Wondering what to do in Florence Italy? Keep reading for ideas!
Ah Firenze! Everyone in my life told me that I would love Florence, and wow, they were right. This was the perfect place to kick off my first trip to Italy because it’s vibrant and beautiful – but it’s also not that big! You can walk pretty much anywhere you want to go, besides Tuscany, and even that is a short drive away.
Florence is known for its rich culture – nearly everywhere you look has wildly influential art, statues and architecture. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance, after all! We went in May, so it was busy but not overcrowded – and we quickly felt right at home walking on the quiet side streets or enjoying a spritz before dinner at an outdoor restaurant. It’s glamorous, but not pretentious. There is SO much to do, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It’s just lovely.
What To Do In Florence Italy
Do the Rick Steves Renaissance Walk Tour
Most people know who Rick Steves is, but not everyone knows that he has FREE PODCAST TOURS! Yes, you read that right! Adam and I discovered these on our last European adventure when we went to Barcelona and Lisbon. We loved them so much that we knew we would do the same in Florence and Rome.
On our first day in Florence, we did the Renaissance Walk Tour which not only helped us get our bearings in a new city, but it also showed us all of the major sights right away. The tour begins right at the Duomo and leads you down to end at the Ponte Vecchio, with tons of of interesting historical tidbits along the way. We especially loved that we were able to pause it if we wanted to take more time somewhere, say something to each other, or just get an espresso or gelato (or both!). I linked to his website above but I recommend going to your Podcasts app on your phone and searching there. That way you can download them right to your phone and you won’t need to use any of your data to access them when you’re abroad.
What To Do In Florence Italy – Stroll the Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio (‘old bridge’ in Italian), is an incredibly famous bridge over the Arno River. It has a ton of jewelry and souvenir vendors that are really fun to stroll past and check out. We also loved sitting on the ledge with a gelato while people watching. We even saw a proposal happen right in front of us!
Check out the Piazza del Duomo
I had seen many pictures of the Duomo before going in real life… but none of them do it justice. It sits right in the heart of Florence and will truly take your breath away. In addition to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the proper name for Florence’s Duomo), there is also the Battistero (Baptistry) and Giotto’s Belltower. Together, they create a beautiful piazza that I couldn’t get enough of. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it again. There’s nothing like standing there and looking at it in real life!! (This is a stop on the tour I mentioned above, but you’ll want to come back to soak it all in. I recommend going at different times of day! Evening was my favorite.)
Climb to the top of the Duomo and/or Bell Tower
I heard a few people say that the inside of the Cathedral is not as beautiful as the outside… but I had a few friends and family members recommend climbing the stairs to the very top, so we did that. I booked this tour for us to skip the lines and listen to some history as we made our way up the 463 steps to the top. It was seriously so cool to learn about the construction of the dome and then get to see Vasari’s ‘Last Judgement’ frescoes on it up close before getting to the very top. Once you’re outside, you get an awesome view of the whole city of Florence, too.
Our tickets also included entry to the Bell Tower, and since we were feeling great after our climb, we decided to climb that one immediately after. It was definitely an aggressive choice – our legs were burning and we were dripping sweat, but it was worth it. I might have even loved that view more, because you could see the Duomo in all it’s glory!
Visit the Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi is one of the most important art galleries in the entire world – and it’s right in the middle of Florence! It was built in 1765 and houses thousands of pieces of Renaissance art by legends like Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Carvaggio.
We went on a small group tour but I wish that we had just found skip-the-line tickets without a tour. Adam picked up on that and made fun of me for not being “a museum person” immediately after we left. To my defense, it was very crowded and I was a little worried about COVID – I was not going to let that virus ruin my first trip to Italy! But even without that defense, I think he’s kind of right. I like to take museums at my own pace, and I got antsy when we hung around certain pieces longer than I would have liked. Other people in our tour LOVED it though, so take that with a grain of salt.
See The David at Accademia Gallery
Okay I know this is technically another museum – but it is so different and a MUST STOP IN FLORENCE. I was expecting The David to be interesting… but WOW. It gave me full body chills to see it in real life. It is spectacular. Accademia is a tiny little gallery, but the main room is not to be missed. A few of Michelangelo’s unfinished works line each side, showing various stages of figures within marble. After walking past all of those for context, I was overwhelmed with awe as we stood in front of the finished David. We got skip-the-line tickets, but we did not join a tour for this one. Instead, we opted for Rick Steves’ 25 minute podcast tour which was perfect.
Take a day trip to Tuscany
Tuscany is a dream land that is RIGHT outside of Florence, so if you’re there already, I highly recommend taking at least a few hours to sip some wine while looking over the rolling hills and expansive vineyards. A friend raved about the Super Chianti Tour with Grape Tours so that’s what we booked, and it did not disappoint. It was an 8 hour tour of the Chianti and Chianti Classico wine regions. We went to 2 different wineries for tours and tastings, walked around the tiny village of Greve, and ate lunch at Dario Cecchini’s restaurant, Panzano.
