Florence, Italy Where To Go
When planning a trip to Italy, figuring out what to do in a country with so much vast cultural heritage can be quite intimidating. The simple question, What to do in Florence? Can be more complicated than it seems. It may seem completely normal to visit three museums in one day in Florence, but truth is, that can be exhausting. I embrace the slow travel philosophy, instead of rushing to see every major site, just picking a few distinct places (and not always the most famous), and take your time to just soak in the atmosphere of any given place. After all, this is your vacation, and part of that is being physically and mentally, well-rested.
Since I often get questions about where to go and what to see in Florence, I thought it would be easier to compile a list of personal recommendations based on my my own and friend’s experiences. Upcoming exhibits, interesting updates on the more famous museums. Also Smaller, lesser-known museums and boutique shops that carry a true line of made in Italy goods, since there is also a lot of crap in souvenir stalls around town. This page is constantly updated and revised to give you the best, most latest information.
Duomo peeking among the stands in San Lorenzo (not where you will find made in Italy).
Every month I write a post with my top pick’s and events around town so be on the lookout on the homepage and check out this awesome guide to Florence that a few bloggers and myself collaborated on a few year’s ago. Also I highly recommend checking out these tips on meeting friends and locals via various groups in town.
What Is GIF (Girl in Florence Doing?) : This Week
I’m eating… Bbq ribs at new spot Gecko in Florence and fresh pasta at one of my favorite spots in the oltrarno, Vivanda on via santa monaca.
I’m drinking..a moscow mule (what a surprise) at outdoor summer bar Circolo Aurora in piazza tasso. One of my favorite hidden spaces, their drinks are spot on, they also make a variety of summer mojito blends.
I stopped by.. the new creative collective studio in the heart of Sant’Ambrogio, via di mezzo 6r. A spot where artists, writers, dreamers are invited to stay a while and share ideas. Read more about it here.
I shopped at.. Mandarina Duck (an Italian brand) for luggage still on sale, I got a huge logoduck yellow suitcase for 50% off, about 89 euros for a bag that will happily take me to Thailand and Texas (this December). I also stopped by one of my favorite concept stores, MIO on via della spada 34. Here you can find up-cycled recycled objects from young local designers including jewelry, sustainable objects, crumpled maps, and even items from local street artist Clet, it is a definitely cool space and they take great care on what they choose to sell in the shop. Perfect for gifts (to yourself).
Museums I Love (and why)
I think art is something that can be enjoyed by everyone, we all get a different reaction from seeing precious ancient (and contemporary art) so I definitely would include a few visits the next time you are in town.
You guys don’t really need me to tell you about the most famous sites in Florence, there is so much cultural heritage in this city. I would absolutely recommend a first time visitor head to the Uffizi, visit Michelangelo’s David and quite naturally the Duomo cathedral and Baptistery. I do however, have more of this info on my ‘before’ section.
*Insiders Tip: The Grande Museo del Duomo Museum is set to open this late October, but visitors can get an ever better view of some of the city’s most important spots via these private tours operated by the museum even now. Notable tours (that I have personally tried) include touring the Duomo’s terraces (1 hour visit) and the restoration workshop (30.00€ per person).
The Suprising Superstars
It always surprises me that so many places on this list never get visited by first-time visitors. There is more to Florence than the Uffizi, trust me.
I cannot say enough how awesome this vast Renaissance villa really is. Besides the Boboli Gardens, I really love that there is so much variety in things to see here. Choose between the Palatine Gallery, the Silver Museum, the Costume Museum, the Porcelain Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Royal Apartments and the recently acquired Contini-Bonacossi Collectio.
Palazzo Strozzi is one of my most recommended spots to visit for those looking to see art shown well in Florence. A private foundation, their goal (from 2006) is to bring international quality exhibitions and cultural events to Florence and Tuscany and they have managed to do that.
