There are many incredible things to do in Florence, Italy – so many, that a lifetime isn’t enough to go through them.
Florence is the city synonymous with the birth of Renaissance art and architecture, and the Medici family. It is a beautiful city in the central Italian region of Tuscany, redolent with statues and basilicas designed by famous Renaissance sculptors and architects, with the likes of Brunelleschi and Giotto, who cunningly and with great skill engineered the stunning interiors and exterior of the Duomo complex.
There are many things to do in Florence, to appreciate and admire the famous works of Michelangelo and Dante, the Italian greats who grew up and were part of the city’s construction we see today.
I have been to Florence many times, including very recently, and I can tell you that with so much to see and do the city can be overwhelming! Don’t worry though. Since I know the city well I thought I’d select the unmissable things to do in Florence, with a few bucket list activities and some lesser known attractions.
Make sure to also read my posts How To Make The Most Of One Day In Florence and The Perfect Itinerary To See Florence In 3 Days.
The Best Things To Do In Florence, Italy
Visit basilicas with rich art history and architecture
Il Duomo’s Religious Complex
Visiting the religious sites that make up the Duomo Religious Complex is truly worth it, and certainly one of the top things to do in Florence. Each one of them offers something particularly different, from its history and design perspective.
The official website of the Duomo Complex lays out clearly the three passes you can choose from in case you want to visit. You have three options: the Brunelleschi Pass, which is the most expensive includes visits to all the monuments, with a single valid ticket for three calendar days selected. With the Giotto Pass you can visit the Bell tower, the Baptistery, the Opera del Duomo Museum, and Santa Reparata. The Ghiberti Pass which limits the visit to the Bell Tower is the cheapest.
Finally, let’s look into more details into the buildings that make up the Duomo Complex.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Situated in Piazza Duomo, the Duomo religious complex is home to the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s Cathedral. Il Duomo is the third largest church in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London, and it was the largest church in Europe after its completion in 1412. Needless to say, visiting is one of the things to do in Florence you really should not miss!
Its structure is 116.50 meters (that’s more than 382 feet) tall and it makes its presence felt with 3600 square meters of frescoed walls. The first stone was laid in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio who worked on it till 1302. The building we see today is the result of 170 years of work from artists and architects. The exterior decoration is produced from white marble from Carrara, green from Prato, and red from Siena – an impressive and precious design aspect.
It is also the richest church in Italy in terms of stained glass windows, boasting 55 windows depicting religious stories and imagery. Dedicated to the Santa Maria del Fiore, the Virgin of the Flower, it is an allusion to the lily, the symbol of the city of Florence.
Opening times vary seasonally so you are better off checking on the official website here. Admission to the Cathedral is free. For an enhanced experience, you may want to join a guided tour. The one I did last time I was in Florence also included the Brunelleschi Dome (more about it below) and the terraces of the church, which provided for a great view of the city, as well as the Accademia. You can book it here.
For a guided tour of Florence which includes access to the Cathedral and Brunelleschi Dome, click here, here or here.
If you just want to visit the Cathedral, click here or here.
For a guided tour of the Cathedral and the Opera del Duomo Museum, click here.
Check out my post How To Get Florence Duomo Tickets.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
In 1334, the Bell Tower was completed. Construction lasted 25 years, and Giotto di Bondone was involved in only three of them. A sculptor, architect, and a pioneering engineer of his time, he utilized perspective to design his free-standing campanile. Also a personal friend of Dante, Leonardo da Vinci claimed he was the first artist to ‘paint what he saw from nature’.
84.7 meters (almost 278 feet) tall and approximately 15 meters (more than 49 feet) in breadth, you can get a perfect view of Florence if you climb to its highest point. With narrow stairs to the top, every 100 steps you have the chance to rest and admire the painted frescoes, which are an encyclopedia of mediaeval knowledge.
Open from 8:15 am daily (closing time vary seasonally), Giotto’s Bell Tower is an example of great balance and of gothic taste for slim and elegant figures. Admission to the Giotto’s Bell Tower is included in the Giotto Pass.
