Florence is a city straight out of a fairytale where Medieval and Renaissance times meet modern day life to form something that is extremely beautiful. In between exploring the charming streets and alleyways, there are a ton of worthwhile things to do in Florence that will make you wish you had even more time to spend in this fascinating city. This guide to the best things to do in Florence is designed to help you pick and choose your ideal activities so that you can make your dream journey to the heart of the Renaissance a reality!
If you haven’t been to Florence before, you are probably wondering how to make the most of your time in the city, and we are here to help! Keep reading to learn the best ways to see the famous Florence Cathedral Complex, along with the top museums, landmarks, churches, and viewpoints in the city. For those of you who want to enjoy more of what Tuscany has to offer, we will also give you suggestions about possible day trips from the city and the Tuscan cuisine that you have to try at least once during your stay.
Visit the World Famous Florence Cathedral Complex
The 400+ step climb up to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower is definitely worth it for these up-close views of the Duomo!
Florence is most famous for the iconic Duomo of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza del Duomo, the breathtaking square that surrounds it. Construction on this grand cathedral began in 1296 with the Gothic design of architect Arnolfo di Cambio and was completed with Filippo Brunelleschi’s record setting dome in 1436. The patterned green, pink, and white marble decorating the exterior of this massive building is impressive from every angle making this beauty a showstopper for all travelers who make their way to see it. For these reasons, it is no wonder why the Cathedral Complex earned the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site many years ago!
The interior of the cathedral may seem plain in comparison to the ornate facade, however, the highly detailed mosaic floors and “Last Judgement” ceiling fresco by Giorgio Vasari are definitely worth admiring. Entering the cathedral is completely free, however for about 18 euro you are able to gain access into the Baptistery of St. John, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Opera Duomo Museum, and the Crypt of Santa Reparata which make up the Cathedral Complex. With this ticket, you can take the astonishing 464 step climb to the top of the dome! To avoid any long lines during your trip to Florence, you can reserve a ticket to the Great Museum of the Florence Cathedral directly on their website in advance.
The Baptistery of St. John and Giotto’s Bell Tower that make up part of the Florence Duomo Complex are my personal favorites. Within the octagonal shaped baptistery, you’ll find glowing golden mosaics covering the ceiling along with three sets of bronze doors including the beloved “Gates of Paradise” designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. For unobstructed views of the Duomo itself, we recommend that you opt to climb up Giotto’s Bell Tower. Trust me, it’s worth the sweat for unbeatable views of the city!
Admire the Masterpieces Within Florence’s Top Museums
Besides housing some of the most treasured works of art of all time, the Uffizi Gallery boasts amazing views of the Arno river and Ponte Vecchio from its second floor
There is no doubt that the Uffizi Gallery is the top museum in Florence and among the best museums in the entire world. This enormous museum is full of textbook worthy paintings in every single room that will make you gasp for air trying to remember those Art History classes you took long ago. Some of the masterpieces inside include Botticelli’s “Spring” and “Birth of Venus,” Leonardo da Vinci’s “Annunciation,” and Caravaggio’s “Medusa.” Those are just a few of the extremely famous titles that lie within the museums! To make sure you see them all, consider joining a Guided Tour of the Uffizi Gallery which will also allow you to skip the ridiculously long lines that are ever so common at this museum.
Another must-see museum in Florence is the Accademia Gallery where Michelangelo’s larger than life size sculpture, “David,” is on display. This magnificent statue was carved out of a single block of marble and is renowned for its incredibly realistic details from the pulsing veins on David’s hands, to his bulging muscles. To learn how to get tickets to the Accademia Gallery see our recent blog post titled Where and How to See Michelangelo’s David, or simply opt to join our Guided Renaissance Walking Tour with the David!
If you have been to Piazza della Signoria in Florence before or have just seen pictures, you probably have wondered just what that huge fortress looking building with the tall tower was. To answer your question, it is Palazzo Vecchio, the former location where the civil ruling body of the Republic of Florence once served. This massive building was also the former residence of the ever so powerful Medici family who dominated during the Renaissance era, so you can imagine the amount of wealth that went into its decorations that were created by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci. Thankfully, Palazzo Vecchio is now open to the public as a museum and houses fantastic examples of Renaissance art.
As you can probably tell by now, Florence is home to a ton of amazing museums. If you are as fascinated in the life of Michelangelo as I am, you may want to check out Casa Buonarroti, his former home which now functions as a beautiful museum! Another less frequented point of interest in Florence is the Bargello Museum. This 13th century fortress turned museum is the best of the best when it comes to Renaissance sculptures and houses works by Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini, and many more.
The last of the museums that I will mention here is the Pitti Palace and the surrounding Boboli Gardens which are located across the river in Oltrarno. Palazzo Pitti was built during the Renaissance era and has been greatly expanded throughout the years with the largest addition being added by the Medici family in 1560. Today, this palace has been turned into various museums featuring impressive artworks in the Palatine Gallery, examples of 19th century furnishing in the Royal Apartments, and even displays Modern Art from the 19th and 20th centuries on its upper level. Meanwhile, the Boboli Gardens behind the palace contain beautiful oak trees, antique sculptures, and dazzling fountains earning it the title of one of the greenest areas in the city.
Explore the City’s Most Treasured Landmarks on Foot
There are many historical piazzas, fantastic bridges, and jaw dropping fountains that you can see for free in Florence such as the incredible Fountain of Neptune found in Piazza della Signoria
Since Florence’s historic center is relatively small, it is the perfect place to explore by foot! One of the first places that you’ll probably come across is Piazza della Signoria. This large L-shaped square was once the center of political life in the city and is home to some pretty extraordinary artworks including the Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, the Fountain of Neptune, and a replica of Michelangelo’s David that is located in the place where the real one once stood. Within this piazza you’ll also find Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open air statue gallery that is home to works by Cellini and Giambologna. On the streets nearby, you’ll also find some of the best boutiques and shops in Florence.
