The cradle of the Renaissance, Florence attracts countless visitors all year round. There are, clearly, things that everyone wants to see when they visit. These are likely to be the same things you’ve got on your list, too, so the first thing to realize is that a little planning can help you avoid at least the worst of the crowds. No one wants to spend their vacation waiting in lines to see art, even if it’s great art. Your time is more valuable than that. Of course, there’s more to Florence than just art, but visiting this city without at least visiting a couple museums would kind of be missing the point.
Here are some of the things to do in Florence, from the big sights everyone wants to check off to some lesser known things that might help make your visit here more memorable and unique. Click on the links below to read more about each attraction on this list.
>> Please note that I’ve talked about the long lines in Florence, but a reader has also pointed me in the direction of a way to buy last-minute museum tickets. It’s still not a guarantee, and I still recommend buying tickets in advance if you can, but the secret ticket window is another alternative!
Florence’s Top Sights & Attractions
- Uffizi Gallery – One of the oldest and most famous museums on earth, and a pain to get into if you’re not a planner. Learn how to avoid waiting in five-hour lines.
- Galleria dell’Accademia – See Michelangelo’s David in a building designed to glorify the masterpiece.
- Bargello – The Bargello is to sculpture what the Uffizi is to painting.
- Duomo – Florence’s cathedral is mostly empty inside, but the dome is well worth climbing and the piazza in front of the church is always bustling.
- Giotto’s Tower – The Duomo’s bell-tower, a climb to the top provides great views of the city.
- Baptistery – Most famous for one set of doors, which are now replicas (the originals are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo).
- Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – This is where you’ll find the stuff that used to be inside the Duomo.
- Palazzo Vecchio – One-time residence of Medici family.
- Piazza della Signoria – This piazza sits in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and is an excellent spot for people-watching.
- Ponte Vecchio – The most famous bridge spanning the Arno River, full of gold and jewelry shops.
- Pitti Palace – One-time residence of Medici family (after they left the Palazzo Vecchio).
- Boboli Gardens – The once private gardens behind the Pitti Palace.
- Piazzale Michelangelo – This piazza boasts some of the best city views anywhere; it’s where you’ll need to go to get that perfect postcard picture of Florence.
- Santa Croce – Houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo, and a memorial to Dante.
- Orsanmichele – This one-time granary was converted into a church for the Medici, and has some great sculpture.
- Santa Maria Novella – Right near the main train station, this church has some interesting art.
- Medici Chapels – Has two Medici tombs designed by Michelangelo.
- San Marco Museum – This monastery has some amazing works by Fra Angelico, as well as the room where the crazy monk Savonarola once lived.
Day Trips from Florence
- Siena – This uber-charming town is a good day-trip, and an even better overnight stay. (You can read more about all your options – and find out which is the best one – for getting from Florence to Siena.)
- Pisa – It’s more than the leaning tower of Pisa, or so they say.
- Chianti wine region – Wine tours can be arranged if you’d like to see where your favorite vino actually comes from.
- Lucca – A quieter walled city than Siena, it’s easily visited in a day and you can even walk or bike along the path atop the city walls.
- Assisi – A popular pilgrimage site, it’s a lovely city to visit regardless of your faith.
- Fiesole – Just outside Florence, this is a nice option for accommodation if you want to escape the city at night, or a nice half-day trip to explore the hilltop town.
- Cortona – Frances Mayes has made this town famous, and yet it’s still charming and pleasant.
- San Gimignano – The city of many towers doesn’t have a train station, but it’s worth the round-trip bus fare to spend a day wandering its cobbled streets.
- Arezzo – This historic city was once an Etruscan capital and is historically famous for its gold and jewelry.
- Vinci – Leonardo’s home town, notable for its Museo di Vinci (and not much more).
Other Fun Stuff to Do, See and Eat in Florence
- Gelato – Florence has some of Italy’s best gelato, so sample widely.
- Leather markets – Tuscany is famous for its inexpensive leather goods, and Florence’s outdoor leather markets are great places to explore.
- Florence Scavenger Hunt – This is a guided tour like no other, that’ll take you to hidden corners of Florence while you search for clues.
- Michelangelo’s House – He never actually lived here, but he owned the place.
- Museum of the History of Science – Even interesting for non-science geeks, it’s a collection of historic clocks, maps, telescopes and other scientific gadgets. Also houses a finger of Galileo.
Also, be sure to check out my list of weird and wonderful Florence sights, too!
Photo by: Allen Castillo