Before you go, Florence, Italy

Yes, I admit Italy can be as confusing to navigate, I can’t even tell you how many times my GPS has tried to take me into the seven circles of hell (aka on an unpaved road in Tuscany after 10pm) so I decided to provide some useful info this dedicated page for newcomers to Florence to have a base before heading to this awesome city.

Why is this city one of the most famous cities in the world?

Fun Facts: Florence’s population is roughly 370,000 – 375,000 people and it is the esteemed capital of Tuscany with Saint John the Baptist being the patron saint of the city. Founded in the first century before christ, it was also once the retirement area for Roman soldiers during the Roman empire. It developed as a cultural mecca under the Medici family {I linked to one of my favorite books about this famous family} and is also known as the birthplace of the renaissance age. Some famous characters from Florence (or nearby) include my favorite hook-nosed Dante ALghieri (founder of the Italian language), Brunelleschi {thank him for fixing us up for a convenient place to meet – the Duomo}, Leonardo da Vinci, Galilileo Galilei (from Pisa). They all did their personal best to put Tuscany on the map well before the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was released. :)

Famous areas of the city

The most famous areas in the city include Piazza del Duomo where the famous church and baptistery San Giovanni are located, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Santa Croce, Piazzale Michelangelo (best panoramic view over the city), Piazza Santa Maria Novella, San Lorenzo, San Niccolo, and we mustn’t forget the Santo Spirito area. Florence is extremely walk-able so just take a map and get to know the city the first day on foot.

Famous monuments of the city

The most famous monuments besides the Duomo include the Campanile di Giotto (82-meter bell tower next to the Duomo), Galleria dell’Accademia (where the real David is located), Galleria degli Uffizi & the Vasari Corridor, Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Vecchio (a visit to the tower is a must – think panoramic views of the city), Ponte Vecchio, Forte Belvedere,  Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, Bargello museum and this is just a taste* of what exists in the marvelous UNESCO Heritage site that is the Florence historical center. I also recommend visiting the Palazzo Strozzi (great exhibits) and the Stibbert Museum, an armory museum a bus ride away – its awesome plus they have a great park!

Emergency numbers:

  • Carabinieri – 112
  • Police – 113
  • Fire department – 115
  • Ambulance 118

Information offices in Florence:

  • Information Office – Piazza Stazione 4, in front of the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train station. Open Monday through Saturday 8:30am – 7pm. Sunday 8:30am – 2pm. Tel +39 055 290/832
  • Information Office – Piazza Duomo (look under the arches) you will see it! (very new).
  • Information Office – Borgo S. Croce 29/r, (behind Piazza Santa Croce). March until October, Monday through Saturday 9am – 7pm. Sunday 9am-2pm. From November until February, Monday through Saturday 9am – 5pm. Sunday 9am – 2pm. Tel 055 234/0444.
  • Agenzia per il turismo, via cavour 1/r. Monday through Saturday 8:30am-6:30pm. Sunday 8:30am-1:30am. Tel 055 290/0832.

24-Hour Pharmacies in the center

  • Farmacia Comunale – Piazza Stazione 13. Tel 055 289/435
  • Farmacia Molteni – Via Calzaiuoli 7/r. Tel 055 289/490

Post Offices in Florence (these are the two main ones, there are many smaller ones throughout the city)

  • Biggest post office – Via Pellicceria 3 {Piazza della Repubblica}, a must visit because it is quite beautiful!
  • Post Office – Via Pietrapiana 53. {The immigration help-desk is also located here}.

The bus system in Florence is fairly simple to navigate. ATAF is the main bus company, while SITA and LAZZI focus more on the outskirts of the city. You can buy a ticket  which costs 1.20 at any local tabacchi (look for the blue T), newsstands, or even with your cell phone by sending a sms with “ataf” in the subject to 4880105.

You can buy a ticket on-board from the bus driver but it costs two euros and the bus drivers can be evil. If you are going to be in town for a bit and riding the bus often, I recommend buying the handy “carta agile” for either 10 or 20 euros which you just scan on the bus each trip and which doesn’t expire.

Airport shuttle – called the Volainbus which you can get from the station (near the taxi stand) or from the Sita bus station, behind the central train station. The ticket costs around five euros for a single trip.

Here is the official Terravision daily bus hours from Florence (train station & airport) to Pisa airport

Train times are really easy to find using Trenitalia’s english website. If you book a week or two ahead, or even more.. tickets can be heavily discounted to popular destinations like Rome or Florence. You can purchase your tickets online or at the station itself at one of the self-service machines. Be careful to watch out for gypsies or people begging while you are buying your ticket. Trenitalia now has competition with the new train service Italo treno which apparently has wifi and coffee machines. I haven;t taken it yet, but I’m dying to, at the moment it only goes to Rome, Venice, Milan and Turin. Website here.

Train types include the slow train or ‘regional train’ (R) often called “topo” or mouse and stops at almost every station, intercity (IC) is faster and stops only at a few, while of course the Eurostar and FrecciaRossa are the bomb, superfast with the price to match.

Taxis: main number is +39 055 4242. They come very quick and if you are in the center, just walk to one of the taxi stands in front of the train station, piazza del duomo, piazza della repubblica and piazza santa croce.

