Florence Travel Guide
Firenze, everyone's favorite Renaissance City in Tuscany

Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, was one of Italy's first UNESCO world heritage sites and stands as one of the top tourist destinations in Tuscany. The Arno river flows through it--and sometimes over and under it.

Florence is 172 miles north of Rome and 185 miles south of Milan. Despite traffic jams on the perifery, Florence isn't a huge city. It has a population of around 400,000 people, with around 200,000 more in suburban areas.

In the summer, Florence's centro storico, the historic center, is hot, humid and clogged with tourists. The mass of tourists shouldn't be a surprise to you. After all, nearly everyone wants to see its palaces and museums. Besides, summer offers a chance for the tourist to extend their days into the evenings. According to the folks planning these things, April 30 marks the "First Night of Summer", which kicks off "Estate Fiorentina" (Florentine Summer) which features six months of concerts, shows and events of various kinds taking place in venues across the central city.

Yes, along with tourists come the dollars that encourage historical preservation and hedonistic celebration, so don't let them tell you to skip Florence if you haven't explored it.

Just don't think you can drive around the center of Florence at will. The train will do nicely, because the ZTL, the limited traffic zone that marks the heart of Florence, is one of the most diabolical tourist traps of them all. Really, they have this one covered. Don't plan on driving in central Florence. Parking lots ring the ZTL for your convenience, and here's a page that maps the best lots and explains it all to you: Parking in Florence: Where to park?

When to Go to Florence

We have already discussed summer. Go if it appeals to you, but you might want to make sure your hotel or apartment includes air conditioning--or at least decent ventilation. I prefer spring and fall climate conditions, specifically April and May or September and October. November is a fine time to buy that leather coat and wrap yourself in one of the iconic Fiorentine jackets while touring in the chill of Autumn. Of course we have historic climate information and the latest, up to date weather in Florence.

Florence Airport

The Aeroporto di Firenze, commonly referred to as Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci or simply Peretola, is located 4 km from the center of Florence. A taxi can make the trip in 15 minutes, and the Sita/Ataf "Fly by Bus" between the airport and Firenze SMN (Santa Maria Novella) railway station takes 20 minutes. The Florence bus station is adjacent to Santa Maria Novella.

If you are coming into Florence from an international destination, you are probably using Galileo Galilei airport, closer to Pisa.

Map of Florence

The Top Attractions in Florence

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Duomo di Firenze

Officially it's the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Pick a time when the tourist traffic is minimal, like in the early morning, and just walk all around this amazing building. The details will astound you. The piazza contains Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi's Dome, Giotto's Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata and the Opera Museum.

Website

florence uffizi

Uffizi Gallery

Cosimo I di Medici wanted offices, so Giorgio Vasari began building them in 1560. After the age of the Medici's passed, the building was opened to the public as a museum in 1765. The Uffizi is ranked as the 25th on the most visited art museums in the world, with around 2 million visitors annually. In high season (particularly in July), waiting times can be up to five hours. Buy your tickets in advance.

Website Tickets Tours

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Pitti Palace

The Palazzo Pitti is a major tourist attraction on the south side of the Arno river not for from the Ponte Vecchio. Originally the residence of Luca Pitti, the Florentine banker, it dates from 1458. It is now the largest museum complex in Florence. Besides paintings, you'll see Museums of Silver, Porcelain, Consumes and Carriages and you'll be able to stroll through the adjacent Boboli Gardens.

Find out more... Pitti Palace Tours

    More Attractions

  • Florence's Archaeological Museum -- Museo archeologico nazionale di Firenze is housed in a palace built in the 1620s and filled with great, Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Etruscan collections. 1 piazza Santissima Annunziata, in the Palazzo della Crocetta, Admission € 4,00, free on the first Sunday of the month.
  • House-Museum of Dante -- ok, it's a little offbeat, but I liked the medieval section of the city and visiting a house of the famous Dante. Via S. Margherita, 1, 3 Euros, closed Tuesday.
  • The Ponte Vecchio -- The Old Bridge looks from the outside as if it were still crowded with the crammed blacksmith and butcher shops of the medieval period, but it's all glittery gold and tourist baubles today. Spared from bombing in WWII, it used to be built of wood but a rebuild in the 1300's made it mostly stone. Free, unless you run afoul of a jewelry or porcelain statue salesman.
  • The Church of San Lorenzo -- It's not impressive from the outside, but it's probably the oldest religious structure in Florence. They say it was probably founded before year 400 and its art holdings include stuff by Donatello and Bronzino.

Top Sites in Florence

Hidden Florence

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Church of Ognissanti

See the recently restore Crucifix by the Giotto school (pictured) as well as the Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio in this church founded in 1251 by the Umiliati, who had come to Florence from Lombardy in 1239

Find out more...

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Museo Nazionale di San Marco

Don't let the name put you off. This is an inexpensive visit to the Dominican church and convent of San Marco with its atmosphere--and spectacular Fra Angelico frescoes--intact. The early renaissance painter frescoed each cell of the monks cloister. Founded in 1436, the complex was also home to Girolamo Savonarola in the late 15th century.

