10 Things You Absolutely Must Do When You Are In Florence

Florence is one of my absolute favorite cities in the world. It doesn’t matter how many times I go to Florence, I always discover something new. I never get bored with Florence, and I never feel like I’m done. Florence is magic.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in Florence over the past 10 years. I’ve been to the all the main tourist spots (multiple times!) but I have also explored the city from one end to the other. Along the way I have discovered some wonderful secrets in the city on the Arno.

Most tourists miss out on some of the most amazing things to do in Florence, so I have made you a list of 10 items that you need to add to your travel itinerary.

I am always asked about my favorite restaurants and shops in Florence, so I have added an option for you to get a PDF of my Secret Florence at the end of this post.

 

David-Palazzo-Vecchio

Here are 10 things that you absolutely MUST  do when you are in Florence:

 

Florence-Arno

 

1. Go For An Early Walk.

Get up early (at least once while you are there) and go for a long walk.

Florence gets so packed with tourists during the day and into the night that it becomes almost impossible to get one on one time with her statues, her famous doorways, the great piazzas. During the day you can hardly ever snap a photo without other travelers getting in the way.

But in the early mornings the streets are empty, and she is all yours.

Read more about it here

 

2. Eat Cinghiale

One of the local Tuscan delicacies is Cinghiale, or wild boar.

Every restaurant serves it, made to their own recipe, and it’s fantastic.

Florence-pasta

RELATED POST: TUSCANY BY TRAIN, 10 FABULOUS DAY TRIPS FROM FLORENCE 

3. Visit Santa Croce Church

Florence is full of amazing churches with amazing art, but to me Santa Croce is one of the most spectacular.

 

Santa-Croce-Church
Santa Croce Church in the shadow of the early morning

 

The art inside Santa Croce is considered to be some of the most impressive church art in all of Florence. From Giotto’s fresco cycles to Cimabue’s breathtaking Triumphal Cross, the art in Santa Croce is spectacular.
It is also the home to Florence’s most impressive tombs, and has memorials to Michelangelo, Rossini, Dante Aligheri, Ghiberti, Galileo and Machiavelli. Largely overlooked by tourists, the church at Santa Croce is an absolute must.

4. Get Up High

 

Florence
The Duomo seen from the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio on a misty, moody December afternoon

Whether you choose to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, or perhaps the vastly fewer stairs to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio tower, get up high and take in the mesmerizing view of one of Europe’s most magnificent cities.

RELATED POST: THE BEST PLACES TO WATCH SUNSET IN FLORENCE

5. Take Long Walks At Night.

Just as early morning walks are a must in Florence, so are long evening walks after the sun has gone down.

One of the great loves of my life lives in Florence, ( if you are going to fall in love, it might as well be with an Italian, right?) and for many years evenings in Florence were synonymous with long strolls around the city, taking in all the incredible palazzi and churches, the magnificent doorways, the statues, the very essence of Florence, bathed in the moonlight.icon

Santa-Maria-Del-Fiore-Night

As beautiful as she is by day, Santa Maria Del Fiore (the Duomo) is just mesmerizing by night. In fact Florence is pure magic by night.

 

Santa-Maria-Del-Fiore-Night

6. Look Up

While taking night time strolls you have the opportunity to see frescos and incredible ceilings hidden to you during the day, but visible by night when people turn their lights on. When we would be out at night (and still even now, as the dearest of friends) he always tells me “Look up!” as we walk by breathtaking frescoes on the upper floors of the various palazzi, scattered everywhere in the city.

RELATED POST: 10 THINGS YOU MUST DO IN SAN GIMIGNANO

7. Take A Tour Of Somewhere Special

 

Florence-Piazza-Della-Signoria

When I was in Florence this past December I was incredibly lucky to have a private tour of the secret passages and hidden rooms in the Palazzo Vecchio. It was so awe-inspiring that I immediately promised myself that every time I go back to Florence I will take a little tour of some place special. This medieval city is so full of hidden corridors and passageways, there is art up in the rafters, there is art inside the walls. It’s rich history of intrigue and treachery and treasures means there are endlessly fascinating secrets to be discovered. The perfect way to experience them is with an art historian filling you in on all the stories, bringing them to life for you.