Make sure to also read my post How To Visit Giotto’s Bell Tower.
The Cupola was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi who was responsible for many Basilicas that are dotted around the city. He was interested in sculpting, mechanics, and mathematics, and was the first designer and architect to be responsible for one job. The dome is the premise for cultural rebirth after the dark Middle Ages, due to its mastery of beauty and ingenuity.
It has a brilliant structure; it was modeled on Roman architecture (specifically the Pantheon Dome). He designed an octagonal self-supporting dome that didn’t need a centre. The secret of this structure’s balance is in the jointing game (in a ‘fishbone fashion’) making the dome a complex, but perfect mechanical device. Built from different materials, it stands at 116 meters (380.5 feet), rendering it the largest masonry vault in the world.
Opening times vary so you may want to check the official website for more accurate information.
To reserve your ticket to Brunelleschi’s Dome, click here.
For a guided tour, click here.
Alternatively, you can get a Brunelleschi Pass.
Admission is also included in the Florence Pass which you can get here.
The Florence Baptistery: The Baptistery of San Giovanni
The octagonal baptistery stands in both Piazza del Duomo and Piazza San Giovanni. It is one of oldest buildings in the city (1059 and 1128) and has the status of a minor basilica. Named after St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence, it is one of the monuments that represents the civic identity of the city.
Grandiose and imposing, it has been the location of many famous baptisms, with the likes of the Medici family and Dante Alighieri. Michelangelo was particularly struck by one of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors on the north side, he called it The Door of Paradise.
The Baptistery is open daily from 9:00 am. For more detailed opening hours check out the official website here.
For a guided tour of the Baptistery with access to the Cathedral and the Opera del Duomo Museum, click here.
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
The convent was built between 1279 and 1357, with an added reconstruction of the upper layer in 1470. Historically, Dominican monks inhabited the monastery, preaching charity, humility, and Christian values. The façade is the oldest of all churches in the city, and it is still intact. It’s home to Giotto’s Crucifix, which hangs in the middle of the central nave, depicting Christ’s struggle. You can visit the two cloisters (one inside and outside) which have beautiful frescoes and history to view.
Here you can find all the useful information to visit this Basilica, including the opening hours which vary frequently.
For Santa Maria Novella tickets with audioguide, click here.
Head over to my post A Guide To The Basilica Di Santa Maria Novella.
Basilica of San Lorenzo
This church once stood as the Cathedral of Florence for 300 years. It was the parish church for the Medici family. You can even visit the museum which holds an underground chamber holding the tomb of Cosimo di Medici.
The façade was supposed to be covered by Michelangelo’s ingenuity, but due to a lack of funds and other complications, this never came to fruition, hence it still remains unfinished today. Nonetheless, it is the inside of the church where the beauty and treasure lies.
The familiar Florentine architect Brunelleschi in 1419 rebuilt the interior structure with geometric forms, giving it a minimalist and modern touch. The Cannon’s Cloister is an enchanting green space, with a two-storey courtyard loggia, with rich and round arches. The Laurenziana Library is also part of the complex, holding the most prestigious collection of Italian manuscripts.
The church is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. You may want to double check on their website for more detailed information on closing hours due to special events. The entrance ticket to the Basilica Complex includes the Basilica, the Old Sacristy, the Cloisters, the Museum of the Treasury, and the crypt.
You can reserve your admission to San Lorenzo Basilica here. This ticket also includes admission to the Medici Chapel.
You should also read my post The Most Beautiful Churches In Florence.
The Medici Chapel
This is the burial place of the Medici family – so important it was for the life of the city that visiting is one of the best things to do in Florence. The Chapel is divided into three parts, including the crypt and the Cappella dei Principi (of the Princes), in which the walls are covered with a marvelous marble and semi-precious stone. The New Sacristy was designed by Michelangelo and preserves some of his extraordinary masterpieces.
On their official website you can find all the information about opening hours (which vary almost every day) and individual tickets for the Medici Chapel. To reserve your admission to the Medici Chapel, click here or here.
