Your Trip to Florence: The Complete Guide

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For first-time and repeat visitors to Italy, Florence is a must-see destination. The capital city of the Tuscany region is known for its Renaissance-era artistic treasures, world-class art museums, and the colorful history that unfolded here over the centuries. It's also a center for food and wine lovers with the culinary wealth of Tuscany in its backyard. A model Italian city and also a very popular one with tourists, Florence is a delight to visit.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to VisitFlorence is at its most crowded and its hottest in June, July, and August, when family travelers, tour groups and summer abroad students pack the city. Spring and fall are still very busy seasons, but offer breaks from the heat, but fall especially can be rainy. Winters in Florence range from mild to bitterly cold, though crowds are greatly diminished.

Language: Italian is the first language in Florence, but shop owners and hotel and restaurant workers generally speak at least a little bit of English, and often French and German as well.

Currency: Florence and all of Italy uses the euro, and other currencies are not accepted. Credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are accepted everywhere, with the exception of most street food stalls and smaller, independent merchants. It's always a good idea to have cash on hand when visiting Florence's many food and craft markets. Note that American Express and Diner's Club are less widely accepted in Italy. Be sure to confirm in advance with your hotel or restaurant if you intend to pay with these cards.

Getting Around: The vast majority of Florence's attractions are in the flat, walkable centro storico (historic center), much of which is pedestrian-only. So walking is the most practical means of getting around, with most points of interest being no more than 20 minutes from one another. If your feet need a break, small buses, run by ATAF, ply the centro storico, as do horse-drawn carriages, which gather near the Duomo to wait for passengers. Two tram lines connect to the airport and to points west of the city.

We advise against renting a car or driving in Florence as parking is scarce and expensive, streets are difficult to navigate, and it's very easy to get a traffic ticket for inadvertently driving in a zone closed to traffic.

Travel Tip: If you are set on visiting Florence's most popular museums (see below), you should absolutely reserve your tickets in advance, otherwise you could spend hours waiting in line. For visiting the Duomo, including climbing to the dome or up Giotto's Bell Tower, plan to arrive first thing in the morning to beat both the heat and crowds.

Things to Do

Visitors come to Florence for its high Renaissance art and architecture, including masterpieces of Italian painting and sculpture by artists such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Donatello, and Ghiberti. As a long-time artisanal center, Florence is also known for its leather goods, which can be purchased in open-air markets or small shops. Florence is also foodie heaven, with wine bars, trattorias, fine dining restaurants, and street food vendors tempting visitors with the bounty of the Tuscan countryside, including its hearty red wines.

  • Museums: Art lovers will not want to miss the Uffizi Gallery, home to Botticelli's Birth of Venus, among thousands of other famous works. The Accademia Gallery is home to Michelangelo's sculpture of David, one of the most iconic in the world. The Bargello, Museo di San Marco and the Pitti Palace also contain famous, priceless collections.
  • Markets: For leather goods, the San Lorenzo Outdoor Market is the place to shop and haggle a bit, while the adjacent Mercato Centrale offers a dazzling array of shops selling produce, meats, cheeses, and everything edible. Mercato Nuovo, near Piazza della Signoria, also features leather goods, but prices are better at San Lorenzo.

    What to Eat and Drink

    As the capital of Tuscany, Florence benefits from the agricultural riches of the region, making it a great destination for excellent food and wine. Meals are typically meat-heavy, with bistecca alla Fiorentina, a thick T-bone steak, occupying the top of the food chain. Cured meats like prosciutto and mortadella appear on platters of mixed appetizers, called tagliere, along with regional cheeses, olives, and breads. Courageous eaters might want to try lampredotto or trippa, made from offal, organ meats of cows.

    Popular sweets include cantucci, almond biscuits eaten with coffee or sweet vin santo wine, and of course, gelato.

    Tuscany is famous for its red wines, which naturally make their way into Florence's wine bars, enotecas, and restaurants. Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are among the region's most famous varieties, and Brunello, along with hybrid Super Tuscans, can command high prices. But don't turn up your nose at a modest house wine or inexpensive bottle of red or white—these are often good quality and highly drinkable. Finish your meal with a small glass of vin santo, Tuscany's popular dessert wine.