If you’ve never heard of Dario, he is a legendary butcher – he was even a guest judge on the Season 17 finale of Top Chef! This meal is pretty much ALL meat though, so just keep that in mind. I don’t eat red meat, but we still booked this tour because I really wanted Adam to have Bistecca alla Fiorentina – and since I wouldn’t split it with him at restaurants, this was the perfect opportunity for him to taste it!!
Enjoy the view from Piazzale Michelangelo
On our way back into Florence, our Tuscany tour guide stopped at Piazzale Michelangelo so we could see the view – and everyone was right. It IS the best view! You get a complete panoramic view of the whole city – it’s so beautiful. The piazza itself is really lively with copies of Michelangelo’s sculptures all around. If we didn’t get dropped off there, we were planning on walking or taking the bus up there. A lot of people recommended sitting on the famous steps with a bottle of wine as you watch the sun set. We’ll do that next time 😉
Stroll around Boboli Gardens
We had some free time one afternoon but we didn’t want to tour Pitti Palace, so we went to the Boboli Gardens right behind it! While I don’t think this is a “must” like many other things on this list, the gardens are undeniably beautiful and a fun place to walk around on a nice day!
You could say this about anywhere in Italy, but after going to Positano and Rome, I am of the opinion that Florence has the best gelato in the world. IT IS SO GOOD!!!! It’s also everywhere. There are gelaterias on literally every single corner… Adam was in actual heaven. Every single place we went to had incredible gelato, but our personal favorites were Perche No and La Carraia. I will now be dreaming of caffe gelato in a cone for the rest of the day…
Enjoy apertivo every night!
Apertivo is probably my favorite Italian ritual, especially on a beautiful evening! It’s basically just a pre-dinner drink around 6 or 7pm. Some places offer a complimentary assortment of nuts and crunchy snacks. Others don’t, but we didn’t mind ordering a bruschetta or caprese appetizer to hold us over.
Where To Eat & Drink In Florence Italy
Like any Italian city, there are SO MANY incredible restaurants to choose from. That being said, I recommend doing some research beforehand and setting up some reservations. I mixed up our reservation one night and the only place we could get in quickly was a restaurant right next to the Duomo. The ambiance was lovely but and it was by far our least impressive meal of the whole trip. Plus restaurants near the tourist spots tend to cost more, too. Just a few things to keep that in mind!
If you can only eat one thing in Florence (besides gelato!), it should be the Fiocchetti di pera in salsa di taleggio e asparagi at 4 Leoni. I cannot tell you how many people told me to get a reservation here with strict instructions to order this pear pasta. Adam wasn’t convinced (pear in pasta?!), so he ordered risotto but everything changed when my plate came out. It was love at first bite for me, and after I gave one to Adam to try, he immediately waived our waiter down to place an order for another plate of it. Don’t worry, we finished it all 😉
La Giostra was another restaurant that came highly recommended – just don’t forget to make a reservation because it’s definitely a popular spot! The best way to describe this restaurant is romantic. It’s cozy and friendly, dark with string lights and greenery on the walls and ceilings. They’re known for their HUGE steak dishes that are meant to be split, but since I don’t eat beef, Adam got a smaller cut and I ordered branzino after we split their pear pasta (amazing but 4 Leoni’s was better!). We ended the meal making our way through a bottle of limoncello they brought to us when we were expecting 2 tiny glasses 😂 A truly perfect date night.
La Terrazza is a swanky rooftop bar in Hotel Continentale. We totally lucked out by showing up right when 2 seats became available, but we watched other people after us get turned away – so if you can make a reservation beforehand, I recommend doing so. The drinks are pricey, but you’re really paying for the ambiance and view of the Ponte Vecchio. I had a negroni, Adam had a fancy bourbon cocktail, and we ate their complimentary snacks while watching the sun set over the river. So fun.
We almost gave up on All’antico Vinaio because there was always a huge line, but when we found ourselves hungry around 11:30am, I convinced Adam to try again – and there was NO LINE AT ALL! I had the VEG 5 which came with pecorino cream, cream of truffle, spicy eggplant (!!!) and tomato. And then I added prosciutto to it because the prosciutto in Italy is on a completely different level. SO GOOD.
Where To Stay in Florence
We were lucky enough to stay at the St. Regis in Florence and it was an actual DREAM. From the moment we first walked in, we were charmed by the impeccable service, the rich history, and the gorgeous decor.
This hotel is definitely not a budget choice, but it is a part of Marriott, so you can use Marriott Bonvoy points towards your stay! We also LOVED the location. It’s right on the Arno River and a short walk from all of the sights – 10 minutes to the Ponte Vecchio, 15 minutes to the Duomo – easy peasy!
What I Wore in Florence
You can shop through everything I wore in Florence below!
PS. You might also like my Guide to Positano, too!