Florence is one of the most famous and magical cities in Italy and with must-see sights like the Duomo and Michelangelo’s David it’s not hard to understand why. I visited Florence for the first time in 2008 and immediately fell in love with the city. At that point I already knew that to graduate in Hotel Management, I had to do a traineeship in a hotel. I really wanted to go to Italy, so during my vacation I also visited some hotels and did some networking. Luckily it paid off! I was offered a position at the Reservations & Front Office departments of Hotel Helvetia & Bristol. One year later I travelled back to Florence, for what was going to be the experience of a lifetime. Today, I still cherish the best memories about the five months I spend in the Renaissance capital of the world. Florence quickly became my favorite city and will forever hold a very special place in my heart. This year, I finally travelled back with my bestie Petra from Sprinkles on a Cupcake for a fun girls trip. Just like I did with the guests of the Helvetia & Bristol Hotel back in the days, I’d shared with her my favorite landmarks, viewing points, cafes and restaurants. We obviously had a blast!
I feel that 3 days is the absolutely minimum to explore the city. Three days you gives you the perfect amount of time to explore the highlights, the art, different neighborhoods and some hidden gems, without feeling too stressed. But even if you spend a whole week or two in the city, you will barely scratch the surface. But enough talking, why don’t I share with you guys my suggestions for an epic city trip to Florence?
Say hello to David at the Galleria dell’Accademia
The Galleria dell’Accademia was originally an art school and is now one of Florence’s most important museums. This mostly because the original David by Michelangelo stands in this museum. The statue was first placed in the Piazza della Signoria, but to protect it from the weather, David was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia. However, if you are not planning on visiting the museum, you will still find replicas of the David at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio at Piazza della Signori and at the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint.
Admire the sights at the Piazza del Duomo
You haven’t been to Florence, if you haven’t spent some time at the glorious Piazza del Duomo. Some of Florence’s most important landmarks are located on this square. The Santa Maria del Fiore is the symbol of Florence and my favorite cathedral in the world. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, because of the pink and green tones and unique dome made by Filippo Brunelleschi. It’s quite the climb up, but once there, you will be rewarded with the most spectacular views of Florence.
The Campanile or Giotto’s Bell Tower is right next to the dome and provides the same breath-taking views of the city below.
Another main sight upon the Piazza del Duomo are the bronze doors on the Baptistery of San Giovanni, also called the “Gates of Paradise”. While undoubtedly impressive, these are actually replicas, the actual doors having been moved inside the Duomo Museum.
While entrance to the inside of the Duomo is free of charge, you’ll need to purchase tickets for all other landmarks. These include Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni and the Duomo Museum. I highly recommend to buy your tickets in advance online.
People watch at the Piazza della Republica
The Piazza della Repubblica is my favorite square in Florence. At our apartment there was no garden or terrace, so quite often I went to this lovely piazza to enjoy the outdoors and some yummy gelato. Piazza della Republica was created at the end of the nineteenth century as part of an ambitious project to redevelop the historic center of Florence. Its most impressive sight is the Arcone, a triumphal arch.
Rub the nose of the Fontana del Porcellino at the Mercato Nuovo
This bronze boar is one of the most famous statues in Firenze. Personally, I never pay much attention to the little piggy, as I’m way more interest in buying leather goodies at the Mercato Nuovo behind it. #sorrynotsorry That said; there are two traditions you can try while visiting Fontana del Porcellino. The first one is, when you place a coin into his mouth and let it fall to the fountain below, it’s said to bring you good luck. The second one is to scrub the snout of the boar to ensure your return the Florence.
Take in the sights at the Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is Firenze’s most beautiful square. In medieval times it was the political center of the city and the entire Italian Renaissance.
One of the most memorable buildings on the square is the Palazzo Vecchio, which was the seat of power during the reign of the Medici family. In front of the palace you’ll find a replica of the David of Michelangelo. Inside, you will be able to experience the full splendor of the Medici’s and all those who followed them ruling the city. The Salone dei Cinquecento (the hall of the Five Hundred) is absolutely magical. Take your time and stroll through the endless corridors on the second floor, where you will find the former living quarters of the priori and of course the world-famous Hall of Geographical Maps.
Next to Palazza Vecchio lays the Loggia dei Lanzi. This open air sculpture museum was built between 1376 and 1382 to house the public ceremonies in the Florentine Republic. One of the most famous sculptures is that Perseo holding the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini.
Another eye-catcher on the square is the Neptune Fountain, which was the first major public fountain to be erected in Florence.
Also located on Piazza della Signoria is the Gucci Garden. This combination of restaurant, boutique and museum is housed in the elegant Palazzo della Mercanzia. Unfortunately the museum was undergoing some renovations, so we weren’t able to visit it. We did visit the boutique and the café Giardino 25 though.
Visit the Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery is Florence’s most wonderful museum and a must-visit while you’re in the city. It houses works from Renaissance masters like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and my favorite painting The birth of Venus from Botticelli. The Uffizi was built between 1560-1580 by order of Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici by Giorgio Vasari to house the administrative and legal offices of Florence. Cosimo’s son, Francesco, first turned the upper floor of the palace into an art gallery. After this, the collection was more and more enriched into the large museum it is today.
