I often refer to Florence as my true love, why? because, despite having traveled to wonderful cities, in Florence, I’ve found everything I like and I’m passionate about. Art, history, museums, vintage vibe and handmade papers (and everything you can do with them), pizza and markets. In this post, I present you some ideas of what to do in Florence.
Actually, I had not read much about Florence before. When I was studying the possibility of traveling there, I began to read articles about it. I was fascinated. Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance, the city that gave birth to great characters such as Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Dante. And I was captivated by the history of the Medici, the benefactors of this beautiful city.
Check my post Infographic: 10 reasons why you should visit Florence
Arriving at Campo di Marte.
We arrived via Torino, we took the Frecciarossa train to the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence. The trip lasted about 3 hours. The ticket cost € 59,00 ($69 USD). Not cheap, I know, but because we did not buy the tickets in advance. If you buy them up to a month before, you can get very cheap tickets. It is not my intention to explain extensively about the train system in Italy. But they are indeed fast and effective. Here you can have more information about that.
After arriving at Santa Maria Novella we took the local train to the Campo di Marte station because it was closer to the apartment that we rented. We rented the apartment on Airbnb, and it cost €800 ($939 USD) for a month. Yes, a full month! In fact, the price is quite good. Accommodation prices in Florence are relatively high. When renting an apartment, you are normally charged for gas and electricity separately. I guess they are expensive services in Florence and then you must pay for your consumption.
What to see in Florence
This city is an open-air museum literally speaking. The churches, the palaces, the sculptures, there are many things to see in Florence. Even if you only come one day (although it would be a crime not to stay longer) you can walk, take pictures and enjoy the beauty of the buildings.
My recommendations are:
Santa Maria del Fiore: better known as the Duomo. On our first day in Florence, we decided to search for this impressive building. It doesn’t matter all the photos you’ve seen, they don’t do it justice. When you see it live you will be left with your mouth open.
If you want to know about other churches in Florence you can visit read A guide to the most famous churches in Florence
Galleria dell’Accademia: This is where you can see Michelangelo’s David. There are also other sculptures but the main attraction is the David. It is definitely worth it, preferably book your tickets because the queue gets very long.
Galleria Degli Uffizi: In my opinion, also in the top 5 of what to do in Florence. Here you can see the development of art towards the Renaissance era. Among the many works, there are those of artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Michelangelo
Ponte Vecchio: It’s one of the oldest bridges in Europe, it was built in stone in 1345. Currently, the stores located here are jewelers. But until 1593, it was populated with butcher shops. They say that Fernando I de Medici allowed only goldsmith and jewelers in the bridge because he disliked the garbage and foul smell left by former tenants.
Piazza de la Signoria: It’s located next to Palazzo Vecchio. It was in this square where the David was originally located. In fact, a replica is still in place. There’s also an open-air museum here.
Other places to visit
There are plenty of options on what to see and what to do in Florence. Other tourist spots that you can see are the church of Santa Croce, the church of Santa Maria Novella, Piazza Della Republica and Piazza de la Santissima Annunziata. The advantage is that the center of Florence is compact, and everything is within a reasonable walking distance.
Are you coming to Florence on a budget? Take a look at my post Suggestions on what to do in Florence for free
What to do in Florence
In addition to the Accademia and Uffizi Gallery, another interesting site to visit is the Palazzo Pitti. It’s the palace where the Medici family lived. The palace is divided into several museums, the Palatine Gallery and the Royal Apartments are the most important. It’s also recommended to see the Boboli Gardens (Have you seen or read Inferno by Dan Brown?)
You can also visit Palazzo Vecchio, the old palace located in Piazza Signoria. The interesting thing about this place is that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were working together here in the creation of some frescoes. Unfortunately, these were never finished and years later it was the artist Giorgio Vasari who painted some murals for the Cinquecento hall. It is believed that part of Da Vinci’s frescoes survived under Vasari’s paintings, as the latter presumably protected them. However, although some investigations have been done, no evidence has been found.
More about palaces and museums in this post The most popular palaces and museums in Florence
Panoramic View of Florence
If you want to take panoramic photos of the city you can go up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Here is another replica of the famous David and the views are fabulous. Be ready to climb several steps, but the view is worth it. Nearby you can visit a modest church called San Miniato al Monte. It became one of my favorites because it has a medieval vibe. When we entered we heard the monks’ chants.
Another way to get panoramic views of the city without going so far is by going up to the Duomo or the Bell Tower. Currently, a combined ticket is available to get access to the Duomo, the Duomo museum, the bell tower, the baptistery and the crypt for € 15,00 ($17.6 USD). More information here
Shopping on the Florence Markets
Something essential to do in Florence is to walk around its markets. Among the most popular are the San Lorenzo market and the Porcellino Market. San Lorenzo market is specialized in leather goods: handbags, shoes, belts, wallets, etc. In the Porcellino Market (officially Mercato Nuovo) you will find leather, but also other items such as Venetian masks, textiles, and souvenirs. Also, in the latter, there is a small fountain of a pig (Porcellino), or rather a boar, very popular. It is believed that if you rub the nose of the pig with a coin, then put the coin in its mouth, and the coin falls between the slits located at the base of the statue, you will return to Florence.
