20 Best Things to Do in Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Florence is one of the most popular travel destinations in Italy, so much so that it's often listed on itineraries for first-time visitors to the country alongside other favorites like Rome and Venice. One of the wealthiest cities during the Italian Renaissance, Florence is home to classical works of art, historic architecture, and natural beauty as well as a rich history of culinary excellence.

The capital of the Tuscany region sports a large number of impressive sights and attractions, including some of Italy's most impressive museums and cathedrals. Along with picturesque streets and piazzas (squares), elegant buildings and bridges, colorful markets, and excellent shopping areas, you'll find some of the best restaurants in the country in this thriving city. Fortunately, Florence's centro storico (historic center) is compact, flat, and extremely walkable, meaning you'll be able to easily take in all of its top attractions, from world-famous sites to other lesser-known discoveries.

01 of 20

Feast on Gelato in the City Where It Was Created

Gelato in Florence, Italy

FilippoBacci / Getty Images

Via Isola delle Stinche, 7r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 292334

According to local folklore, Florentine native Bernardo Buontalenti created gelato in the 16th century; Catherine de' Medici was a big fan and its popularity soon spread beyond Florence and throughout Italy, Europe, and the rest of the world. Americans can thank Italian immigrant Giovanni Biasiolo, who brought it to the U.S. in the 1700s.

Choose from all sorts of fruit flavors or try other favorites like tiramisu, coffee, chocolate, or hazelnut. You really can't go wrong when it comes to choosing a gelato vendor, though it's worth paying attention to the color of the pistachio flavor, which should lean toward olive green to reflect the color of the nuts, and not be any brighter.

02 of 20

Test Out Leonardo da Vinci's Creations

Leonardo Interactive Museum

Leonardo Interactive Museum

Via dei Servi, 66/R, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 282966

Discover the sheer genius of one of the greatest creators of all time and enjoy a rare chance to try some of the machines he designed at the Leonardo Interactive Museum in Florence. You can see some of the mechanisms he produced up close, view engineering sketches of other creations, and test your bridge- and dome-building abilities as you try to recreate some of his masterpieces yourself, among other interactive activities at this fascinating museum.

03 of 20

Geek Out at Museo Galileo

Museo Galileo

Museo Galileo

Piazza dei Giudici, 1, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 265311

Located along the Arno River, Museo Galileo digs into the interesting life and studies of Galileo, the prominent 16th-century scientist who was actually born in Pisa, about 90 minutes east of Florence. Check out the Museo's monumental sundial, an enormous working time-keeping device, as well as more than 1,000 objects collected since the 1560s throughout the rule of the Medici and Lorraine families.

04 of 20

Learn About Legendary Literature at Museo Casa di Dante

Museo Casa di Dante in Florence, Italy

Museo Casa de Dante

Museo Casa di Dante, Via Santa Margherita, 1, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 219416

Whether or not you read Dante's "Inferno" or "The Divine Comedy" in high school, Museo Casa di Dante is still a fascinating place to visit during a trip to Florence. The former home of Dante Alighieri serves as a museum dedicated to his life and works, featuring state-of-the-art technology to tell the story of the legendary 13th-century writer, poet, and politician and how he helped shaped Italian literature.

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05 of 20

Tour Il Duomo and the Baptistery

The Duomo

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 230 2885

Florence's most popular site is its Duomo (cathedral), the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction began in 1296, but the building wasn't consecrated until 1436. Its exterior, made of green, pink, and white marble, sports several elaborate doors and interesting statues. Inside are dozens of paintings, sculptures, and 44 stained-glass windows designed by notable Renaissance artists like Donatello depicting Jesus, Mary, and the saints. The main attraction of this massive structure is Brunelleschi's Dome, a masterpiece of architecture and construction. You'll definitely want to buy a ticket to climb the 463 steps to the top.

The Baptistery of John the Baptist, from the 11th century, is one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Located in both the Piazza San Giovanni and the Piazza del Duomo across from Florence Cathedral and the Campanile di Giotto, its exterior is made of green and white marble and flaunts three sets of amazing bronze doors, the most famous of which are the "Gates of Paradise," designed by sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti. The chance to see the massive exterior doors portraying scenes from the Bible and the interior dome's mosaics featuring even more Biblical depictions make the Baptistery worthy of a visit all on its own. 

06 of 20

Learn About the Buidling of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza del Duomo, 9, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 230 2885

Set on Piazza del Duomo to the right of the church, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo houses many of the original works and blueprints from art and architecture related to the city's Duomo complex. The original versions of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s panels for the Baptistery doors can be seen here, as well as exhibits of architect Brunelleschi’s plans and Renaissance-era tools used to build the Duomo. 

