Florence (Firenze, in Italian) is the birthplace of the Renaissance. We in Italy like to say it’s like a massive, open air art gallery, a museum where you can wander its streets and encounter many marvels of history. Wonderful as it is, Florence does require a bit of planning and some considerations before you set out to explore. There is a lot to see, the city can be tremendously crowded with tourists, and you should definitely go prepared knowing what to expect.
Whether you are visiting Florence soon and would like some last minute tips, or are in the process of planning your trip and are unsure when to go, or even how long to stay, I am here to help. I have been to Florence countless time and I will share all my helpful tips for visiting Florence that are guaranteed to help!
The Best Tips For Visiting Florence
The best time to visit Florence
Suggesting what the best time to visit Florence is is actually no easy task. I have been more times than I can remember, and in any season, so here’s what I can say.
The weather in Florence is generally nice almost all year round. The city is definitely on the cooler, gloomier side in the winter months. But if you are visiting Florence in December or January (except around Christmas time) you may find it’s not nearly as busy as it is in the summer.
In late June, July and August, which are considered Florence’s peak times, you can expect a high number of tourists swarming the city, longer waiting times at attractions and higher accommodation prices. If you can, you really should avoid visiting Florence in the summer months – and especially in August. You will encounter sweltering temperatures (highs of 32°C or 90°F are not uncommon). During August, many Italians flee the city for their summer holidays, so you may find that most people around are actually tourists.
Early springtime and the autumn seasons are ideal (March – April, September – October). The weather is pleasant in springtime and you can enjoy all of Florence’s gardens when the roses are in bloom, though you may get the occasional rain. Florence is not nearly as crowded in the early spring months as it is in the summer – however beware it can be very busy during Easter. In April, you can dine al fresco, visit monuments and museums during their longer summer hours, and get the best of both worlds.
In the spring time, May can be either pleasant, weather-wise or terribly hot. My friend and I visited in May last time I was there, and the first heat wave of the summer hit right then – we literally roasted. Not to mention, we found the city to be super crowded.
Plan to spend enough time in Florence
You should really plan to spend more than one day in Florence. With the city home to one of the world’s best art galleries, make sure to spend enough time to take in all the great works of art. With two or three days, you can even dedicate an entire day to visiting the city’s masterpiece: the Duomo religious complex. The Cathedral may be especially tricky to visit, as it’s free – and this causes a massive line at the entrance.
If you do not have enough time to explore everything as you are on a time crunch, make the most of the time you have by getting up super early to beat the crowds at tourist attractions, and to roam the streets of the historic center before the larger groups of tourists arrive.
Book attractions in advance
Going hand in hand with planning your trip, one of my best Florence tips is to book attractions in advance. That means, all museums, palaces, and even some churches.
If you are planning on visiting all the rich art in the Galleria degli Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia, you should get tickets online at least a couple of weeks before your visit. This is especially the case if you are visiting Florence in the summer or springtime. The lines and waiting times are lengthy, and if you do not pre-book you’ll spend most of your precious day standing in line.
Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Palazzo Vecchio, Arnolfo Tower, the Medici Chapel, the Bargello Museum, the Pitti Palace and more iconic venues not mentioned here, are other essential places to book in advance online.
You can book attractions in Florence on their official website or through third-party sites. Alternatively, you can opt for tours that you can usually book online on GetYourGuide for a comprehensive learning experience.
To get your Uffizi Gallery tickets click here.
You can get your Palazzo Vecchio and Arnolfo Tower combined ticket here.
To get your tickets to Pitti Palace, click here.
If you intend to visit many places, you can purchase the Firenze Card as it covers many major attractions. For €85, you get discounted admissions and separate lines for cardholders, and access to many attractions that you can visit over the course of three days. Just remember that many museums and even restaurants are closed on Mondays, and that some require advanced bookings even if you have the Firenze Card.
Plan how to get to Florence
Getting to Florence is actually super easy. The city is well connected to central and northern Italy by train, and you also have the option of flying there.
The main train station in Florence is Firenze Santa Maria Novella (SMN) and that’s where you should get off. The area around Santa Maria Novella, on the northern bank of the Arno River, is actually very convenient to stay as you are really close to the main attractions (ie Santa Maria Novella Church) and to the train station in case you want to get out of town. My friend and I stayed at Hotel Croce di Malta, which is just a short walk from the station.
If you are carrying a heavier suitcase or have booked a room in a different part of town, you may want to take a taxi (there is no Uber service in Florence) or hop on a bus. There are many that depart from the area around the train station on a regular basis.
If you are traveling to Florence by train, you are probably wondering about the best time to book your tickets. Normally, the best time to book your train tickets in Italy would be a week or two before you travel, as that’s when most bargains are on offer. But if you want to secure tickets for a specific date and time and aren’t too flexible, you should actually do it as early as possible.
The best way to buy tickets in advance is directly on the Trenitalia website, or on Italo which also is a good company for fast trains in Italy. If you are more comfortable with it just use the app Omio. If you are buying tickets in person at the train station, you can either get them at the counter or at vending machines which work in various languages. Just be wary of anyone that offers you help when using these machines, as they are likely trying to scam you.
