Florence may be one of my favorite cities in the world. I know that sounds like a simplification, but it’s true. There is something magical about Florence’s streets. It is a small city that has held onto its medieval charm, and if sitting on the steps of a church eating gelato and people-watching while also knowing your next destination is easily walk-able and not missing that traffic noise that can sometimes be overwhelming in Rome doesn’t convince you to love this city, I’m not sure what will.
Florence feels like walking through a movie set or a Disney park, except that it’s REAL. It’s real charm, real magic, and real art. And really good food.
And it’s also such a manageable city to tour; there isn’t an overwhelming amount of sights, which means you can see pretty much everything important in a couple days and still feel like you have time to soak in the city.
So, here are our top 5 things to do in Florence.
Visit the Duomo
Seeing the Duomo (officially the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) is probably the top thing to do in Florence. But here’s the secret about the Duomo people might not tell you: this inside isn’t that impressive. The outside of the Duomo is where you find all of its beauty (minus the interior of the actual Dome…that is impressive), so if there is a long line to get inside and you don’t want to wait, don’t sweat it.
Instead, just spend time in the Piazza del Duomo. The size of the building itself is staggering and you will want to see it from every angle. The pink and green coloring of the exterior is beautiful, so don’t be surprised if you take way too many pictures. And the plaza itself is a lovely place to pass some time and soak in the feel of the city.
If you’re interested in seeing more though, you can buy an OPA Pass for €18, which includes admission to the following:
- Climbing to the top of the Brunelleschi’s Dome inside the cathedral
- Climbing Giotto’s Bell Tower (right next to the Duomo), which provides an excellent view of Florence
- The Baptistry of St. John (right in front of the Duomo)
- The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo — a museum behind the Duomo housing works of art that have been removed from the cathedral over the years
- Santa Reparata — a crypt beneath the cathedral
As always with religious sites, dress appropriately according to the dress code with covered knees and shoulders.
Walk the Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio means “Old Bridge” in Italian and it is one of the most famous bridges in the world. It is especially notable for the shops that are built onto it where today you can buy art and souvenirs.
The Ponte Vecchio is must-see in Florence, but it won’t take much of your time. Just take a nice stroll along it on your way to the Piazzale Michelangelo. And don’t forget to turn around and take in the architecture of it once you are off the bridge!
We also recommend going across the bridge at least once at night. The shops close up like little boxes, giving the bridge a fairytale feel.
View the City from Piazzale Michelangelo
If you want the best views of Florence, you need to head up to Piazzale Michelangelo on the South side of the Arno River. Here you can see a panorama view of the city — the dominating Duomo, the Arno River, the old city wall of Florence, and a taste of Tuscany beyond the city.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a popular tourist spot, so expect to be sharing the space with your fellow tourists. But there is plenty of space to spread out and multiple viewpoints, so you won’t have a problem taking in the city views.
You can access Pizzale Michelangelo by car (there is parking), but I think it’s easier (when you are already exploring on foot) to follow the footpath and stairs up to the top from Piazza Guiseppe Poggi.
Visit the Museums (and See David!)
Florence has a good handful of museums to choose from, but it is mostly known for two: The Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi Gallery.
We know, we know. Everyone wants to see David, and the Accademia Gallery is where you can do it. Be sure to buy tickets and reserve a time-slot in advance.
And while some popular tourist sights may be overrated (I’ve talked before about my disappointment in The Sistine Chapel), but this is NOT that. David is magnificent. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but when I turned the corner and saw David I was blown away.
The rest of the art in the Accademia Gallery is not quite as exciting, so don’t expect too much. Although I did find the Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures completely fascinating.
The Uffizi Gallery, on the other hand, is Renaissance Art central. This is one of the most popular museums in all of Italy and with good reason — there is so much to see here.
Stroll Through the Streets and Plazas of Florence
Part of the reason Florence is such a lovely city is that wondering the streets feels so…magical. A few highlights to hit as you are wandering:
- Piazza della Signora is perhaps the most popular plaza in Florence (at least beyond the Duomo). Plus is has replicas of sculptures you would otherwise see in museums (including David — so if you can’t make it to the museum you can see a replica here!).
- Piazza della Repubblica is a plaza surrounded by cafes and with a charming merry-go-round.
- Piazza di Santa Croce is where the Basilica di Santa Croce is located. I love this plaza because it can be less crowded than other plazas, giving you a different feel for Florence.
While you are wandering around, let yourself get lost! Florence isn’t so big of a city that you won’t be able to figure out where you are. Plus, you can always use the Duomo as a point of reference.
Want more help planning a trip to Italy? Check out our Rome 101: What to See, What to Skip guide and 5 Amazing Ruins to See in Rome (That Aren’t the Colosseum).