Florence, Italy is one of the truly remarkable gems in this world, and visiting Florence is truly a joy. The birthplace of the Renaissance, it has a large amount of artwork, architecture and culture that make it a must-visit when in Italy. It’s ideally placed in the center of the country, so it’s easy to get in and out of. And as with everywhere in Italy – the food is simply divine.
Because Florence is a must-see, it’s also incredibly busy. Be prepared for your trip with these simple tips!
1. Book your personal must-sees ahead of time.
If you want to go to the Uffizi, see David at the Accademia, or climb to the top of the Duomo, plan ahead. All of these attractions offer the ability to book times or tickets ahead of time. You should do that! Yes, it takes away some spontaneity from the vacation, but it gives you the chance to go where you really want.
2. Decide how you feel about free museum admission the first Sunday of the month.
The magical thing that happens in Florence every month is free state museums on the first Sunday. It’s true. Every month, you can get in for free for the Accademia, the Uffizi, the Boboli, the Pitti Palace and more! There are pros and cons to planning your trip to Florence so that you can be there when the museums are free.
The key benefit, of course, is that they’re free! The negative is that you can’t book times or tickets online for those days. They also tend to be incredibly busy because so many people are trying to take advantage of free admission.
3. Beware of street vendors peddling leather products.
Florence is known for its incredible leather goods, and if you didn’t know that before you arrived, you’d be clued in by the crowds of hawkers selling all sorts of leather goods. If you want to buy from a street vendor, just be aware. It’s most probable that whatever you are buying is fake and somewhat low-quality. Real, good leather is expensive. (But just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s good!)
So if you’re shopping for leather in Florence, do your homework on the best places to buy it. Or, just be prepared for something low-quality.
4. Consider basing yourself in Florence and taking day trips around the area.
The central location of Florence makes it an excellent place for day trips around central Italy. Pisa is an incredibly easy day trip (and if you’re somewhat aggressive about going there and getting it done, a manageable half-day trip). Siena would make an incredible day-trip (though you should consider staying there longer!). Tuscan wine tours abound, many leaving out of Florence. Milan would be doable in a day. If you’re something of a “homebody” when you travel and want a city to base yourself in, Florence is an excellent choice.
5. Try balancing your art, culture, food, and explorations.
I don’t know about you, but for me, day after day of art museums and churches can get a bit wearing. Given how abundantly those abound in Florence, it’s worth taking some time to be intentional about breaking up the days or your trip into chunks. Rather than trying to do the Accademia, Uffizi and Boboli museums in a day, try doing a museum in the morning followed by a hike up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Or plan a day at the museums followed by a day doing wine and food tours. Just make sure to plan your vacation so that you’ve got some variety.
6. It’s easy to take trains to Florence and elsewhere in Italy, but Florence is a walking city.
The town of Florence is very walkable. Due to how old the streets are, there is no large public transit system within Florence itself. There is a bus system, but it’s mostly used by locals getting outside the main city center. Be prepared for a great number of stairs (especially if you’re headed up to the Piazzale Michelangelo), and just a good amount of walking all together. Most hotels are going to be in easy walking distance of the train station – but it’s only easy if you don’t pack everything you own. Be prepared and bring the minimum for your trip!
7. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the alleyways.
Florence has some stunning architecture, and incredible food around every corner. It’s worth simply wandering around and enjoying the city! You never know what you’ll find!
8. Be protective of your wallet.
There are many, many crowds and tourists in Florence. This means that the pickpockets are alive, well, and doing a good business. Be aware of where your wallet is, and don’t carry all the cash you have on you or in one place. I recommend taking out with you a credit card, an ID (frequently my driver’s license if I know I won’t need my passport), and cash for the day. Leave the rest in your hotel room so that you’ve still got it if the worst should happen.
It’s also worth noting that Florence is a remarkably safe city. You won’t likely come at the wrong end of any sort of violent crime or mugging. You might just find your wallet simply gone.
9. Have coffee in one of the busy squares.
It costs more to sit and have coffee in Italy. If you want to drink your coffee standing at the bar, order it “al banco” for a cheaper cup. But if you want to immerse yourself in the marvel of the city, don’t hesitate to sit and pay for the privilege. One of my favorite memories was my mom and I having a breakfast coffee and croissant while looking out at the Duomo!
10. Read some Renaissance books before you go.
Because Florence is such a historical city, I highly recommend reading at least a book about the Medici family, the Renaissance, or the city itself. You’ll have a greater appreciation for the historical context of the different buildings, galleries, and works of art.
You can find 15 books to read while you’re visiting Italy.
11. Make it a point to try Tuscan wines and cuisine.
While it’s easy to think “Italian” food is one thing, it’s not at all. Regional Italian food is some of the most incredible you’ll experience – especially if you experience it in the right places. Tuscan food is heavy on the red wines, with lots of beef being served. Truffles are especially good throughout Tuscany, as is the olive oil. Don’t limit yourself to preconceived ideas of what “Italian” food is, and you will be amazed!