Piazza del Duomo, and a stone’s throw from Palazzo Medici Riccardi and Palazzo Pucci. The area is punctuated with architectural gems, and charming trattorias line the streets serving Tuscan dishes. As an added benefit, San Lorenzo is also near the main train station if you plan to arrive by rail.
Le Cure & Campo di Marte
The northern city districts of Le Cure and Campo di Marte are located just outside the city walls, allowing you the opportunity to experience Florentine life away from the tourists. The neighborhoods are home to sports teams and stadiums, a plethora of entertainment venues, flea markets, and small leafy parks.
Santo Spirito lies south of the city close to the Arno River, Palazzo Pitti – once home to the Medici’s of Florence, Boboli Gardens, and Torrigiani Gardens. The area has a hipster vibe, with bustling piazzas, Baroque style churches, and artisan workshops where you can purchase handmade jewelry, enjoy a fun art class, or even have a pair of gladiator sandals made for you!
Food, Drink, & Nightlife
Florence is a food lover’s dream and the highlight of every Florence Travel Guide is the cuisine! Neighborhoods boast lively markets with food halls, Michelin star and boutique restaurants line the shores of the Arno, and charming osterias serve farm-to-table cuisine procuring fresh ingredients from Tuscan farms outside the city. You can even partake in a cooking class to learn how to cook like a local! For the less adventurous, there are takeaway pizzerias, international restaurants, and chic al fresco cafes from where you can people watch and gaze at centuries-old statues.
Bars around the historic center are elegant with outdoor terraces or fashion driven interiors – places where skilled mixologists serve neon colored concoctions in cocktail glasses. As Tuscany is famous for its wine, you can sample many varieties of the liquid nectar in the city’s ‘enotecas’ – old wine repositories which have been transformed into bars.
The Renaissance capital also boasts plenty of nightclubs, many of which can be found around the historic center and Piazza della Signoria. The clubs range from lounge bars to entertainment venues with comedy performances or dance clubs where renowned DJ’s spin the latest tunes until dawn.
There’s no better way to spend a leisurely afternoon than browsing luxury boutiques, open air markets, and artisan workshops in Florence. You’ll find upscale fashion emporiums like Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, and Tiffany & Co aside stately palaces along Via de’Tornabuoni and Via degli Strozzi. Then follow our Florence Travel Guide off the beaten path to discover hidden gems. If you prefer exploring independent treasure troves – ateliers, artisan workshops, and specialty stores can be discovered around Via del Parione and south of the river in the Santo Spirito neighborhood.
If you wish to purchase leather goods, Mercato Nuovo is a great place to visit. Tucked away beneath medieval arches, the stalls sell handbags, purses, clothing, and more. For produce, try Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. The 19th century indoor market specializes in fresh, locally sourced ingredients, plus there’s a fabulous food court where you can sample delicious Tuscan fare and wines at a fraction of restaurant prices.
Loggia dei Lanzi
There is no better way to experience the unique art and architecture of Florence than at an open-air sculpture museum. Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria allows city visitors to experience incredible sculptures beneath wide medieval archways free of charge. Constructed by Benci di Cione in the late 1300’s, the space was initially designed to hold public ceremonies. However, the area later transformed into an al fresco public gallery. On the steps, two Medici lions sit resplendent in marble, as if guarding the loggia. Although incredibly impressive, the main highlights are the bronze statue of Perseus holding up the head of Medusa, the Sabine women, and Hercules and Nessus. The best part? You can enjoy them all while sipping a cappuccino or feasting on gelato in one of the piazza’s outdoor cafes.
No trip to Florence would be complete without visiting Galleria della’Accademia. This unique gallery houses some of the best artworks from the Renaissance era. Michelangelo’s David is the most famous sculpture, and you can also see works by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Allori inside the gallery. In addition, there is a fascinating Museum of Musical Instruments which displays one-of-a kind pieces by Stradivari and Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the first piano. If you have limited time in the city and wish to skip the queues, it’s advisable to book a tour in advance.
Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
One of Florence’s largest architectural structures, this incredible palace on the south side of the Arno was built in 1457 for the Pitti family by Filippo Brunelleschi of Duomo fame. Almost a century later the Medici’s purchased the palace and it became their primary residence in the city. Today, it houses some of Florence’s most important museums – the Palatine Gallery, showcasing collections by Raphael, the Gallery of Modern Art with a fine collection of Italian paintings and sculptures dating from the late 18th century, and the Silver Museum which displays Medici household treasures. Neighboring Boboli Gardens are part of the largest green area in Florence with a tranquil lake, sculptures, and grottos. Highlights to visit include the amphitheater with an Egyptian obelisk at the center, the statue of Plenty, and the Porcelain Museum.
Piazza del Duomo
If there is only one site you visit from our Florence Travel Guide, let it be Piazza del Duomo. Venture into the Duomo Cathedral to discover the incredible Last Judgement fresco painted onto the ceiling of the cupola. Climb the stairs of Giotto’s Campanile to gain a bird’s eye view of Florence or enter the Baptistery of Saint John and marvel at the intricate mosaic covered octagonal dome. The Baptistery is well-known for its artistic bronze doors covered in relief sculptures which were once dubbed by Michelangelo as the Gates of Paradise. It was also the place of baptism for the Medici family and Dante Alighieri – the renowned Italian poet who wrote ‘The Divine Comedy’.
One thing you’ll notice about Florence is that there are no large chain hotels. The city likes to keep its guest dwellings independent, hidden away in historic townhouses, grand palaces, and stylish villas. There are budget, mid-range, and luxury accommodations available across the different neighborhoods. You can choose to stay in a hilltop villa overlooking the city, in a charming townhouse in the historic center, or a luxury riverfront hotel where you can sip wine on the rooftop at sunset. Wherever you decide to stay, Florence has a place to suit your needs and budget. For a taste of Florentine luxury, stay at the Brunelleschi Hotel. And if you want a taste of home, the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze has everything you need.
What to See Near Florence
Once you’ve soaked up every ounce of our Florence Travel Guide it’s time to journey to nearby attractions! The hilltop town of Fiesole is around 25 minutes by car or a little longer via bus from Florence. This quaint Etruscan and Roman town overlooks the valley, boasting artistic masterpieces and an archaeological park. You can visit historic Lucca, one of the best preserved walled cities in Italy and enjoy dinner and Tuscan wines in the wonderful osterias. Alternatively, head to Pisa with its famous leaning tower and basilica. The picturesque Chianti region lies south of Florence. Take a tour of small wine towns to sample Tuscan Chianti with regional delicacies amidst rolling hills and verdant vines. And for the ultimate day trip, head to Cinque Terre to explore the 5 breathtaking coastal villages.