    For wine bars where you can sample different types of wine while snacking on local specialties, head to the Santo Spirito, San Niccolò or San Frediano, the less touristy zones south of the Arno River.

    Where to Stay

    Despite the glut of hotels, B&Bs, hostels and Airbnb rentals in Florence, the city fills up in peak periods. So it's never a good idea to arrive in Florence without a room reserved. Budget hotels are clustered around the Santa Maria Novella train station, as well as into the adjacent San Lorenzo area. Prices, though not necessarily quality, go up the closer one gets to the Duomo. Luxury properties are all over the city, especially around Piazza della Republica and Piazza della Signoria. Visitors seeking a more locals' feel might want to head to Oltrarno, south of the Arno River, for apartment rentals and B&Bs.

    Consider our recommendations for the best hotels in Florence, or for something farther afield, the best castle hotels in Tuscany.

    Getting There

    If your trip to Italy includes more than one city or region, chances are you'll arrive in Florence on a train. The majority of trains call at Santa Maria Novella station, abbreviated Firenze SMN, the main transport hub of the city. There are dozens of trains arriving and departing daily for Rome, Venice, Milan, and destinations across Italy. Flights to Florence arrive at Amerigo Vespucci Airport, also called Florence (Firenze) Peretola, a small airport just outside of town. Note that if your flight arrives at Pisa (sometimes referred to as Pisa/Florence airport), you'll have a 90-minute trip to get to Florence.

    If you've rented a car in Italy and are driving to Florence, be sure to get very specific instructions from your hotel on how to reach the property and where to park your car. Florence is a minefield for traffic tickets, since so many of the streets in its centro are pedestrian-only, one-way, or open only to local traffic. Wherever you stay in the city, plan on parking your car when you arrive and leaving it there until the end of your stay.

    For more on train travel in Italy, see our articles on getting around Italy by rail and what to know about traveling by train in Italy.

    Culture and Customs

    Because Florentines are so accustomed to tourists, there aren't any hard and fast customs that you need to adhere to while here, other than basic good conduct and respect for the city. As in the rest of Italy, that means no dipping your feet or other body parts in fountains, no matter how hot it is outside, dressing modestly in churches and other religious structures, avoiding public drunkenness, and generally, just behaving like a decent human being.

    Some other tips to keep in mind in Florence:

    • Dinner is eaten later in Italy, especially in the summertime. Most restaurants won't start serving until 7:30 or so, and may not fill up until 9 p.m.
    • You waiter won't bring you the check ("il conto") unless you ask for it.
    • Tap water is not served in Italy, so bottled water it is.
    • If "servizi" or "pane e coperto" is listed on your restaurant bill, this counts as a tip. If your server has been particularly attentive or helpful, don't hesitate to leave a few euros on the table.
    • Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times, especially on the crowded Ponte Vecchio, in busy markets and even in crowded museums. Don't leave your bags under your table or chair while dining or hanging off the back of your chair in a busy area.
    • While most everyone working in hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions and shops speaks some English, it's always polite and appreciated to offer a few basic niceties in Italian, such as buongiorno (good day), per favore (please) and grazie (thank you).
    • Read more about customs and culture in Italy with our list of 10 things not to do on your Italian vacation.

    Money Saving Tips

    Florence is not one of Italy's most expensive cities but it's certainly not its cheapest. Follow these tips for saving a few euros on your visit:

    • Travel in the off-season, when hotel prices are markedly lower.
    • Lunch on the go: A piece of focaccia or schiacciata, a crunchy pizza bread stuffed with Italian cold cuts, cheese, and vegetables makes for a cheap, filling lunch.
    • Hit the side streets: Dining or even getting gelato on Florence's main streets and piazzas is going to cost you, and your meal might be memorable only because of the price tag. Instead, explore the narrow side streets and hole-in-the-wall eateries and gelaterias, where you'll eat better and spend less.
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