For anyone in love with art and good food, Florence is a must-see European destination.
This Florence Travel Guide includes top Florence attractions, my travel itinerary for three days, insights, places to eat, travel tips, and photos.
Insights about Florence
I’ve dreamt about visiting Florence and wept a bit 2 years ago when I had first planned for this trip and then wasn’t able to go. Back then, I was painting on a regular basis, and visiting The Uffizi Gallery was on top of my bucket list, this art gallery being home to some of the most impressive artworks in the world.
Last December, I got a break and decided to visit Florence and the famous Cinque Terre.
Surprisingly, the reality of Florence is very different from what you see on a travel guide, but it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to great art and good food.
Visit Florence! Europe’s largest street market is open all-year-round
After two days of “mental spa” in Cinque Terre, getting off the train in Florence feels suffocating.
On a Sunday, you immerse yourself in a huge crowd, seeing dots instead of people and hundreds of merchants filling every street and corner, even the majestic historical sites.
There’s something about Florence that feels hyper urbanized and mercantile. That might be caused by the chaotic display of mobile shops on every central street and the rainbow colors of the merchandise. This frenetic shopping pole also attracts Italians from nearby towns on weekends, hence the huge amount of people on the streets.
This city’s atmosphere can make a traveler a bit tense, but rest assured Florentines are also edgy. You know how it goes – the denser the population, the more tension in the air.
Mondays are great for visiting Florence!
Having no room to breathe in the city center, we went strolling along the river, passing by Ponte Vecchio and waiting for a better day – Monday. Yes, never would have thought Monday would be a better day for anything, but when visiting Florence, I felt it actually is. 🙂
The merchant spirit of the Medici family lives on in every Florentine and it influences all the other vendors from around the world gathered here to sell you something. Leather goods – bags, coats, wallets, belts – are on top of that list.
The great Florentine family was famous for being a patron of the arts, gathering and investing in the most brilliant Italian painters and sculptors, but their habits also extended to turning everything into a commodity, as we’ll see in Capella de Medici, where you find out that sanctifying the nobility can also be a prolific business.
Piazza del Duomo is a stunning architectural complex, Palazzo Vecchio is impressive, being the real definition of opulence, but apart from these tourist spots, Florence doesn’t have the appeal or the impressive architecture I’ve seen in Rome.
Visiting Rome and Florence in the same year, I couldn’t help comparing the two cities when it comes to the simple pleasure of walking the streets and admiring the facades. The colorful Rome facades are heavily shadowing the Firenze’s dark brown walls. So if you have to choose between visiting Rome and visiting Florence, choose Rome.
*This is the only colorful street I found in Florence.
My favorite experiences in Florence, Tuscany
Visiting the Uffizi Gallery
It has one of the top art collections in Europe!
Since I started painting a few years back, a visit to the Uffizi has been a dream of mine. This museum gives you the chance to see the most impressive painters from around the world and throughout time in the same place.
If you know a thing or two about art, this will be the highlight of your cultural trip to Florence. If not, it will mesmerize you nonetheless and teach you a lot about the art of painting and sculpting.
You can find a list of 12 must-see paintings at the Uffizi below.
La Ménagère Firenze – it’s a hip place in Florence where you can eat breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner in one amazing setting adorned with plants.
Gorgeous Italian design, of course, but its uniqueness comes from blending a restaurant, a flower boutique, a bistro, and a ceramic shop under the same roof. It’s a lovely spot and they also serve pretty good food, Almond Flat White too.
The magic sandwich
This sandwich at Osteria All Antico Vinaio seems magic to me because it has the power to bring a hundred people to the same place, at the same time, at any time.
We had to pass by it three times before being able to taste one without standing in a huge line. It’s a good sandwich, but its social power is what I find fascinating.
People actually eat on the sidewalk in front of the small shop. It’s an interesting experience for food lovers who also have a thing for social studies. Is it the smell of warm bread or it’s just marketing? If you go, let me know what you think.
Street Art in Florence by Clet
With all the beautiful architectural details in Florence, it’s easy to miss the artworks of Clet, a French artist who has been living in Italy for the past 20 years. He turns some street signs in Florence into comic drawings. His work is one of the best examples of how limits can ignite creativity. You see, street art in Florence is forbidden, but the law only mentions the walls of the city. While Clet’s artwork is a system loophole, his choice of canvas is worthy of admiration.
