Florence is a magnificent city, full of history and charm. There is so much to see that it can be overwhelming to decide what things to do whilst you are visiting. In this post we share 6 top tips to help you make the most of your time in Florence. These pieces of advice will help you to savour and enjoy the beauty of Florence and never want to leave!
1. AVOID THE GELATO MOUNTAINS
One of the most useful tips I learnt while in Florence was how to find the best gelato. Walking around the city centre you are lured by window-front gelaterias with high piled mountains of gelato but don’t be fooled. I learnt from a local that these fancy ‘ice cream mountains’ aren’t real gelato.
In fact, the best gelato melts because it is fresh and doesn’t have preservatives that allow it to be moulded that high. Look for the gelaterias where the ice cream is away from the window, and in modest tubs; that is the best stuff. My personal favourites are the ‘Antica Gelateria Fiorentina’ near the city centre and ‘Gelateria della Passera’ on the Santo Spirito side of the Ponte Vecchio.
2. CROSS THE RIVER
When I first arrived in Florence, I flocked to the centre of the city to see all the sights, the Palazzo Vecchio and Duomo, but I quickly found myself disappointed by streets filled with chains and crowded with tourists. Where was the character, the charming Italian alleyways filled with bakeries and colourful mopeds?
I soon found out that to see Florence’s authentic, less touristy side, all you have to do is walk to the other side of the river. The Santo Spirito and San Niccolo areas are where you’ll fall in love with Florence. You’ll find winding cobble stone streets dotted with flower pots, cafes nestled around fountains in small piazzas, hidden art galleries, hilltop views of olive groves, and the best food and nightlife in the city.
S. Forno Panificio in the Santo Spirito area is the best bakery in the city. I probably tried every pastry and bread they make and there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t love. Plus, it is all made fresh right there every day. If you want delicious authentic Italian food, my favourites were: ‘Il Santo Bevitore, Trattoria Giovanni (the peppercorn steak!), Trattoria 4 Leoni, and Signorvino (open terrace over the river with a view of the Ponte Vecchio). Some restaurants are pricier than others but, on one or two nights, the taste sensation is worth the investment!
3. IT IS WORTH THE 500 STEPS TO THE TOP OF THE DUOMO
The first time I saw the Duomo, I was in complete awe, my thoughts split between, “This is absolutely stunning, how did a human make something so incredible?”, and, “Why the hell did I agree to climb this thing?” I almost chickened out, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It wasn’t nearly as taxing as I anticipated (there were lots of places to stop and rest), and the view from the top is breath taking, with 360-degree views over the whole city.
You have to book a time slot a day ahead of time at the tourist office nearby. If they’re available, I recommend choosing one of the latest slots so you can see the sun set. Pictures can’t capture the feeling of watching all of Florence light up in bright oranges and pinks as the sun descends; it was one of the highlights of my whole trip and made every step up worth it.
4. TAKE A FOOD TOUR
Florence is known as a city of remarkable art and architecture, but its art doesn’t just reside in paint and stone. Florentine food is an art in itself, and a food tour is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the city’s heritage and culture. I took a walking tour with Italy Segway Tours and experienced a 3 ½-hour culinary bonanza. It might seem like a long tour, but the time flies by as you leisurely eat your way from one location to the next (come with an empty stomach, trust me).
We tried truffle bread in a 120-year-old Bistro, drank red wine and ate fresh pesto at 11, sampled pastries at one of the oldest bakeries in the city, dipped Biscotti in sweet alcohol, and ate bread tomato soup (a local speciality) in the Mercado Centrale. Even if you’re not the experimental eater, there is something for everyone, and you don’t just eat a lot of food, you learn so much about Tuscan culture.
Regardless of whether you take a food tour, a trip to the Mercado Central is a must. Local food market on the bottom floor and artisan food court on top, here you’ll find all of Florence’s culinary specialities under one roof; luxury meals for a quarter of the restaurant price.
5. DON’T TRY TO SEE ALL OF THE MUSEUMS
It would probably take one person weeks to visit all the art galleries and museums in Florence, and it’s an easy mistake to try to fit as many as possible into the days you have. However, if you spend your whole visit going from one museum to the next, not only will you get ‘museum head’, but you’ll fail to see all the art that exists in the city streets.
So much of Florence’s great art is outside, in architecture, gardens, bridges, statues in squares (the open air statue gallery in the Palazzo Vecchio, for example). Plus, some of the most remarkable art in Florence isn’t in museums or galleries, but in the churches. The frescoes in the Duomo and the Santa Maria del Carmine are especially remarkable.
The Galleria Accademia, the Uffizi and the Palazzo Medici Ricardi are the three museums which I would say are a must-visit. They’re home to some of the most famous art and sculpture in the world and I felt like they embody the best of Florence’s art. The Uffizi is the Italian Louvre, so to speak, and it is worth getting a guide map that shows you where the most famous works are, otherwise you could spend days wandering its halls.
6. STOP & SMELL THE FLOWERS…. LITERALLY
You don’t have to go far to experience the natural beauty of Tuscany, and Florence’s gardens are the perfect place to unwind after hours of walking cobbled streets. Step into the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time as you explore terraced gardens and find hidden fountains cradled by wisteria. The gardens are set on a steep hill and, though your legs may beg otherwise, walk all the way to the top. You’ll be rewarded with remarkable views looking out over the city and a sunny lawn to rest your legs.
However, my favourite spot in all of Florence is the Giardino Della Rosa, below the Piazza Michelangelo. Again, it is a trek to the top, but once you’ve taken your panoramic pictures at the Piazza among the other tourists, wander across the road to enter the gardens below and take a break from the busy city.among the orange trees, you’ll find a quiet grassy spaces and a perfect view of the city centre, the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio gleaming in the sunlight. Bring a bottle of red wine and a small picnic of cheese and bread and you’ll feel just like a local.
Have you visited Florence, or even lived there? Please share your own tips for experiencing this Italian city with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > 10 Things You Must Do With Your Girlfriends In Florence