The Duomo – The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the “Duomo” because of its large dome, an impressive architectural feat which was designed by Brunelleschi in the 1400’s. The church is elaborately decorated with geometric patterns of marble sourced from the surrounding cities: green marble from Prato, white marble from Carrara, and pink marble from Siena. I highly recommend climbing to the top of the Duomo to get a view of Florence from the heart of the city.
Campanile – Right next to the Duomo is the freestanding bell tower designed by Giotto (where you can also climb up to get a lovely view of the surrounding city).
Battistero di San Giovanni – In front of the Duomo is the Baptistery, a small octagonal structure that was built between 1059 and 1128. Make sure to take a look at the East doors, known as the “Gates of Paradise” which are a series of bronze relief sculptures that depict 10 scenes of the Old Testament by Lorenzo Ghiberti. A fun fact about the Baptistery is that Dante Alighieri was baptized here!
Piazza della Signoria – Not far away from the Duomo is the Piazza della Signoria. This large piazza is considered the center of Florence. Here you will find the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s city hall), the beginning area of the Uffizi Gallery, the Loggia dei Lanzi, and many important statues on display. Standing in front of Palazzo Vecchio is a replica of Michelangelo’s David (the original has since been moved indoors for better preservation). On the right side of the piazza is the Loggia dei Lanzi which is filled with statues by Benvenuto Cellini (Perseus with the Head of Medusa), Giambologna (The Rape of the Sabine Women) and more.
Gli Uffizi – The Ufizzi Gallery is one of the most important museums in Italy, holding an enormous collection of Renaissance masterpieces. You will find most of the greatest hits of Renaissance art within its walls: Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Parmigianino, Titian, Raffaello, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Durer, Rembrandt and many more. I would recommend booking your tickets ahead of time because there is always a very long line just to enter and you will need your energy to appreciate all of the artwork that this museum has to offer.
Il Bargello – This is a real gem of a museum that holds a large collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures. A couple of my favorite statues here are Michelangelo’s visibly inebriated Bacchus and the romantic Bust of Costanza Bonarelli by Bernini.
Santa Croce – With sixteen chapels (some decorated with frescoes by Giotto), Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan church in the world. Many famous Florentines are buried (or commemorated with tombstones) here, like Leon Battista Alberti, Galileo, Michelangelo, Dante (actually buried in Ravenna), Machiavelli and Rossini.
Galleria dell’Accademia – This is where you will find the original “David” statue by Michelangelo. He stands gloriously illuminated at the end of a long corridor which lined with several of his unfinished sculptures. The series of unfinished marble blocks leading up to the flawless David shows you Michelangelo’s process of unearthing figures from within each block and allows you to fully appreciate the mastery and skill it took to create a statue so perfectly magnificent.
San Lorenzo – Although its façade is left unfinished, its internal beauty should not be underestimated. Right behind the San Lorenzo Basilica is the Medici Chapel where many of the Medici family members are buried and commemorated with statues by Michelangelo (who also designed the architecture of the New Sacristy). Surrounding San Lorenzo is an outdoor market that sells souvenirs, leather goods and soccer jerseys of varying levels of quality and taste.
Santa Maria Novella – Located across from the train station is the Santa Maria Novella church, decorated with the traditional green and white marble patterns, and is well worth a visit inside. If you go around the corner from the church (in via della Scala 16) you will find the Officina Profumo – Farmaceutico di Santa Maria Novella that has been making and selling their natural cosmetics, herbal fragrances, liqueurs and more since 1612 - all with very charming, old-school, Italian packaging.
Ponte Vecchio – The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge that was built in 996 (appropriately named the “Old Bridge”). Throughout the years the bridge has suffered damage from severe flooding of the Arno and was rebuilt or restored each time, but miraculously remained intact during WWII bombings. The bridge is famously home to goldsmiths and jewelry shops with the Vasari corridor, that connects the Palazzo Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio, passing overhead.
Santa Felicità – Just over the Ponte Vecchio on your way to Palazzo Pitti, you will find a small church tucked back on the left in between a few bars and restaurants. Enter inside and immediately on your right is the Cappella Capponi and one of my favorite paintings of all time: “The Deposition of Christ” by Pontormo, painted in 1526-8. Make sure to insert a coin into the light box to fully illuminate the painting and see the unexpected and masterful use of color, from bright pinks, oranges to cool greens and blues.
