18 Fabulous Things You MUST Do In Florence

Florence is one of the loveliest cities in all of Europe. Famous for its medieval architecture and renaissance art, Florence has so much to see and do (and eat!).

Typically tourists all stick to a handful of sites and miss 95% of the truly amazing things to see and do here. My best-selling book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence takes you to more than 101 incredible places the tour bus crowds don’t visit, all within a maximum 20 minute walk from the Duomo. In fact most of these places are just around the corner from where you will be anyway!

But for now let’s look at 18 fabulous things to do in Florence, plus have a quick look at the magnificent Duomo.

Santa Maria dei Fiore, The Duomo of Florence

This one is a no brainer – of course you are going to visit Santa Maria dei Fiore, the Duomo of Florence. This one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and I recommend you walk past it as many times as you can while in Florence!

If you plan on climbing the dome of the cathedral be sure to book the earliest time slot possible. All access is timed entry and it gets packed all day long. The climb is steep and there are about a million steps (or 432) and in places the walls are narrower than your wingspan. Climbing the steps squished in between sweaty, smelly tourists is a total buzz-kill, so the earlier you can go up, the better!

Your OPA ticket to go up the Duomo also gives you entry to the ruins below the cathedral. These are the remains of the former cathedral, Santa Reparata. It is well worth a visit. Your ticket also gives you access to the Baptistery outside the cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile which is adjacent to the cathedral and the Opera del Duomo museum, which is behind the cathedral. All are fabulous to visit and of at all possible need to be on your must see list.

** Be advised the climb up to the dome is very claustrophobic.

1. Cross Ponte Vecchio Before 10 am

The beautiful Ponte Vecchio in Florence

The magnificent Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is one of Florence’s most iconic sights. The problem is during the travel season it gets packed from about 10 am when the cruise ship crowds and big bus tours arrive in town until late in the evening. So if you will be in Florence between May and October try to get to the bridge before 10.

The shutter-style shop doors along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

If you are staying overnight in Florence you should visit the bridge early in the morning before the shops open (8 am-ish). The shops that line the bridge have been there since the mid 1500’s. They have spectacular old doors with massive old locks, that are wonderful to see and you can only see them before opening time or later at night.

2. Explore Oltrarno

My favorite areas in Florence are on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio in the area known as Oltrarno (other side of the Arno river).

image of Oltrarno streets via MagicPlanet.com

You will see vastly fewer tourists over here. It is filled with amazing little medieval streets full of artisan shops, non-touristy eateries and glorious places to stop for an aperitivo.

Florence is small and safe and you can’t really get lost, so be sure to go explore!

RELATED POST: The Piazza Hidden Behind The Duomo Is Not To Be Missed!

3. Visit Basilica Santa Croce

If you only go inside one church in all of Florence, let this be the one!

Basilica Santa Croce, Florence

Basilica Santa Croce dominates the lovely Piazza Santa Croce, not even a 5 minute walk behind the Palazzo Vecchio. There is lots to see and do here including visiting the leather school behind the Basilica. The Basilica itself is sensational. It quite possibly has the very best church art in all of Tuscany, has the tombs of many notables including Michelangelo, and has beautiful cloisters to walk through when you need a little peace and quiet.

If choosing between going inside the Duomo or Basilica Santa Croce, I would do Santa Croce every time. (And I do visit Santa Croce every time I’m in Florence – it is that fantastic!)

4. Go Walking Early

If you are lucky enough to be staying overnight in Florence I sincerely recommend getting up early and going walking before the tourists arrive. If you hit the streets at 7:30 or 8.00 am all the statues, the art, the beauty will be yours and yours alone.

Breakfast on via dei Ginori after and early morning walk

You get an entirely different appreciation for this gorgeous city when you can see it uncrowded. If out early be sure to visit Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, the bronze doors of the Baptistery that face the Duomo. All day long they are hidden behind layers of tourists so you can hardly see them and definitely can’t get a clean photo of them.

At 7:30 in the morning they belong to you.

