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Churches with pink marble, croissants with green filling, and ice creams in your favorite color. Florence is a colorful city. The city has many sights to make your city trip colorful. Discover what to do in Florence in a weekend, or select a few activities for a one-day visit, like I did.

First, a little history about Florence…

Florence and Renaissance in bloom

Florence, or Firenze as the Italians say, is the capital of the Tuscany region. The city was founded a very long time ago by Julius Caesar. He named the city Florentina, which is Latin for bloom. In the 15th century, the Medici family left their mark on the city. This banking family was highly influential in that period and invested money in trade, industry, defense, and art and architecture. Thanks partly to this family, whose last relative died childless in 1737, Florence is now an art city where more than 375,000 people live.

Florence is the Renaissance city of Italy. The Renaissance even started here. The Renaissance is the period after the Middle Ages when people looked up to the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans and tried to surpass it. Renaissance literally means rebirth, the new flowering of art and culture. Rich people in Florence asked artists to beautify their city and houses. It was the time of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. The fourth Ninja Turtle Donatello was active a bit earlier, but his work also falls under the same style.

Florence in a day (or more)

Florence is a city full of art but offers much more. There is an impressive historic center, you can empty your wallet in super chic shops, and there are many tours and places of interest.

I visit Florence in one day, which is way too short: it’s a pretty full program, but I manage to see all the main sights of Florence! If you want to visit Florence in one day, I’d say start with a walking tour, buy tickets for a visit to the duomo and select about two other sights that stand out for you during the walking tour.

You actually need two days to see the main sights, as some of them are museums and they take a lot of time. Or even preferably three days if you want to take it slow and do some lesser-known things in Florence too.

You certainly won’t be bored during a city trip to Florence. So let’s quickly discover all the tips for a day (or more) in Florence!

Tip 1: Free walking tour in Florence

You may have already taken a free walking tour in other cities, something you can do in Florence too. I think it’s an ideal way to get a crash course in Florence and get your orientation on the spot. It’s definitely good for my sense of direction! I book a morning tour at Freetour.com and choose the Another Florence tour. The tour skips the Florence Cathedral and Ponte Vecchio as you can easily visit them on your own.

The tour lasts about 2 hours and offers a lot of information. Of course, you will hear everything about the origin of Florence, the Medici family, and the Renaissance. In addition, you will visit various sights, the guide will point out nice eateries, and you will hear funny facts. Like, do you know where the word fiasco comes from? It’s a wine bottle with straw around it. In the Middle Ages, the wine was transported on a cart, and to prevent the bottles from breaking, they were wrapped with straw. Some say that breaking the wine bottles was a failure (fiasco); others say that there was once a clown in Florence who smashed such a wine bottle after a failed performance, and that is how the meaning came into being.

Book your tour at Freetour.com. The tour is free, but you are expected to give the guide a good tip.

A cart full of failures

Tip 2: Dan Brown’s Inferno tour

I did the Davinci Code tour in Rome years ago and loved it! I thought it was a bit expensive at the time, but it was well worth the money. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do the Inferno tour in Florence, so this one is still on my bucket list. But maybe you can go?!

The Inferno tour is based on the book by Dan Brown. Most of the story of Robert Langdon in this book is set in Florence. You will see the Badia church during the tour, where Zobrist commits suicide. You will also visit the Boboli Gardens, where Robert and Siena flee to reach the city via the Palazzo Pitti. The movie came out in 2016. I recommend you rewatch it before you do the tour (or just reread the book Inferno).

Book the tour through GetYourGuide

Tip 3: Visit Piazza Santa Maria Novella

Piazza Santa Maria Novella is one of the largest squares in Florence. The square is right behind the train station. There is a beautiful church: the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. The facade is made of marble. You will see this a lot in the churches of Florence. If you want, you can also visit the Basilica Santa Maria Novella. You can pre-order an entrance ticket online. They also offer a video tour.

Google Maps location

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Florence

On the piazza are two giant obelisks with four bronze turtles on each (again, Ninja Turtles??) and a lily from Florence. These obelisks were the goals for the horses in chariot races.

Furthermore, there are regular events in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and you will find several cafes. I would avoid the ones on the square though: way too expensive! If you’re looking for your caffeine dose with a croissant, walk away from the square, across the street from the basilica and try a little bar there. You can get a croissant with pistachio filling and a cappuccino for about €2. Mental note: if you drink a coffee standing at a bar in Italy, you pay less than when you sit down. Do as the Italians do, and just stand if you don’t intend to stay long.

With the Florence City Pass or the Uffizi + Accademia Pass, you get a discount on several sights, or you can even enter for free. So calculate carefully which one is the most advantageous for you! Use discount code KIMOPREIS22 for 5% off.

