The 2024 Insider Guide To Florence - from Must-Sees to Hidden Gems

Wednesday, 30 Aug 2023 - 16 mins read

Last modified on January 6, 2024

by Stefania

Florence is home to some of the most renowned examples of Renaissance art and architecture in the world. It’s also the capital of Italy’s Tuscany wine region and effortlessly romantic no matter how you see it. From centuries-old streets to modern restaurants serving innovate cuisine, Florence is truly a city like no other. Explore the best of Florence with our insider tips.

Planning (or thinking about) a trip to Florence, and not sure where to begin? Our guide to Florence is perfect if you’re interested in traveling to Florence but aren’t sure where to begin. You’ll learn essential basics on:
When to visit and how many days to spend in Florence
Transportation (getting around) in Florence
Must-see sights, must-try food & must-have experiences in Florence
Shopping
• And more!

When To Visit Florence And How Long To Stay

While there’s no ‘wrong’ time to visit Florence per se, we highly recommend planning a trip for the spring or fall seasons. That said, December is also a beautiful time to visit, what with the vibrant holiday decorations; just be prepared to brave the cold, as it can get quite chilly in winter.
Of course, if you plan to spend a lot of time indoors (think museums and churches), weather may play a less important role compared to crowd sizes. Speaking of crowds, off-season travel is your best bet for avoiding too many fellow tourists. It can be quite cool in temperature until April and outdoor seating in restaurants typically begin towards the end of spring, so these are also things to keep in mind.

We suggest planning at least 3 full days in Florence (a fourth is ideal). This will allow you to make the most of the city.
Remember, Florence is known for its art galleries, so it’s important to be aware of how long it actually takes to visit a museum. You might think that you can hit up all of the major museums in a day, but you would be dead wrong. A stroll through an art gallery while truly appreciating the works of art on display could take anywhere up to 4-5 hours of a day and museums aren't open 24/7, so it is important to plan accordingly if you wish to visit the famed museums.

Transportation To And Within Florence

The tiny but busy Amerigo Vespucci Airport is in Peretola, about three miles west of central Florence. It handles some 70 flights a day, both domestic and inter-European. There are no intercontinental flights, but the airport is well-connected with the major European hubs. With an airport located in close proximity and train station situated in the center of the city, Florence is probably the most easily accessible city in Italy, perhaps second only to Venice.

Florence's centro storico, or historic center, where most of the major sights can be found, is tiny and very foot friendly. Taxis cannot be hailed in the street in Florence. You must either pick one up at a taxi stand (the most centrally located stands are in Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Santa Trinita, Santa Maria Novella train station, Piazza San Marco) or call one by phone (39-055-4798).

Florence’s Must-See Sights

As the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is a never-ending cultural feast. One of the fascinating things about the city of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Brunelleschi is the way the sacred and the secular coexist. For every art-packed church like Santa Croce or Santa Maria Novella, there's a proud monument to the city's ruling Medici dynasty (Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery) and its wealthy merchant and banking class (Orsanmichele, Palazzo Pitti).

Obviously, you'll want to check out the iconic masterpieces like Michelangelo's David (at the Accademia) and Botticelli's Birth of Venus (at the Uffizi), but try to make time for less visited but equally worthwhile Florence museums like the Bargello or the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, as well as excursions to outlying sights like Fiesole or San Miniato al Monte.

Reserve ahead. Lines at the main galleries (especially the Uffizi and the Accademia) can be extremely long and tiresome, especially during high season. Advance booking is advisable to save valuable time.

Historic Center Of Florence

An official UNESCO World Heritage Site, Florence’s beautiful city center houses the works of Michelangelo and many other Renaissance artists; The Santa Croce, Piazza della Signoria, and the Uffizi are located here.

Florence Cathedral

Perhaps Florence’s most iconic landmark, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore features a marble facade and an ‘octagonal’ Renaissance dome. The masterpiece of a cathedral began construction in 1294 and wasn’t completed until 1436.

Galleria Degli Uffizi

Don’t leave town without entering the Galleria degli Uffizi. It houses the famous paintings of Botticelli, including "Primavera" and "Nascita di Venere".

Ponte Vecchio

Florence's oldest, most iconic bridge vies with the Duomo for favorite city landmark. The tiny shops lining the Ponte Vecchio were once home to the city butchers and fishmongers, who use to dump the rotting leftovers into the river. Because of the smell, in 1593 Ferdinando I de' Medici decreed that they should be replaced with goldsmiths, which remain to this day.

Palazzo Vecchio

Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria, the Palazzo Vecchio is a fortified palace from the Middle Ages featuring Romanesque and Renaissance architecture.