You can visit these markets or the souvenir shops located in the center to buy your gifts. Leather goods are very popular among tourists and typical of Florence (and not cheap). You can also buy edible products such as handmade pasta (they sell them in colors), olive oil, cheeses such as pecorino and tomato sauces.
There are stores where they sell puppets of Pinocchio and everything related to this character since the writer of Pinocchio is Florentine. One example is a shop called Bartolucci. There are also charming shops that sell handmade products made of wood and paper, such as L’arte de Ciompi. It is a little store located near the Piazza Santa Maria del Fiore with beautifully handcrafted products. I only bought some postcards because I discovered this shop at the end of my stay in Florence.
I really loved the variety of papers they have in Florence. They have handmade papers made with marbling technique, but there are also others (cheaper ones) with Italian motives. In addition, they have items decorated with these papers such as pencils, notebooks of all sizes, boxes, envelopes, and sets of cards.
Vintage stationery and art stores
Florence is a paradise for those who love art and objects with a vintage touch (like me). There are several art schools so it’s very easy to get any necessary material. For example, I found a DIY store called Zest, near the San Ambrogio market. They offer all kinds of paintings and material for handicrafts.
There are stores where they sell papers and calligraphy products, for all those who like to write or make art with paper. One of them, the most famous, is Il Papiro. There are many stores scattered throughout Florence, so it is practically impossible not to run into one. Another store called Scrivimi di S.M Davidson is located one block from San Lorenzo.
Il Papiro, in my opinion, is a bit expensive, there are other lesser-known stores where you can find the same items or similar at a better price. I bought some papers and a quill in a store called Marzotto Carta (the store does not have the name labeled) which is a store very close to the Duomo.
I also found a store called Paradiso Delle Sorprese, which is a gift shop with several products in a retro style. They have items for the kitchen and home, as well as stationery and other gifts. In this link, you can see some of the products they offer and their address in Florence.
Other options for shopping
If what you want are fashion stores at reasonable prices you should go for OVS. An Italian brand that offers clothing and accessories for women, men and children. I also recommend Upim, a chain store that, as well as clothing, offers perfumes and household items. If your budget is higher, you can buy in Coin and La Rinascente, which are Italian department stores where you can find branded products and clothing.
In addition to what has already been mentioned, you can buy soaps and perfumes from Tuscany in a store called Biffoli at the Duomo square. They have different types and presentations, ideal for gifts. Although I found some of the same brands in Upim.
I recommend you to walk and explore the shops of Florence, you might find some surprises. For example, when I entered a kitchenware store I found some beautiful Bialetti Moka pots for only 5 euros each. I bought 2, one blue and one pink. The name of the store is Mesticheria Tucci, located in Via Dei Servi.
They call Oltrarno to the area on the other side of the Arno River. Among the most outstanding spots to visit on this side are the Palazzo Pitti, which as I mentioned was the residence of the Medici family since 1565, and the Piazza Santo Spirito. In the Piazza Santo Spirito is located the church of the same name. At morning, markets of fruits, vegetables, and local products are installed in this square. At night it is animated with the bars and trattorias around it.
Near Piazza Santo Spirito there is a pizzeria called Gusta Pizza which I highly recommend. The pizzas are a medium size (size for one person, although I did not finish it) and they handle about 7 varieties. We ordered a Marguerita for €5,00 ($6 USD) and one called Gusta pizza for €7,00 ($8.21 USD). They are very good, the ingredients are fresh and baked in a traditional stone oven.
Talking about pizza, there are excellent quality pizzas on every corner of Florence (well, although there are also tourist traps). The hostess of our department recommended the restaurant Mastro Ciliegia where we tried the pizzas. We paid €14.00 ($16.5 USD) for 2 large, thin-crust, delicious pizzas.
On the other hand, we made the mistake of eating pizza in a place near the Ponte Vecchio called Caffe Maioli. The slices of pizza were stiff and very expensive! (in fact, they have a very bad score in google reviews). I thought there could not be bad pizza in Italy, wrong! Another place I’ve read negative reviews about is Queen Victoria, near the Ponte Vecchio too. My experience there was not bad because we ordered slices of pizza to go. If if I remember correctly, the pizzas were €3.00 ($3.5 USD), and they were good. According to other sources, gelato is very expensive there.
Far from the tourist spots, you can find inexpensive gelato. In La Carraia gelateria you can order a gelato for as little as €1 euro. We ate gelato at least 3 times here. My favorite flavors were the pistacchio, ricotta e pera, and nocciola (hazelnuts). There is another gelateria that they recommended to us called gelateria Dei Neri. The gelatos were good and they had reasonable prices, however, I liked those of La Carraia more.
Florence will not leave you indifferent. It has a lot of character and there are countless things to see and do. The hard part is deciding what to do in Florence within the time that we have. I was here for a month, and yet I feel it was not enough. Organize your time according to your interests, surely you will enjoy it a lot.
If you want to make day trips to cities near Florence in Tuscany, it’s also possible since there are several short distance options and accessible transportation to reach them. Check my posts Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa from Florence and A medieval city: A day trip to Siena from Florence
What do you think of my ideas about what to see and what to do in Florence? What would you add? Leave your comments below! ⇓