The Uffizi is one of the most popular landmarks in Florence, so if you like to visit the museum, make sure to buy the tickets in advance online. Otherwise you might end up waiting in line for a very long time or worse not get tickets at all.
Stroll across the Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio is for sure one of the most famous bridges in the world and another sight you can’t miss during your trip to Florence. Ponte Vecchio’s original construction dates back to 995. It’s the only bridge that wasn’t destroyed in World War II. There have been shops on Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially, there were all types of shops, including butchers and fishmongers. Nowadays Ponte Vecchio is full of goldsmiths and jewelers.
Marvel at the interior of the Palazzo Pitti & stroll through the Boboli Gardens
Across the Arno River lays the Palazzo Pitti. This large palace was owned by the Medici family and was the main residence for the ruling Tuscan families. Nowadays the palazzo is one of the largest museum complexes in Florence. It’s home to a Renaissance art museum, a silver museum, a gallery of modern art, a porcelain museum and Italy’s only museum dedicated to the history of clothing and fashion. Of the five I would recommend the Renaissance art museum, because, it’s located into the former royal quarters and the rooms are as remarkable as the paintings.
When the weather is nice, you should definitely spend some time at the Boboli Gardens, which are attached to the castle. It’s beautiful fountains and lovely sculptures make it one of Europe’s finest gardens.
Have a glass of wine at the Buchette del Vino
One of the most fun things to do in Florence, is to enjoy a glass of wine at one of the many wine windows. And yes, just as it sounds, these little arched windows in the outer walls of buildings allow passersby to stop and purchase a glass of wine from a bar or restaurant while standing on the street.
The buchette de vino are typical for Florence and were first introduced as a tax-free way for noble families to sell wine from the vineyards directly from their palaces. To minimize the contact with members of the lower classes, the nobles’ servants would wait by the window for a customer to knock and hand over their empty bottle, which would be taken to be filled with wine. The practice became a lifeline for the city during a Black Plague epidemic in the 17th century, but disappeared over the following centuries. During the COVID-19 pandemic many restaurants reopened these little portals to the street, safely selling beverages, sandwiches and gelato. Today, they’re a fun way to step back in time and experience a uniquely Florentine tradition.
You can find the Buchette del Vino all around the city, but most are located in the Santo Spirit neighborhood, which is often considered the bohemian heart of Florence.
Find a vintage photobooth
Another unique thing for Florence, is to get your picture taken at one of the vintage photobooths that are scattered around the city. The booths still use real film processing and provide such a lovely souvenir from the city. There are 6 different booths and you can find them at Via del Proconsolo, Piazza Stazione, Largo Fratelli Alinari, Via Santa Monaca, The Student Hotel and my favorite; Via dell’Agnolo.
It costs € 2 euro (coin) per photo strip and it takes about 4,5 minute to develop. So don’t be worried if it doesn’t print right away.
Stop and smell the roses at the Giardino delle Rose
The Giardino delle Rose is a beautiful rose garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo. It was designed in 1865 by Giuseppe Poggi. The garden is home to more than 350 varieties of roses. In addition to a beautiful view upon the city, it also offers a permanent exhibition of sculptures by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon. The garden is free to visit and is a great place to have a peaceful break from the bustling city life.
Watch the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is the perfect place if you want a panoramic view of Florence and don’t want to climb any of the towers. On the square you’ll also find a bronze copy of the David of Michelangelo. Piazzale Michelangelo is a very popular spot to watch the sunset. When the evening falls, there’s a very nice atmosphere. Local musicians are playing music and everyone is just dancing and singing along. We really loved the ambiance there.
Check out the Basilica of Santa Croce
The Basilica of Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence. Many of Florence’s brightest stars, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, were buried here. Because of this the basilica is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories.
Visit the Santa Maria Novella Church
This lovely church is often overlooked by tourists. And that’s very much a blessing in disguise as you’ll hardly ever have to fight through the crowds here. That said it remains one of Florence’s best-known sights and for sure worth a visit. The interior holds extraordinary works of art including Masaccio’s Trinità, Ghirlandaio’s fresco cycle in the Tornabuoni Chapel and Giotto’s Crucifix, among others.
Buy a unique perfume at the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy
The Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy & Perfumery is the oldest still running perfumery in the world. It was founded in 1221 by Dominican monks. The origin of the historic pharmacy is directly tied to the history of the Santa Maria Novella Church. It was common for monasteries to have private gardens with various types of medicinal herbs that were used to create early forms of medications. And although those treatments were initially reserved for the monks, by the 14th century news of the healing qualities started to spread outside the walls of the monastery. The Santa Maria Novella perfumed waters were used for all kinds of medicinal treatments, including to fight off the plague in 1381.
The Historical Shop, which you can still admire today, was a gift from a wealthy Florentine merchant as a thanks for being healed by the Dominican friars. The store is absolutely gorgeous and filled with beautiful flower decorations.
