8 Things to Do in Florence for First-Timers
Florence was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. For 250 years it was the cultural, political and economical heart of Europe. While the city may no longer be the central powerhouse it was between the 1300s and 1500s, it’s still every bit as beautiful and influential. It’s also widely regarded as one of the world’s finest artistic and architectural treasures. There are high-speed trains that connect Florence to the rest of Italy and Europe, and it’s entrenched as one of the continent’s must-visit cities. Read on for the best things to do in Florence.
Things to do in Florence
1. Climb the Duomo for the best views of Florence
Florence’s Cathedral is the city’s most iconic attraction. It stands high above the surrounding buildings in all of its Renaissance-era glory. Ironically, when walking through the streets of Florence, it quite often pops up unexpectedly. But when it does it’ll take your breath away and have you craning your neck to try take it all in. The best way to experience the cathedral, and Florence, is to climb to the top of the Duomo. The views that await you are worth every ounce of energy you’ll expend on the 463 steps.
Insider tip: Purchase a combo pass for just €15 if you want to explore all corners of the cathedral. It gives you access to all five monuments in Piazza Duomo, including the dome, bell tower, baptistery, and crypt.
2. Walk the Ponte Vecchio
Florence’s Ponte Vecchio is one of Europe’s most celebrated bridges. Thousands of tourists flock to it each year to walk the 88-foot span across the Arno River. The stores that now line the covered bridge lack the charm and authenticity of the original artisans and merchants that used to occupy them. However it’s still a fascinating site, whether you choose to enjoy it up close or from afar.
Insider tip: Be sure to walk the full length of the bridge at least once. The famous fountain dating back to 1900 and the views of the river in the middle are worth braving the crowds for.
3. Savor the views from Piazzale Michelangelo
You’ll find some of the best views of the city from just across the Arno River. Piazzale Michelangelo was built in 1869 and dedicated to Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. While the actual square is beautiful in its own right, the panoramic views of Florence steal the show. It sits on a hill just south of the historic center of the city, and it’s quite easy to while away an entire afternoon taking in the grandiose nature of the spectacular city from this vantage point.
Insider tip: Time a visit at dusk and combine it with a bottle of Italian wine for the ultimate sunset experience.
4. Devour the best gelato
Gelato shops abound in Florence. It’s difficult to make a bad choice when figuring out where to get your daily (or hourly) gelato fix. Stores in the heavily trafficked tourist zones tend to be busier, more expensive, and of lower quality. Hidden gems slightly out of the historical center often have shorter lines and the best gelato you may have had the fortune to lock your lips with.
Insider tip: If you’re on a tight budget, Gelateria La Carraia offers some of the best gelato at the most competitive prices. It’s located on the southern side of Ponte alla Carraia. It has the added bonus of being just a short walk away from the Arno river – the ultimate place from which to eat it.
5. Get your caffeine fix
Florence, like much of Italy, knows its coffee, and early morning cappuccinos are particularly popular. If you want your coffee with foam, just be sure to order it before 10am. Anything later would be a violation of Italian culinary rules. There are several historic coffee shops where you can get superb coffee, delectable pastries, and fascinating insight into Florentine café culture.
Insider tip: If you’re looking for the ultimate spot, aim for one of the classic locations. Scudieri (Piazza di San Giovanni, 19), Caffè Gilli (Piazza della Repubblica, 39R), and Caffè Latteria Caffelatte (Via degli Alfani, 39) are among the most unique and enticing coffee shops in the city.
6. Explore one of the world’s top art museums
Uffizi Gallery is one of the world’s top art museums. It houses works from some of history’s most celebrated artists. Among the museum’s must-see works are Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino. You’ll also find works by Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Michelangelo.
Insider tip: Though slightly more expensive, you can buy your ticket online ahead of time at www.uffizi.org to skip the queues. If you’re trying to miss the crowds, head to the museum on weekday afternoons. This is when visitor numbers tend to be lighter.
7. Track down David
The sculpture of David may be one of the most famous works of art in the world, and a visit to Florence without seeing it would be a missed opportunity. While the original is no longer on display outdoors, it’s worth tracking down to see it in person. You’ll find it in the Accademia Gallery on 58–60 via Ricasoli.
Insider tip: If you’re pressed for time, the replica in Piazza della Signoria is an impressive site in itself. It has been there since the early 1900s.
8. Take to the hills
While much of Florence’s charm and splendor lies in the historic center, the surrounding hills offer beautiful walks and hikes, along with sublime views over the city below. The hills of Parco di Montececeri are particularly picturesque and worth exploring on foot. It’s where Leonardo da Vinci first tried out his flying machine.
Insider tip: Make your way up to the small piazza with the da Vinci monument – the views from here are something special.
There’s a reason so many people claim Florence is one of Europe’s must-visit destinations. Until you’ve been there in person to marvel at the stunning art, architecture, and enthralling city life, you’ll feel like you’re missing out. With easy rail accessibility to several other Italian and European cities, it also serves as a perfect destination for rail pass holders.
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