Palazzo Pitti & Boboli Gardens – Palazzo Pitti is a building that once belonged to the Medici family and is now home to an impressive collection of musems, including a Renaissance art gallery where you can find famous works of art by Raffaello, Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio, and many more. Behind the palace is an large area of 16th century Italian gardens, ponds, and grottos, originally created for the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Eleonora Toledo. On sunny days, the Boboli Gardens are the perfect place to have a relaxing picnic.
La Specola – The Museum of Zoology and Natural History is located near Palazzo Pitti and dates back to 1775. It's a quirky museum with old anatomical models made from wax, as well as a fascinating collection of insects, fossils, minerals and taxidermy.
San Miniato al Monte – Many people make the climb up the hill to Piazza Michelangelo to see a panoramic view of Florence, but if you continue just a little bit further up you will reach this beautiful church sitting atop one of the highest points of the city. San Miniato offers the BEST view of the Florence. Next to the church is a monastery that is inhabited by monks who are famous for making liqueurs, honey and herbal teas that are available for sale on site. If you are lucky, you may even hear the monks singing Gregorian chants.
Villa Demidoff – If you’re looking to get out of the city, you can visit the nearby park in Vaglia (Pratolino) to visit the Villa Demidoff/Villa di Pratolino. This amazing green area was once the country house of Francesco de’ Medici, built to entertain his mistress at the time. My favorite part about the park is the larger than life statue made by Giambologna representing the Appenine Collossus, complete with a mosaic covered grotto and fountains underneath.
Fiesole – For another quick trip outside of Florence, you can take the number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco up the hills to the small, ancient Etruscan village of Fiesole. It’s a lovely place to grab a gelato, see the Etruscan amphitheater, and walk up to the hilltop church to get a great panoramic view of Florence.
I Fratellini – Conveniently located near Piazza della Signoria, I Fratellini is a quick and easy lunch option. Grab some sandwiches made on the spot and/or a glass of wine to enjoy on the streets of Florence!
Pangie’s Bistrot – A small but perfect place for a casual sit-down lunch. Pangie's has excellent crostini (my favorite is with “fegatini” which is a chicken liver pâté), large meat & cheese plates as well as pastas, salads and great wine. The owners are friendly and have a good sense of humor (that can be noted by the handful of light-hearted signs hung around the restaurant).
Mercato Centrale – The upstairs area in the central market is the Italian version of a food court, offering a variety of high quality, regional Italian food stands and tables to eat at. Here you are sure to find something for everyone’s tastes!
Da Mario – Mario’s is located near the Mercato Centrale and is appreciated by both locals and tourists. There is usually a waiting list to enter because it's only open for lunch, but the food is well worth the wait (their Bistecca alla Fiorentina is delicious!!). The atmosphere is very, very informal, i.e. communal seating, and offers many local dishes.
Hemingway – Hemingway is lovely café “Oltrarno” (on the other side of the Arno River) near Piazza Santo Spirito. Their hot chocolates are made in classic Italian style and are amazing! It is like drinking melted, hot chocolate pudding. If you’re looking to try a twist on the classic version, I would recommend trying their spicy, dark hot chocolate.
Café giacosa – Located near the chic shopping area of via Tornabuoni, this café is run by Roberto Cavalli and serves great espresso’s and cappuccino’s (buy not at luxury prices). I like coming here to people watch all of the impeccably dressed and stylish Italians.
**Remember that it is a serious faux-pas to order a cappuccino in the afternoon (Italian’s consider it strictly a breakfast beverage). If you need some milk in your coffee, an acceptable alternative is the caffé macchiato.
Gelateria dei Neri – The absolute BEST gelato in Florence. They have incredible flavors, made daily with fresh ingredients, ranging from seasonal fruit flavors, to rich chocolates, creams, semi-freddo’s a and killer granita’s (ice slushy) with whipped cream on top.
Gelateria al Ponte Santa Trinità – A respectable second place for gelato in Florence is the gelateria located across the Santa Trinità bridge. They also make their gelato fresh daily with quality ingredients, but it has a more limited selection than Gelateria dei Neri. A plus about this gelateria is that you can take your cone or cup onto the bridge and enjoy it with a great view of the Ponte Vecchio!