Iconic Cafés in Florence
La Ménagère – For sure the most Instagrammable café of Florence. La Ménagère doesn’t disappoint in terms of decor and atmosphere. It’s a concept store consisting of a café, flower store, home boutique and restaurant. We went there for breakfast and absolutely loved it.
Gucci Giardino 25 – Café and cocktail bar from the designer brand Gucci. It’s located upon the gorgeous Piazza della Signora, just across the Gucci Museum & Osteria. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a lovely coffee break, afternoon tea or cocktail.
Caffè Gilli – Gilli is one of those legendary Florentine cafés. It’s located in Piazza della Republica. Over the years I have tried the gelato, pastry, coffee and the Cantucci with Vin Santo. Everything is so good. And although prices are a bit higher, you really get what you pay for; delicious food and beverages, a lovely historic ambiance and fantastic people watching.
Lunch & Dinner
All’Antico Vinao – The most famous panini shop in Florence. We wanted to see what the hype is all about. And believe me, it did not disappoint. I heard that lines can get a bit long sometimes, but we were actually lucky. I had the La Boss panini with Prosciutto, Pecorino Cheese and Truffle Cream and it really was the best panini I’ve ever had.
Note di Vino – Another great panini store we stumbled on during our city walks. It’s located near the Santa Croce Basilica. The staff is very friendly and there’s a great ambiance. I really loved my Panini with mortadella. The charchuterie boards also looked really promising.
Il Mercato Centrale – Already one of favorites spots since I was living in Florence. Besides buying fresh produce there, you also find a lovely food court on the second floor.
La Bussola – If there is one restaurant in Florence that you should try in Firenze it’s La Bussola. This truly is one of my favorite restaurants EVER! La Bussola is located in the heart of Florence, on the beautiful Porta Rosa. During my internship we had dinner here every Friday night and any other chance I got! Over the years, I have send all my friends and followers, that were visiting Florence and were asking for recommendations, there. And guess what; they all loved it as much as I did, so that must count for something right?! During my latest trip I couldn’t wait to eat at La Bussola again, and I was so happy to find out (mostly taste), that it was still as amazing as I remembered.
Buca Mario – Has been proudly serving the typical Tuscan cuisine since 1886. The restaurant is located in a sixteenth-century buca. In Florence, buche were typical cellars situated beneath imposing historic palazzos often owned by aristocratic families. They were used to store salted meats, ham, salamis and wine. The restaurant is also very popular with lots of famous people, Elon Musk, Stanley Tucci, Travis Fimmel, Alexander Ludwig are only a few of Buca Mario’s guests. While we were dining at the restaurant we didn’t spot any celebs, but we really enjoyed our delicious Cheese plater and homemade Cappellaci filled with Ricotta Cheese and Spinach and Tuscan Meat Sauce. Both were so delicious!
Gelateria La Carraia – Many consider this as one of the best gelaterias in Florence. They have two locations: the original on the southside of the Arno River across the Ponte Alla Carraia and the other one near the Basilica di Santa Croce.
Vivoli Gelateria – is Florence’s oldest gelateria. Since 1930 the same family creates and produces homemade ice creams with high quality ingredients and with a lot of passion handed down to the 4th generation. Try there Affogato al Caffé. So yummy!
Where to stay?
Location is key when it comes to where to stay in Florence since getting around on foot is the best way to explore the city. Therefore I would recommend to search for accommodations within the historic center.
Mid-range – Novella House is located inside an 18th century palace and walking distance to all mayor landmarks. Our room was very spacious and had the most gorgeous ceilings. In terms of facilities this accommodation is a bit basic, but we didn’t really mind that, as we didn’t spent much time on our hotel room anyways.
Luxury – If you are looking for a more luxurious option, I would recommend staying at Hotel Helvia & Bristol, a five star hotel located in the heart of the city. Steeped in history and glamour, Helvetia & Bristol has been enchanting guests since 1885. It’s also the hotel, where I did my internship back in the day, so I have to recommend this one right?! There are two wonderful restaurants and a bar that offer tons of culinary experiences. Hotel Helvetia & Bristol also houses the largest luxury spa in the historic center. The staff is also absolutely wonderful! I know I’m probably a bit biased, as some of my friends are still working there! 😉
• Amerigo Vespucci Airport is located 4 km’s from the city center of Florence, but air services are restricted. Brussels Airlines flies to Amerigo Vespucci.
• Galileo Galilei Airport (Pisa Airport), is located upon 85 km’s from Florence, but is used much more as low cost airlines like Ryanair and easyJet fly here. The easiest way to travel to Florence from Pisa is the PisaMover and train. This high-speed automated vehicle takes you from Pisa Airport to the Pisa Central station in five minutes and runs every day from 6am to midnight. From Pisa Station there are multiple trains per hour to Florence Santa Maria Novella (SMN) train station. You can check-out the departure times upon the Tren Italia website.
• Currency: Euro (€)