07 of 20

Climb the Campanile (Bell Tower)

Giotto's Campanile in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 230 2885

The Campanile (bell tower) is also located in Piazza del Duomo. Principal architect Giotto di Bondone began work on the structure in 1334, and its lower level is commonly called Giotto's Campanile even though he died before its completion. Inside, you'll find intricately detailed relief carvings and sculptures as well as replicas of the 16 original life-sized statues created by artists like Andrea Pisano and Donatello (the originals can be seen in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo). If you climb the 414 stairs—there's no elevator in this Gothic tower—you'll be rewarded not only with great views of the Cathedral and its dome but of Florence and the surrounding area as well.

08 of 20

Explore Ponte Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria

Ponte Vecchio

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Ponte Vecchio, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), built in 1345, was the first bridge in Florence to cross the Arno River and is the only surviving one from its medieval days (sadly, the other bridges were destroyed during World War II). The always-crowded bridge is lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry. From Ponte Vecchio, you'll have great views of the Arno River and beyond.

Nearby, Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the city's historic center and home to a free open-air sculpture exhibit. Loggia della Signoria houses some important statues, while a replica of Michelangelo's David stands on the square. The piazza, which has been the city's political center since the middle ages, is also the site of both its town hall and the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, where you'll find elaborately decorated rooms and private apartments that are open to the public.

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09 of 20

Visit David at the Galleria dell' Academia

Michelangelo's sculpture David at Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Via Ricasoli, 58/60, 50129 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 098 7100

The Galleria dell' Accademia in Florence houses important paintings and sculptures ranging from the 13th to 16th centuries. Along with works by important Renaissance artists like Uccello, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, and del Sarto, you'll find one of the most famous sculptures in the world, Michelangelo's "David," as well as an interesting collection of musical instruments, which was assembled by the Medici family. Book your tickets ahead of time if you plan to stop by this popular destination as lines to get in and see the statue of David can be quite long.

10 of 20

Admire World-Class Art at Uffizi Gallery

Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 294883

The Galleria degli Uffizi is home to the world's most important collection of Renaissance art, as well as thousands of paintings, antique sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, and other artwork ranging from medieval to modern times. The famous institute is home to masterpieces by artists like Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino, and Raphael. You'll want to allow plenty of time to fully appreciate all of their collected works, so set aside at least a few hours to visit.

Uffizi Gallery is also one of Italy's most crowded museums, so it's a good idea to buy tickets ahead of time to avoid long ticket lines. The gallery also offers free admission on the first Sunday of each month, but expect higher than normal crowd levels if you choose to attend then.

11 of 20

Wander Through Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza de' Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 23885

Across the Ponte Vecchio, you'll find Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens), a huge park on a hillside in the middle of Florence. Located behind Pitti Palace, its beautiful gardens and fountains offer great views of Florence from Forte Belvedere. This famous park is also a terrific spot for a picnic before or after you check out the palace and tour its many galleries.

Florence's largest palace, Palazzo Pitti, was once the seat of the Medici family. Originally the home of a banker named Luca Pitti, this massive building houses the living quarters of its past inhabitants as well as eight galleries full of art, period costumes, and jewelry. Tickets are required to enter the palace, but discounts are available if you combine your visit with other Florence museums.

12 of 20

Walk the Halls of Santa Croce

Santa Croce

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Santa Croce, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy

Santa Croce, located in Piazza Santa Croce, is the largest Franciscan church in Italy and where you can find the tombs of several important Florentines including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. Its vast interior also contains exceptional stained glass windows and frescoes, including one of Brunelleschi's most important works, Cappella dei Pazzi. Enter the complex of Santa Croce from Largo Bargellini, just around the corner from Piazza Santa Croce, where you'll find the ticket booth.

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13 of 20

Take in Views from Piazzale Michelangelo

View from Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson 

Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Piazzale Michelangelo is a fabulous outdoor terrace on the south (or left) bank of the Arno River. Its position high on a hillside means visitors who make the climb (or take the bus) are rewarded with incredible views of the city and river below. The Piazzale, named for Michelangelo Buonarotti, is adorned with bronze copies of some of his most famous sculptures.

The view at sunset, when the Florence skyline is spread out before you, is one of the most unforgettable sights in Italy. While you're waiting for it, wander around Giardino delle Rose and Giardino dell'Iris on either side of Piazzale Michelangelo or head over to Basilica di Santo Spirito, a residential district featuring dozens of cafes and restaurants.

14 of 20

Stop by San Miniato al Monte Abbey

San Miniato al Monte Abbey, Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Via delle Porte Sante, 34, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 234 2731

If you've made the climb to Piazzale Michelangelo, continue another 10 minutes or so to the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte, a beautiful 11th-century abbey where, on most days at 5:30 pm, monks still observe a Gregorian chant. The interior is every bit as lovely as its green and white marble exterior, so take the time to go in and look around.