Hours and Opening Times

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Secret Itineraries Tour, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Our guide shows us the clothing of the Signoria, the group of men who formed the ruling body of the Republic of Florence. We have squeezed through a narrow door and a tiny flight of stairs to reach the the red clothing dyed with the eggs of an insect, distinguishing these men from the hoi palloi. This is our favorite tour of Florence.

Palazzo Vecchio Tours

Eat and Drink

Piero, our Florence Food Guy, recommends some interesting places he like to take meals in the city.

Piero's favorite Breakfast Bar: Cucciolo Bar Pasticceria. The Cucciolo Bar Pasticceria is known for its Bombolone, a sort of Tuscan donut that here is cooked and immediately send town a chute from the kitchen upstairs so that each one slides down to the front of the bar where you can grab one and chow down. Your breakfast bombolone doesn't get fresher than that. Also try the Fishermen's Bread. Via del Corso 25r, Florence.

Lunch among the Leather Jackets: Trattoria Sergio Gozzi. Look up from the rows of leather jackets and search out the old fashioned sign. Get there early. Locals pack the place.

Piazza di San Lorenzo, 8R, 50123 Florence, Italy

Drinks With a View: Biblioteca delle Oblate

The Biblioteca delle Oblate is a former convent; the nuns here did the laundry for the adjacent hospital--you can see the wash tubs downstairs. And there really is a historic library here. But the star of the show is the second floor cafe with a view of the dome of the duomo.

(In the evening the space features an antipasto buffet and occasionally concerts; Patty Smith has played here.)

Biblioteca de le Oblate

Via dell’Oriuolo 26

Closed on Sundays and Holidays

Dinner and Wine: Ristorante Enoteca Pane e Vino. Brothers Gilberto and Ubaldo Pierazzuoli are passionate about wine. Pane e Vino branched out from their passion, becoming a full-featured restaurant where one eats traditional Tuscan cooking with a few modern twists, the surprises that excite your palate that many traditional restaurants lack. It was the best food I've had in Florence--and a meal here with fine wine comes at a reasonable price.

The wine list comes on an iPad. What a good use for one. If you don't like the technology, just ask them for a personal wine recommendation. They're experts.

And don't miss the Parmigiana flan that comes with an eye dropper full of (real, not that supermarket crap) Traditional Balsamic vinegar to drop a bit of the precious liquid on every spoonful--if you like.

Piazza di Cestello 3/r, Florence

Tel: 0552476956

Dinner only, closed on Sunday

We also like L' Osteria di Giovanni on a narrow street, Via del Moro, 22, between the Arno and Santa Maria Novella train station in Santo Spirito. You can reserve online through the website.

Tired of restaurants? Another dining option you might wish to consider is to go to the place of residence of a "home chef" and have an evening of discovery over some good, home cooked food. See: Where to Eat in Florence, Italy.

Where to Stay

We enjoyed our stay at the Adler Cavalieri Hotel. a four star historic hotel near the train and bus stations. Free wifi and Gluten free breakfast is available. The hotel is marked on the map above.

For a hotel you can drive to, the Classic Hotel is an old palace converted to a hotel near the Boboli Gardens that offers free parking and WiFi.

Looking for a cheap, centrally located hotel that folks who've stayed there like? The Hotel Giappone will do.

If you have a family or are staying for an extended period (or just like the idea of staying in a small apartment) you may save money by staying in a vacation rental in Florence.

Shopping in Florence

Tourist junk is on sale everywhere, so you will need no assistance to find the ubiquitous tee shirts people foist upon their kids and friends. Things good for poking a stranger in the eye like selfie sticks and umbrellas are handled conveniently by immigrants. Here are some specialty shopping opportunities.

Housewares and Cooking Supplies: Bartolini - Food is special in Italy, so If you're looking for a special device to make ravioli for your Florence apartment or want a small kitchen trinket to bring as a gift, this emporium on Via dei Servi 66/68R should have what you want.

Arty Stuff: Galleria Alessandro Bagnai - unique art works and jewelry by More than two dozen artists exhibit their unique art in a rotating display at the gallery in Piazza Goldoni 2 near the Arno. Even if you don't buy anything, you can admire the frescoes on the store's ceiling.

Come up and see their etchings: Il Tamarino Stampe d'Arte - Purchase etchings and prints using ancient engraving and printing techniques hand painted with watercolors. You can special order subjects. Via del Moro 46R.

What's your perfect scent? Acquaflor - Yes, a perfume shop like no other. You can take classes on perfumery or have them make you a scent tailored to who you are and what you smell like normally. Read about Acquaflor.

Day Trips from Florence

If you are convinced Florence is the town for you, it's not a bad idea to consider it as a base for travels in Northern Tuscany, which offers many interesting towns and places to visit. You could spend a week or two in an apartment and use the train to visit such places as the popular walled town of Lucca or the Spa town of Montecatini Terme for example.

If you prefer coach tours you can get out into the Tuscan countryside without a car. Viator's top Florence tours include walking and Segway tours of Florence itself, or tours of Pisa and the Tuscan wine country. You can also tour Tuscany in a Vespa.

Your itinerary for two weeks could focus on this interesting bit of Tuscany, or you could combine Florence and Tuscany with a trip to Rome, perhaps.

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