Tip 4: shopping in Florence

Florence is excellent for shopping. The fashion brand Gucci is even from here and has a shop on Via de’Tornabuoni. All the famous designer shops are on this street. If you want to spend a little less money, Via Calimala and Via dei Calzaiuoli are waiting for you.

Tip 5: pat Il Porcellino

On the side of Mercato Nuovo (where you can buy souvenirs), you will find the statue of Il Porcellino. A wild boar that has inadvertently become a tourist attraction. In the 17th century, the bronze statue was made for the Boboli Gardens in Florence, but the piggy found a place in the market. The current figure is a replica, and the original can be found in a museum.

Tourists have been putting coins between the jaws of Il Porcellino since the 18th century; then, you wait until the coin falls through the grid for good luck. Stroking the nose assures you that you will come back to Florence one day. And many people are up for another visit to Florence, so the nose of Il Porcellino looks quite polished.

Google Maps location

Tip 6: admire Palazzo Vecchio Palazzo in Florence

Vecchio is the former town hall of Florence. It is now a museum. You’ll find it on the busy square of Piazza della Signoria. As soon as you set one foot in the square, the street vendors fly at you. Such a pity. I get it, they want to earn some money, but I find it terribly annoying. Anyway, the Palazzo Vecchio reminds me of a castle from the outside. The first stones were laid in the 13th century. On the outer facade, you can see many coats of arms. They are nine different shields of the Florentine republic that repeat themselves. In the summer months, you can climb the 94-meter high tower, Torre di Arnolfo, for a small fee.

In front of the Palazzo Vecchio is a replica of Michelangelo’s David. If you want to see more art and visit the museum, it is best to order your ticket online. The museum has exciting art pieces (such as Dali’s death mask) but is also unique for its decorations, furniture, and gold panels. In addition, there are courtyards, large halls, and an archaeological area. You can also book a tour when booking your ticket if you wish.

Google Maps location

Tip 7: free gallery Loggia dei Lanzi

David stands naked in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, overlooking some other marble friends. Under a large roof between the arches of the arcade are several mythological and biblical statues. I recommend that you visit the sculptures with a guide to get explanations of what you are looking at. Tip 1’s FreeTour also takes a look at the gallery. It is also an excellent place to take shelter from the rain.

Google Maps location

Tip 8: Italian street food on Via dei Neri

If you’re up for a quick bite, head to Via dei Neri. There are many small-scale specialty shops on this street where you’ll find traditional pizzas and more daring snacks. For example, you can get yourself a sandwich with Lampredotto at Budellino. Lampredotto is a typical Florentine delicacy. The taste is delicious, but it requires an adventurous appetite. It is beef tripe simmered in broth on a white bun with a sauce of basil, garlic, and olive oil. I think it’s super tasty and highly recommended because it’s a local delicacy. You won’t find it much outside of Florence.

Google Maps location

Another recommendation is All’antico Vinaio. There are no fewer than four branches on the same street. At lunchtime, all of Florence seems to get in line for a sandwich. It’s a madhouse. If you come at the end of the afternoon, you’ll have a sandwich in no time. Is the hype justified? Yes, definitely! For a few euros, you have a big, tasty sandwich. Big enough to share or skip dinner. But that would be a shame because you are in Italy after all. Eat, eat, eat!

Google Maps location

Sandwich of All'antico Vinaio

Tip 9: Basilica Santa Croce (the competitor of Santa Maria Novella)

Which one is prettier? The Santa Maria Novella or the Santa Croce? The idea was that Santa Croce would win this battle. When the church was built, the Franciscans were eager to outdo the competing Dominican order. For example, the tower is 10 meters higher. It is pretty quiet at the Santa Croce, even though it is the largest Franciscan church in the world.

The basilica is on a beautiful square, and that alone is worth a visit. You can also pay a small entrance fee, which gives you access to other areas, such as the chapel, the museum, and the monasteries. In the Santa Croce, there are several tombs, including those of Michelangelo and Galileo. You can buy your tickets online in advance for this church.

Google Maps location

Tip 10: the Ponte Vecchio bridge

The Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence is one of the most famous bridges in Italy. It is the only bridge not destroyed by the Germans in World War II. And I’m a little disappointed. It is, in fact, jam-packed on the bridge itself. You don’t enjoy the Ponte Vecchio when you walk across it, but you should admire it from a distance. Then you can clearly see the shading of buildings on the bridge. There are all jewelry stores. Butchers and tanners used to hold shop here; they cheerfully threw their (slaughter) waste into the river. It smelled terrible, and so they were kindly asked to leave. The jewelers took their place.