Piazza Della Signoria

You’ll know when you’ve stumbled upon the Piazza della Signoria; the square is at the heart of the city and in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Top Local Delicacies To Try

If Florence is one of the stops on your Italy vacation, don’t forget to sample the local cuisine. The fresh ingredients and amazing flavors are to die for, simultaneously rich and simple. You will of course find pasta and pizza, but it's Tuscan fare that rules the kitchens here (think bean and bread soups, steak, wild boar, duck, rabbit, and tripe). And if you think that Florence's culinary repertoire has something of a French flavor . . . that's because it was Caterina de' Medici who wanted her Florentine cooks to follow her to Paris when she became Queen of France in the 16th century.

Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini e Tartufo
You’ll see many different types of pasta throughout Florence and tagliatelle is one of the most traditional. It’s a thin, flat, and long pasta usually served in a mushroom sauce with pieces of vegetables. It also contains truffle and porcini mushrooms.

Pappardelle al Cinghiale
This is a flat, wide pasta that is served with a sauce like ragu and wild boar (cinghiale) meat.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Move over, vegetarians. The Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a very large cut of t-bone steak that is grilled over an open fire and served rare.

Lampredotto
Consider this your go-to medieval, Florentine sandwich with thinly-sliced and seasoned offal.

Gelato
Really no explanation needed. Gelato is Italian ice cream and Florence has some of the best gelato found in the country.

Tagliere
When you see Tagliere on the menu, expect a meat and cheese platter. It’s a popular choice for a light meal or snack and best shared with friends before dinnertime.

Cantuccini
This is a type of Italian biscotti (biscuits) made with almond.

Must-Try Food And Drink

Florence's dining scene used to be as unchanging as the stone curls on the head of Michelangelo's David. There were humble workers' trattorias and high-end, white-linen restaurants, and that was it. Now there's a whole spectrum of wine bars (enoteche) in between. The best Tuscan food is simple and relies on fresh, quality ingredients prepared without rich sauces, like the famous T-bone bistecca fiorentina, from grass-fed Chianina cattle.

Lungarno 23
Opened in June 2009, this beef-oriented restaurant on the riverside Lungarno road, just upstream from the Ponte Vecchio, makes for a great alfresco summer dining experience. Despite its proximity to the main tourist routes, Lungarno 23 (the address, natch) is as much frequented by locals as visitors—perhaps because it's set back from the street in one of Florence's Liberty-style patrician villas. Inside the spacious main dining room with back wall bar, a chic trattoria ethos reigns; but Lungarno's real trump card is its outside terraced seating area overlooking the riverside promenade.

Nerbone and Other Tripe Stalls

Say "Florence," and Michelangelo and Dante are apt to spring to mind; one's thoughts are less likely to turn to tripe. Yet the bovine stomach, and more particularly the firm abomasum—known locally as lampredotto—has long been considered a delicacy in the Tuscan city. The courageous can sample it in Florence's tripe stalls, where knots of eaters can be seen hunched over paper-wrapped sandwiches. Some stands prepare a whole menu of tripe dishes, but the classic panino al lampredotto, a boiled-tripe sandwich dressed with salsa verde, is available at them all. One of the best is Nerbone, a stall inside the Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo. Other trippai include Orazio Nencioni, at the corner of the Loggia del Porcellino (the covered craft market on Via dei Cimatori), and Mario Albergucci, in Piazzale di Porta Romana.

Vestri
For a great selection of handmade chocolates in intense, unusual flavors, come to Vestri, located just north of Piazza Santa Croce. Based in Arezzo, Vestri takes the art of chocolate so seriously that in 2001 the family bought their own cocoa plantation in Santo Domingo. Chocolates are flavored with Earl Grey tea, nutmeg, or pepper, but there are plenty more prosaic flavors to choose from. Come in winter, and there will be steaming vats of hot chocolate (try the one spiked with bitter orange), while in summer, sinfully creamy ice cream (laced with mint, Cointreau, or fresh wild strawberries and white chocolate) is the order of the day.

Moyo
Located in the bustling area of Santa Croce, this bar is a great spot for an aperitif. The interior decor is refined and minimal, with high ceilings and wooden accents. Since it’s close to many attractions, Moyo makes for an easy mid-day break.

Cantina Barbagianni
Fill up on a hearty Tuscan meal at Cantina Barbagianni, an intimate cellar with innovative local cuisine and a rotating menu featuring dishes like pheasant in white-wine sauce with pears.