 

8. Eat The Best Sandwich Of Your Life

foccaccia-florence

A couple of blocks from the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi on the Via Dei Neri you will find Osteria All’ Antico Vinaio

It is super easy to find because they have a trattoria on either side of the road, and until late each night there are always locals spilling out onto the sidewalk with giant focaccia sandwiches in one hand and big glasses of lusty red wine in the other, while their brethren queue patiently in lines that weave down the street,  waiting for as long as it takes to get their turn at the counter. I guarantee you will never have had a sandwich quite like these before!

You can custom order, but I learned from the people waiting with me in the line and the others having spasms or gastronomic delight as they leaned against the walls or sat on the curb eating their panini, that the way to tackle this beast was to order from the posted list of favorites. (90% of the patrons were all ordering the same thing, so I figured I would just have what they did. Perhaps one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.)

This is no nitrite, no nitrate, no Monsanto, fresh, local, real food.

You won’t find anything as crass as a soda fountain here but you will find a selection of local red wines that they sell by the bottle or by the glass.

And just how much do you think the best sandwich of your life will cost you? €5. It’s the bargain of the century!

Booking.com9. Explore Oltrarno

Literally “the other side of the Arno”, there is so much to see when you cross the river. You have the big sights, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo and San Spirito with its Brunelleschi designed interior, but you also have endless medieval streets full of antique stores and local artisans. As you wander through you’ll find fewer and fewer tourists, which means the price of everything goes down. It’s easy to spend days on end losing yourself in Florence’s neighborhoods – there is so much to discover.

While wandering find your way to Santa Maria Del Carmine. The Cappella Brancacci houses a renaissance fresco cycle that changed the course of western art. Begun by Masaccio and Masolino in around 1424 and finished 50 years later by Filippino Lippi, this cycle uses a then revolutionary technique employing single point perspective. Look to the upper left entrance pier to Adam and Eve and notice the dramatic way their bodies reflect a light that seems to emanate from within the world of the painting, but outside the frame. It is magnificent.

Related Post: How To Order Coffee In Italy

10. Buy Leather

Florence is world famous for it’s amazing leather goods.

If you are not shopping at the Gucci and Prada price point, then this is the city for you! You can buy beautifully made leather bags, belts, luggage, wallets and jackets all over Florence, especially at the San Lorenzo market, but you have to either know what you’re buying, or who you are buying it from to make sure you are getting good quality and not a Made-In-China rip off.

For years and years now I have been buying leather goods from my very dear friend Jimmy Ahmed of Jimmy’s Leather Collection. I’ve sent so many people to Jimmy over the years, and everyone is always super happy to have gone there. Read more about buying leather in Florence here

 

Bonus

I’m giving you a bonus tip, because I can’t refine it down to just 10 tips…

Eat Panforte

 

Panforte-Mandorlata
Panforte with coffee makes for a perfect mid-morning snack

This is actually a Sienese delicacy but you can find it all over Florence. Not a bread, and yet not quite a cake panforte is a divine flourless combination of nuts, dried fruits, honey and spices. My favorite type is Mandorlata. You do so much walking all day every day in Florence, it’s easy to justify a small slice with your morning cappuccino.

Secret Florence

If you would like to know my favorite restaurants, rooftop bars, a secret jeweler who designs for Dior but who also sells to regular ladies in the know at sensible prices, even a Medici perfumer, I have a Secret Florence PDF that you can download and print.