5. Eat Panforte

Panforte and cappuccino, the breakfast of champions.

This amazing cake is actually from the Siena area but you will see it everywhere in Florence. Made from dried fruits and nuts, peppery spices and honey, and just enough flour to hold it together. A slice of panforte with your morning cappuccino is about the best breakfast you can have in Florence. Or anywhere else for that matter.

RELATED POST: 14 Foods You Need To Try In Tuscany

6. Buy Leather

If traveling around Italy be sure to buy leather goods here in Florence. Florence leather is coveted and famous all over the world. Everywhere you go you will see leather jackets, handbags, shoes, belts and wallets.

In my book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence I have a chapter on how to buy leather. It tells you what to look out for, terms you need to know, my specific tips to make sure you get a great buy and don’t get ripped off, what you should be buying specifically in Florence, and I also give you my favorite shop to visit for leather.

Paris in 2017 wearing my red leather jacket from Jimmy’s Leather Collection in Florence

My favorite item in my closet is a red leather jacket I got several years ago in Florence. It has been all over the world with me, just keeps getting better and better with age, and still feels like butter!

7. Visit At Least One Museum

Florence has really fantastic museums. Everyone knows about the Uffizi and the Accademia but few know about the others. Which is quite clear when you walk in and see almost no one there!

staircase and well in the courtyard of the Bargello in Florence
The courtyard of the Bargello Museum in Florence

In Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence I tell you about some of my favorite museums that fly below the radar of the tour bus crowd. There really is something for everyone. From art museums to Roman treasures to Leonardo da Vinci’s amazing creations to a super creepy anatomy museum to a museum of weapons – there are so many to choose from! Two of my absolute favorites are the Bargello and the Bardini. I tell you about them in the book, but you can also google the best museums in Florence and add at least one to your travel itinerary.

RELATED POST 5 Things You MUST See At The Bargello Museum In Florence

8. Take The Secret Passages Tour at Palazzo Vecchio

Image of Palazzo Vecchio via ttnotes.com

This is my favorite tour to do in Florence and I take most of my Glam Italia Tour groups on it too. The tour is at the Palazzo Vecchio and takes you inside the walls of the palace to see the secret rooms, secret doorways and escape routes, and secret passages. You get to go up into the rafters about the Salon of 500 (which you see in the movie Inferno) and end up n the Medici apartments and living quarters in the palace.

The tour only takes about 90 minutes but it really is fascinating and fantastic and I have never taken anyone on it who hasn’t been completely blown away by it!

Book the tour at the Palazzo Vecchio box office.

9. Shop.

Florence has some of the best shopping in Italy. And not just the leather jackets, bags and handmade leather shoes. Florence is an artisan paradise, with little boutiques scattered throughout its medieval streets. From housewares to clothing to lingerie to jewelry – you name it, it’s here.

shopping in Florence
San Lorenzo Market in Florence

Plan to spend a little time in the markets and boutiques, do some Christmas shopping, and treat yourself to something special. Just make sure you leave some room in your suitcase for shopping in Florence!

10. Follow The Medici

Florence is the city of the Medici. This family was not only responsible for the Italian Renaissance art movement but also the Renaissance architecture of Florence.

I go into this in depth in Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence. Keep an eye out for the Medici crest everywhere, and be sure to check out their three palaces in Florence linked here.

RELATED POST: 13 Fascinating Facts About The Medici

11. Book A Licensed Private Guide

Rather than be part of a giant big bus tour I am a huge advocate of hiring local guides to show you around. It is extremely difficult to become an official licensed guide in Florence. They have to have a degree, be multi lingual, go through a very intense training program and even then very few are awarded the coveted license.

Stefania is one of the guides on my PDF list below

A licensed guide can take your good travel experience and make it truly outstanding. They always know 1000 x more than just the tour they are taking you on, and pepper your experience with endless anecdotes and insider secrets, point out so many little details you would never otherwise notice and can answer every question you could ever think up. On top of crafting an amazing experience specifically for you and your little group they will also tell you about the best places to stop for an aperitivo, a coffee or a meal.

In Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence I give you a link to download a PDF of the 5 private guides I personally use in Florence for my tours. It has their bio’s, photos, and all their contact info.

Want to know more amazing things to do in Florence? Download my free Secret Florence PDF to get the scoop on my favorite restaurants, chic bars, jewelry shops and more not-to-be-missed places! Get your Secret Florence PDF here

12. Go On An Aperitivo Tour

Aperitivo time in Florence, September 2019

It’s no secret that apertivo hour is my favorite time of day in Italy. In Florence there are some absolutely incredible wine bars to enjoy aperitivo hour – a glass of wine or cocktail served with a selection of nibbles. There are also lots of tourist-centric aperi-trash bars which you should avoid like the plague.

I tell you my personal favorite places to enjoy an aperitivo in the book but another option is to take an aperitivo tour with a licensed guide. These are tremendous. The guides are often fully qualified sommeliers and will not only take you to places you would never otherwise know about – true insider secrets, but will also guide you on which wines to order and which foods to pair with them.

This is a quintessentially Florentine experience and you will love it!

13. Go Up High For Sunset

Florence is a city with exceptional views. I always recommend planning every sunset ahead of time to make sure you have a fabulous view of the colors as the last of the un washes over Florence for the day. I promise you you will never, ever forget it!

Florence view from a rooftop bar

Whether walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo or San Miniato al Monte for the view alone, or going to a rooftop bar for a sunset aperitivo, plan ahead and get there a little early be sure of getting a good spot. (Again, I have a chapter on my favorite places to watch the sunset in the book.)

14. Eat Lampredotto.

Lampredotto is the most Florentine of street foods. You will see food trucks selling them all over town and you really must try one while in Florence!

the most famous street food in florence
Lampredotto with salsa verde in Florence

Find out all about Lampredotto in this blog post.

15. Get Off The Beaten Path

Florence is a very small city and is easy to walk around. You will find that 95% of the tourists all stick to the same handful of places, which means those spots get very overcrowded, but everything else is wide open for you to enjoy exploring. The GPS on your phone will easily guide you back to the Duomo should you get lost, and you will never be more than a 20 minute walk (maximum).

Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence actually has more than 101 fabulous places for you to explore, most of them away from the crowds. The best experiences you will have are the ones that happen off the beaten path, or away from the crowds. From the most sensational art to quiet piazzas to enjoy a coffee in, palaces, museums, churches and shopping, the best of Florence happens just off the beaten path!

RELATED POST: 10 Fabulous Day Trips From Florence By Train

16. Enjoy A Green Space

The Rose Garden in Florence, image via LoveFlorence.com

If you will be in Florence for more than just a day trip I definitely recommend enjoying at least one of the city’s nature spaces. Be it the Boboli Gardens, The Rose Gardens or the Bardini Gardens (for starters!) you just can’t beat a little peace and quiet combined with views of this historical city.

It is really easy to get tourist burn-out is a city with this many day trippers, but even just a short time a

17. Only Eat Artisan Gelato

Did you know that some of Italy’s best gelato is in Florence?

Typically tourists stop at the chain store, factory manufactured gelato spots adjacent to the big tourist sites, places no self – respecting Italian would ever eat at. Yet right around the corner there will be an artisan gelato shop.

image via Gelataria La Carraia in Florence

Artisan gelato is the absolute best in the world. Handmade in small batches, normally on site, and always with seasonal, fresh ingredients. Florentines love gelato and will only eat the real deal artisan kind, so there are artisan shops quite literally everywhere. And in almost every case the real stuff costs the same as the artificial gelato, so you might as well taste the quality version!

My book tells you about my favorite 10 gelato shops in Florence (such as Perche No! and Carraia) and what flavors you really must try. In the meantime this post tells you all about artisanal gelato and why you must only buy artisanal when in Italy!

18. Walk At Night

Florence is a very safe city to go strolling at night. Every evening you will see both locals and fellow travelers out for walks, taking in the beauty of the city and no doubt imagining the centuries of life that have taken place on these very same streets.

