The cradle of the Renaissance is high on the lists of travelers interested in art and architecture, though it is also an appealing destination for anyone who wants to wander its atmospheric streets and piazzas.
Of the cities that have enjoyed moments as true cultural capitals of the world, Florence is one of the most surprising. A modest trading center, and one devastated by the plague in 1348, Florence emerged late in the 14th century as the “Athens of the Middle Ages.” This was due, in large part, to the ruling Medici family embracing their role of patrons to Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Machiavelli, and other artists and writers.

The glories of the Renaissance are found everywhere you look. The Palazzo Vecchio sits beside the Piazza della Signoria, the symbolic heart of Florence, while less than five minutes on foot will bring you to the Uffizi Gallery, a treasury of many of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance. Cross the Arno River over the Ponte Vecchio and you’ll soon arrive to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. This city is more than the sum of its parts. When circumstances led to Milan, Rome, and other Italian cities surpassing Florence in population and commercial importance, the historic heart of Florence remained largely intact. Only a few modern buildings can be found in the city center, much of the medieval streetscape remains, and here you can walk in the footsteps of some of Western civilization’s greatest minds.


Photo Courtesy of Atibordee Kongprepan


When’s the best time to go to Florence?

Florence at the height of summer is often hot and almost always crowded—late spring and early fall are preferable if possible. While Florence is a year-round destination, if you are combining your trip there with visits to wineries and smaller towns in Tuscany, be aware that some businesses do close in the winter.

How to get around Florence

There are no direct flights from the United States to Florence, but it is possible to connect to it through European hubs. From the airport, it is about 20 minutes by taxi or bus to the city center. If you are combining your trip to Florence with another stop in Italy, Milan, Rome, and Venice are all two hours or less from the city by train. The main station is in Santa Maria Novella, not far from the historic heart of Florence.

Historic Florence is compact and given that the narrow streets are often congested, it is often easier to explore on foot. (While there is a good bus network, it really only makes sense to use it if you are traveling beyond the city center.) Taxis are safe and because the distances are short, you are unlikely to rack up a big fare. Note, however, that you can’t hail cabs on the street and will need to find the closest taxi stand.

Can’t miss things to do in Florence

The Uffizi Gallery ranks alongside the Louvre and the Hermitage as one of the world’s great museums, though its collection is more focused—specifically on Italian art from the 14th to 17th centuries. The entire arc of Renaissance art can be traced through its canvases, with masterpieces by Botticelli, da Vinci, Fra Filippo Lippi, and many others.

The Galleria dell’Accademia, on the other hand, is a must-stop thanks to one masterpiece: Michelangelo’s David.

Florence’s cultural highlights include a number of buildings that are iconic landmarks. Foremost among them is the cathedral, or Duomo, which includes contributions from three towering figures: Brunelleschi (the dome and baptistery), Giotto (the campanile), and Vasari (The Last Judgment fresco). Students of garden design, and anyone who wants to simply smell the flowers, should explore the Boboli Gardens.

Take a break from all the headiness with a visit to the Mercato Centrale, or San Lorenzo Market. On the ground floor you can shop for sun-dried tomatoes, olive oils, and other culinary gifts. In the food hall upstairs, you can savor some of the flavors of Tuscan cuisine.

Delve even deeper into Florentine culture: sign up for a cooking class, attend a musical event, conduct your own street-food survey. Or take a fresco-painting workshop from our partner, Context Tours, where you’ll learn the ropes of this Renaissance painting technique from a working artist in his studio.

Food and drink to try in Florence

Tuscan cuisine is traditionally simple and hearty food, noted for its bean and vegetable soups and non-fussy pasta dishes. Florence’s most famous dish, bistecca alla Fiorentina, a thickly cut t-bone steak, can be found on many menus. If you have a sweet tooth, gelato was (at least according to some) invented in Florence.

Culture in Florence

Florence’s high culture is the reason to visit the city for many—its museums are home to many masterpieces of Renaissance Italy while some of its churches and palaces are true architectural wonders. The lines at the Uffizi Gallery can be long and purchasing advance tickets is highly recommended. While you will want to see Florence’s most famous highlights, its smaller institutions can offer a respite from the crowds: the Bargello houses important works by sculptor Donatello while the Horne Museum displays the collection of its 19th-century British founder, an avid collector of Renaissance art.

