My husband and I recently went on a whirlwind tour of Europe, and Florence in Italy was one of the only cities I had really set my heart on seeing. For Australians with full-time work commitments (like me), going to Europe is often a once in a lifetime experience. So if I was going to be in Europe, I sure as heck didn’t want to miss a city I had been dreaming of visiting since I was a teenager!
Locally called “Firenze“, the Tuscany region capital is situated North of Rome and has a reputation for being quieter, cleaner and more laid-back than other tourist destinations in Italy (e.g. Rome and Naples). But don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security – visiting any famous city that tourists flock to brings with it the risk of being exploited or falling victim to scams by those more opportunistic than yourself. With the following tips, you should be well on your way to enjoying the best Florence has to offer, without getting caught out!
I must say, after years of building this city up in my head, I wasn’t disappointed. Florence took my breath away and each corner I turned I was met with truly stunning architecture, quaint apartments and plaza spaces and scores of museums, art galleries and restaurants. You will not find yourself bored here, no matter where your passions lie!
I was also taken aback by just how much effort has been put into maintaining the centuries-old buildings in Florence and the care taken in protecting the integrity of its monuments and the history behind them. In my (very humble, but perhaps a little biased) opinion the people of Florence, in particular, take a great amount of pride in their city, and it shows everywhere you lay your eyes on.
GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR VISIT
To get the most out of your time in Florence, do your research and make a list of some key attractions you want to see, and other things you want to do (have a look at VisitFlorence.com as a start).
If you are like me and mostly enjoy seeing new places on foot, it will be important to book accommodation close to the city center. A lot of the major hotel chains have hotels in Florence – we stayed in the Hotel Mercure Firenze Centro – which was lovely and perfectly comfortable for us – but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t care for creature comforts while traveling, then honestly I think you can get away with staying somewhere cheaper.
Our Top Places To Stay In Florence, Italy:
A couple of days before you set foot in Florence and get yourself settled, register online for a walking tour in the city and make this the first item on your itinerary. You can find tours and reviews of tours via sites likes TripAdvisor, and I really recommend considering:
- A local Italian tour guide who has grown up or spent a large amount of time in Florence, rather than someone who only studied about its history from afar.
- A registered tour guide. Tour guides are meant to undertake a rigorous study to gain their licenses, and pay taxes per person they bring on every tour).
- A tour that operates on a “tip-based” system: this means that, at the end of the tour, you tip the guide what you think the tour was worth, rather than paying up-front. This keeps the responsibility on the tour guide to perform well, and there is generally no commitment to stay for the entirety of the tour. If they are wonderful, tip generously.
You’ll probably find that some of the main tourist attractions on your list are covered by your tour – happy days! At the end of your walking tour, don’t hesitate to quiz your guide on the most authentic places to visit and eat at, nearby attractions off the beaten track that they recommend, and places to avoid. We did this our entire trip and our guides’ recommendations completely changed our itinerary – for the better.
There is only so much research you can do online, so make sure you speak to someone in the know on the ground! One such recommendation was to have dinner at the Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo Market: a wonderful collection of stalls for produce and dining inside a two-level market built in 1870.
I would also recommend setting aside some time – an afternoon, maybe – to “get lost”. I don’t mean this in the literal sense (and don’t come for me if you find yourself 20 miles out of town with no way back)! But take some time to go for a walk without any intended destination. GPS services on our phones are so reliable these days, so pick a path and see where it leads; walk into a restaurant where you have no idea what you’re eating and no one speaks English; get a taste of what life is like for the locals and snack, snack, snack!
Related Post: 10 Things You Must Do With Your Girlfriends In Florence
COMMON SCAMS TO LOOK OUT FOR
With all of the sights and experiences Florence offers, it also comes the risk of getting taken advantage of. Like a lot of tourist destinations, pick-pocketing and begging is rife in Florence, as well as common (and not so common) scams.