Top attractions in Florence, Tuscany
My Travel Itinerary in Florence, Italy
Day 1 in Florence
- Piazza del Duomo + Giotto’s Campanile + Santa Maria del Fiore / Florence Cathedral + Florence Baptistery – they’re all in the same place, so we passed by them every day.
- Ponte Vecchio
- Palazzo Medici Riccardi
- Capella de Medici
- Basilica de San Lorenzo
- Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Piazza del Duomo
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Capella de Medici
Basilica de San Lorenzo
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Day 2 in Florence
- Uffizi Gallery – no doubt, the number one reason to visit Florence
- Piazza Della Signoria + Neptun Fountain
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- Basilica di Santa Croce
- Palazzo Vecchio – it’s opulent, to say the least, but it has a beautiful inner garden that looks like a patio. It also got me thinking about the different conditions of the Artist now vs. then.
Top 12 paintings to see in Uffizi Museum Florence
- “La Primavera” and “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli
- “Bacchus” and “Medusa” by Caravaggio
- “Doni Tondo” by Michelangelo
- “Madonna of the Goldfinch” and “Portrait of Pope Leo X with two Cardinals” by Raphael
- “Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino” by Piero Della Francesca
- “Venus of Urbino” and “Portrait of Francesco Maria Della Rovere” by Titian
- “Annunciation” by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio
- “Judith and Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi
Also, don’t miss the gorgeous frescoes of The Uffizi Gallery!
Piazza Della Signoria + Neptun Fountain
Basilica de Santa Croce
Day 3 in Florence
- Piazza della Repubblica
- La Ménagère Florence
- Galleria del’ Accademia, where you’ll find David di Michelangelo
La Ménagère Florence
Piazza della Repubblica
Palazzo Pitti is the only tourist attraction we haven’t visited in Florence. We were in a very slow mode that trip and passed the chance to see it, but maybe you will.
Places to eat in Florence, Toscana
- The magic sandwich at Osteria All’ Antico Vinaio
- Gelato and Italian Ice cream at Grom and Venchi
- Dinner plate & Chianti at La Prosciutteria
- Cannolli siciliani at Gilli
- Pork dishes at La Fettunta
- Panzanella & Coffee at La Ménagère Firenze
And you must also try the wines, especially the local varieties of Chianti, for which Toscana region is famous for.
Travel Tips for visiting Florence, Tuscany
How much time do you need to visit Florence?
Visiting Florence for 3 days was more than enough to explore the city and visit all the top attractions.
When you’re looking at the long list of sights to visit in Florence, it’s not obvious, but the city is pretty small, at least the tourist attractions area, all within a walking distance.
When is the best time to visit Florence?
Well, there isn’t one. The city is crowded all the time, even during the cold season. We had 150C in December, so it was nice to wander the streets of sunny Florence. As with Rome, you might want to stay away from Florence in July and August, when the weather in Italy is too hot.
Where to stay in Florence – Accommodation
We chose to book in a central location, a 3-minute walk from Piazza del Duomo, in an old villa on Via Faenza.
How to get around Florence?
You can get pretty much anywhere on foot. We didn’t need the bus once to get around the city, except for the airport transfers.
Where to see Florence from above?
One thing you must know is that seeing Florence from above always comes with lots of stairs. And there are a few great viewpoints that will get you a great panorama:
- Duomo di Firenze created by the amazing Brunelleschi,
- Giotto’s Campanile,
- Palazzo Vecchio’s tower,
- Piazzale Michelangelo.
Bring wide lenses, if you want to capture the city’s beautiful architecture. Florence is a difficult city to photograph without a wide lens because the most interesting buildings are extremely close to each other, leaving you with no room for a good perspective.
A second must-have is a tripod for night photos. Florence city center is gorgeous at night, the architectural complex around the Dome shines in the dark, so a tripod will help you a lot. I just bought a camera a few months ago, so all my photos from Florence are smartphone ones. Now I know I should have gotten one sooner for this trip.
So that’s it! Hope you found this Florence Travel Guide interesting and it will come in handy when visiting Florence, Italy.
Italian Trip: Florence & Cinque Terre | December 2016 | All Photography (Mobile): ©Ana Matei > Instagram: @MateiAna
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