By night Florence takes on a magical hue, and is quite frankly, breathtaking. Not only do I recommend a long after-dinner amble, but I also have another piece of advice: look up.

You will be amazed at the frescoes you see on the walls and ceilings of the private palaces and apartments throughout the city, visible from the street only when the lights are turned on inside at night.

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Things To Do In Florence

You Need To Know About This Exciting New Florence Travel Guide!

I am super excited to tell you about my new book, Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence!

Even though we can’t travel right now we can still plan our future trips, hopefully trips we will be taking next year!

I’ve been spending time in Florence for more than 30 years now. Every time I visit I discover more amazing new (old) places. At this point have come to realize that’s just how it is with Florence – she has endless magical people, places and things and reveals something new every time you are there.

The book launch party during COVID! Prosecco and antipasti with one of my dearest friends in the world, photographer and business coach Melissa Madden.

Florence gets masses of tourists. They all seem to hang out at the same handful of big attractions, keeping them overcrowded and making it difficult to see anything. Which just means that 95% of the most amazing things in Florence are wide open, waiting for you and me to discover them, love them, photograph them and soak it all up with no one getting in our way!

In this book I do take you to the big sites but I give you specific things to look for and strategies to escape the crowds when they get overwhelming (and believe me, they do get overwhelming!)

RELATED POST: 10 Day Trips By Train From Florence

My favorite time of day in Italy is aperitivo time! In Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence I tell you about my favorite places to enjoy an aperitivo, and what to order while you’re there!

Some of the things you will learn about in this book are:

  • Fantastic museums you’ve probably not heard of but will really enjoy
  • 12 churches you need to know about. Most people won’t want to visit all 12 but will really enjoy dropping in on a couple.
  • Shopping – Florence has some of the best shopping in Italy. Whether you want a leather jacket, handmade shoes, a vintage Gucci bag or some gorgeous tableware to take home (and much more!) you will love my guide to the boutiques scattered throughout the Renaissance city!
  • Aperitivo time – a guide to my favorite aperitivo bars for a pre-dinner drink and snack
  • Rooftop bars – my favorite places to get up high for a sunset glass of wine with a staggering view.
  • 7 sensational piazzas you need to know about, their secrets and special things to look out for.
  • The Medici palaces, why you need to see them and what to look for.
  • What to eat in Florence.
  • My absolute favorite restaurants (and gelato bars!)
  • The best markets in Florence.
  • How to buy leather in Florence.
  • 20 Unusual and Interesting things to look for in the historic center of town.

There is much, much more too!

RELATED POST: How To Get From The Airport Into Florence

Whatever your interests are you will find things in this book just for you. The idea behind writing it was to get you away from the crowds, show you something new and help you build the trip of a lifetime. I want you to absolutely fall in love with Florence.

Best Florence Travel Guide Book

Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Florence is available worldwide on Amazon in both paperback and in eBook form. (Kindle /Kindle app)

*The links provided on this post are for Amazon.com. If you live outside of the U.S just go to your country’s amazon.

RELATED POST: How To Use The Trains In Italy

Amazon Influencer Store Corinna Travels
The essential Florence travel guide book. You must get this book before you travel

The Magnificent Piazza SS Annunciata in Florence

One of my all-time favorite piazzas in Florence is a mere 500 meters from the madness of Piazza del Duomo. Just 2 short blocks from the cathedral all the tourist hustle and bustle is left behind you as Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici welcomes you into Piazza SS Annunciata from his bronze horse.

The Piazza

SS Annunciata is the perfect renaissance piazza. Three sides are lined with loggia in calming creamy tones, surrounding a wide open space. You can catch your breath here – very few tourists seem to know about it. And yet it is full of fascinating things to see and do.

Piazza SS Annunciata

The Loggia

Looking at this perfect creamy harmony you would think it all happened at once, but it took more than 200 years to come together. With the cathedral behind you, facing Ferdinando on his horse, look to the right and you will see the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the Foundling hospital or orphanage.