Basilica of Santo Spirito
The Roman Catholic church of the Holy Spirit is located in the Oltrarno Quarter (on the other side of the Arno river compared to more famous sites in town), a lesser visited part of the city – and all the more charming if you ask me. It was historically an Augustinian church and convent, and it became a center of scholarly activities, as well as the official building of the Augustinian Order in 1284.
Brunelleschi began designs for the new building in 1444, as the old church caught fire. Much like Michelangelo’s thwarted San Lorenzo façade, Brunelleschi’s façade was never built as he died two years before completion. The architectural design was part of the artwork – he worked to bring classical order, which is central to Renaissance architecture. A part of Michelangelo can be found here too – as he found refuge in this church as a young adult, he happily obliged to sculpt a wooden crucifix that can be admires in the Sacristy.
The church is open from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 3:00 to 6:00 pm. It’s also open on Sundays, but for reduced hours. You can get tickets directly at the entrance.
Basilica of Santa Croce
This is the largest Franciscan church in the world and it was built in the Middle Ages – it’s easy to see why it’s one of the best places to visit in Florence. At the beginning of the Renaissance, it was a renowned theological school in which Dante Alighieri was a young student. Over 15,000 people are buried there, among them Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, and Machiavelli.
Its simple and original design is by Arnolfo di Cambio, a great renovator of Florence at the time of the Renaissance. The artworks inside are an expression of its magnificence, holding Cimbaue’s preserved crucifix and a picture of the Last Supper which set the precedence of paintings to come, only to be broken by Leonardo da Vinci’s interpretation.
Giorgio Vasari began renovating the church halfway through the 1500s, transforming the church with monumental altars instead of many frescoes. There are twelve chapels inside the basilica, all with classic Gothic expression: umbrella ceilings and slim, high windows.
Open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm 6 days a week, and from 12:30 to 5:45 pm on Sundays. It’s located 800 meters (about half a mile) south-east of the Duomo.
To get your ticket to Santa Croce Basilica, click here.
For a guided tour click here.
You should also read my post A Guide To The Basilica Di Santa Croce.
Check out the art galleries and museums
Visiting the Accademia is one of the best things to do in Florence – something you truly can’t miss if it is your first time in the city.
At the turn of the 18th century, the grand duke of Lorena Pietro Leopoldo decided to put all art schools in Florence into a single space, giving birth to the First Fine Arts Academy in the city.
It is perhaps most famous for Michelangelo’s incredible sculptures. The Hall of Prisoners, which preserves his unfinished ‘Slaves’, leads to David’s statue exposed under a circular skylight. Their most recent section is that of musical instruments, which feature one-of-a-kind pieces by Stradivari and Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the pianoforte.
In order to visit, you must book a time slot well in advance – it gets sold out regularly. The opening hours are 8:15 am to 6:50 pm. The Gallery is closed every Monday.
For skip-the-line tickets to the Accademia Gallery, click here or here.
Admission is also included in the Florence Pass which you can get here.
For a guided tour of the Accademia Gallery, click here.
Make sure to also read my post How To Get Tickets To The Galleria Dell’Accademia.
If visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia is among the unmissable things to do in Florence, Michelangelo’s David plays a big role in it!
There is much history and background knowledge to truly appreciate David’s statue that has been held in the Gallery since 1873. The statue was first intended to be displayed on the rooftops of the Duomo, but due its colossal size (you’ll realize how big it is once you get close to it), it was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Piazza Signoria. A committee of thirty Florentine citizens, that included the artists Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, was convened for this decision to be made.
Such superb work has not been witnessed before. Though an artist, architect, and scholar, Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor. In 1501 he was commissioned the work, and the statue was unveiled in September 1504. The 26-year-old Michelangelo at the time was called to Rome by the Pope himself (Giulio II) to paint the Sistine Chapel.