15 of 20

People-Watch in Lively Piazza Santo Spirito

Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza Santo Spirito, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

This lively piazza and the Santo Spirito neighborhood that surrounds it form part of the city's "Left Bank," a colorful, slightly bohemian area favored by local residents and visitors seeking a slice of authentic Florence. By day, you'll find produce vendors and interesting shops set up around the piazza, while by night, crowds from bars and restaurants spill out onto the main streets and nearby sidewalks.

Basilica di Santo Spirito, which appears rather plain from the outside, contains several important works of art and is open to the public most days of the year. Next door, you'll find Museo della Fondazione Romano, which houses "Cenacolo di Santo Spirito," a piece of art by Andrea Orcagna.

16 of 20

Visit Museo di San Marco and Bargello National Museum

Museo di San Marco in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza San Marco, 3, 50121 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 088 2000

For a bit of art history beyond Michaelangelo and the other famous Renaissance artists, visit the San Marco Museum to see the works of Fra Angelico, an early Renaissance painter and monk, who painted several of his best-known frescoes on its walls and in its humble cells. It's also the former home of his predecessor, revolutionary monk Savonarola. Visit the rooms of both Savonarola and Fra Angelico, which contain several of their personal effects as well as a famous portrait of Savonarola painted by fellow monk Fra Bartolomeo. 

Nearby, the 13th-century building that houses the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, or more simply "The Bargello," once served as a police barracks and a prison. Nowadays, it's a sculpture and decorative arts museum featuring works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Verrocchio, and Giambologna. Located in historic Palazzo del Podestà and established in 1865 by royal decree, The Bargello was Italy's first official national museum. You'll find fewer crowds here than at other big museums in Florence.

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17 of 20

Dig Into the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze, Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, 9b, 50121 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 23575

Florence's National Archaeological Museum houses collections of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian works of art, many of which were amassed by the Medici family. The museum also has one of the best collections of Etruscan artifacts, including the priceless Chimera of Arezzo, an intact bronze statue of a mythological lion with a snake for a tail and a goat head protruding from its side. Part of the Tuscany Museum Complex, admission is required to explore the National Archaeological Museum of Florence, but you can pair your ticket with entry to other nearby museums for a discounted price.

18 of 20

Visit the Dead at the Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee)

Medici Chapels in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 064 9430

Florence's ruling Medici family was known for its ruthless ambition and grandiosity, characteristics that were as true in death as they were in life. Constructed to house the remains of several members of the royal family, Cappelle Medicee is an elaborate mausoleum for the Medici dukes, complete with enormous tombs and sculptures by Michelangelo. Nowhere else in the world can you observe the Renaissance master's work this close up. The tomb's sculptures, including allegories of Night, Day, Dawn, and Dusk, are among his most contemplative works.

19 of 20

Go on a Well-Deserved Shopping Spree

San Lorenzo Market in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell'Ariento, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 239 9798

Florence offers some of the finest shopping in Europe, featuring everything from leather goods and jewelry to souvenirs and fine art. Whether you want to visit a luxury retailer, high fashion boutique, or explore open-air markets selling local goods and antiques, there are plenty of ways to shop in Florence all year long. Start in the Piazza San Lorenzo area to pick up some antiques and souvenirs. Across the Arno River, Piazza Santo Spirito is the place to go for produce as well as vintage clothing, accessories, antiques, and pottery. Mercato Nuovo (Porcellino) on Via Porta Rossa and Mercato Centrale are also great places to find local fashions and delicacies.

Otherwise, the large indoor and outdoor San Lorenzo Market offers everything from produce and clothing to leather goods and cheap souvenirs. The outdoor portion of the market starts at Piazza San Lorenzo, featuring hundreds of stalls packed with merchandise. The indoor market, or Mercato Centrale, is foodie heaven, with stalls selling locally-sourced produce, meats, and cheeses, and a dining hall where you can pick out lunch or a snack from one of a dozen or so gourmet vendors. 

20 of 20

Purchase Perfume and Soaps From Officina Profumo

Officina Profumo in Florence, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Via della Scala, 16, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Phone +39 055 216276

Head to Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella for perhaps the most unique gifts—for yourself or friends back home—in all of Florence. Affiliated with Santa Maria Novella church, Officina Profumo is one of the oldest apothecaries in the world and still makes perfumes, soaps, and elixirs according to centuries-old recipes developed by monks. A trip to the Officina is part shopping spree and part museum visit, as the fancily packaged soaps, creams, and perfumes are as tempting as the ancient bottles and fixtures are interesting.

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20 Best Things to Do in Florence, Italy