Get your Secret Florence PDF HERE


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22 Comments

  1. January 26, 2016 / 11:41 am

    wow this is so inspiring!….hope to go on europe tour….I read ur blog…and it helps a lot in our trip…..thank u so much!! god bless u always..
    honeymoon in Tuscany

    • January 26, 2016 / 5:22 pm

      Aeldra that makes me so happy! A honeymoon in Tuscany would be so gorgeous! Have a look through the rest of my travel posts. I blog about Italy a lot and have all kinds of fabulous places that most people don't know about, as well as cool things to do in the ones they do know about!
      There will be more Italy posts coming in the next few weeks too.
      Have a gorgeous day!
      xo
      C

  2. August 17, 2016 / 10:35 am

    Hi Corinna, we leave for our vacation to Rome, Florence and Venice in just a few weeks! Do you remember what company you used for the tour of Palazzo Vecchio?

    • August 18, 2016 / 1:36 am

      Oh my goodness – I am so excited for you!! Make sure you read all my posts on Rome and Venice too as there is tons of cool information for interesting things to do.
      I have more on Florence as well, including Where To Buy Leather In Florence. My friend Jimmy always takes care of my blog readers, so if you do go see him make sure you ask for him by name and then tell him you read my blog. Discounts are always a good thing!!

      I took my tour from the Palazzo Vecchio itself. They have a ticket office inside the main lobby. I would advise going early in the day and buying tickets for late afternoon/early evening. You tour ticket allows you to go up the tower as well, so go 45 minutes to an hour before your tour and go up the tower. Its not a hard climb and it is sensational. When you walk around at the top look for the glass bricks and look down. You will be standing right over Davis'd head!
      The views from up there are fantastic, and its nowhere near as hard as going up to the top of the Duomo.
      After your tour walk down via dei neri (basically walking alongside the wall of the palazzo) a block or two and you will see locals spilling out all over the street with giant sandwiches. This is Antico Vinaio, and for 5 euro you will get the best sandwich of your life!!
      Please leave me a message and let me know how your trip goes.

      A dopo!
      xo

  3. November 5, 2016 / 2:57 pm

    We spent time in Florence last year, we fell in love with this magical city, it really left us wanting more. We go back for 14 full days of Florence adventuring later this year. Palazzo Vecchio is on the top of the list!

    I found a chunk of panforte we brought back from Siena, we're going to have it for Thanksgiving breakfast.

    Great article, thanks!

  4. November 7, 2016 / 1:58 am

    Thank you so much!
    I so envy you getting to go back for 14 days! Last December I spent a week there for my birthday and it was so fantastic being there in the winter! I can never get enough of Florence 🙂
    Have a completely fabulous time!!

  5. December 2, 2016 / 6:42 am

    This made me nostalgic for Florence! I've been thinking about going back after 20 years (!) and you've given me some great inspiration. Thank you!

    • December 2, 2016 / 1:00 pm

      You just made my day!
      Definitely go back – you will see it through new eyes and will find so many new magical things to do.
      I go back every year, and each time I discover something I never noticed before.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!
      xo

  6. Julie Rainbird
    April 18, 2017 / 12:43 am

    My son and his partner are taking me to Florence for the weekend in May for my 70th birthday. I am so excited. Would love to know more about the antique shops area please and good vegetarian restaurants please.
    Thank you

    • Corinna B
      Author
      April 18, 2017 / 10:17 am

      How wonderful! I don’t know any vegetarian restaurants specifically, but everywhere has vegetarian options. Many of the pasta dishes have no meat or meat products and the same with pizza places. I just googled vegetarian restaurants in Florence, and there are actually tons of them! Who knew?
      For antiques Via Maggio is very well known and also Via del Moro. For antique furniture you can look at Piazza dei Ciompi. If you wander over into Oltrano you can find all manner of interesting little shops.
      Have a fabulous birthday!

  7. Sophie
    April 20, 2017 / 2:40 pm

    Corrina, your write up on Florence has really inspired me. It is our 35th wedding anniversary this September and the other half said it was my choice where we go. We have been to Venice and Rome and was thinking of going to Lake Garda, but i now want to visit Florence.

    • Corinna B
      Author
      April 20, 2017 / 11:53 pm

      How wonderful! Florence is lovely in September. I will be back there myself for a few days in Sept. If you do choose Florence let me know!