Described as ‘daringly anti-classical’, Michelangelo portrayed David before the battle with the giant Goliath, taken from the Old Testament story. His attitude is strong, arrogant, with his expression telling of an inner battle within himself. It is all in the details: his hands are perfectly proportioned and carved beautifully to be knotted and to have enlarged veins, signaling the tension and preparation for battle. He even sculpted the pupils in the shape of hearts.
Because of the figure it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state. The eyes of David and his warning glare were always fixated towards Rome, where the Medici family lived.
Opening hours and admissions are the same as for the Galleria dell’Accademia. For a timed entrance ticket to Michelangelo’s David, click here.
You simply can’t go to Florence and not visit the Uffizi Gallery. Designed by Giorgio Vasari, architect of the Palazzo Vecchio a few doors down, between 1560 and 1580, the Uffizi has a labyrinth of 45 rooms which are differentiated by painters. The Botticelli Room (incidentally my favorite of the entire exhibit) holds his largest collection of works, including the Birth of Venus and Spring.
The Uffizi Gallery has been open to the public since 1765, and thus is considered the oldest museum in the world. That is, thanks to the patronage of the Medici family.
The Uffizi Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8:15 am to 6:30 pm and like the Accademia Gallery, it is closed on Mondays. In order to visit, you have to book a time slot well in advance. The best time to visit is in the afternoon (better after 4:00 pm). Most visitors leave the gallery at 5:30 pm or so, and when they go you’ll have the rooms to yourself!
For tickets to the Uffizi Gallery click here or here.
For an Uffizi Gallery tour click here or here.
Admission is also included in the Florence Pass which you can get here.
For further information, you can read my post How To Get Tickets To The Uffizi Gallery.
Bargello comes from the Latin bargillus, meaning castle or fortified tower. The Palazzo del Bargello was employed as a house ‘del Popolo’ (literally “of the people”) in 1255, then it became the seat of City Council, and later a prison and place of execution. It remained the headquarters of the Florentine police until 1859, and has been a national museum of gothic and Renaissance sculptures since 1865.
It has a fine collection of historic materials: ceramics, tapestries, textiles, silver, and armor. For Renaissance history of art fanatics, the Uffizi is for paintings and the Bargello is for sculptures – hence make sure to add it to your list of places to visit in Florence. Among Michelangelo and Donatello, it also holds famous works of Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio, and Cellini.
Bargello Museum is open from 8:15 am to 5:00 pm, but it is closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month. A combined ticket allows you to visit this museum, the Cappelle Medicee, Palazzo Davanzati, Orsanmichele Museum, and Casa Martelli.
For tickets to the Bargello Museum, click here or here.
You should also read my post The Best Museums In Florence.
Casa di Dante Museum
Considered the father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri’s home on Via Santa Margherita is open to the public: it is one of the most interesting places to visit in Florence.
A Florentine born in 1265, inside Dante’s home there are documents and archives on his life and works. The floors are divided into three important stages of his life: his youth, his exile, and the wonderful reproduced iconography of Dante from his fellow artists friends, with the likes of Giotto, Andrea del Castagno, Luca Signorelli, and Raphael.
The museum is open every day except Mondays from 10:00 am. Closing time varies depending on the season. You can book guided tours as well as workshops that are particularly engaging for children.
This museum is located in what was the former Institute and Museum of the History of Science, changing its name in 2010. You will find it in Piazza dei Giudici, close to the Uffizi Gallery.
The museum is dedicated to astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei, and it owns the world’s great collection of scientific instruments from the Medici Collections, and all of Galileo’s unique artifacts – including the telescope that discovered the moons of Jupiter. If you are interested more in science and geography than the arts, this museum is for you and visiting will be one of the most fun things to do in Florence for you.
The museum is open from 9:30 to 6:00 pm daily, except on Tuesday when it closes at 1:00 pm. For tickets click here or here.
Hang around the Main Square
Piazza della Signoria
Closely lodged between the city’s religious centre and the Arno River, this piazza has been the centre of civil power and politics since the birth of the Florentine Republic. It was the scene of public events and executions, and the collection of statues that crowd the square are witnesses to particular historic moments in the city. It goes without saying that visiting is one of the greatest things to do in Florence.
