Enchanting the world’s travellers, artists and romantics for centuries, the small Italian city of Florence has a big reputation to live up to.
However, it does so with ease with its stunning architecture, impeccable cultural pedigree, and uniquely Tuscan version of la dolce vita.
Many of the city’s must-see attractions are contained within its compact UNESCO World Heritage-listed centro storico, and this beautifully wrapped Renaissance gem is just as lovely on the inside as it is on the outside.
Enjoy this Florence travel guide.
Top cultural experiences in Florence
Florence is out and proud about its passion for art, architecture and live performance.
Those interested in Renaissance-era art and sculpture are in for an absolute treat. Within the entirely walkable city centre you can take in Brunelleschi’s jaw-dropping gothic Duomo (formally known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore), the Accademia museum and gallery (home of Michelangelo’s David), and the hallowed halls of the Uffizi gallery — all without raising a sweat.
For contemporary art, make a bee-line for Museo Novecento. It showcases Italian works from the 20th and 21st centuries.
There’s a vibrant student culture that bubbles alongside the huge international tourist presence in Florence, and the entire city appears in tune with its creative side. Simply walking around the historic centre in places like Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica is the best way to take it all in.
The Piazza Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno quarter offers an intriguing slice of authentic Florentine life. Wander through the daily market or simply perch on a park bench and do some people watching.
For the younger visitor there’s a thriving bar and club scene, and the multiple levels of Space Electronic Discoteca will blow your mind almost as much as the art in the Uffizi.
Watch our guide for Sky News Business Class to the top things to do in Florence:
Adam Ford, editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and host of Tour the World, regularly joins the team at Sky News Business Class to discuss top destinations around the world. Looking for ideas for things to do in Florence?
Florence for history lovers
Florence’s extraordinary history is etched into the facades of buildings across the old centre.
The Medici influence of the 15th to 18th centuries is on display across the city, but it’s perhaps epitomised by their magnificent former residence — the Pitti Palace.
While it’s been closed to the public for some time for security reasons, you may soon be able to pass along the ‘secret’ kilometre-long Vasari Corridor, which runs from the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio, and literally ‘around the houses’ to the Pitti Palace. It enabled the Medici to pass above the crowded city streets without being detected, and is likely to reopen as part of the Uffizi in 2021.
Great places to eat in Florence
Oh gelato — how many ways can we love thee?
If you want a tip from someone who’s done all the tough leg work, for a taste sensation unlike any other, head to La Carraia gelateria. There are two locations — at Via di Benci and in front of the famous Ponte alla Carraia. Now that’s amore…
There’s no shortage of great places to eat in Florence, from hole-in-the-wall enotecas to posh Michelin-starred eateries. La Piazzetta, across the Arno at Via di Ripoli, is a genuine locals’ tip. It serves up a delicious, hearty menu straight from the wood-fired oven.
An unexpected contemporary oasis, amazing coffee, fabulous food and uber cool home décor can be found in the crumbling-warehouse-chic La Menagere, in the San Lorenzo district.
For fine dining in traditional Tuscan style, Buca Mario, situated below street level in the cellars of Palazzo Niccolini, has been serving the discerning diners of Florence since 1886. This is the place to try the famous bistecca fiorentina (steak). Your taste buds will bow down before you.
Meanwhile, Michelin-starred Il Palagio, on the ground floor of the stunning Palazzo della Gherardesca at the Four Seasons, serves up regional cuisine with a contemporary twist in truly sublime surroundings. Think vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and elegant old world glamour.
Where to shop in Florence
Florence definitely has a passion for expensive fashion!
If you’ve got a wad of Euros burning a hole in your pocket, head over to Via Tornabuoni. There you’ll find just about every luxury and designer label under the sun present and accounted for.
For a huge cache of leather goods, the bustling San Lorenzo markets are your best bet.
Genuine artisanal products, including jewellery, shoes, clothing and handmade paper goods, can be found in the tangle of streets in Oltrarno. It’s home to a trove of darkened ateliers and smoky workshops. This is the place to observe authentic Florentine craftsmanship in action and purchase direct from the artists.
Ways to relax in Florence
The Italians are well known for their ability to prioritise the art of relaxation.
In Florence there are plenty of ways to enjoy the sweet life — especially at early evening aperitivo time, when it’s considered mandatory to enjoy a prosecco or aperol in one of the many open-air bars or cafés across the old centre.
The formal beauty of the Boboli Gardens — which surround the Pitti Palace — makes for a wonderful place to while away a few hours. Although you’ll have to pay for the pleasure, it’s well worth it to be able to wander amongst the Renaissance statues and take in amazing views over the city.
And finally, there’s no finer way to relax in Florence than by cruising along the Arno River and beneath the incredible Ponte Vecchio (Florence’s famous covered bridge) at sunset in an original barchetto boat. Enjoy stunning views of landmarks like the Corsini Palace, as you dream of a life as a Florentine aristocrat of old.
Do you have any tips to add to our Florence travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel writer and author. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket. Her first novel — The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman — is now available in bookstores.