Next Exhibit: Divine Beauty from Van Gogh to Chagall and Fontana, showcasing over one hundred works by well-known Italian and international artists, sets out to explore the relationship between art and religion from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. The exhibition will be hosting work by such major Italian artists as Domenico Morelli, Gaetano Previati, Felice Casorati, Gino Severini, Renato Guttuso, Lucio Fontana and Emilio Vedova, together with works by such international masters as Vincent van Gogh, Jean-François Millet, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse. From September 24th – January 2016. Open Daily including holidays 10.00-20.00, Thursdays: 10.00-23.00.
Formerly a barracks and prison (and was the first seat of government in Florence), this art museum dating back to 1255 is in the heart of the historical center and (in my opinion) one of the best. It has a wonderful collection of works of art including many Renaissance sculptures, bronzes and metal works. During the summer months, they often host theater, music and dance events in the beautiful inner courtyard. The Dontatello & Michelangelo rooms hold the most important works of art. address: Via del Proconsolo, 4, 50122 Firenze. Open Mon-Sun, 8:15-5pm. Full: € 4,00, Reduced: € 2,00, During temporary exhibitions, cost jumps to around € 7. 10 minutes walking from the station to the museum, otherwise you can take buses 14, 23 or A. Current exhibits can be found here.
Towards piazza liberta, I highly recommend the Stibbert Museum for kids and men alike because it is so darn cool. The former private collection of an Englishman, this vast space holds all sorts of collector’s favorites, including an amazing weapons collection and beautiful tapestries. If only my home was like this.
Sam Miniato al Monte
You can’t come to Florence and miss walking up to one of the best panoramic points (better than piazzale michelangelo) in Florence, San Miniato is one finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany and it feels just as old as it looks, with construction beginning in 1013. address: Via delle Porte Sante, 34, 50125 Firenze. Free to visit. I also have this on my ‘urban hike’ itinerary for anyone who wants to see some of my favorite spots on foot.
San Marco Museum
One of my favorite churches in Florence, every-time I visit I am surprised it is so empty. This former Dominican convent is home to a plethora of important art, and architecturally is quite fascinating as well, I wrote about the library by Michelozzo located inside earlier this year. The frescoes keep me coming back for more, and you can get a peek into ‘monk life’ and the ex-cell of Savonarola, the infamous friar who was burned at the stake in piazza della signoria. My advice is to come with a guide.
Piazza del carmine has recently become pedestrian only, which is quite refreshing when you think that this piazza used to be a glorified parking lot. It is also home to the Santa Maria del Carmine church and the famous Brancacci chapel, where you can see two layers of frescoes commissioned in 1424 by a wealthy Florentine merchant, Felice Brancacci. The frescoes here illustrate the life of St. Peter, who can be identified by his orange gown, completed by artistic genius, Massaccio. The inner cloisters and courtyards are quite lovely. Vitals: Cappella Brancacci, Piazza del Carmine, 50124 Firenze. Open daily 10am- 5pm, Entrance fee €6.
Santo Spirito church. Only open in the mornings 9:30am-12:30 (closed on Wednesday), this simple facade that began as an initial Augustinian complex, is my absolute favorite in Florence, it hides a beautiful feat of architecture and tucked in a corner chapel, a wooden cross made by Michelangelo. Free to visit, I love wandering here are on any given day, even just passing through for a few minutes of blissful solitude.
Museo Novecento. Finally there is a space for art made in the 1900’s. This is the newest player in the Florence art scene and takes over a large space in piazza santa maria novella.
Forte Belvedere, open during the summer months, this ancient fortress hosts a contemporary art exhibit annually, during the summer. This year is featuring sculptures by Antony Gromley in an exhibit titled ‘Human’. I highly recommend stopping by since it is free to visit all summer long and is open until late September. Perks include one of the best views of Florence and a little bar where you can stock up on refreshments. address: Via di S. Leonardo, 1
San Niccolo Tower. This tower is one of the few remains standing from the old walls that used to surround Florence. I particularly love this place because it is in one of my favorite sides of town and the view from here is pretty amazing. They offer evening guided tours (in Italian and English) daily, every half hour, starting from 5:30pm-8pm. For information and reservations: Tel. 055-2768224 055-2768558, Mail email@example.com. address: piazza poggi.