Trattoria Ruggero
Outside the city center, near Porta Romana, is one of the best trattorias in Florence, a must-try if you're in the area. It's a great value for the money, and lunch and dinner dishes are fresh and beautifully prepared. Its two small dining rooms are always full, so there's no lingering at the tables. Spaghetti alla carrettiera—literally "teamster's style"—has a delicious spicy tomato sauce. Other favorites are roast pork loin, roast rabbit, or, in season, porcini mushrooms.

Must-Have Experiences

The leading light of the Italian Renaissance needs no introduction. Indeed, a great many of Florence’s “musts” are so iconic that we would recognize them in our sleep. You don’t need us to tell you to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery (even though we do – how could we leave out such a tour de force). Here, in addition to guiding you to the obvious masterpieces, we have also hand-selected some must-have experiences to enjoy.

Support Local Artisans & Explore the Tradition of Craftsmanship

For the past thousand years, Florentines have excelled in couture, stationery production, goldsmithing, and leatherwork. The Oltrarno is a maze of narrow streets and alleys that you should explore for the myriad craft shops where expert artisans are still keeping alive age-old working methods. From traditional silk weaving, wood carving, and paper marbling to the quaint workshops of young goldsmiths and tiny vintage fashion stores, there's enough here for every taste and for most pockets.

Venture Into The Medici Chapels

A wander through the Medici Chapels, two structures at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, might reveal some of Michelangelo’s hidden drawings on the walls of a secret room. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the chapels were built as a place to celebrate the Medici family.

Indulge In A Wine Tasting In Nearby Tuscany Countryside

Combine excellent wines with incredible scenery on a private full-day Tuscany wine-tasting tour from Florence! Led by an expert driver-guide, travel through scenic back roads to the heart of Italy's Chianti region, famed for its ruby-red wines and rolling hills. Visit two exceptional wineries, sample local wines, enjoy a  farm to table lunch and explore San Gimignano before returning to Florence. A great option for those spending longer than 2 full days in the city.

Take A Traditional Tuscan Cooking Class

Learn the art of  traditional Tuscan cooking with an intimate class in the heart of Chianti Classico. You’ll try your hand creating delicious and healthy dishes using Extra Virgin Olive Oil! Of course, the best part is eating the fruits of your labor at the end of class.

Shopping

Most of Florence's designer fashion stores are located in or around a single street, Via Tornabuoni. A walk along this chic thoroughfare will take you past a glittering array of big-name boutiques: Armani, Versace, Prada, Emilio Pucci, Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint Laurent. Head west along Via della Vigna Vecchia from here, and there are more goodies, including Dolce & Gabbana and La Perla. A five-minute walk east brings you to Via Roma, which showcases Miu Miu, Fratelli Rosselli, and more Prada. For those prepared to travel 45 minutes outside the city to the hills of Tuscany, there is a fabulous outlet shop where you can fill your luggage with designer labels without emptying your bank account.

Assunta Anichini

In business since 1912, Anichini, located just north of the river, is the oldest children's clothing store in Florence. The rails and shelves are filled with exquisite garments for elegant little people from newborns to 12-year-olds. The most beautiful clothes are made in-house under Anichini's own label, and all the intricate embroidery and smocking is done by hand. This is the place to visit for bridesmaid dresses, christening robes, or fairy-tale party dresses in velvet, silk, organza, shantung, and Liberty lawn; traditional sailor suits in crisp cottons and linens; tiny sheepskin jackets and fabulous romper suits.

Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo's rags-to-riches story is the stuff of fairy tales; born into a poor family (one of 14 children) in Naples in 1898, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 16 and soon started making shoes for movie stars. He moved back to Florence in 1927 and opened his workshop in the formidable Palazzo Spini Feroni, which today houses the company's headquarters and this large store selling everything from the classic silk scarves and daintily bowed court shoes to more contemporary designs. Footwear fetishists should not miss a visit to the Shoe Museum which includes styles worn by the likes of Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe, plus documentation on Ferragamo's personal life story.

Giulio Giannini e Figlio

This bookbinding and paper making company was founded on these premises, just north of Giardino Di Boboli, in 1856 by the Giannini family; the business is still run from the workshop upstairs. While the papers used are not as original and interesting as those at Il Torchio, there is a great selection of leather and paper-bound books and albums, desk accessories, and greetings cards (look out for the charming Christmas versions).

Il Torchio

The art of decorative paper making originated in France several centuries ago, but a strong tradition of the craft has long flourished in Florence. Colored inks are added to a solution of gelatin and marine algae in a shallow tray; metal combs are then drawn through the liquid to create intricate marbled patterns. Il Torchio stocks some of the most interesting decorative paper in the city; you can see bookbinders at work and hunt for gifts among a fine selection of boxes, albums, stationery, address books, and other gift items.