Just steps away from Piazza della Signoria lies Ponte Vecchio, one of most beloved attractions in Florence. This wide bridge built over the Arno river is unique for its vivid coloring and the shops that are built right on top of it which are now operated by luxury goods and souvenir salesmen. Fun fact: this resistant bridge survived both world wars and if you look closely, there is a secret tunnel on the top that was once used by the Medici family to get to the other side of the river without being seen!
Another landmark in Florence that deserves to be seen is Piazza della Repubblica. This gigantic square has been the center of Florence since Roman times, but has seen many changes over the years. From a bustling market and Jewish Ghetto, Piazza della Repubblica has turned into what we know it today- a lively meeting place with beautiful architecture, plenty of restaurants, and even a carousel that operates year round. Lastly on our list of sights to see by foot are the Markets of San Lorenzo. If you are looking for the perfect souvenir, leather goods, or even fresh produce or meats, this is the place for you. Plus, this area is known to have a lively nightlife scene and contains some of the coolest bars in Florence!
Uncover the Hidden Beauty of Florence’s Lesser-Known Churches
If you don’t feel like standing in line to get into one of Florence’s museums, simply explore the city’s many churches to take in astounding beauty
Of course most travelers will make their way to the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but there are so many other fascinating churches in the city to explore! You may walk by Santa Croce for example, without realizing that it is the burial place of none other that Michelangelo Buonarotti, Machiavelli, and Galileo Galilei! This gorgeous Gothic style basilica also contains magnificent artworks by the master artists Brunelleschi and Donatello.
Another church that is even more unassuming from the outside is the Basilica of Santa Trinita, which is Italian for “Holy Trinity.” This church has been functioning for nearly 1,000 years and contains beautiful vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and unbelievable frescoes. One of its most celebrated frescoes was painted by the artist Domenico Ghirlandaio and tells the story of a young boy who fell out of a nearby window. All believed he was dead until he suddenly was brought back to life by what many believed was a miracle! Whilst this may not be the most popular church in Florence, its beauty is breathtaking especially without all the crowds!
There are plenty more Florentine churches where that came from! Learn more about the historical basilicas of Santa Maria Novella, San Miniato al Monte, and San Lorenzo in our blog post covering the Best Churches to Visit in Florence so that you can add them to your Florence to-do list.
Watch the Sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo
You can’t find much better views of Florence than from Piazzale Michelangelo, located just across the river in Oltrarno
The perfect way to end a day in Florence is with an amazing panoramic view of the city at sunset. In our opinion, the best spot in the city to watch the sun go down is at Piazzale Michelangelo. Located just about a fifteen minute walk from the city center across the Arno river, this delightful square complete with a replica of Michelangelo’s David boasts unbelievable views of the picture-perfect duomo and the beautiful buildings in Florence that make up the city skyline. While it is a bit of a climb to reach, making it to the top of this viewpoint is the best reward. This spot can get quite busy at sunset however, so if you are an early riser and can make it in time to watch the sunrise here, you’ll have the place practically all to yourself!
Take a Day Trip Through the Rolling Hills of Tuscany
Escape the crowds of the city by opting for a day trip to a winery or medieval village in the greater region of Tuscany!
Florence is full of things to do so there is absolutely no need to leave the city to have fun. However, if you have a bit of extra time on your trip and want to get a better feel for the region of Tuscany as a whole, there are many luxurious places to go and unique things to do just outside the city lines. For one, you could venture to a neighboring city in the Tuscan hills such as the hilltop town of Siena that hosts the famous Palio in its main square, or San Gimignano, the medieval village known for its tall towers. Furthermore, there are a ton of stunning wineries and vineyards that offer spectacular tastings in a setting that looks like it came straight out of a postcard!
Wondering how you can make your dream Tuscany day trip happen? On our Private Siena Day Trip from Florence you’ll be escorted by a private driver to indulge in a wine tasting, farmhouse lunch, and visit the towns of Siena and San Gimignano. Alternatively, you can check out our Private Half-Day Chianti Tour where you will stop by various Tuscan vineyards to enjoy wine tastings, cellar tours, and an organically made lunch. Yum!
Eat & Drink the Florentine Way
While Florence is well known for its Florentine Steak, there are plenty of deliciously fresh vegetarian options as well just waiting to be brought to your table!
In between your excursions to Florence’s best museums, churches, and picturesque squares, you’ll need to stop to eat and regain some of that energy back! Thankfully, Florence has got everything you need to satisfy your cravings for typical Tuscan cuisine which we have fully uncovered in our post about What You Need to Eat in Florence. You definitely can’t go wrong with a Florentine steak or a tagliere board of the region’s best cheeses and meats, am I right? However, you’ll still need something to wash down all of that delicious food with, and what better than a glass of the region’s famous Chianti wine. While sightseeing is great and all, the food and drinks of Florence are really what will leave you begging for more!
See More of Florence & Italy on a Tour With Us!
We would love to show you around the city on one of our many guided Florence tours!
Thanks for reading our guide to the best things to do in Florence, Italy! Still curious about this magical Renaissance City? We have also written guides on the Best Time to Visit Florence, Where to Stay in Florence, and The Best Way to Travel From Rome to Florence so be sure to check them out if you are visiting Florence soon. If you are looking for a tour of Florence, we have those too!
Besides offering tours in Florence, we also offer top rated experiences and day trips in Rome and the rest of Italy! For more information or to arrange a tour, check out What a Life Tours or contact us by phone +39 06 88975757/+39 334 7273299 (WhatsApp), or email at [email protected]!