I’m a girl, I love to shop (duh), and without a doubt you can find some great options. I would skip the high-street garb on via calziuolo, with the exception of Luisa Via Roma, which always has a lot of fun items. Florence is home to so many small, boutique shops with artisans making true made-in-Italy wares. Here are a few of my favorites, divided by neighborhood.
Neighborhood: Santa Croce
CLOTHING | Boutique Nadine, Via dei Benci, 32. One of the best little shops in Florence, the designs are unique and vintage-inspired, with plenty of interesting knickknacks along with clothing for both men and women. The hard-wood floors give a very ‘Anthropology Store’ feel but with a more artisan flair. Prices moderate.
LEATHER | Scuola del Cuoio, via s/giuseppe 5r. The leather school of Florence is iconic in Florence, created first to give a trade to orphans from WWII and still known as THE place for leather items in the city. Here you can be assured of its authenticity. Plus the place itself is quite cool to visit, you can see the workers at the old stands, they have a nice variety of true leather jackets and handbags, as well as cheaper cool accessories to take home. Prices range from budget (souvenirs) to high (leather jackets).
ARTISAN PERFUME | Aqua Flor, Via Borgo Santa Croce, 6. This is a luxury perfumery specializing in artisan scents, entering is like visiting an alter universe. This store is so cool, you can customize your own perfume, pick up soaps, house scents and more. Prices range from moderate to expensive. website.
Neighborhood: San Lorenzo
ANTIQUE BOOKS | Abacus, via ginori 28-30r. I have what you could call, a thing, for beautiful antique books. Luckily in Florence, there is plenty to choose from and this store is one of my favorite shops in San Lorenzo. They use traditional techniques for book preservation and it is just as interesting to see in person.
VINTAGE | Desii Vintage, via dei conti 19r. It is pretty hard to miss this place since they almost always have three standing chairs, in Italy colors (red, white and green) outside the shop. Inside you will find a wide variety of vintage options, clothes, shoes, belts and more for both men and women.
CLOTHING | MuseLab, via romana 142r. I was wandering in porta romana when I came across this small gem and I am so happy I did. The ladies who own and operate Muselab could not be sweeter, and their clothes are so interesting. I would describe the style as monochrome, bold pieces. Things can have a lot of fun accessorizing. Prices Moderate.
GIFTS: Anita Russo ceramics, via Romana 11/r. One of the shops I always visit before going home, Anita is a local artisan who owns her own ‘bottega’ on the hip street via romana. She makes her own ceramic goods, and they are simply beautiful, a range of cups, lamps, plates and a variety of items for the home, you can also make ceramics with her as well, through a private class. Prices: budget.
BOUTIQUE SHOP | And Company. address: Via Maggio, 47. The store and studio of Betty Soldi is always one of my personal favorite places in Florence. Betty is a talented calligrapher whose hodgepodge of beautiful plateware, coffee cups and items for the home also feature her calligraphy and her partners beautiful antique furniture finds. Perfect as a take home souvenir that actually is usable, every-time I go there she has new cool items. I also did a calligraphy workshop with her which was a lot of fun, you can email Betty to schedule a private class. Her and her partner are also owners of a chic boutique B&B across the street that is one of the coolest hotels in Florence. Betty and Matteo can do no wrong. Prices: moderate
HANDMADE | Giulia Materia, Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti 13r. This store is the brainchild of artisan Giulia, originally from Arezzo and whose childhood face bares the logo of this small, but charming shop just steps from Palazzo Pitti. Inside you will find hand-bound colorful notebooks and pretty dresses, everything ‘made in Italy’ (but really) and many items created from recycled goods.
GIFTS | Tabesce, via romana 39r. Another ‘made in Italy’ spot that is a wonderful place to shop for gifts, the owner Chiara is super friendly and will explain any item and offer you tea, what more can you want? I love my hedgehog table piece made out of an old journal and glass blown products that we often pick up for friends or relatives. They also sell fun handmade hats, that they can fit to your head and pretty jewelry, often made of blown glass.
STATIONARY | Le 18 Lune di Chiara Alberti, via romana 18/r. A tiny little spot selling small gifts and beautifully designed cards with Florentine motives in illustrated form.