A fortress-palace and Romanesque in design, this is the town hall of the city. It was built at the end of the 1200s by Arnolfo di Cambio. Inside the great building there is a museum where you can enjoy fantastic sights of Florentine history and art, including the ruins of the Roman theatre in an archaeological crypt. The palace also holds Donatello’s Judith and Michelangelo’s Victory.
Reservation is mandatory on the official website or third party sites. To get tickets to Palazzo Vecchio, click here. For a guided tour, click here.
For a Palazzo Vecchio secret passages tour click here.
Make sure to also read my post How To Get Tickets To Palazzo Vecchio.
For incredible views of the city, climbing the Arnolfo Tower is one of the best things to do in Florence. This crenellated tower soars over the piazza, a dominating 94 meters (over 308 feet) in height. The tower was historically used as a prison for the men who were to be executed. In the bell room, there are three bells: the famous ‘Martinella’ that gathers all Florentines, the midday bell, and that which chimes the hours. You can climb up the tower to enjoy breath-taking views of the center.
You can get tickets to Torre di Arnolfo here.
You should also read my post Where To Get The Best Views In Florence.
Fountain of Neptune
To the far left of the Palazzo is the Neptune fountain, perhaps the most impressive monument in the Square. It represents the Roman sea god surrounded by his water nymphs. Commissioned in 1575 to Bartolomeo Ammannati, the fountain celebrates the Medici’s maritime successes and Florence’s dominion over the sea.
Loggia dei Lanzi
Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance sculptures. Wide, impressive arches open to the street; the structure itself is a fine example of Florentine Gothic architecture. Every statue here symbolises some part of Florence’s history, with a precise political reference. The statue of Perseo holding Medusa’s head was a stark reminder of what happened to those who crossed and defied the Medici. Named after Cosimo II’s bodyguards, visiting this place is one of the best free things to do in Florence.
Chianina Meats and Chiantis: Florence’s Best Food and Drinks to Try
Food is a huge part of Italian culture and every day life and that includes Florence too. Bistecca alla Fiorentina – Fiorentina steak – is one of the dishes you absolutely must try when in town.
This type of steak is of particularly high standing and a definite taste of Florence. An adult Tuscan beef steak cut 3-4 fingers high in the T-bone loin is cooked rare. The Chianina meat is from the breed of cattle of the Val di Chiana region: a dense, lean beef steak. Artworks go back to 1624 depicting this juicy cut.
There are numerous restaurants around the city ranging from mid-range to high where you can have a good bistecca alla fiorentina. Regina Bistecca cooks their Chianina steak on exposed charcoal embers. Buca Lapi, on the other hand, is one of the oldest restaurants in all of Florence, having been open since the 1880s. When I last visited Florence, I had a Florentine steak at Trattoria Osteria dall’Oste. There are actually several scattered around town (all belonging to the same person) and the best is the one that is closest to the Duomo.
You should also read my post The Best Food To Try In Florence.
Apparently as old as the Palazzo Vecchio and as adored as Dante’s poetry, try one of these sandwiches for a taste of Florentine street food deliciousness. ‘Lampredotto’ is the local word for eels, as the meat resembles them in shape and color. Filled with tender slices of tripe (the 4th or final stomach of the cow) which have been boiled in onion, celery and tomato broth, it is garnished with salsa verde, a spicy green sauce.
Dotted around the markets of Florence, you can find ‘lampredottai’ spots. The panino costs only €3.50. To name a few, L’Antico Trippaio can be found in Piazza dei Cimatori and the Trippaio Pollini on via de’ Macci (Sant’Ambrogio area). It can be enjoyed in between church-hopping, or when exploring the Mercato Centrale. It’s not exactly light food, and not the thing to try if you are a picky eater. But if you are as adventurous with food as you are with your trips, this is one of the best things to do in Florence.
For a food tour of Florence, click here, here or here.