  8. Alonzo
    June 25, 2017 / 11:52 am

    I’m thinking of taking my wife to Florence in September for our 10th anniversary. Any recommendations on where to start? Seems like so much to see.

    • Corinna B
      Author
      July 2, 2017 / 11:54 am

      Yes, just hit the streets and start walking. Rather than trying to race around all the sites, the way to experience Florence is by just strolling and breathing it in. Don’t eat near the tourist spots – walk a couple of blocks back and eat where the locals eat. If you are staying in Florence get up early one morning and wander around before the tourists hit the streets, when you have the whole town to yourself.
      Enjoy!

  9. Courtney Major
    June 29, 2017 / 7:33 am

    Hi, just want to let you know that your information on Santa Croce is incorrect. While the church does have MEMORIALS to Michelangelo, Dante Aligheri, Galileo and others, it is not their “final resting place”. In fact, the graves of several of these are not even within the city of Florence.

    • Corinna B
      Author
      July 2, 2017 / 11:48 am

      Thank you for clarifying that! I actually need to do a bunch more research on Santa Croce. It’s my favorite of all the churches I’ve visited in Florence, and each time I go I wish I knew more.

  10. September 16, 2017 / 3:31 am

    Hi! I’m in Italy now about to head to Florence and I came across your blog among many others. Just wanted to tell you that this article is the most helpful among 7 others I read!!! Definitely taking some of your advice and recommendations. Thanks!

    • Corinna B
      Author
      September 17, 2017 / 5:59 pm

      Oh my gosh that made my day!! I hope you are having a blast in Florence! Make sure you go see Jimmy. I am packing for Paris today, and just packed my gorgeous red leather jacket that he helped me choose earlier this year. He is a gem, and his jackets are to die for! I also hope you go to Vinaio Antico and have a panino.
      If you remember please come back and tell me about your trip!!
      xo

  11. Rebecca
    March 18, 2018 / 8:14 am

    We are in Florence and searched out Jimmy’s. You were not wrong. Johnny is the best. We met Jimmy as well and he had wonderful things to say about you too! Such great people and beautiful work. I bought a gorgeous coat that will last me a lifetime. Thank you for the recommendation.

    • Corinna B
      Author
      March 18, 2018 / 3:49 pm

      You are so welcome! Aren’t they wonderful?? I am so happy that you not only went there, but that you took the time to write to me! Have a wonderful time in beautiful Florence!
      xo

  12. Jenn
    August 24, 2018 / 9:21 am

    Hi Corinna! Love your blog and your book–I just left it a 5 star review on Amazon! I’m planning for a 25th anniversary trip in October and I was wondering if you have a favorite neighborhood to rent an apartment in Florence. We’d love something with good local food/markets but also still within walking of all the sights. I already booked in Trastevere in Rome on your recommendation! Thanks!

    • Corinna B
      Author
      August 27, 2018 / 2:16 pm

      Thank you for buying my book and writing me a review Jenn! I really appreciate it!
      In Florence I often find apartments in Santa Croce, which is still close enough to everything that you can just walk everywhere, but far enough back that you aren’t kept awake all night by tourists making lots of noise. San Marco is a stone’s throw from the San Lorenzo market area and the Duomo, but again just that little bit back from the loud crowds at night. There are lovely areas in Oltrarno too. I really love the San Spirito area.
      My best advice is to find an apartment that you love. Florence is quite small and is just lovely to walk around, so most areas are going to be wonderful. I generally try to be at least one neighborhood back from the Duomo and Piazza Signoria areas as those are where most of the tourists hang so they can be a little noisier and the eating options a bit more pricey.
      One of the most beautiful apartments I ever rented in Florence was close to the Ufizzi and every night I was kept up til 4 am by American students who would be in the streets nearby, drunk and screaming and laughing all night long. It was such a shame as the apartment was incredible.

      I’m super excited that you booked Trastevere! You will love it there!

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