So full disclosure, this post is a long time coming, and by a long time I mean this post has been patiently waiting for me to write it since September 2015. To be fair, we’ve been busy with new jobs, a move to a new city, being in a few weddings, and oh about 5 other vacations. So why, might you ask am I inspired to finally finish this post? Well, my best friend is planning her first trip to Europe and one of her stops is Firenze. Since I’ve been dusting off all my tips for her, I figured it was time to share them with the rest of the world too!
So you may be thinking, where the heck is Firenze? Firenze is the Italian name for the city of Florence, which is an important thing to know since that’s how it will be referred to on signs, train stops, etc. So now that you know where we are talking about, let’s get in to some tips. First off, I have to admit that I am not one of Florence’s die hard fans. To be honest, it’s a bit too touristy for me, and by touristy I’m talking Times Square at Christmas. But, just because it probably doesn’t make my list of top 5 Italian cities, doesn’t mean I’m never going back and also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include it in your vacation. For starters, there is a reason why it’s super touristy, it’s got a ton going for it. If you are looking for beautiful churches, amazing works of artwork, and great food & wine Florence definitely has you covered. It also has some kick butt gardens and is a pretty good home base when it comes to taking day trips into the Tuscan countryside. Since Florence is such a great home base, I definitely recommend staying at least two nights, but you could easily stay a full week and not run out of things to do. Below are my top 5 must do’s while in Florence:
- Visit a Church (or 5) – Florence is known as the cradle of the Renaissance, which means that a lot of really famous artists spent time here. So what does that have to do with visiting churches you might be asking, well those artists spent a lot of time making churches beautiful. If you only have time to visit one church, then you obviously need to visit the Duomo which is not only one of the prettiest churches in Italy, but has a dome that is truly an engineering marvel. While the Duomo is definitely a must see, my favorite church was actually Santa Croce which was absolutely gorgeous inside and is the final resting place of a quite a few famous Italians including Galileo and Michelangelo.
- Take a Tour of Palazzo Vecchio – While you could easily walk around this museum on your own, I highly recommend taking either the Secret Passages or The Secrets of “Inferno” tour. You can find more information on both here. Both of these tours give you a chance to go behind the scenes, or in this case walls, and learn more about the history of the museum and view it from some very unique perspectives.
- Enjoy Local Food & Wine – Before heading to Florence, I asked for some inside information from a friend who had studied abroad on where to eat. Her suggestions were to get a panino at All’antico Vinaio, the blueberry steak at Acqua al 2, and gelato at Vivoli. All three were some of the best food I had my entire trip, and since then I have found a copy cat recipe of the blueberry steak sauce at Acqua al 2 and it’s become a family favorite especially when served with a great steak and delicious Tuscan wine.
- Spend time at the Boboli Gardens – I had just about given up on Florence by my third day there, that was until I went to the Boboli Gardens. The gardens are on the opposite side of the river from most of Florence’s attractions and you can kill two birds with one stone by crossing the river at another one of Florence’s attractions, Ponte Vecchio. While the gardens may be slightly off the beaten track, you will get to enjoy fewer crowds, beautifully landscaped gardens, and one of the best views of the city. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes though since the gardens are on a very steep hill.
- Take a Day Trip – My favorite part of my trip to Florence was actually a day trip we took through Walk About Florence called the Best of Tuscany Tour. The tour gave us a chance to see 3 Tuscan cities and have lunch at an agrotourismo. You can find out more about what our day trip included here. Other great day trip possibilities are a wine tour of Tuscany or trips to Cinque Terre or Bologna (one of my favorite Italian cities and home some of the best Italian food).
If you’ve been inspired to book a trip to Florence, here are a few pro tips to help you make the most of your trip:
- Get a Head Start through Books, Movies, & TV Shows – On our trip to Charleston & Savannah, I learned that reading books or watching tv shows/movies set in the city you are traveling to can really help you make the most of your time there. Here are a few of my recommendations to get you ready for Florence: Medici: Masters of Florence (Netflix), Inferno by Dan Brown (either the book or the movie), Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline Murphy, and Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King.
- Get the FirenzeCard – The FirenzeCard gives you access to a number of churches and museums, but even if you don’t think you’ll visit enough of them to warrant the cost (85€ for 72 hours) the fact that this card lets you skip the lines definitely makes it worth it since it can save you hours of standing in line.
- Keep Room in your Budget to Buy Leather Goods – Florence is known for it’s leather so be sure to set aside some funds for a new purse, brief case, wallet, or belt. The prices are fairly reasonable considering the quality, but I’d still budget at least $100 to be on the safe side.
- Reserve Tickets in Advance for the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery – If seeing Michelangelo’s David (Accademia) or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (Uffizi) are on your must see list in Florence, don’t forget to reserve your tickets a few months in advance to have the best chance of getting to see them on the day & time that works best for your schedule.
Let us know what your favorite things to do, see, & eat in Florence are and if you have any other insider tips on how to make the most of a visit to one of Italy’s most well known cities.