This was Brunelleschi’s first architectural commission, built in 1419. His second commission was the dome of the Duomo, 500 meters away! The loggia was considered new and fantastic at the time and was the beginning of the use of balance and harmony that became synonymous with Renaissance architecture.

Opposite the Foundling Hospital is the monastery of the Servi, the religious order who started the church here in the piazza. It wasn’t until 100 years later that architect Antonio da Sangallo created it’s loggia, designed to match Brunelleschi’s across the way. Where the Foundling hospital has tondi with blue backgrounds and white putti between the arches, Sangallo gave the Servites tondi with a scrolling S in the middle.

Almost hundred years passed before the front of the church got a facelift via its own set of archway loggia. Architect Giovanni Battista Caccini had to do a little stretching to make his loggia match Brunelleschi’s, giving the piazza three sides of portico archways.

RELATED POST: 13 Fascinating Facts About The Medici in Florence

The Church

The Church of SS Annunciata in Florence

As you enter the piazza the church of SS Annunciata is directly in front of you. This is one of my favorite churches in Florence. In the mid 1200’s a group of 7 men started up a religious order called the Servite (Order of the Servants of Mary) In 1250 they built this church, and in 1252 they commissioned Fra Bartolomeo to paint them the Annunciation. Everything was going well until it came time to paint the face. Fra Bartolomeo was worried he couldn’t paint one beautiful enough. He fell asleep and when he woke saw that an angel had painted an exquisitely beautiful face for him.

Pilgrims and miracles go together like peas and carrots, so when word got out about the miracle pilgrims came from all over. They left votives in the church and sculptures made of wax, plaster and wood, even a life sized wax sculpture of a nobleman and his horse.

The Cloister of the Voti

The pilgrims’ candles and wax statues needed to be put somewhere, so a couple of hundred years later Cosimo de’ Medici’s favorite architect Michelozzo was commissioned to create a cloister in front of the church to house them. The Cloister of the Voti is actually the entrance to the church, and it is magnificent. If this was the only thing you saw it would be worth it!

The Cloister is decorated with marble reliefs and frescoes painted by major Florentine artists. Recently the cloister underwent major renovations and now has a glass atrium roof to protect the frescoes.

RELATED POST: 18 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Florence

Inside the Church

As you enter the church be prepared to be completely wowed by the ceiling. To this day, every time I walk inside the basilica my eyes are automatically drawn upward.

The church may seem a little off kilter to you. This is due to the chapel of SS Annunciata which is on the left as you enter. Back in 1447 Piero de’ Medici funded the creation a ‘temple’ for the painting of the Miraculous Annunciation. Michelozzo designed it, rich with bronze designs, marble from Carrara, ceramics and intricate artwork, it shows just how important this painting was and is.

The church is full of incredible artwork but before you explore it all take a moment to step back and soak in this church. It is spectacularly beautiful!

RELATED POST: The Best Cocktail Bar In Florence

The Ospedale degli Innocenti Museum

Ospedale degli Innocenti

This one will blow your mind! Not only is it an amazing museum but no one seems to know about it, so when you visit there will be very few other people here.

This was an orphanage so portions of the museum are dedicated to the story of the orphans. Parents would have to leave their babies here due to extreme economic suffering. They would leave their baby with a “mark’, half of a charm or pendant that the parent would keep the other half of in the hope that they could be reunited. The hospital kept excellent records of the children and were able to reunite many of them. There is a room here with records of them and heartbreakingly drawers of marks from the children who were never claimed.

The museum and its 600 years of history recently underwent a 3 year renovation and is beautifully laid out and well lit – it’s fabulous. It covers 600 years of history

The art gallery is on the second floor in the areas where the children and wet nurses lived. It has works by Botticelli, Luca della Robbia and Ghirlandaio amongst others. The most important works in the collection are a Madonna and Child by Botticelli and the Adoration of the Magi by Ghirlandaio

On the top floor there is a terrace called the Verone that used to be a place to hang the washed clothes out to dry and for workers and children to socialize. The Verone is now a café where you can enjoy a break with a fabulous view of the Duomo.