There are many wine tasting tours that you can book online and they are definitely one of the things to do in Florence you should not miss. Tours typically take you to Chianti wineries, and they normally include traditional Italian antipasti (picture a cutting board filled to the brim with salami, cheese, prosciutto, coppa and other delicious cold cuts).
The price of guided wine tasting tours start at €44 per person; the day trip typically includes visits to two authentic vineyards, tasting wines with the beautiful landscape of the rolling hills, and transportation on a bus or shuttle, depending on how large the group is.
If you don’t want to escape Florence to explore the best Tuscan wines, Piazza del Vino on Via della Torretta is a stocked wine shop with an adjoining restaurant. The tasting is of 4 specific wines, two red and two white from the region. The Italian antipasti includes toasted bread with liver mousse, pears, and honey, Tuscan bruschetta with beef carpaccio, rocket, and Parmesan.
For a wine tasting tour, click here or here.
Drinks at Sesto on Arno
Florence is packed with rooftop bars (stay tuned as I will be writing about it) but this is easily my favorite. If you have the budget to splurge (it’s €20 for a glass of champagne) this is easily one of the best things to do in Florence.
Choose a bottle to share with friends or from exclusive cocktails that will come with some snacks. Go in time for one of the most beautiful sunset views in Florence. The restaurant is open from 12:00 pm till 10:30 pm, and the bar from 11:00 am till 1:00 am. The dress code is smart casual – nothing too fancy. I wore pants and a colorful jacket when I visited. Definitely reserve a table online as it can get very busy. Perched on top of a five star luxury hotel, it is perfect for a long and relaxing aperitif or dinner date.
Check out my post The Best Rooftop Bars In Florence.
Two Old Bridges To Cross
Translated literally as ‘old bridge’, this is the oldest mediaeval stone closed-arched bridge over the Arno River. There are shops built along it, with butchers and farmers having historically occupied the space. Now it is home to jewelers, art dealers, and souvenir goods. It connects Piazza del Duomo and Signoria to the Palazzo Pitti and Santo Spirito neighborhood, so it is an inevitable crossing on your visiting endeavors. Considered one of the most romantic spots in Florence, with love locks covering the sides of the bridge, it is also a legendary symbol of the city.
Ponte Santa Trinità
This bridge is the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world, with three flattened ellipses. It is neighbored by Ponte Vecchio to the east and Ponte alla Carraia to the west, making it a great viewing point for the classic bridge. The original Ponte built in 1252 was a humble wooden structure, that was thrice swept away by floods and then once again destroyed by the German bombs in 1944.
Although not as old as Ponte Vecchio, it is a perfect representation of Florence’s story: wrecked by flood, celebrated by the Medici dukes by leaving their mark, and destroyed by war – a true local symbol. It’s also a fantastic viewpoint over the Ponte Vecchio and the buildings along the Arno river!
The Grand Palace: Palazzo Pitti
Definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Florence, the Pitti residence was chosen and purchased by Cosimo I de Medici in 1550 as the new Grand Ducal residence. It then became the new symbol of the Medici’s power over Tuscany, enlarging Brunelleschi’s original design. It also housed two other dynasties in the 18th and 19th century, but it still holds the name of its first owner, Luca Pitti the Florentine banker.
The palace today is divided into four museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes (including the Silver Museum), the Palatine Gallery and the Apartments (actually my favorite part of the entire Pitti Palace), the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Costume and Fashion.
For tickets to Pitti Palace, click here.
For a cumulative ticket to Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens, click here.
For a Pitti Palace tour, click here.
For a Pitti Palace and Palatine Gallery guided tour, click here.
For more information read my post How To Get Tickets To Pitti Palace.
A walk around the Boboli Gardens is one of the ultimate things to do in Florence. Situated directly behind the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Garden is the prototype of the Italian-style gardens. This very ‘green architecture’ inspired the Parisian-heart of Versailles.
