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.
I’m eating… at the new burger join in town Polpa Burger in the San Lorenzo neighborhood, my burger was the ‘orto’ version with regular beef. Cool concept ‘burger bar’ in a little piazza that quite frankly has gone a bit downhill when it comes to the restaurants nearby (with the exception of Trattoria Mario). I also brunched at Le Vespe Cafe on via ghibellina where they now have a breakfast burrito, which basically is this Texan girl’s idea of heaven.
I’m drinking..the gingeriest moscow mule at new bar Lo Sverso in San Lorenzo. The barman make their own unique syrups and it is definitely a popular hangout already, bringing about new life to this area of town. I also (in conjunction) had a beautiful ‘detox’ juice with spinach, celery and ginger (and dandelion extract) from Le Vespe Cafe.
I stopped by.. a special summer party hosted by my friend Nardia aka ‘Lost in Florence’ at La Serra MK Textile Atelier in a beautiful studio location close to piazza san marco. There were several artisans showcasing their wares including Enzo with whom I took a special ceramics painting class a year before. Along with Enzo, Tinka from Slovenia, showcased her wonderful jewelry that looks so delicately wrapped that I wish I had more cash to buy it all on the spot.
I shopped at.. Coin and Dixie, one being a sort of department store in the center of Florence but say hello to summer sales! Dixie on the other hand has a few outlets on via del corso and the road from the Duomo to the station and features simple, well-cute clothing that I love. On sale (until late August) this is THE time to buy things like shoes, jackets, blazers, handbags, suitcases, sheets, well anything really!
I got the most gorgeous black sheath dress that goes with anything and everything for under 30 euros. 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).
This September, there will be a special series of fun workshops that are open to the public covering themes from calligraphy with the fabulous Betty Soldi, flower workshops, picnics in the countryside to beautifully curated dinners in the Tuscany. I personally attended the first event with the lovely ladies of Italian Eye and can vouch for the quality of this series. The full program can be viewed here.
You can find out more here, but in their words ‘this will be part tour, part creative workshops, part relaxation and then a whole lot of Italian food and guilty pleasure….A true mix & match of British & Tuscan culture! You just have to relax, open your mind to creativity and your mouth to delicious food. We will do the rest…”.
Some events will be in the center of Florence, others will take place in the surrounding countryside, for those without a car you can contact them regarding drivers or taxis. Mention #GirlInFlorence for a special goodybag that they will provide upon arrival.
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.
San Niccolo Tower.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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: email@example.com
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).
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.
For art history and private tours, I really like Alexandra Lawrence and Molly McIlWrath both of whom I personally have done tours for.
Outside of the city:
Monte Giovi, Rufina, Tuscany
Venice & Viareggio (locations for Carnivale)