Florence is an incredibly romantic and beautiful city. Full of art, fantastic food, culture, and architecture, this unforgettable Italian destination is a must stop for any vacation itinerary through Italy. Whether you’re here for your honeymoon, a foodie looking for the original Florentine steak, or are an art history buff, everyone is sure to love this city. Here’s our guide on the best things to do, see, and experience in Florence.
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGE
Italian is the national language. As a Latin language, some words might be able to be interpreted without previous knowledge of the language. We found most younger people and those who worked in hospitality spoke very good English. The only times where there was a lack of communication were among older Italian citizens or those further outside of the main tourist areas.
However, any language barrier can always be quickly remedied by using Google Translate. While you definitely don’t need to know Italian to enjoy Florence, here are a few words that are helpful to know while exploring this city:
KEY ITALIAN PHRASES TO KNOW
- Buongiorno – pronounced bwahn-joor-no – means Good day (said before sundown)
- Buonasera – pronounced bweh-nah-seh-rah – means Good evening (said after sundown)
- Arrivederci – pronounced ah-ree-vah-dehr-chee – means Goodbye
- Ciao – pronounced chow – means Casual hello/goodbye (Say only after someone says it to you first, otherwise, use the more formal greeting and goodbye of buongiorno, buonasera, and arrivederci)
- Grazie – pronounced graht-seh – means Thank you
THE BEST PARTS OF FLORENCE
- Sunset views from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Nothing can fully prepare you for how breathtaking the sunset views over the city from this perspective truly are.
- Spending time wandering through the Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno river). This more local side of Florence has so much character and all the Italian charm you could hope to find. Wandering doesn’t sound like a “thing to do,” but it’s one of the best things to do in Florence.
- Florence is the perfect launching pad for nearby day trips. While you need a few days in the city, you can easily take day trips to Siena, Pisa, Bologna, Parma, and Lucca, as well as various winery tours in the Tuscany region.
HOW SAFE IS FLORENCE?
We always feel safe when visiting Florence. While you should always use wisdom and caution in life and traveling, we felt at ease in the city. You’ll find more panhandlers in the central plazas near the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo. Generally, people aren’t pushy.
However, if you’re visiting the Galleria Academia, you’re sure to find “artists” selling their “paintings” (bad copies). They will try to persuade you to look and buy them, but if you even make eye contact with them or step near their paintings, they will try to put the art in your hand or in your bag and then declare they owe you for it. Walk around them and do not acknowledge them. Please don’t give them an opportunity to try to swindle you into buying their knock-off products.
As always, in crowded areas where tourists are known to meander, watch your pockets and don’t keep valuables anywhere people can easily take them. We know about the art mischief from experience, but other than that, we have never had any negative experiences with safety in Florence.
Italy uses the euro. If you’re wondering if you should bring cash or card, the answer is yes – both! Most nicer restaurants and larger stores accept cards. Still, you’ll almost always need cash for more local shops and smaller purchases of less than $30. I recommend using my favorite currency converter app to check the exchange rate when you go. This tool was also helpful when visiting smaller markets and asking the vendor, “how much?” (quanto? in Italian) They can type the number into the app like a calculator, and you can easily see the conversation rate there.
A helpful note about taking out foreign currency in cash:
The best practice (and cheapest) for having cash on hand in a new country is to go to your bank 5-10 business days before your trip and ask them for the new currency. Depending on your bank, this transaction will either be free or just a few dollars.
If you’re like us and realize the airplane tires hit foreign soil that we forgot to do this, then find an ATM to take out euros in cash! Yes, you can do this even with an international debit card and even some credit cards. There will typically be a small transaction fee along with the exchange rate. It’s still cheaper to take out cash this way than to go to a money exchange or Western Union.
ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO
As Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, there is plenty of art, museums, and grandeur to discover. Here are a few of the can’t-miss attractions and best things to do in the area:
- Visit the Uffizi Gallery. This world-renowned museum houses a vast collection of Renaissance art, including works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
- Climb the Duomo. This iconic cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Florence. The climb to the top is well worth the effort for the stunning views of the city.
- Watch the sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Nothing can fully prepare you for how breathtaking the sunset views over the city from this perspective truly are.