Where to stay? 

  • Apartment stays! Personally I am a huge fan of renting an apartment and feeling like a ‘local’ using the apartment as my cozy base. I recommend going with a company you can trust like ,Go With Oh, which has apartment rentals around Europe and their Florence selection is quite vast. I like that they organize by area which I think is more important for a ‘newbie’. Plus they offer some great three-day suggestions for the city and Fiesole, which is a huge plus.  I also highly recommend AirBnb Just because I have always had good experiences using them while traveling though make sure that the apartment offered isn’t a scam [aka read reviews!].
  • Affordable & Awesome B&B. For a really nice & affordable B&B located near the Florence center – I highly recommend Villa Landucci - a boutique B&B known for being a gastronomic gem & each room is named after a famous wine {I like the bolgheri room}. They even offer in-house wine tastings and can take you on tours to the places your room is named after! One of the few hotels I know in the Florence center that is pet-friendly and actually wants you to bring your dog/cat!
  • Fancy and central! Otherwise if you are looking for a fancy hotel in the center, Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni 1 is gorgeous, smaller luxury hotel and more personal – not to mention they have an amazing 360 degree view above the city.They are super nice and that really counts for a lot in the luxury hotel market.
  • Worth every star! Obviously I can’t afford to stay here myself but I really really wish I did. The Four Seasons in Florence is extraordinary luxury, they have thought of every little detail – great spa and outdoor restaurant.
  • The Hostel Experience. Looking for a hostel? I like Archi Rossi, on via faenza in the center.  Otherwise there is the large Plus Hostel (both camping on the outskirts & a central location.

Outside of Florence {In Tuscany}

  • Gorgeous agriturismo Tenuta Lupinari in Bucine (Valdambra) is fabulous! Pool, castle, great food nestled in the middle of the countryside. They also make their own wine & oil!
  • Castelfalfi Golf Resort Localita’ Castelfalfi, Montaione, Florence. +39 0571 891000. This place is like Tuscan Disneyland for golfers!

Where to park? 

Florence has several parking garages around the city, they are expensive but at least your car will be safe. They are located at the train station, Piazza Beccaria, Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Piazza della Liberta. These parking lots are open 24 hours and cost about 1-2 euros per hour and get crazier as time goes on. Be careful to avoid driving in the center (for your sanity at any time) but legally you cannot come in before 7:30pm.

On Sundays you have free reign. Along the arno river close to Piazza Santa Croce, there are many spaces to park though they go away fast on weekend nights. Just make sure you park only in the blue spaces which are available for everyone. Rules are that you must pay for a ticket until 8pm, after 8pm it is free to park there. The white spaces are for residents only and if you park there, you can (and likely) will be fined. Also be careful to check the signs for street-cleaning which they normally do once-a-week during which no cars can be parked or they will be towed (the signs are always on the street).

For bike rental, read this blog post . This month their will be a new bike-sharing system in the oltrarno area of Florence. I will write about it once I see it in action in person and know that it works ;-), but it does sound pretty awesome. If you buy a bike – get a cheap one because unfortunately they get stolen quote often. Get at least two bike locks and invest in some good ones.

Segways – can’t help you because I think they look stupid. Florence is small – walk or ride a bike.

Need a pet sitter? Here you go, they even have a website! {in English}, or ask me! I love both cats & dogs and have done it on several occasions in Firenze :-).

Need a House sitter, ask me! I’ve done it before and I love it . references are provided (only in the historical center).

Free Wifi – Where to connect! 

11 thoughts on “Before you go, Florence, Italy

  1. Thanks for all the great information, I am going to be in Florence for 3 days using only public transportation. is the “carta agile” only for in town use

  2. Thank you for these helpful tips. My sister and I will be leaving for Italy in about two weeks – first week is in Florence. We want to bring hostess gifts for the keyholders and for the instructors at our cooking class. Can you recommend any items that are unique to the US (Midwest specifically) that are not available in Italy?

  3. I live in Austin, Texas and just found your blog! I love it. My oldest son is in college and he is studying in Florence this spring so we are bringing all the other boys and going to visit for 2 weeks. We are so excited! Thanks for all the helpful info!!!

  4. hi There,
    Me and my friend will go to Venice for day trip and going to Florence by train the next day for one day trip, Do you think it’s a good idea to do only day trip? and then we will heading to Rome for 3 days.

    • I think Venice for a day trip is a good idea, but I do think Florence deserves at least two days (if you can only stop for a day, than its not the end of the world but its such a fab city. :)

    • I would say that I would just take money out of the ATM (in larger amounts) when you are here, bypass the currency exchange because they are real thieves. The problem with banks is that often they won’t change your money unless you have an account there..

  5. Hi Girlinflorence. Really like your site/blog. I find myself thinking a lot about moving to Florence. I’ve been in Florence before for 3 days and loved it. I am from Greece and I live in the Uk at the moment. But I’m still a long ways before I actually move to Italy.
    I was wondering if u have any tips for me. I know about the recession over there since my country is also in a very bad spot. Do u think it would be a good idea to move there ?

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