Madova

Florence is a great place to buy gloves, and this tiny shop near the southern end of the Ponte Vecchio is one of the very best. The only glove shop in the city to produce its stock on site, it makes the exquisitely crafted guanti in a factory just behind the shop. Gloves come in every conceivable color from classic browns, black, and navy to the latest season's avocado-green and sizzling orange. Models range from simple, unlined styles to silk, wool, or cashmere-lined classics, from men's driving gloves to fabulously elaborate creations for serious dressing up.

Mercato Centrale

Florence's central produce market is a feast for the senses and a must for foodies. Occupying a 19th-century glass and iron structure, the market houses deli, meat, and poultry stalls (pretty gory if you are vegetarian) on the ground floor, while upstairs, fresh produce stalls provide displays of seasonal fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors. Look out for Mario Conti's stall on the ground floor near the main entrance, which is packed with olive oils, balsamic vinegar (some of them aged for 100 years), dried mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, condiments, and chutneys. Nearby is the Perini brothers' mouthwatering shop, where you can buy cheeses, hams, and salamis and have them vacuum-packed for the journey home (open Mon–Fri 7 a.m.–2 p.m., Sat only in winter). And don't miss a visit to Baroni around the corner, the best food shop in the market, with an extensive selection of wines, cheeses, salumi, and plenty more. They can ship your purchases anywhere in the world.

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella

Of the many herbalists' shops in Florence, this is the most famous. Occupying a stunning ex-pharmacy in an ancient palazzo with a frescoed 13th-century chapel, it's worth visiting for the setting alone. However, you will be hard put to resist some of the gorgeous goodies on offer, most notably what is generally acknowledged to be the best soap in the world. Many of the products (bath oils, body lotions, face creams, skin tonics, and so on) are still made to the Dominican monk, Angiolo Marchissi's barely modified 14th-16th-century recipes. Medicinal remedies include such curiosities as Aceto delle Sette Ladri (for fainting spells) and Acqua Antisterica (valued for its antispasmodic properties). You can now buy Santa Maria Novella scents all over the world, but nowhere can compare with the original store.

Arredamenti Castorina

Family-run Castorina was established in the early 1900s as a restorer of wood and gilding. Today, the craftsmen not only restore but also reproduce every imaginable kind of wooden ornament and decoration, cutting, inlaying, turning, gilding, and silvering wood in a series of crowded rooms at the back of a small, intriguing shop in the Oltrarno. Come here for a lavish Baroque picture frame, a sphinx paperweight, a replacement leg for your Regency table, chubby golden cherubs to decorate the house at Christmas, or the ornamental finials to finish off that four-poster bed.

Must-Visit Neighborhoods

There are no universally recognized district names in Florence—apart from the Oltrarno, the area south of the Arno River. Florentines generally just refer to a neighborhood by its nearest church, such as Santa Croce or San Lorenzo, which isn't that useful if you don't know where the church is. The best way to get to grips with the city's layout is to split it into five sections: The central hub—which is basically the small area of streets between the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio—and the four compass quadrants that radiate from it. The whole of the Oltrarno is south, Santa Maria Novella is west, San Lorenzo and San Marco are north, and Santa Croce is east.

Tricky house numbers. Florence has a unique address system: businesses like stores and workshops bear a parallel (and totally independent) set of numbers, marked in red. This is indicated with an “r” next to the number in their address.

Sant’Ambrogio
This is considered the top neighborhood in Florence to visit. Popular among locals and tourists alike, Sant’Ambrogio is perhaps the best location for both chic and traditional restaurants.

Santa Croce
In this neighborhood, you’ll find the site of the Basilica di Santa Croce and part of the historic center of the city of Florence. It is a great area for dining and relaxing at cafes, as well as visiting Florence’s major attractions

San Niccolò
If you’re a fan of art, you’ll find your ‘home away from home’ in San Niccolò. The neighborhood is full of modern, alternative art galleries and funky street art. It is popular with the locals and has the Piazzale Michelangelo.

San Frediano
This small neighborhood located on the river has many new restaurants as well as great nightlife options. Perfect for dinner followed by drinks.

Santo Spirito
Santo Spirito is a promising, new scene for young artists. Many markets are hosted in this neighborhood each month. It is off the beaten path and slowly becoming more popular among young travelers.

More of Nancy Aiello's top Florence recommendations:

The 27 Best Restaurants in Florence for 2024
Top 11 Must-Eat Street Food Places in Florence for 2024
Top 10 Things to Do in Florence with Kids in 2024
How To Spend A Day in Florence: from Breakfast to Dinner

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