sunset

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. I keep this update as best I can, which means this is info relevant to the current year - 2014 :).

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

Might be a silly question to start with but I strongly think that it’s good to know why you are visiting a famous place ;-).

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. :). I recommend getting a good tour guide in Florence, like Alexandra Lawrence or Molly Mcilwrath to show you around, at least for a half day so you don’t miss out on the valuable history of this amazing city. 

Famous areas of the city – a little #piazzaporn for you all!

The most famous areas in the city include Piazza del Duomo where the famous church and baptistery San Giovanni are located a must see for anyone, also climbing the cupola is highly recommended, Piazza della Repubblica is one of my favorite places, Piazza Santa Croce which is home to the famous ‘calcio storico’ or historical football matches and may outdoor events, Piazzale Michelangelo (best panoramic view over the city – coupled with the Church of San Miniato al Monte), Piazza Santa Maria Novella, the area surrounding San Lorenzo – you must visit the central food market and primo piano fancy food court, the neighborhood of San Niccolo, piazza della passera and we mustn’t forget the Santo Spirito area which is where I live and where I love wandering. There are a lot of off the beaten paths area of Florence which is why you should definitely not feel forced to visit only the most famous museums, take time to explore the Brancacci Chapel in Piazza del Carmine, or the Santo Spirito Church.

Keep in mind that Florence is extremely walk-able so just take a map and get to know the city the first day on foot, save the ‘hop on, hop off tour’ for Rome ;-).

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 and yes you can and should climb it)
  • Galleria dell’Accademia (where the real David is located) – you can have lunch or dinner here after.
  • Galleria degli Uffizi & the Vasari Corridor
  • Palazzo Pitti & the Boboli Gardens
  • Palazzo Vecchio (a visit to the tower is a must – think panoramic views of the city)
  • Ponte Vecchio
  • Brancacci Chapel, Piazza del Carmine (famous fresco by Masaccio)
  • Horne House Museum
  • Forte Belvedere
  • Santa Maria Novella church
  • Santa Croce church
  • San Marco church
  • 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 (in theory you can call them if you get locked out of your house and have no where else to turn).
  • 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 and they are quite competent.
  • 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 which is the easiest way! 

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. I usually end up cursing someone out when they linger around the ticket machines when I am trying to get my ticket, not fun! 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 to pay less, piazza del duomo, piazza della repubblica and piazza santa croce. No need to call in advance, they normally take 5 minutes to arrive anywhere in central Florence.

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 and at the Fortezza di Basso. These parking lots are open 24 hours and cost about 1-2 euros per hour and get crazier as time goes on, the people that own the parking lots are satans children because it is ridiculous. Be careful to avoid driving in the center and getting a fine because of the ZTL system (for your sanity at the same time) but legally, more or less you cannot come in before 7:30pm. They have these restrictions put into place to keep a lot of traffic from the historical center, smartly they have installed handy lights, green means you can enter, red means you cannot unless you have specific access. *Ask your rental agency to give you a map and explain where you can and cannot go.

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, most B&Bs and some apartment rentals have bikes available to rent.

Segways – can’t help you there 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}! Plus Florence (and Tuscany) is very pet-friendly, I have a baby beagle and everyone loves and accepts her in most places. You can get a great list of pet shops in the city via this great blog post by my friend Gina and a lot of them know dog-sitters so you will be in good hands.

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

Tours I recommend

I highly recommend hiring a local expert to help you explore Florence since the history is so rich and you don’t want to wander with just a guidebook. While there are many tours in the city, my favorite are run by Context Travel, which used docents who are highly-educated and really know their stuff, I enjoy every tour I have been with them, especially if Alexandra Lawrence is leading the way.

 

Free Wifi – Where to connect! 

 

View map in google maps here

PDF Printer    Send article as PDF   

There are 25 comments

Add yours
  1. Shabana

    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. Vicki

    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. Beth

    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. Anchalee

    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.

    • ggnitaly84

      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. :)

    • GirlinFlorence

      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. Konstantinos

    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 ?

  6. Mikela

    Hi lady! Wonderful blog and great tips! I follow your blog, from Slovenia:)

    We’re going in florence in august, i’m wondering if you could tell me if it’s safe staying in Campo Di Marte? We rented a super good appartment(la farina suites), it has great reviews, and safe parking space.
    How are people in traffic? Offensive, impatient? I hope not, since this part of town isn’t in city centre?

    I hope you will find a minute to reply to my message:) keep up the great work,
    Mikela

    • GirlinFlorence

      Hello Mikela, a follower from Slovenia awesome !I absolutely love your country! rest assured that Campo di Marte is a very safe area, I have plenty of friends who live there and I go there quite often, just think of it as a Florence suburb. Obviously Italians are quite known to be ahem aggresive drivers but it actually isn’t that bad, just be aware for moped, bikes and cars to change lanes at times without alerting you ;-). Since you will be here in August, you may find little traffic as most Italians go to the seaside during this month. Campo di Marte is well connected with the center via bus so you should have no problem getting around if you decide to leave the car behind :). Bon voyage!

  7. Donna

    Hi Georgette I am coming to Florence on my own for 3 months and have rents a loft on Borgo Degli Albizi in the historic center. It looks like it is very accessible to everything. What do you think of the area and do you have any great suggestions on meeting people. I am in my 50′s

    • GirlinFlorence

      Ciao! It’s a great area that is very central so you won’t have any issues being in the midst of things. As for meeting people I would try going to the same coffee bar or place to get to know the same people if possible or try taking a one day cooking course, I’m sure you will meet someone in your same situation. I wish you the best of luck and a great trip!

  8. JS

    This is one of the coolest posts that I came across while doing last moment frantic (re)search on good tourism guide in Florence. My impending Florence trip (tomorrow I leave for Florence; it’s THAT near) got sorted so beautifully. Thanks for this. Always wanted to visit Florence. Super thrilled.

    Cheers from India!

    JS

  9. Pat

    Ciao, GIF,

    Thank you for your informative posts, I read this one as well as the one related to proper fashion in Florence. My artist friend and I are planning a trip to Italy in late September to mid October of next year. We are excited! I have two questions if you have time to respond: First, are there any smaller, quaint, but worthwhile museums of Renaissance art that you would recommend? Second, where are your favorite places to shop for leather goods, jewelry, and clothing?

    Molto grazie,

    Pat

  10. terri

    Love your site … eyes of Florence from a Texan. I’m a Floridian, but same country. Hubby and I planning a trip. In the research stage. Would love to spend 2 weeks, Rome, Florence, Venice, Sicily (hubby family from Sicily so he wants to visit Palermo., I hear Cinque terre is nice. I’ll follow your site. Great Info Thanks

    • GirlInFlorence

      Hello Terri, thanks for checking out the site! You should absolutely come, there is much to see here – I feel like I am still discovering everything and I have been here eight years.


Post a new comment