When you are planning things to do in Florence, you’ll find that the city offers a smorgasbord of sights, sounds, tastes, and delights.
If you are wondering, “Should I go?” The answer is always a resounding “YES!”
In fact, Florence is a great central location if you are planning day trips in Italy.
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Where to Stay For a Couple’s Getaway
When you are planning out your schedule for all of the things to do in Florence, an important consideration is where to stay.
You could get a taxi to travel from the train station to the hotel, or if you have been traveling all day long, it is a a good time to stretch and a relatively short walk to reach the beautiful Sina Hotel Villa Medici.
The King Suite—complete with two bathrooms, a sitting room, and a bedroom—is a charming and beautifully appointed suite.
There are plenty of breakfast options in Florence, but if possible, I recommend checking to see if breakfast is included with your hotel stay. It is not always the case, so be sure to check. With different levels of reward status, breakfast may be included.
Chris and I often choose to eat in the hotel dining room when it is included. It will save you time and money.
Funny story. I am a fan of oatmeal for breakfast. While staying in Florence, I made a request for oatmeal since it wasn’t on the buffet table. I think they had to make it from scratch!
After a long wait, I was rewarded with the Papa-bear sized bowl. Even the waiter walked by and said, “Oh, that’sa … biga!”.
Where to Stay if You are Traveling With Teens
For a different travel reward points option, the Hilton Garden Inn, located a short distance outside the city center in Florence, fulfilled the need for two rooms when we traveled with two of our teen daughters.
Note, the rules for occupancy in European hotels can be quite strict.
At a hotel in Madrid, Spain, Chris and I stood in line at the front desk behind a couple with a young toddler in tow. We listened as they argued with the front desk agent. The desk agent would not budge on the “two person per room rule”.
The couple argued that their son could sleep in their bed with them. Having made the reservations weeks prior to their arrival, they were disappointed when the only option was to stay at a sister hotel that would allow a third person in the hotel room. However, the hotel was further from the city center.
If in doubt, check before you make the reservation.
The Concierge Will Help You Find Things to do in Florence
The concierge is a hugely valuable resource. As you begin your travels and adventures in Florence (and around the world), you will find that getting to know the hotel concierge is beneficial for a variety of reasons.
Their goal is to make your stay enjoyable and to help you find things to do in Florence (or any city you are visiting).
The concierge can help you with a variety of services:
- Make dinner suggestions and reservations
- Obtain movie or show tickets
- Provide maps of the area and give you directions
- Book transportation for a day trip
- Recommend nightlife hotspots
- Arrange for spa services
- Recommend fitness facilities
- Make recommendations to keep you safe
Local Transit and a Plug for Actually Buying Tickets
You could take the risk of not buying transit tickets as you ride the bus around Florence, and 9 times out of 10, you might get away with it. But on the tenth time…
Chris and I ventured into the heart of Florence to the Duomo with our youngest daughter, Kristen, on a recent trip.
You will find that visiting the Duomo was one of the top sites and things to do in Florence.
We caught the bus outside of our hotel (Florence bus schedule) and sat across from these two punk boys who were noisy, had their feet up on the seats across from them, and were simply being obnoxious.
I have to admit, it is kind of nice when karma happens.
A bus patrolman was sitting behind us and popped out of his seat once the bus started moving. Chris handily produced our tickets, but the boys had not bothered to purchase tickets. They had to hand over their ID.
And…they got a ticket!!! They spent the rest of the bus ride smack talking the bus patrolman. It was… satisfying.
The square surrounding the Duomo will often be teeming with tourists.
Formally known as Santa Maria del Fiore, this prominent landmark fills the Florentine skyline.
If you download the Rick Steves Audio Europe tour and listen to the Florence Duomo audio tour, you will find out so much more information than if you simply wander around the square.
Did you know the Duomo took over 140 years to complete?