PRINTS | L’Ippogrif, Via Santo Spirito, 5r. This special place sells prints (using copper) and is owned by artisan Gianni Raffaelli. One of those places that you really should make some time to chat with the people inside as their craft may not be around forever.
DRESSES | L’Abito Che… Vorrei, via romana 62r. A wonderful clothing store by talented artisan Giuliana Becattini whose shop is 110% Italian. Everything in there is made using quality materials and she will also create a dress that is especially for you, tailoring services including. I would describe her style as shabby chic, stylish and very comfortable. The sort of items that are timeless, plus she happens to be really nice.
JEWELRY ARTISAN | Sara Amrhein, Via Di mezzo 6. Sara is a wonderful person that I recently featured on my localsILove interview series on the blog. She is a local artisan specializing in bold, expressive polymer clay art jewelry that are the perfect statement pieces. website. Prices moderate.
Neighborhood: Santa Maria Novella
COOL SOUVENIR/GIFTS: Mio Concept Store. Via della Spada, 34, one of my favorite boutique shops in town, here you can find all sorts interesting up-cycled objects and jewelry, sourced from local artisans. They also feature plenty of items by local street artist Clet, which is definitely something very unique from Florence. Prices: moderate
HISTORICAL PERFUMERY/GIFTS: Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. via della spada 16. One of the oldest pharmacies in the world, you cannot miss this place. Browse each room slowly and make sure to pick up some of the more famous items, such as the rose tonic water and the ladybug liquor. You can also have a glass of tea here, it is pretty amazing to see in person. prices: moderate.
Neighborhood: San Niccolo
HANDMADE LEATHER NOTEBOOKS | Il Torchio, via dei bardi 17. One of my favorite shops in Florence is run by Canadian, ‘new Florentine’ Erin who is a modern artisan creating a selection of unique leather-bound notebooks (which she can personalize), photo albums, stationary, address books and more.
STREET ART/GIFTS | Clet’s Studio, Via dell’Olmo, 8. One of the city’s most iconic street artists, Clet Abraham, has a studio in the San Niccolo neighborhood of the city. Likely you will spot one of his modified signs around town. Here you can browse some of his most famous works, along with fun gifts such as street art stickers, sketches and more.
JEWELRY | Alessandro Dari, via san niccolo 155r. Just as much a museum as a shop, I love taking people to Alessandro’s eclectic studio for a look around his interesting architecturally-driven jewelry that resemble sculptures. He is 100% self-taught and uses his studio not only as a showroom, but also as a workshop, you can often peek him working on his latest creation in a small back corner. He also teaches private classes to small groups.
PERFUME | Lorenzo Villoresi, via dei bardi 14. A custom-perfume artisan located in the San Niccolo neighborhood, he has dedicated clients from all over the world, he also carries a line of home fragrances, candles and my favorite, his scented stones!
Neighborhood: Campo di Marte
LEATHER | Jen Mascali, an up and coming leather handbag designer who has items that I truly like. Her style is very bohemian, and she sources only the best leather for her bags. She runs her business out of the campo di marte neighborhood, you can contact her directly to make an appointment. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
MARKETS TO VISIT
Italians love their markets and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t love instagramming a picture from their latest farmer’s market trip downtown, a colorful medley of fresh squash and peaches. Ready for the taking. Well Florence has all of that and more and to get the most out of your holiday make sure to visit a few! Below I have categorized them by type.
Porcellino Market – think ‘wild boar’ in piazza Mercato Nuovo, Loggia del Porcellino. Open daily. Here you can get your 5 euros sarves, bags, purses, keychains and take a selfie with the most popular boar in town, don’t forget to rub his nose for good luck!
San Lorenzo Market around Piazza San Lorenzo (has recently been moved), but you can find it still off of via nazionale and the mercato centrale (plus behind). Here you will find a larger selection of tourist goods, not all made-in-italy but definitely fun to walk through. Open Daily.
Flower Market: Piazza della Repubblica, every Thursday morning (halts in August). I adore this market, not only because its vibrant atmosphere is like a Tuscan dream, also because prices are cheap. Allowing me to replace the plants I kill regularly.