Practical Information

As with other countries in the Schengen Area of Europe, Americans can stay for up to 90 days in Italy without a visa.

Electricity is 220 volts, in common with the rest of Europe. While you will notice three holes in outlets, the middle one is for a grounding prong. An adapter with two round prongs is all you need to use most U.S. devices. If your U.S. device has three pins or prongs, you should use an adapter that also has the third, middle prong.

There are no special health requirements or immunizations required to travel to Italy.

Local Resources

  • The Florentine is an English-language newspaper and website covering both news and events of interest to travelers.
  • The Paperback Exchange has been a center of the city’s English-speaking community since 1979.
  • Finally, the Visit Florence website is an impressively comprehensive resource on the city, and all in English.
Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
The wine-growing area of Chianti sits at Florence’s doorstep. Head south down the SS222 road (known as the “Chiantigiana”) for classic Tuscan landscapes of rolling hills dotted with olives and striped with vines, ochre-hued villas and imposing castles, and hilltop towns bathed in mellow light.
Florence is best in the off-season; the summer months are painfully crowded. If you love art history, this is your chance to dive deep. Tuscany contains a mind boggling number of sights and experiences. The hill towns, like San Gimignano, are incredibly atmospheric (and touristy). Sienna’s duomo is a stunning architectural creation literally cantilevered out over a hill. Get out of town to see the vineyards. Arezzo’s stunning Piero Della Francesca murals are worth the trip alone.
Whether for leather goods, curios, bath and beauty products, or hand-painted ceramics, shopping is a pleasure in this compact city. Artisans have been part of the city’s fabric for centuries so expect the best and most interesting pieces on sale in the shops and boutiques of Florence.
Three days in Florence might sound like a long time, but there is so much to see in this Renaissance gem, that you need to plan your time well. In three days, you can fit in an intoxicating mix of art and culture, fabulous food and wine, great nightlife and lots and lots of aimless wandering. The centro storico, or historic centre, of Florence is very compact, so there may even be time to nip back to your hotel for a rest in between sights!
A morning cappuccino. A decadent hot chocolate. An afternoon espresso with pastries and people watching...
It’s very easy to leave the tourist crowds behind in Florence. Wander a bit, and you’ll discover gardens, galleries, back alleys, and hidden gems galore.
If you only have a day in Florence, it needs to be perfect, so choose carefully what you do. A morning walk across the Ponte Vecchio, a glimpse of a Renaissance masterpiece, a visit to an artisan workshop, a sip of Tuscan wine, an evening rendezvous in the piazza, and a taste of creamy gelato. Florence is so compact that you can squeeze all these elements into one blissful day.
Florence may be full of fancy restaurants, but it’s also easy to eat well and eat cheaply in this Renaissance gem. Look out for good value lunchtime menus at restaurants where dinner may challenge the wallet; delis offering cheap lunchtime snacks; wine bars serving up gourmet eats to pair with the best vintages; rosticcerias with a mouth-watering selection of food to go and mom-and-pop joints with the kind of authentic, homely cuisine rarely found in more up-market restaurants.
Tuscany is one of Italy’s foremost wine-producing regions, and there are plenty opportunities in Florence to sample both the celebrated regional wines and vintages from further afield. Wine bars in Florence range from tiny, hole-in-the-wall joints serving basic chianti and simple snacks to more sophisticated bars (enoteche) where the wines on offer will span Italy and the food menu may run to truffle sandwiches and a choice of top-notch cheeses and cold cuts.
An evening out in Florence often kicks off at around 7pm with an aperitivo and there are plenty of great bars in the city to choose from. The drink of choice for many Florentines is a Spritz, a refreshing mix of prosecco and either Campari or bright orange Aperol, a similar but sweeter concoction. In many bars, a serve-yourself buffet of hot and cold snacks is included in the price of your aperitivo setting you up for your evening entertainment of choice.
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