Additional facts to know about the Duomo:
- The Gates of Paradise on the Baptistry are famous bronze doors in front of the cathedral that depict Bible scenes
- Fillipo Brunelleschi, a trained goldsmith, had no prior training before building the domed roof
- The dome on the cathedral was an architectural marvel ahead of its time standing over ten stories high
- The Pantheon in Rome was the inspiration for the dome
- The Santa Maria del Fiore stands as the third largest cathedral in the world
- It took 16 years to complete the dome
- The exterior is covered in a decorative mix of pink, white and green marble
- Entrance to the cathedral is FREE
- Climb 463 steps (there is no elevator) to view the inside of the dome and the majestic view of Florence from the balcony. You need to purchase an OPA Combination ticket to access the dome and reserve a time slot prior to your entrance (this time slot cannot be changed)
If you need a break from the crowds, walk a couple of blocks away to find quieter streets and some gelato. Yum.
Wander through some of the oldest streets in the city until you reach the Arno River where you’ll also find the Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio was built for the house of Medici when they moved from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti (across the Arno River) and felt they needed a private route to keep them connected with the Uffizi yet separate from the masses.
The Corridoio Vasariano (built by Giorgio Vasari in 1565) runs above the shops along the Ponte Vecchio. Meander across the bridge exploring the shops as you go. Shops have been a part of the bridge since the 13th century.
Ponte Vecchio is an iconic spot for photos if you are looking for Instagram worthy photo spots.
Visit the Uffizi Museum
Chris purchased tickets for the Uffizi Museum for a mid-afternoon entrance.
The Uffizi Museum is one of THE place to visit in Florence.
Note * Just outside the museum entrance in the Piazza della Signoria you will find the replica to Michelangelo’s statue of David. The original David is on display in the Galleria dell’Accademia.
You definitely won’t complain about enjoying a little air-conditioned comfort during the hottest part of the day.
We listened to an audio tour through the museum. Though I am not much of a museum fan, we all enjoyed the Uffizi. I do believe our girls had their fill of nude statues however!
Shopping & Markets
One of the benefits of staying at the Sina Hotel Villa Medici was the hotel car service that drove us to Piazza del Corrente. If you are looking for some genuine Italian leather purses, wallets, belts, or apparel, you won’t leave Florence disappointed.
Check out the little shops, the name brand stores, and the amazing markets and add them to your list of things to do in Florence.
- Mercato Centrale – This market is perfect as a gourmet food court that also sells fresh, local ingredients.
- San Lorenzo Outdoor Market – Peruse this sprawling market through the San Lorenzo neighborhood. It is the original leather market. Be prepared for a bit of haggling.
- Mercato Nuovo – Locally known as the Mercato Porcellino, this market is where you can find the bronze statue of a wild boar (Il Porcellino) among other treasures. Tradition says that rubbing its nose while dropping a coin from its mouth as you make a wish will bring you good luck.
- Mercato Sant’Ambrosio – A covered indoor and outdoor market boasting local ingredients and an authentic Italian market experience.
While searching for things to do in Florence, Chris found a great lookout point above Florence. If you are on foot, be prepared for the many stairs leading up to Piazzale Michelango.
The stairs aren’t so fun, but the view is spectacular.
It is always crowded in the evening when tourists come to watch the sunset along with views of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio.
Plus, art students sit on the steps drawing the scene below.
Since we visited Piazzale Michelango the first night with only our youngest daughter, we returned the next night with our middle daughter, Misha, who is an artist.
Misha settled in among the sketchers and artists, with her newly acquired sketch book.
If you arrive a little too late, the steps will already be full of artists and tourists along with much of the wall space. There is still plenty of room to enjoy the amazing view.
Take Note of Local Holidays
We happened to visit Florence with our girls on Republic Day, also known as Festa della Repubblica in Italian (Festival of the Republic). It is a national holiday in Italy on June 2 each year. It celebrates the day in 1946 when Italians voted to abolish the monarchy and become a republic.
Sounds as though it should be fun right?
Welcome to the experience of trying to be a “tourist” on a national holiday.
We were scheduled to leave the city that day and waited at the first bus stop about five minutes away from the hotel for over 40 minutes with our luggage in tow.
