Birthplace of Italian Renaissance—particularly Renaissance painting, Florence is an absolute favorite with every other traveller. It is said that the number of tourists outnumber the locals during peak season. And these large numbers are always around Florence’s beautiful cathedral (Duomo di Firenze), and in Piazza della Signoria. But that shouldn’t deter you from visiting Tuscany’s capital. You shouldn’t miss out the fine art, architecture, and food Florence has to offer—a treat for your eyes and a delight for your palate.
Spending three days in Florence? These are some of the best things to do in Florence:
Florence cathedral/Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore/ Duomo di Firenze
Location: Piazza del Duomo. Possibly the most crowded piazza in Florence.
Florence’s iconic dome that dominates it’s skyline is that of its cathedral, Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore. Engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, it is the largest brick dome in the world. The cathedral’s facade is more beautiful than it’s interior which is huge and conventional. But go ahead and explore, walk towards the alter and look up to see the detailed frescos under the dome, it is magnificent. There are a couple of machines inside the cathedral wherein for 2 Euros you can learn the history, architecture, and details of the dome and cathedral.
Once you have marveled the cathedral from inside-out, don’t leave without climbing the dome. Even better, get a full view of the dome and the city from Giotto’s tower. Both climbs have 400 plus steps. We climbed Giotto’s tower, a total of 414 steps.
Uffizi Gallery/ Galleria degli Uffizi
Location: Piazza della Signoria. Maybe the second most packed square in Firenze.
Uffizi gallery was what we were looking forward to while visiting Florence (next to food, of course!). The cause of all this eagerness and excitement to see an art gallery?—we had seen Michael Angelo’s work in Sistine Chapel and all the other wonderful, insane art in Vatican museums and St. Peter’s basilica.
Uffizi has three floors, and it can eat up one full day and leave you exhausted. It also has an expensive cafe where you can take a break from art.
All that art by Botticelli, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Filippo Lippi, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, left us overwhelmed and in awe.
I would recommend to book your tickets online in advance; you don’t want to waste your precious vacation-time standing in a queue. And do the audio tour; information just adds to the experience.
If you are not into art, do yourself a favor and skip art museums. Or if you just want to see Michael Angelo’s original David, it is housed in the Accademia gallery, not in Uffizi.
There’s a fake David right at Piazza Signoria along with the Neptune fountain.
Piazza del Michelangelo/ Michelangelo square
Location: On the other side of river Arno.
To get that fantastic view of the city, this is where you need to head to. Buses ply all the way to the top of the hill. We took a bus half way through and walked up.
Here, you will be greeted with another fake David.
Basilica di Santa Croce
Location: Piazza di Santa Croce. Not very far from the Duomo.
A beautiful Gothic church which is the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, and others.
Since we stayed quite close to the basilica, we enjoyed an evening sitting in this piazza listening to buskers.
Stroll near the Arno / Ponte Vecchio
River Arno runs through Florence. Evenings are a wonderful time to stroll across one of the bridges and watch the locals feed ducks. We were amused to watch a spat between a nutria (river rat) and the ducks.
Ponte Vecchio is the oldest of Arno’s bridges and houses many stores.
Eat, ramble around, and eat again
Food in Florence is divine. Pair it with the house wine and you are in food heaven.
We were staying in an AirBnB and our host had this ‘must-visit restaurants’ list stuck on our door. And her recommendations were excellent. It actually coincided with most of the places our foodie friends also favored.
There are so many awesome restaurants in Florence, each having it’s own speciality. If you happen to find yourself close to one mentioned below (these are the ones that we have been to), go ahead, they have some delicious food.
- Pizzas – Pizzaiulo. Original Naples pizza. Small place and can be crowded. If going for dinner, reach early. During weekends, make a reservation.
- Sandwiches and Prosciutto – La Prosciutteria. Get a meat tray to sample the meats or order one of the many delicious sandwiches. If you are unable to decide, ask for the special sandwich of the day; you won’t be disappointed.
- Another sandwich place which always had a long queue and hence we skipped, All’Antico Vinaio.
- Florentine steak and cheesecake – Trattoria 4 Leoni. This restaurant is on the other side of Arno, so it’s best to combine with a visit to Piazza del Michelangelo. They do take reservations, so I would suggest to make one.
- Steak and Pastas – Trattoria Zà Zà.
- A unique Florentine traditional food that we didn’t try is the tripe (stomach of a cow or veal).
- Gelato – It is said that Florence is the birthplace of gelato. And of course, there is a gelateria in every nook. The only thing to watch out for is fake gelato. We learnt about fake gelato in our food tour in Rome.
We had gelato only from Gelateria dei Neri. They are one of the oldest and have a huge choice of flavors.
If you think you are enamored with the big city Rome, wait till you visit Florence. This small city will easily win you over.
Thinking of a day trip to Pisa? Well, I found it underwhelming; instead, just enjoy Firenze!