Lets Talk Food!
Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo Neighborhood, open daily until around 2pm. An institution of a place, with vendors hawking all sorts of products, from fish to exotic fruits. Upstairs you will find the fancy food court I adore which makes this area even more awesome!
Sant’Ambrogio Market, east of the city in Piazza Ghiberti. Open until around 1pm, here is where I normally shop for fruits & veggies., plus meats, fish and cheeses. There is something about this place that makes you want to embrace a healthy lifestyle once and for all. Plus everything is really really nice.
Fierucola market, Piazza Santo Spirito – every third Sunday of the month. The organic lover’s dream, this market has all sorts of local bio-products, including quality honey’s, cheeses and olive oil.
The Antique Lover’s Kryptonite
Ciompi Market located in Piazza dei Ciompi, every day but Sunday (except for the last Sunday which makes for a huge extension of the regular market). A fun place that I love to walk through and search for vintage sunglasses, old city keys, maps, record players that I cannot afford and more. This is one of my favorite places in all of Florence.
Antiques Market at the Fortezza da Basso, west of the city not far from the Santa Maria Novella Train Station. This market is held on the third saturday and sunday of the month and is the mother of antique markets in Florence. You can find some real gems here, just check out the photos from Birgitte’s Blog ‘A Dusty Olive Green’.
Santo Spirito Market, Piazza Santo Spirito, every second Sunday of the month. I love this market because it’s in the oltrarno and I have often found cool stuff here to boot.
The ‘Everything’ Market
Le Cascine market at Le Cascine Park every Tuesday from 7am to 2pm. This market has been here as long as I can remember and combines everything from old sweaters, farmer’s market products, shoes, scarves, anything youdidn’t know you needed.
There are plenty of options when it comes to cooking classes in Florence. My favorites include The Food Studio, in the oltrarno neighborhood, and Desinare (which has a truly incredible space).
Though for a TRUE experience, I highly recommend the cooking class offered by Giulia of the blog, Jul’s Kitchen. Just a short bus ride away from Florence, you can market shop in a beautiful little town where she grew up and learn how to cook simple, wonderful Tuscan meals with someone I truly think is a gem. Her little house is almost a ‘borgo’ (Tuscan hamlet) in itself. Highly recommend.
Wine & Food Tours
My go-to trusted wine tour company is most definitely Degustibus. They are an association that believes in local, small producers and they will take you on a small group tour in Chianti, Montepulciano or anywhere you might be thinking.
Alternatively hire Coral Sisk, guide and blogger of The Curious Appetite, she took me on an aperitivo tour quite recently that I loved, and she does a variety of market, gelato, and food-themed tours all around Florence. A Seattle native who is in love with all things Italy. Her tours are unique and a lot of fun.
Fiat 500 Tours – Vespas – More
My Tours does a little bit of everything, but what I think is truly special are their Chianti Vintage Fiat 500 tour, be a rider if you don’t feel up to learning how to double-clutch, but riding in these guys is such a wonderful experience.
Ride a Tuk Tuk, you know those cute little three-wheeled cars, in a small tour around Florence. While I secretly hate segways (not really a secret) this instead seems like a lot more fun. My friends who have been on this tour truly enjoy it.
For a personalized, high-end tour by experts that will wine and dine you with ease. Go with Annie and Rome and Tuscany Tours, this is definitely more for those with a budget, but they offer a more curated experience. I especially am impressed with their new itinerary for a unique shopping tour taking you into real Italian leather factories with a local handbag designer, plus fancypants lunches!
Guides I Trust
For art history and private tours, I really like Alexandra Lawrence and Molly McIlWrath both of whom I personally have done tours for. I also highly recommend the tours offered by Context Travel, which used highly-educated guides who go more in-depth (in a fun way) all over Europe.
- Where to access WIFi and get a coffee at the same time.
- Make your own wine tour this Fall or Winter in Florence, my tips!
- Useful info about Florence, Italy that you should read before coming.
- Learn about Florence via literature, check out my “itinerary” through the city by reading books.
- Be brave and try local specialities like Trippa & lampredotto!
