Top things to see and do in Florence

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, food, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. We call them our Big Five and they’re everything you'll need to experience the essence of a new city. Here, Julietta Henderson checks in from Florence, without doubt one of Italy's (if not the world's) most glorious cities. There's absolutely nothing like soaking up la dolce vita during a stay in the Tuscan capital...

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence: Ponte Vecchio

Top things to see and do in Florence


Enchanting the world’s travellers, artists and romantics for centuries, the small city of Florence has a big reputation to live up to. But it does so with ease through its inspiring architecture, priceless artworks, and uniquely Tuscan version of ‘la dolce vita’.

With many of the city’s iconic attractions contained within its UNESCO World Heritage-listed ‘centro storico’, it doesn’t take long to walk or cycle around this beautifully wrapped Renaissance gem that’s just as lovely on the inside.

Here’s a city guide to the top things to see and do in Florence.

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence: Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Image: Bigstock

Culture

There’s no end of cultural things to see and do in Florence. The city is out and proud about its passion for art, architecture, fashion, and live performance.

There’s a vibrant student culture that bubbles alongside the huge international tourist presence, 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.

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence. Image: Bigstock

In summer the city’s squares come alive with street performers, and outdoor cinemas pop up in the grounds of centuries-old villas.

For the younger visitors there’s a thriving nightclub scene and the multiple levels of Space Electronic Discoteca will blow your mind almost as much as the mind-boggling art of the Uffizi.

What our guide for Sky News Business Class to top things to do in Florence:

Florence City Guide – Top Things to See and Do – The Big Bus

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?

History

The Renaissance history of Florence is etched into the art, architecture and very essence of its cobbled streets. Within the walkable city centre you can wander from the jaw-dropping centrepiece, Brunelleschi’s Gothic Duomo, to the Accademia (home of Michelangelo’s David), and over to the hallowed galleries of the Uffizi, all without raising a sweat.

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence: The stunning interior of Brunelleschi’s Duomo was painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

The Medici’s influence is everywhere, but nowhere more tangible than in their magnificent former residence, the Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace). If you have the time and the means to blow the budget, book a tour to pass along the ‘secret’ kilometre-long Vasari Corridor, which runs from the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio, and literally ‘around the houses’ to reach the Pitti Palace.

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence: Visit the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Image: Bigstock

Food

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, in 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, from the hole-in-the-wall enotecas to posh Michelin-starred restaurants. La Piazzetta, across the Arno at Via di Ripoli, is a genuine locals’ tip, serving up a delicious, hearty menu straight from their wood-fired ovens.

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.

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence. Image courtesy of La Menagere

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 – 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.

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence. Image courtesy of Il Palagio

Shopping

It’s Italy after all, so Florence definitely has a passion for fashion! If you’ve got a wad of Euros burning a hole in your pocket, head over to Via Tornabuoni for all the usual suspects of designer labels.

For a huge cache of leather goods the bustling San Lorenzo markets are your best bet.

For an eclectic range of genuine artisanal products, including jewellery, shoes, clothing and handmade paper goods, the tangle of streets in the locals’ Oltrarno district is 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.

Relaxation

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.

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.

Things to see and do in Florence

Things to see and do in Florence: The Boboli Gardens is a wonderful place for a relaxing stroll. Image: Bigstock

The Piazza Santo Spirito, in Oltrarno, offers an intriguing slice of authentic Florentine life. You can take coffee or wine in one of the many cafes, wander through the daily market, or simply relax on a park bench with the locals.

Stay

Need a place to stay in Florence? The Antica Torre de Via Tornabuoini is a lovely, luxury boutique hotel with loads of history on Via Tornabuoni. The rooftop terrace at sunset is a must!

Things to see and do in Florence

Image courtesy of Antica Torre de Via Tornabuoini

The Savoy Hotel on Piazza Della Republica is another option, offering sophisticated surroundings and a very central location, close to the Duomo. Enjoy breakfast on their private section of the piazza and watch the world drift by.

Do you have any tips for top things to see and do in Florence? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.

Additional images: Bigstock

 

About the writer

Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying 10 years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She 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. Apart from travel, she writes on subjects as diverse as photography, business, and well-being, and is halfway through her first novel. An avid lover of cold weather, Julietta’s master travel plan of never having to sweat again has somehow slipped out of synch and she’s currently on her third consecutive year of non-stop summer.

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