An area of 45,000 square meters, the open-air museum garden is filled with grottos (built by artist, architect, and sculptor, Bernardo Buontalenti), fountains, pergolas, marble statues, and even a small lake. It is also now a World Heritage Site (UNESCO) for the richness of what you can find.
Open 7 days a week, Boboli Gardens close at different times of the day, depending on what season. By visiting you can get a glimpse of life at court, and enjoy the Viottolone, a breath-taking, steep sloping avenue lined with cypresses and statuettes.
For a cumulative ticket to Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens, click here.
For a walking tour of Boboli Gardens click here.
Make sure to also read my post How To Get Tickets To Boboli Gardens.
Many would tell you that the Bardini Gardens are one of the hidden gems in Florence but to be fair, they are actually quite well known! They are part of Villa Bardini in the hilly part of Oltrarno.
Opened only recently to the public, it is literally a secret garden to explore. It is composed of three different areas, each created in a different time period: A farming area with hillside terraces filled with olive trees, an English garden, and a baroque flight of steps which includes a belvedere and offers spectacular views of Florence.
There is a wisteria pergola that is in full bloom in mid-April to the beginning of May. I went in Mid May and the wisteria was already gone – I suppose it depends on how hot it gets and how early it blooms!
Open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. For a cumulative ticket to Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and Bardini Gardens, click here.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Hidden Gems In Florence.
The Rose Gardens
A place of extraordinary beauty, the Rose Gardens are an ideal, romantic green oasis to seek rest in the afternoon. It contains 400 varieties of roses and a total of 1,200 plants. It was created in 1865 by Giuseppe Poggi, who also designed the Piazzale Poggi, from which the street takes its name. The bucolic natural setting also hosts a Japanese garden within the fields of roses, which was donated to the Municipality of Florence by the city of Kyoto. The garden is free to visit and roam – it truly is a precious gem of fragrance and vibrant colors.
There is ALWAYS Time For Shopping
Mercato San Lorenzo / Centrale
Shopping is one of the best things to do in Florence and there’s no better place for it than Mercato San Lorenzo!
With an interchangeable name and having an inside and outdoor market space, this historic site is open every day from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm or midnight. A few streets down from the Basilica di San Lorenzo and only 900 meters (about half a mile) from Santa Maria Novella train station, you can spend a whole afternoon here browsing and tasting all types of rich foods.
According to their official website, it is an “ideal marketplace of taste”. The outside market has street vendors selling pottery, clothing, notebooks, and leather goods. San Lorenzo’s inside two-level food market accommodates wonderful fruit and vegetable stalls, as well as butchers and fishmongers on the first floor. The second level is a gourmet street food court where you can find food from all over Italy at incredibly reasonable prices. There even are cooking classes.
Don’t forget to read my post A Guide To The Mercato Centrale.
Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Now, this really is one of the most unique places to visit in Florence. I stumbled upon it on my way to the train station as I was about to leave the city. It is located in Via della Scala 16 in part of the complex of Santa Maria Novella.
From 1381, the Dominicans sold rose water as a disinfectant, and sold other essences, ointments, elixirs, and balms made naturally from the herb and flower gardens. The perfumery dates back to 1612, it was given status from the Grand Duke Ferdinando II de Medici. It is possible to buy ancient preparations such as perfumes, tablets, candles, liquors, and accessories. With an online store, you can buy the iconic wellness products from the comfort of your own home, and have a slice of royal history within your skincare routine.
Open from 9:30 am to 7:30 pm, admission is free of charge and as soon as you walk in you will be able to admire the grand and opulent frescoed sales room, which was originally a chapel.
Shopping for Leather Goods
Florence is known globally for its historic craftsmanship of leather products. They make a great souvenir, and also the experience of haggling at a leather market is a must-do when in Florence.
Casini, located on Piazza de’ Pitti has a wide selection of leather jackets for both genders. There is also the Oltrarno leather district on the south bank of the Arno. Head there on one afternoon to explore leather shoemakers working tirelessly to produce the best work – they will proudly talk to you about their creative process.