One Florentine lady at the bus stop was becoming more and more agitated by the moment. She was willing to complain to all that would listen in Italian and English. “Stupida busa. Stupida city. Don’t they realize that more-a people are off-a for the holiday and want to go-a places. There are more-a people in-a the city today. Stupida.”
In her defense, she had fresh steaks in her grocery bags and still far to go.
When a bus finally came, she was barely able to squish on it as people were spilling out the door. The four of us with all of our luggage never would had fit on the bus. Trailing our luggage behind us, we walked about twenty minutes to the next bus stop.
Our plans for the day included stowing our luggage close to the train station and venturing on a day trip to Fiesole. Our day trip just took a detour.
Our transportation troubles continued on Republic Day as we got off at the wrong stop and eventually found ourselves dragging suitcases past the Duomo over cobbled stones.
Ultimate tourist sign flashing over our heads!
We finally reached a Store n’ Go luggage place in Florence, only to find that every. single. locker. was filled.
Ahhhh, what to do? We headed to the train station hoping to find luggage storage there. After a long and tiring morning, we found ourselves looking for seats at McDonald’s at the train station (See Places to Eat below).
So, when you are planning things to do in Florence (or any destination), be sure to check for local holidays. These holidays may have a significant impact on your ability to catch transit, easily maneuver with extra tourists around, or even find places to eat.
What You Can Skip When Planning Things to Do In Florence
Much to Kristen’s disappointment, Chris wanted to explore the rode leading up the hill along the Fort Belvedere Wall. We did not realize that once we got on the road, we were committed. It went on for miles without any way to turn left or right.
Had we known before starting, we probably would have turned around after a short distance.
The fort was walled off on one side with a six or seven foot wall and an equally high wall on the other side of the road to allow privacy for the big fancy estates. Chris at 6’4″ caught glimpses over the wall every so often, but there was not much to see for Kristen and I.
We finally reached an exit point and started walking downhill, enjoying the sunset along the way. We crossed paths with a group of runners as they followed the path zigzagging down the hill.
When we reached the bottom of the hill, Chris asked about all the runners and learned that it was a 10k with all-you-can-drink wine at the end. Obviously good motivation for them.
So, if you happen to venture onto the road by the Fort Belvedere Wall at the base of the stairs to Piazzale Michelangelo, just know that you can probably skip it.
Places to Eat
Il Bastioni di San Niccolo – A small trattoria next to the wall of Forte di Belvedere (Fort Belvedere). We sat on the patio to enjoy the beautiful evening and scenery. You can opt for dine in or take out.
Via Bastioni, 9R, Ang.Via Del monte Alle croci (Porta San Miniato), 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
Pensavo Peggio – You may wish to make reservations. They offer delicious homestyle Tuscan dishes.
Via del Moro, 51 r, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Trattoria Marione – Typical dishes of Tuscan and Florentine cuisine.
Via della Spada, 27/Rosso, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
McDonald’s at the Train Station – WHAT!!! Refer above to traveling on Republic Day in Florence.
After a long, hot, and tiring morning, we headed to the train station and found ourselves looking for seats at McDonald’s. We weren’t the only ones. So many people jockeying for seats and only a little bit of table and chair space.
We hung out at McDonald’s in the Florence train station for awhile. It was NOT on our list of things to do in Florence!
It was a passable option as the weather was hot, we needed to feed our girls, they were familiar with the food, and we had a train to catch after lunch.
Day Trips from Florence
- San Gimignano
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Final Thoughts on the Best Things To Do In Florence
While purchasing gelato one evening (which you should really do at least once a day in Italy!), Chris chatted with the young girl dishing up our treats. She spoke in her broken English and Chris in his broken Italian.
She asked where we were from. Chris then mentioned how beautiful it was in Florence. The girl kind of shrugged her shoulders and indicated “meh”.
I guess it all depends on your perspective. Reminds me of point #10 in Life is Good and Other Lessons Learned from Travel and Eduardo in Venice who wondered how we had ever heard of his city.
If you have never been to Florence before, I am pretty sure your perspective will be one of awe and amazement. It happens to be one of my favorite European cities. Having visited it twice now, Chris and I always seem to find plenty of new things to do in Florence.