If you get a Regionale Train (slower, with no seat reservations) you’ll have to time-stamp the ticket before you get on board. Yellow machines are scattered along the platform. Once you stamp your ticket, you can board any train within 6 hours.
If you travel by the faster InterCity or Freccia trains you’ll have reserved seats, but in this case you can only get on the train you have booked. Tickets for the fast trains don’t have to be validated, but make sure to keep them handy (a PDF version saved on your phone is perfectly fine) as someone will come by to check you have a ticket and you will get a fine if you don’t!
Here are all the major cities you can depart from to arrive in Florence, and the rough estimates of duration:
Rome – 1.5 hours on the Freccia train (and more than 3 hours if you take the regional train)
Milan – 2 hours
Venice – 2.5 hours
Pisa – 1 hour
Bologna – 1 hour
Train times are easy to find using Trenitalia’s website. The price of tickets varies depending on the time you wish to travel, the day, how far in advance you book and even the kind of seat you book.
From the airport
Florence’s airport, Amerigo Vespucci Airport, is actually quite small. Chances are if you are coming from the other side of the world, you aren’t landing in Florence as the airport is mainly served by domestic flights and some flights from Europe. If you land there, here’s how to get to town.
First of all, there is an airport shuttle bus (Volainbus) that takes you to the city center at a very convenient price, with departures are every 30 minutes, 7 days a week. The trip from the airport to Florence’s BUSITALIA Bus Station takes around 25 minutes, depending on traffic.
Another option – and the one I actually recommend – is to use the convenient Florence’s tram service called Tramvia. The first runs at 5:06 am and the last one is at 11:59 pm (Sunday to Thursday). On Fridays and Saturdays the last tram is at 1:44 am. Tickets can be bought at the tram stop, at a kiosk or even via the app Tabnet. The ride will take 20 minutes.
Taxis from the airport operate on a flat fee system. You’re looking to pay between €22 if you travel during the day and €25 in the evening per person – that’s the fare to the center of town. Keep in mind some taxis will charge passengers an extra €1 for each piece of luggage. Traveling by car from the airport to the city center takes around 15 minutes, but that also depends on traffic.
Another option is to actually fly to Pisa (Galileo Galilei Airport) which is a Ryanair hub and is connected to the rest of Italy and Europe via budget flights. From there, you’ll have to take the 10 minutes train to the main station of Pisa, and then it’s a quick train ride to Florence.
Be prepared to walk a lot
The historic center of Florence is compact, and it’s easy to get from one attraction to the other. The best thing to do is to plan an itinerary (like the two I linked to above) so that you visit attractions that are close to each other on the same day, as this saves the time and effort spent walking.
As Florence is an open-air museum, walking around to discover narrow streets lined by Medieval and Renaissance architecture is the best thing to do. This reason, one of the best Florence tips you can get is to pack comfortable shoes. You will also need a refillable water bottle which you can fill up at many public fountains around the city.
Other than walking, you have the option to take the bus, or rent bikes or e-scooters to move around town.
Don’t eat the stacked (super tall) gelato!
Gelato as we know it today was invented in Florence – I bet you didn’t know that, right? Now, there is a bit of a debate over who actually invented it. Some sources claim it was Bernardo Buontalenti, who had the brilliant idea of adding milk and honey mixed with eggs or liquor to sorbetto (and that would be how the “crema buontalenti” flavor was created). Others suggest it was invented by Cosimo Ruggeri for Catherine de Medici.
You’ll surely be having lots of gelato when visiting Florence, and the fact that gelato was supposedly invented here should be enough to expect high quality stuff all over. But that’s not the case, actually. In fact, in Florence I saw something that I have rarely seen elsewhere, and certainly never in my hometown Cagliari: super tall stacked gelato. In other words, gelato that sticks out of its container – like in the photo above.
The shops that sell gelato stacked so high should be avoided like the plague! A perfect scoop of gelato has a melting consistency, oozing with flavor. In fact, the best gelaterie in Italy store their precious gelato in refrigerated tubs and you can’t even see the gelato, which is usually pale in color. The best gelato is made with fresh ingredients, which means it can’t be bright in color, and it’s not meant to have artificial flavorings.
Some traditional flavors to try are pistachio, nocciola (hazelnut) and fiordilatte (made with the best milk). Check out Perchè No! on Via Dei Tavolini which has been serving quality gelato in Florence since 1939.
Beware of the tourist tax
Following closely in Rome’s footsteps, many other cities in Italy have introduced and now implement a tourist tax, and Florence is one of them. Do not be alarmed! You will be required to pay this at your accommodation, and what you are charged usually depends on the kind of accommodation too. Hostels, Airbnbs, hotels and even camping sites will ask for it.
Some places will ask you to pay cash, others will include it in the overall charge of the room. The fee can vary between €3 and €4 per night per person over 12 years of age, depending on the place you are staying at, and by law it can be applied for a maximum of 7 consecutive nights.
You should also read my post Where To Stay In Florence.