If you are searching for something trendy and chic, Benheart, recommended by many, is one of the coolest stores in Florence, especially for young buyers, selling shoes, bags, jackets and accessories.
Finally, check out the leather shop in Via de’ Ginori 23r – that’s where I bought my purse. They have a lab right at the back so you will know where the bag you are buying is coming from!
Bucket List Activities
A Romantic Sunset View From Piazzale Michelangelo
A postcard worthy scene, and one of the bucket list things to do in Florence: romantic, framed with red and orange hues on the Florence Duomo, Piazzale Michelangelo offers the best views of Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River, Brunelleschi Dome, Giotto Tower and the Duomo, with the Tuscan hills of Fiesole in the background. Grab a drink and simply sit and watch the sun set, perhaps listening to a musician performing live to experience the city from a different perspective. Take a moment of wonder to enjoy the enthralling historic city of discovery, power, and of course, incredible architecture.
Before finishing your evening here, the San Miniato al Monte Abbey is another great site to admire. Majestically sitting atop the Piazzale, it is thought by many locals to be the most beautiful church in the city.
To get there, cross over to the Southbank of the Arno River. From there follow the signs to the top. There is a path or steps; you can also drive up there, or get bus 12 and 13 which will drop you off in the Piazzale. Alternatively, you can join a bike tour that will take you there.
To book your electric bike tour of Florence that goes to Piazzale Michelangelo, click here.
A Touch of Luck: Il Porcellino Statue
Il Porcellino (‘piglet’) is the local nickname for the bronze fountain of a boar sculpted by the Baroque maestro Pietro Tacca in 1634. The original was found in Rome and was relocated to Florence in the mid-16th century. This iconic Florentine statue can be found in the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo near the Ponte Vecchio, which was originally a place for selling artisanal fabrics.
You can can put a coin into the boar’s mouth, with the intent to let it fall through the underlying grate for good luck. Whilst it falls you make a wish. Rub the boar’s snout to ensure your return to Florence – it has a polished sheen for this very reason!
A perfect escape from the city in only 20 minutes: a day trip to Fiesole
Fiesole is an affluent suburban town and commune on the outskirts of Florence where you can view the scenic sites of the city’s epicenter from above and escape its hustle and bustle.
A day trip there is easily one of the best things to do in Florence. You can arrive here by car or taxi in 20 minutes, or you can take the bus (ATAF bus 7) or even bike there. Nestled above a hillside of olive trees, visitors can enjoy the natural Mediterranean products: wine and olive oil. Aside from the views that can be seen from the San Francesco monastery, it is an Etruscan-Roman Archaeological settlement area (from 9th-8th century BC) which is home to many ancient Roman baths and theaters within the site.
You can book a guided bike tour of Florence that also goes to Fiesole here.
Don’t forget to read my post The Best Day Trips From Florence.
Walking or bike tour of the city
Finally, one of the things to do in Florence to get acquainted with it is a bike or walking tour. By strolling the city streets and piazzas, you will stumble upon marvelous statues and historic monuments that will take your breath away. Most churches, museums, and gardens are in close proximity.
A bike tour may be a bit more tricky as there are lots of tourists on the streets, which are cobbled – so I would only recommend it for experienced bikers. Having said so, if you are up for it it’s a fun experience. I did one that went all the way to Piazzale Michelangelo and truly enjoyed it.
Some tours include a gelato stop, others follow a Medici-themed tour, and some are set at night to discover an alternative way of exploring this great city.
For a bike tour of Florence, click here or here.
For a walking tour of Florence, click here.
For a walking tour of Florence that also goes to the Accademia, click here. For a tour that goes to the Accademia and Uffizi Gallery click here.
For a mysteries of the Medici walking tour, click here.
Planning a trip to Italy that includes Tuscany? These posts will be useful:
- The Best Places To Visit In Italy
- A Classic Italy Itinerary
- The Best Italy Travel Tips
- The Best Florence Travel Tips
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- How To Plan A Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre
- A Perfect Day Trip From Rome To Florence
- How To Get From Rome To Florence
- What To Do In Florence At Night