- Shop at the Mercato Centrale. This bustling market is perfect for finding fresh produce, meats, cheeses, local specialties, souvenirs, and gifts.
- Wander through the Pitti Palace. This former Medici royal palace is now a museum that houses a collection of art, furniture, and other artifacts from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. As you’re there, stroll through the gorgeous Boboli Gardens to relax and get a great view of the city.
- Admire the Statue of David at the Accademia Gallery. There are other impressive works of art here, but Michelangelo’s David is literally and figuratively the standout!
There are so many wonderful day trips to take from Florence. Foodies should take the train north to visit Parma and Bologna. These cities brought the world Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (also produced in Reggio Emilia), Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham), and iconic Bolognese sauce (a meaty, hearty sauce.) Wine lovers should arrange a day trip to do tours and tastings of Tuscan wineries near Siena. We had an unbelievably fantastic tour and tasting at the San Giorgia A Lapi Winery just outside Siena.
WHAT & WHERE TO EAT
One of the best things about Florence is the food. The city has a diverse and delicious culinary scene, from grab-and-go panini to high-end dining. Be sure to try the bistecca alla Fiorentina at Trattoria Dall’Oste. For a more upscale dining experience, head to Enoteca Bruni, a restaurant serving traditional Tuscan cuisine with a modern twist. If you’re looking for something more casual, check out All’Antico Vinaio, a hip and affordable sit-down restaurant serving Tuscan small plates in the San Frediano neighborhood.
DRINKS TO ORDER:
- TUSCAN WINE – remember, Tuscany isn’t a city, rather, the region Florence is located in. The wine produced in this region is famous for good reason! Order a glass or liter while visiting Florence.
- NEGRONI – legend has it that the Negroni was invented in Florence! And if you want to order the real thing at the original (contested) establishment, head to Giacosa Café for the bitter drink.
- APEROL SPRITZ – the iconic cocktail of Italians during aperitivo (happy hour), we’re pretty sure it’s impossible to have a bad Aperol Spritz in Italy.
- ESPRESSO – need a caffeinated pick-me-up? You won’t see Italians sipping on large coffees. Instead, the typical way to order coffee in Florence is to walk into a bar (not like the bars in the States!) and order an espresso or doppio espresso (double espresso) to sip on quickly while standing at the counter.
FOOD TO ORDER:
- BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA – commonly known as Florentine steak. It’s a thick-cut T-bone steak that’s char-grilled to perfection.
- PROSCIUTTO E MELONE – literally translates to prosciutto and melon (cantaloupe). It’s a simple appetizer dish, and while the idea sounds off putting at first, we promise it’s SO good!
- PANINI – the ultimate italian sandwhich, this is the perfect quick lunch food made with fresher than fresh focaccia bread and perfectly sliced meats. Just note – the word panini is plural. Ask for a panino if you just want one!
- GELATO – a no-brainer, nothing beats relaxing along the Arno river with a gelato in hand. Need it dairy free? Order a sorbetto (sorbet). For tips on ordering the best gelato, check out our essential tips you need to know before visiting Italy!
WHERE TO STAY IN FLORENCE
While there are plenty of vacation rentals and hotels to choose from, we know you want nothing but the best in this romantic destination. After several visits and scoping out the best areas and properties, we’ve curated a list of the top 10 places to stay for 2-4 nights in Florence, Italy. Here are a sample of our top picks:
- BEST FOR: 4-star historic hotel with elegant rooms and a lavish breakfast
- LOCATION: Quiet area of Florence, just a short walk from the city center
- BEST FOR: 4-star luxury hotel with spacious rooms and a rooftop terrace with views of the city
- LOCATION: Santa Maria Novella district, housed in a completely renovated 15th-century palace
- BEST FOR: 4-star modern hotel with a rooftop terrace with stunning views of the city
- LOCATION: Heart of Florence, close to many of the city’s top attractions
HOW TO GET AROUND FLORENCE
Get your walking shoes on! The only ideal way to navigate the city is by foot. In many historic areas, much of the city is blocked off to cars anyway. The best way to get to Florence from other cities is by train or car. If you’d like to rent a car, remember that you will only use it for a little while in the city. The central train station in Florence is about a 5-15 minute rideshare (Uber or FreeNow work just fine!) from almost everywhere in the city.