My biggest tip would be to always be hyper-aware of where your belongings are and never set them down out of arm’s reach when in busy areas. Also, buy a backpack with zips or clasps that open facing your back, rather than on the outside of the backpack, and avoid storing any valuables in any outside pockets that can be easily accessed. Alternatively, use a bag that sits at the front of you so you can see it at all times.
If you have a digital camera, fight the (completely understandable) urge to set up your camera to take solo photos in busy areas or ask a stranger to take a photo of you. Chances are you might be waving your camera bye-bye. Similarly, don’t hold your selfie-stick out willy-nilly for someone to grab your phone. If you are traveling alone and need that perfect hi-def solo shot, play it smart and get to your intended destination early in the morning (getting there at 6 am on a weekday or Sunday means you won’t need to Photoshop people out of the background, too!).
The main attractions (such as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and surrounds, or the Ponte Vecchio) get ridiculously busy from about 11 am through to at least 5 or 6 pm (and later in the summer months). And by “busy” I mean that it’s hard to get through this area without shuffling slowly like a zombie and copping a right-hook to the temple from a delinquent selfie-stick (please don’t be that person in crowds). And with these huge crowds, it is easy for you not to notice someone reaching into your bags.
TIPS TO AVOID SCAMS
In these crowded tourist areas, also avoid:
- Making eye contact with, or offering assistance to, people who try to catch your attention, e.g. by screaming suddenly, dropping something or by grabbing your arm. Usually, this is a distraction to engage you in their scam or assist another person to pickpocket you.
- Engaging with people who dress up as though they are “actors” adding to the atmosphere – typically you will be coerced into paying for receiving their audience.
- Being swept away by peddlers who put jewelry on you or offer to take your photo. The gesture usually comes at an exorbitant price.
- Buying from fake artists – there are lots of them sitting at easels all around the city, particularly around the various art museums. Most of the time the “art” are rip-off prints, so be wary!
- Signing any petitions, surveys or other forms outside of the buildings you visit where you need to fill out your personal information (such as name and email address). Your information can be used in identity theft and sometimes – as above – the interaction serves as a distraction and you will be pick-pocketed as well. If you have any doubt whether what you’re signing is mandated or official, seek clarification from someone else or refuse and walk away.
- Paying for entry to an attraction that doesn’t actually require a fee. Sometimes people will put on their best suit, wait at the door and try to mislead you into thinking that an attraction has an entry fee. Check online before you go.
- Flashing wads of cash or counting your money – come on, you’re just asking for trouble!
BEGGARS AND HOMELESSNESS – YOU’RE ACTUALLY NOT HELPING
Finally, it is really easy to get swept up in the emotion of visiting these big, foreign, cities and interacting with beggars and the homeless population. Florence is no different. Witnessing homelessness in a foreign country is heartbreaking and you should always remember that you’re super privileged to be able to travel to the other side of the world when some will never leave the city limits.
But keep grounded: Homelessness is a big picture problem which requires big-picture solutions. Your donations – no matter how well-intended – only serves to put a band-aid over the issue and could put you in a dangerous situation. To relive a recent (mildly harrowing) experience, while in Florence we witnessed a young tourist being dragged out of a laundromat by a homeless man in the hopes that the tourist would buy him dinner; all because the tourist had previously given him some money when approached. This guy was lucky we were there to witness it, otherwise who knows what might have happened when he resisted?
If you really care about contributing to the less fortunate in the cities you visit, my advice is to leave your donation in the capable hands of a local charity that is fully across the particular needs of the homeless population in their area, and have the resources to lobby government on your behalf to make your bucket-list destination a more livable place for everyone.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Keep these tips in mind and you should be well-equipped to enjoy your time in Florence, have some really authentic experiences, and not get bogged down in any trouble while you’re taking it all in! Go forth and get stuck into your holiday, and don’t be afraid to change your plans if something better comes along!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Florence. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Our Top Places To Stay In Florence, Italy:
- Ville Sull’Arno
- NH Collection Firenze Porta Rossa
- Hotel Bernini Palace
- Find the best price on hotels in Florence, Italy
- Sign up to AirBnB and receive a US $35 off your first booking
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Briar Bass
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