Ferdinando on his Horse

The fellow who greets you from his horse as you enter the piazza is one of the Medici Grand Dukes, Ferdinando I. Ferdinando was a really interesting character. He murdered his brother (who was a murderous jerk anyway) then became a very effective and well liked ruler of Florence and Tuscany.

The statue of Ferdinando I

The statue was created by Giambologna in 1608 using bronze melted down from cannons on captured Turkish galleys. If you look at the inscription on the horse’s girth it says De’ metallic rapiti al fero Trace, which means metal taken from the savage Thracians. (A traditional enemy of the ancient Romans, who came from the area that now makes up Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria)

Secrets In The Piazza

Piazza SS Annunciata has all kinds of intriguing history and some fabulous secrets.

The Open Window at Palazzo Grifoni

Who doesn’t enjoy a good ghost story? This one applies to Palazzo Grifoni, the reddish palazzo at your left shoulder when you enter the piazza.

Palazzo Grifoni

The last window on the top floor on the right hand side has stayed open for centuries. Near the end of the 1500s one of the Grifoni sons was called away to war, leaving his young bride behind. Her last view of him was from this window as he rode away. She waited for him at this window for decades, sure that one day he would ride back into the piazza. She loved him so much that she never gave up hope, waiting each day at the window until she too eventually died.

The open window

Upon her death, once her body had been carried away, the family tried to close the window. Legend has it that when they tried to close it all hell broke loose. The furniture started shaking, books flew off the shelves, paintings fell off the walls – basically she went all poltergeist on them. Since then the window has remained open, at this point for more than 400 years, just in case her husband ever rides back into the piazza to come for her.

RELATED POST: 10 Day Trips From Florence By Train

Ferdinando and the Bees

There’s another point of interest with Ferdinando’s statue. Walk around the back and you will see a bronze relief on the pedestal of a swarm of 91 bees circling the queen bee. Supposedly this is to signify his magnificence and superlative leadership skills, with him being the queen bee and the 91 others being the people of Florence and Tuscany. Except I don’t really think that equating yourself with a queen bee is particularly masculine, do you? It seems awfully girlie to me. But apparently his motto was Maiestate Tantum which means Great Majesty.

The Sealed Window

I absolutely love random things like this! Unless you know to look for it you will walk right past a walled in window on the corner of via dei Servi and via del Pucci, midway between the Duomo and Piazza della SS Annunziata, on the northeast corner. This is the Palazzo Pucci, former home of the Pucci family and the site of a Renaissance tale of conspiracy and revenge.

In 1559 Pandolfo Pucci got kicked out of the court of Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici either for accusations of immorality, or, supposedly for wanting to restore the Republic of Florence. Who knows which it really was? Regardless Pandolfo fell from grace.

He then conspired with some other noble families to kill Cosimo. The plan was to shoot him with an arquebus as he and his entourage walked past the corner of via del Pucci and via dei Servi on his way to mass at SS Annunziata. The plan got cancelled but nonetheless Cosimo got wind of it and had to make an example of him. Pandolfo was hung from a window in the Bargello and the Pucci properties were seized. Whether it was superstition or whether it was to remind everyone never to plot against the Medici, Grand Duke Cosimo I ordered the window on the corner from where the attack was to have occurred be bricked up. To this very day it has remained sealed.

The Pucci made good with the Medici and 3 years later not only got the palace back but also got the title of Marchese di Barsento, a noble title that has been handed down the family ever since.

If you have your back to the Duomo the sealed window is one block up via dei Servi on your left as you walk the 2 blocks to piazza della SS Annunziata. I still get a kick out of it every time I see it.

Are you planning a trip to Florence? My free Secret Florence pdf has a list of my favorite restaurants, bars and shops in the Renaissance City, guaranteed to make you trip even more fantastic! Get your copy HERE

RELATED POST: A Famous Street Food You Must Try In Florence!

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