Take a day trip out of town
Once you get out of Florence, it’ll be a feast of vineyards, olive groves and gorgeous farmhouses (they are called poderi in Tuscany), rolling hills and nice medieval towns that are a maze of narrow alleys and pretty views.
A popular day trip from Florence would be to the Chianti region, home of sleepy, quaint small towns and where you’ll have an infinity of wine tasting options. Bologna is less than an hour’s train ride to the north, and is perfect if you want to see more art and explore a city that has remained quintessentially Italian. Siena, to the south, is gorgeous – but depending on when you go it may be really crowded. Pisa and Lucca are both very easy to visit from Florence, too.
Another popular day trip from Florence is to Liguria’s world famous Cinque Terre. Though it honestly deserves way more than a day, it can indeed be visited on a day trip – it takes 3 hours to get to the Cinque Terre by train from Florence.
If you prefer remaining in the vicinity of Florence, you can go to Fiesole, a popular destination for a day or even half a day trip. It’s packed with nice archeological sites and interesting places to visit, and from there you can enjoy magnificent views of the Tuscan capital. Getting there takes about 20 minutes by car, or you can take the bus (ATAF bus 7).
Head over to my posts The Best Day Trips From Florence and How To Plan A Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre.
Get away from the crowds at Florence hidden gems
My friend and I stumbled upon the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy on our way to the train station as we were leaving town, and we wish we had known about it earlier. This beautiful historic shop is located in a part of the complex of Santa Maria Novella.
First founded in 1612, it was given status by Grand Duke Ferdinando II de Medici. It’s a stunning place to visit, for a few minutes or even for one hour. You can buy all sorts of things there – lotions, soaps, candles, perfumes, you name it. In case you want to check it out, they even have an online store – so you can simply order what you need and have it delivered to your place!
Make sure to also read my post The Best Hidden Gems In Florence.
For more off-the-beaten path places, check out the Basilica of Santo Spirito, one of the lesser-known churches in town. You’ll find it in the Oltrarno quarter, in a super nice, quiet area that is not nearly as touristy as the rest of the center.
Once an Augustinian church and convent, it was then turned into an educational facility and it was the headquarters of the Augustinian order in 1284. The building was destroyed by fire and in 1444 new construction works started following a design by Brunelleschi – the same who designed the famous Dome – who gave it a traditional Renaissance look. The Basilica is also home to Michelangelo’s wooden crucifix which can be seen in the Sacristy.
Check out my post The Prettiest Churches In Florence.
Go to a rooftop bar!
Known to be one of the most romantic cities in Italy, Florence has a fine array of fantastic rooftop bars. Whether you are looking for a budget friendly drink with stunning views, or prefer to sip a delicious Negroni cocktail in a sophisticated atmosphere, you won’t have trouble finding a suitable place.
Grand Hotel Minerva is perfect for an aperitivo looking over the city. The hotel is located right in the heart of Florence, with a 360-degree view. With a backdrop of Florence’s Cathedral, the terrace is divided into different sections, with a rooftop pool area open to the hotel guests.
Sesto on Arno is also a magnificent place to drink and dine. Choose a bottle to share with friends or from exclusive cocktails, this particular rooftop bar and restaurant terrace is highly recommended at sunset. The restaurant is open from 12:00 pm to 10:30 pm and the bar to 1:00 am. They have a dress code – smart casual; and reservations are recommended, especially during the weekend. Oh and be prepared to pay big cash – the cheapest cocktail there is €20!
Make sure to also read my post The Best Rooftop Bars In Florence.
Make dinner reservations
This is one of the most important Florence tips, especially if you are set on eating at certain specific places and if you are visiting Florence during peak season. When I visited with my friend, we could always see a line of people waiting to be seated outside because they had no reservations. Now, if you are going to reserve a table, remember what I am about to say.
Aperitivo time for us is between 7:00 pm and 8.30 pm.
Italians don’t really eat dinner before 8:00 pm, especially in the summer months. We tend to dine late, and it is not uncommon to sit at the table at 9:30 and even 10:00 pm. Most restaurants will usually offer two booking slots – around 8:00 pm, and at 9:30 pm. If you think your meal may drag for a while, book a later table so the next guests won’t be kept waiting!
Some restaurants, however, don’t take reservations at all. In that case, you can either go as early as possible when it opens to get a table, or later in the night. Many will give you the option of putting your name on a waiting list and give you a more or less accurate amount of waiting time, so you can go for a walk or have a drink somewhere else while you wait for your table.
You should also read my post The Best Food To Try In Florence.
Explore both sides of the river
For those seeking Florentine culture in a more low-key and relaxed manner, I recommend visiting the Oltrarno neighborhood, a vibrant locale on the south side of the Arno River. You can get there by crossing the Ponte Vecchio (a historic site in itself).
The district name translates to “beyond the Arno”, where narrow lanes are packed with lively cafes and wine bars, and antique shops brimming with treasures.
San Frediano within the Oltrarno area is breathing new life into the space. Bohemian and artistic, here in this district, you can visit the historic Palazzo Pitti and its impressive Boboli Gardens.