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?
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.
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.
Florence's main train station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, is located in the historical center of Florence. Most tourist attractions are within walking distance. It's a busy station with many services; nearly 60 million people a year pass through it.
Most of the important city buses (orange) stop across the road from the station on Via Valfonda.
You might decide to use Florence as a base and explore other Tuscan cities via train. It's the convenient way to do it, since you don't have to look for parking for a car every time you leave the city. Arezzo, for example, is 40 minutes away by train, and the cost of a ticket is around $13. Venice is a little over two hours away, if that's your next destination, and costs about $54 per person.
You can find out more and even purchase tickets online using Rail Europe.
Florence has two other outlying stations, Firenze Campo di Marte, which handles regional traffic to the south, and Firenze Rifredi, which handles regional traffic to Prato, Bologna, Pisa, Livorno, Pistoia, Lucca, Viareggio, Carrara, La Spezia, Siena, Campiglia Marittima and Grosseto.
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.)
Via dell’Oriuolo 26
Closed on Sundays and Holidays
Dinner and Wine:
There are many ways to enjoy your evenings out in Florence. One of our favorites includes fancy drinks and dinner at the traditional Cafaggi. Another includes dinner at La Cucina del Ghianda and dessert at Cibreo Cafe. Both are fantastic choices.
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.
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 an great apartment within spitting distance of the Duomo? We enjoyed our stay at Asso's Place, which includes spectacular views of the dome of the Duomo.
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.
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.
We totally like the concept of shopping provided by Florentine Experience Shopping. Instead of buying cheap tourist crap made by political prisoners in China, you can be guided by Maria to the best artisans in Florence. You can get shoes made just for you, see and buy stone mosaics and more. Be a responsible traveler. Buy something real.
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.