- This ‘food tour with a Florentine‘ is a great way to start off your culinary journey in Florence.
- Invite your friends over and have some else come make brunch for you – this is one company that will!
- Explore my favorite area of Florence – the Oltrarno or ‘Other side of the river’
- Escape to the countryside for a fabulous lunch overlooking the hills of Tuscany, this place is only 18 km away!
- What about a coffee overlooking one of the best views of Florence? Check this out.
- My top budget lunch spot in the center – you have to eat here!
- This museum is a hidden find in Florence and well worth a bus ride!
- Winter Blues getting you down? Here are 5 Tips to battling the blues in Florence.
- Visiting the Vasari Corridor, if possible, is one of the BEST things you can do in Florence. Many locals haven’t been!
- Florence itineraries under the stars
- How to stay cool next summer in Florence. tips here.
- Tour Florence’s gorgeous hidden terraces on top of many really nice hotels. They are open to the public in the warmer months.
- Visit Florence’s gorgeous Rose garden located underneath Piazzale Michelangelo. The perfect place to get the perfect panoramic view of the city and if your lucky, see beautiful flowers in bloom.
- Love to Dance? Check out my current list of clubs to shake your booty around the city.
- If the weather is not cooperating, this post has a great creative store where you can get all sorts of neat gadgets, games and gifts.
- Check out one of my favorite parks in Florence, Villa Favard (bring a picnic and some friends).
- Rent a bike (only 3 euros for an entire day for residents, and cheap for non-residents as well). Bike stands are at the train station Santa Maria Novella and Piazza Santa Croce and close around 7pm or when they “feel” like it.
- Florence has several film-festivals throughout the year, usually during spring and fall and here what was on the big screen this spring.
- Did you know there is a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church located near the Fortezza di Basso? It’s worth a visit and be sure to visit one of the antique markets on select saturday-sundays in the city.
- Hide out in one of the cities several library-cafe’s. Bring a book or take the opportunity to catch up with a good friend.
- If you’re a history nerd like me, get on the bus and visit one of the war cemeteries on the outskirts. Not only are the areas where the cemeteries are located stunning, it’s a chance to learn more about WWII and read the touching inscriptions of family members visiting the cemetery.
- Visit the (free) gorgeous church of San Miniato al Monte above Piazzale Michelangelo. Best views of the city and 1,000 years of history in one place.
- Be silly with your friends and take some vintage photos in the photobooth-fotoautomatica located on via agnolo. Warning, it can be addictive.
- Vintage is pretty popular in Italy, there are many shops in the center with cool items for sale and specific festivals. It is expensive but like me, you can always window shop for free.
- Step up your Italian-language learning and go to the movies. It’s a great way to beat the heat (or cold) and local cinemas offer special promotional cards to help save more cash.
Outside of the city:
- San Galgano’s abbey is rumored to be where the story of King Artur’s “sword in the stone” came about. Indeed there is a medieval sword stuck in the stone in the chapel above the monastery. Highly recommend visiting (they also hold opera’s in the open-air abbey).
Monte Giovi, Rufina, Tuscany
- Hiking is one of my passions (when I’m not eating) and there is plenty of choice for those who love the art of trekking. My favorite place to go is here, close to my favorite restaurant, coincidence? I think not.
- A more detailed post about my Sunday escape to Monte Giovi – 30 minutes from Florence.
Venice & Viareggio (locations for Carnivale)
- Budget ideas/tips for those who want to experience Italy’s famous carnivale. Everyone should visit at least once. You can see 2013 carnivale updates in my February list of events.
- Our first time to Viareggio’s carnivale celebrations.
- In July and August this gorgeous area is always cool enough to warrant a sweater. We happened to go in the cold weather and ended up having a snowball fight
- My favorite thermal springs happen to be in Rapolano Terme. But of course, Saturnia is the best (if you don’t mind driving to Grosseto)
- Get out of the city and take a day-trip to Pistoia. Great Saturday markets and gorgeous surrounding countryside, who knows you may just meet a donkey like we did.
- Every year this small pretty town located close to Florence in lastra a signa has a really cute medieval festival. Fun for kids and adults alike.