The 1st floor of the bridge is a corridor of about a kilometer that connects Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. An idea from the Medici family so that they didn’t have to mix with the ordinary people when they wanted to move from one palace to another. The corridor reopened in 2021. The Uffizi museum completely renovated it and provided the art objects.

Google Maps location

Tip 11: visit a Fiorentina soccer match

Check the calendar of the football club Fiorentina to see if a match is on during your visit to Florence. ACF Fiorentina plays in the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Somewhat worn and wholly made of cement, but that should not spoil the football fun. If you’re a sports enthusiast, visiting a soccer match is definitely a fun thing to do in Florence.

Tip 12: on the other side of the Arno

If you want to escape the bustle of the historic center for a while, cross the river. On this side, you will find the famous Boboli Gardens and some other sights such as Palazzo Pitti, but it is just a little more relaxed here. Meander through the streets without tripping over other people’s feet. Find a spot at Piazza Santo Spirito for drinks, or try a tasty vegetarian meal at 5ecinque (Google Maps location).

Tip 13: the cathedral of Florence (Duomo)

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is Florence’s most iconic building. Immense, overwhelming, and super crowded. The line to get in goes around the corner. It is free to enter. You’ll get in relatively quickly because people don’t spend much time indoors. Understandably, because it is a bit empty inside and apart from a beautiful floor and some frescoes, there is not much to see. So if you’d ask me, you’re perfectly fine if you skip the inside. When you visit the dome, you already have the most beautiful view of the enormous fresco of the Last Judgment inside the dome. It was created by Giorgio Vasari and completed by his student Federico Zuccari in 1579.

But about the inside of the Duomo, maybe you’ll have the opportunity to go very early? Then you can at least check it off your list. Whatever you do, you can take the best pictures of the cathedral’s exterior early in the morning because then the crowds aren’t that bad. Or try it early in the evening, before the sun goes down. But always check the opening times on the website!

The Duomo of Florence is decorated all around with white, pink, and green marble. It was the largest church for a long time until the church in Vatican City was built. The Duomo is built on top of the Santa Reparata church. In the cellars of the cathedral, you can visit the crypt to see archaeological finds such as mosaics. This is not free of charge; check tip 14.

Google Maps location

Tip 14: the extra buildings of the Duomo

The cathedral, bell tower, baptistery, crypt, museum, and dome make up Il Grande Museo del Duomo. You can visit the cathedral for free, but you have to buy a ticket for the rest. Frome one month before your visit, you’ll be able to buy it online. The Campanile di Giotto is an 85-meter-high bell tower. You can climb it for a beautiful view of the city. Count on 414 steps. And if you have bought a ticket, you can also climb the cupola: 463 steps. You have to choose a time slot for the cupola online. If you miss your slot, there’s no way to rebook.

Opposite the cathedral is the Baptistery. This octagonal building is dotted with mosaics and has beautiful bronze doors. Unfortunately, these are no longer the original doors; they are in the museum behind the Duomo. Who was allowed to design those doors was determined through a competition in the 15th century. Artists made test panels, and a jury chose the best one. Two artists remained, and the jury could not decide. They asked the two gentlemen to work together, but one of them refused. He wanted to be the sole winner. His name was Brunelleschi, the man who later designed the dome of the Duomo.

Tip 14: visit a museum in Florence

If like me, you only have a day to spare, then you definitely won’t get around to it. But if you have more time during your city trip to Florence, be sure to visit one or more museums in the city. These are the leading museums in Florence:

The state museums of Florence are free to visit on the first Sunday of the month. However, it is wise to book a ticket online in advance on other days. Find an overview of all museums and prices.

Tip 15: chilling on a rooftop bar in Florence

In Florence, most rooftop bars are at hotels. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to stay there to enjoy them. These are three good options:

Tip 16: have a nice drink with a snack in Florence

You can actually go for an aperitivo on just about every street corner, but these are charming addresses:

Parking in Florence

Parking in a big city is always a challenge. You don’t want to walk too far to the center, but you also don’t want to pay an excessive fee. A good option in Florence is the Fortezza Fiera parking garage. This parking garage is at the station, about a 10-minute walk from the center. Parking costs €1.60 per hour or €20 per day. That’s a pretty good deal, I’d say. Moreover, you can already buy a ticket online, so that you don’t have to queue at the payment terminal and you are assured of a parking spot.

Sleeping in Florence

Since I was only in Florence for a day, I didn’t test any hotels for you. But as you’ve seen: there is so much to do in Florence that you might want to stay for a bit. You will probably find a great deal at Booking.com!


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First published: August 2019. The article has been updated since.

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