La Ménagère – A super trendy bar in the city center that serves great drinks. Located inside a historic Florentine building, the space has been stylishly transformed into a restaurant, bar and flower shop all-in-one.
Antico Vinaio – Enjoy a glass of wine and a sandwich or crostini here for a only a few euros. The Antico Vinaio is very well-known in the tourist circles and also appreciated by the locals for its favorable price/quality ratio. If you stop by in the evening hours you’ll most likely find less of a crowd.
Piazza Santo Spirito – A lovely Italian piazza lined with bars, cafés, restaurants and the simply beautiful Santo Spirito church. This is my favorite piazza in Florence, day or night. When the weather is nice, it is the perfect place to have a drink under the stars amongst the young, hip Florentines.
Il Santino – A tiny little bar (actually an annex of the restaurant Il Santo Bevitore) that serves wine, artisanal beers and cheese & meat plates. Part of its charm is that you can take your drinks out onto the street and feel like an Italian.
La Giostra – A higher end restaurant, but worth every penny. The food is excellent, the service is very attentive, and they have an extensive wine list for varying budgets. The atmosphere is intimate with suffused lighting and exposed brick vaulted cieilings. I still dream about the pear and pecorino ravioli that I ate here a few years ago!
Pizzeria Spera – This casual pizzeria is located on the outskirts of town and serves delicious pizza. In Italy, when you go to a pizzeria they make you a personal pizza pie (not by the slice). If you are looking for something closer to downtown, I would also recommend the pizza at O’Vesuvio which is classic, Neapolitan-style pizza in a similarly casual setting.
Il Vezzo – Il Vezzo offers a modern take on classic Florentine cuisine. This is a really lovely restaurant with friendly service in a comfortable, intimate setting.
Il Latini – A classic Florentine restaurant that is popular with tourists and locals alike (for this reason making a reservation is recommended). Light-hearted servers will list off the menu of the day and keep bringing out dishes until you are full. At the end of the evening they size you up and estimate a price per person depending on how much you ate. I’ve had many fun (and filling!) dinners here.
Hibiki-àn – If you’re looking for some different flavors while in Florence, not far from Piazza San Marco is an wonderful Japanese restaurant serving ramen, sushi and much more.
Flow – A stylish, unique store in the city center with clothing and accessories for both men and women.
Zecchi – A charming, Italian art store where the shelves are lined with colorful pigments. Here you can find all the art supplies you want or need for sketching, drawing or painting around this artistically inspiring city.
Francesco da Firenze – A small, family-run, artisan workshop near Santo Spirito that handcrafts leather sandals. If they don’t have your exact size or color, they can make a custom pair ready for you the next day! All of the sandals are handmade in the back of the shop with vegetable tanned leather sourced from the nearby Tuscan tanneries. This is where I first apprenticed when learning how to make shoes and work with leather and am very grateful to Francesco and his son Valerio for being such wonderful teachers. I always have a few pairs of their sandals to wear in the summer because they are stylish and quite durable!
Boutique Nadine – A lovely store along the river with a mix of local, handmade, Italian brands and great vintage finds. It is filled with lots of unique accessories and clothing for women and is located right near the Ponte Vecchio.
Falsi Gioielli – A fun, creative and colorful handmade jewelry store all created by hand by a local artist.
Il Papiro - A Florentine stationary store with traditional, marbled papers and prints that make great gifts.
Airport - Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci di Firenze.
Bus Shuttle – There is a shuttle called VOLA IN BUS that goes back and forth from the airport to the bus station (near the train station) about every half-hour.
Bus – The city center is mostly closed off to vehicles, including buses. Once you get out of the immediate downtown area you will find buses to take you around the external parts of the city. Usually you can buy a ticket from the bus driver, but if they are out of tickets you can send a text message to 4880105 with “ATAF” written in the message and the ticket amount will be taken from your phone credit. If you want to buy your bus tickets ahead of time, you can find them in the city in a Tabaccheria or newspaper stands.
Car - Take the exit for Firenze from the A1 or A11 highways. The downtown area is closed off to cars, please check with your hotel accommodations to find the nearest available parking.
Bike – Downtown Florence is fairly crowded and not the easiest place to navigate with bicycles. Although there are plenty of bike tours that will take you out of the city and into the Tuscan hills to visit nearby restaurants, wineries, and olive oil producers.
Foot - Florence is a great walking city. The downtown area is small and can be easily toured by foot!
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