Find out about what to do in Florence during your stay. Here are 20 ways to experience the real Florence, including quintessential sights and food you absolutely have to try. If you want to live Florence while you’re there, these are the things you absolutely have to do.
What to do in Florence – Best Florentine experiences!
1. Climb the Duomo
The world famous Brunelleschi Dome dominates Florence with its magnificent red tiles and glorious shape. It’s the iconic symbol of this wonderful city. Get to the top of the world by climbing the 436 steps that lead up to one of the most spectacular views of Florence ever. It’s a truly moving experience. Mandatory booking, expect queues but it’s worthwhile. it’s a rite of passage for every real fiorentino.
2. See Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
Another favourite spot from which to admire this wonderful city is Piazzale Michelangelo. It takes roughly half an hour by bus to reach this panoramic terrace and once you’re there you can enjoy a live postcard-ready view of Florence. Ultra romantic at sunset, many Florentines have brought their first loves here.
3. Shop for eats at Mercato San Lorenzo
Colourful fresh fruit and vegetables, handmade pici and spaghetti, wild boar sauce, salumi (cold meat) of all shapes and forms, fragrant schiacciata all’olio (flatbread with salt and oil), Tuscan bread, local honey and cantuccini biscuits for the sweet tooth. This and much more await you at the San Lorenzo Food Market, in a feast of typical delicacies and dishes, on the first floor you’ll find plenty of restaurants and tasting experiences. It was once the local market of the Florentines, and today it’s been turned into a haven for tourists and foodies.
4. Marvel at Michelangelo’s creations
David is the king of all Michelangelo’s sculptural work, a larger than life masterpiece that you can meet in person at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Once you’ve got over the shock of standing in front of arguably the world’s most famous statue, look for the “Slaves”, moving examples of Michelangelo’s unfinished work. There’s more by the same artist at the Bargello Museum and the celebrated Medici Chapels.
5. Rub the nose of the Porcellino
Ok, this is a very touristy thing to do. But it’s said to bring luck so go ahead and rub the nose of the bronze wild boar that sits to one side of the Mercato Nuovo. It’s a centuries old tradition, it’s free, and afterwards you can have a look at one of the leather bags or typical straw hats on show at the covered market and buy yourself a souvenir to remind you of Florence.
6. Take a sunset snap of the Ponte Vecchio
When the sun is going down, make sure you stand on Ponte Santa Trinita to get the best view of the Ponte Vecchio. The Old Bridge is bathed in gold, with the Arno flowing peacefully underneath it, the ancient buildings reflecting in the water and the soft hills framing Florence in their green embrace. The perfect place to take home the perfect picture.
Find out about the romantic side of Florence.
7. Aperitivo time at the Hotel Excelsior Roof top bar SESTO
For another unforgettable view, get to the 6th floor of Hotel Excelsior in Piazza Ognissanti. While you sip a delicious drink, you can admire Florence in all its beauty, and fall in love with the world again.
8. Eat lampredotto at one of the stalls
If you want to know what to do in Florence, that will really make you an honorary local, tuck into a Lampredotto sandwich. We dare you. This is one of the most truly Florentine things you can do during your visit. Order a ‘panino al lampredotto con salsa verde‘ (sandwich filled with boiled cow’s stomach and green sauce). It’s delicious, but it can take a little getting used to. Good stalls are in San Lorenzo Market, the Porcellino Market and L’Antico Trippaio in Via dei Cimatori, a real Florentine institution.
9. See one of the most famous frescoes in the world
Visit San Marco Museum to admire the “Annunciation” by Beato Angelico, one of those iconic images that has imprinted itself on our collective imagination. It’s moving, subtle and filled with spiritual devotion – religious art with feeling. The museum is housed in a former convent whose frescoes were all painted by the same Friar known as ‘painter of the angels’ and his disciples. This is a must for anyone interested in art.
Any art lover should visit the splendid Florentine frescoes, here’s a list of the top frescoes to be found in Florence.
