The 10 Things You Must Do in Florence, Italy
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Florence is the ideal base to explore the gorgeous Tuscany region. Florence is known for its art & culture, stunning landscapes, exceptional architecture, and cuisine. We stayed in Florence for 3 nights. However, we took day trips to Siena and Pisa, so really only had 24 hours to explore Florence itself. If you only have a short amount of time in the city, here are the 10 things you must do while in Florence.
1. See Michelangelo's David
Florence actually has two important David sculptures. The sculpture was originally located in Piazza della Signoria, right outside the Palazzo Vecchio (city hall). The original sculpture was moved to Galleria dell'Accademia in 1873 to protect it from damage being outside and a replica replaced its spot in Piazza dell Signoria.
Galleria dell'Accademia is a small sculpture museum that has other pieces, but everyone really just comes for David. I would officially like to petition the museum to change its name to "Museum with David, oh and a couple other things." It is worth a quick visit. David is massive and overwhelming. The more you look, the more details you see in every part of his body. Unless you want to wait in an hour or two line, buy tickets in advance. Another option is to go on part of a small group tour of the Accademia and Uffizi, allowing you to skip the lines and have an art history expert explain the significance of what you are seeing.
Also, make sure you visit Piazza dell Signoria and see where David originally stood. The square is also filled with other statues, street performers, a beautiful fountain, and cafes.
For true art and museum lovers, it is also worth checking out the Uffizi Gallery, which is near Piazza dell Signoria.
2. Walk along the Arno River and stop at Ponte Vecchio
The Arno river is hard to miss as it runs straight through the city. Over the river is the very famous and very touristy, Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio literally meaning old bridge. A bridge has been in that spot since 966, though it did have to be reconstructed a few times. On the bridge are many jewelry shops and crowds and crowds of people.
Take a quick stop at the bridge, but then walk along the Arno a bit. The best view of the bridge is of course not on the bridge. The river is a very romantic and beautiful spot in Florence, especially at dusk. Watch the rowers and other small boats making their way up and down the river.
3. Experience Foodie Paradise at Mercato Centrale
Mercato Centrale, also known as the Central Market or Mercato di San Lorenzo, is actually composed of two sections. The indoor market is two-levels full of food. The building itself is exquisite, a mixture of modern and classic architecture – a glass and cast iron interior. The ground floor has all the ingredients you need to make the perfect Italian meal: cheese, fruits, vegetables, meat, pasta, olive oil, and flowers. The upper floor has great restaurants and bars and a communal dining area. The market is popular among both locals and tourists.
The second section is outside: a leather market surrounding the building. It is a good place to get souvenirs, but be aware, not all of the leather goods are Italian, even if the sellers say they are. Look for the notorious "Made in China" labels.
4. Climb to the top of the Duomo
As long as you are reasonably fit and don't have extreme claustrophobia, climbing to the top of the Dome is a must do. The Duomo itself is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. The climb involves a section of dizzying spiral staircases, then walking right along the inside of the Dome - a perfect view of the frescos, and then up very narrow at times steep steps. You will likely have to take a few stops on the way up to make way for the people walking down. Yup, two-way traffic. It is worth it! For the experience and the views. Once you reach the top, you are treated to views as far as you can see of Florence and the Tuscan landscape.
The ticket for the climb up Brunelleschi's Dome is part of a cumulative ticket that covers 5 different monuments/museums of the Duomo complex. You have to pre-book this ticket online to select a time for climbing the Dome. You have 72 hours after visiting the first monument to see the other 4.
5. And then climb the bell tower
After the exhausting climb to the dome, what better to do than climb some more (you can space it out a day or two)! Included in the same ticket price as the rest of the Duomo complex, the bell tower has better views than the Dome simply for the fact that the Dome is in it! It is also less crowded and has multiple platforms to get views at different heights or to take a break. It also has only 414 steps compared to the 463 steps to climb the Dome!
If you have time and the line is short enough, it is also worth checking out inside the cathedral and the baptistry. However, the outside is way more breathtaking than the inside. You need pants and covered shoulders to be let in, which might require a change prior on the extremely hot days of summer.
6. Eat and eat some more
Italians are food lovers, but the food we ate in Florence was the best in Italy. While you may think that due to its touristy nature it lacks authentic Italian cuisine, that cannot be further from the truth.
While in Florence, we tried truffles for the first time. I was slightly nervous, as I usually distaste mushrooms, but it was cheap to add truffles to my gnocchi so I went for it. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Other Floretine foods to try include Trippa alla fiorentina or lampredotto (tripe) and ribollita (vegetable soup).
It is not hard to find a great meal in Florence, however the absolute best food may require a local expert to find. There are so many food tours and cooking classes in Florence that are worth the price.
7. Watch the Sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is a square up on a hill south of the Arno River with the best panoramic views of Florence. While you can visit at any time of the day, it is incredible at sunset. It is easily walkable from the center of town. Once past the river, there is a fairly steep climb up old steps through a rose garden, but you should be used to steps now after the Duomo.
Get to the square early to beat the crowds and to have your pick of viewing spots.
8. Walk up and down the streets with Gelato
Sorry, not sorry... Gelato will be on my must-do list for anything involving Italy. It is especially relevant in Florence, as it might have been where gelato was invented. You just cannot visit Florence without having gelato at least 2 or 3 times a day.
An important tip when finding the best gelateria: avoid ones that have the large mountains of gelato out for display. True tradational gelato will be found in covered metal containers. This guarantees that it is made fresh each day from real ingredients, no artifical flavors.
Our favorite places to get gelato were La Strega Nocciola (on the south side of Ponte Vecchio), Grom (close to the Duomo), and Le Botteghe Di Leonardo (north of the Duomo).
Take your gelato with you as you walk down some of the charming side streets in Florence.
9. And then again at night
Florence is lovely during the day, but at night it reaches its peak of charm and romance. Walking through the historic center of Florence is almost fairy-tale like, as you sneak down one of the many narrow winding alleyways away from the crowds. You never know what you may find at night – free concerts or delicious sweet treats.
Stop by Café Rivoire in Piazza della Signoria for a rich hot chocolate and tasty cannoli. Order from the bar and stand at the counter to avoid an upcharge for a waited table. Grab a box of chocolate to enjoy as you walk around the rest of the city. If elegant candy is more your thing, go to Gilli in Piazza della Repubblica.
10. Get out of the city
If you are only visiting Florence while in Tuscany, change that immediately. There is so much more to this region outside of Florence. The villages of Siena, Lucca, and Pisa are all a short train, bus or car ride away from Florence.
Check our guide on a day trip to Siena from Florence.
While Florence is the heart of Tuscany in terms of art and culture, you need to go out in the countryside to enjoy the rolling hills and more relaxed atmosphere. If you are only in Tuscany for a few days, base yourself in Florence and take day trips out to the countryside. If you have a week or more, stay in a smaller town like Lucca or near a winery and take a day trip into Florence.