10. A coffee with a Florentine view
On the top of the Rinascente building in Piazza della Repubblica there’s a roof bar that offers great views of the Duomo. Order “un cappuccino per favore” and feel energised by the creative air and the beauty that lies right under your nose.
11. Buy a scented soap at Officina S. Maria Novella
Visit the historic apothecary shop and bring home a piece of Florentine history. Dominican friars of the Officina Santa Maria Novella were already preparing remedies in the 13th century, and some of the products you find here have recipes that are as old as the city.
12. Visit the tombs of famous Italians in Santa Croce Church
Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli are buried here, in the vast Gothic church of Santa Croce that proudly stands in the beautiful square of the same name. Pay respect to these glorious characters and visit the famous Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi, a real gem of Renaissance architecture.
Check out the most beautiful churches in Florence!
13. Order a bistecca alla fiorentina
The fiorentina steak is a T-bone steak, 6 cm high, cooked on a grill (wood brace) by expert hands and left bloody/rare inside. Just add a bit of salt and extra virgin olive oil at the end and it’s ready. Some of the favourite restaurants are Buca Lapi, Latini, Trattoria 13 gobbi, Buca dell’orafo, Trattoria Gozzi Sergio.
14. Take a walk in the Boboli Gardens
Back when it was free to enter, Florentine students used to go to Boboli Gardens when skipping a day at school. This park is very dear to the Florentines, and even though today it’s a well-known tourist spot there’s still enough space for a quiet walk along its cypress-lined avenues.
15. Get lost in art at the Uffizi Gallery
Art lovers who want to know what to do in Florence, need to head straight for the Uffizi. One of the greatest museums in the world, it houses the most extensive collection of Italian Renaissance paintings around. A visit here is a moving experience, as you come face to face with famous work by Botticelli, Da Vinci and Raffaello amongst others. It can be a bit overwhelming so It’s worth studying a bit beforehand to know what masterpieces to look out for.
16. Take part in a Florentine festival
Italy is famous for its festivals that honour history and keep alive ancient traditions. And Florence is no exception. Amongst the most popular festivals are the Scoppio del Carro on Easter morning, a spectacular show that involves an ancient cart and firecrackers in front of the Cathedral, the Calcio Storico, a roudy and rough affair similar to rugby played in Santa Croce Square, and the Rificolona paper lantern festivals which illuminates Florence every 8th September.
17. Pick your favourite bar in Florence’s coolest neighbourhood
If you’re wondering what to do in Florence in the evening, just cross the river and head to San Frediano in the Oltrarno, recently labelled as one the “coolest neighbourhood in the world”. In Borgo San Frediano and surrounding area you’ll find some of Florence’s coolest bars and trattorias, loved by locals as much as tourists.
18. Empty your wallet in Via Tornabuoni
Some of the biggest luxury brands can be found in via Tornabuoni near Piazza della Repubblica. A walk admiring the glitzy creations of Ferragamo, (there’s also a museum dedicated to this famous Italian designer), Prada and Tiffany will transport you to a world of exclusive beauty. Also, don’t miss the fun and crazy shop window decor of Luisa Via Roma near the Cathedral.
19. Palazzo Vecchio. The Secret Passages Tour
If you want to learn more about the history of Florence and the infamous Medici family, who ruled over the city for 300 years, take one of the tours of Palazzo Vecchio, the historic and handsome city hall that started its life in 1290 and went through a complete renovation under Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. The Secret passage tour will reveal some of the secrets of this fascinating city, and you can poke around inside some of the hidden rooms. A must.
If you visit Palazzo Vecchio, you’ll see the famous Dante’s death mask, mentioned by Dan Brown in his novel “Inferno”.
20. Santa Maria Novella. See the cloisters and frescoes
Spend a couple of hours taking in some beautiful art inside Santa Maria Novella Church. Explore the atmospheric cloisters and Giotto’s crucifix, admire the frescoes that adorn the chapels and discover the Trinity fresco by Masaccio that shocked the Florentines at the time it was unveiled. The experience will give you a pocket-sized round up of Florentine art history.
If you want some more great suggestions for travelling in Italy, you’ll find some top tips and inspiring stories over at Go and Travel