Florence is synonymous with the European Renaissance, leather handbags, and practically the word Tuscany itself! Together with Rome and Venice, it makes up what I call Italy’s “big three” – the top three cities people typically see on a first-time visit to Italy. While I’m staunchly “team Rome” when it comes to the debate of favorites, Florence is a strong contender. There’s simply so many things to do in Florence, and all these things are relatively close, making it a lovely city to explore entirely on foot. From the world-famous artwork, to the surrounding scenery, I’m sure Florence will keep you entertained when you visit. So keep reading for my top things to do in Florence, Italy!
If you’re hell-bent on seeing absolutely anything and everything in Florence (beyond even these 17 top things), definitely consider the Firenze Card. With it, you get free entry into 75 different sites for 72 hours from entering the first site. It’ll set you back €85, so I recommend deciding everything you want to see, tallying up the entry fees, and deciding that way. If I’m being honest, I don’t think it really makes sense for a two or three day first-time visit to Florence. Instead, I can highly recommend the Grande Museo del Duomo Ticket. It covers the first six items listed in this post for the totally-reasonable price of €18, plus a €2 pre-sale fee if bought in advance via the official website.
Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s get to the top things to do in Florence!
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral), also known as the Duomo di Firenze and Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, is the city’s shining star. It was the largest church in Europe at the time it was built, and many today credit it as the birthplace of the European Renaissance itself. Entry is free, but lines are typically over an hour wait.
If the Duomo is Florence’s shining star, then the Cupola (Bruneschelli’s Dome) is the Duomo’s shining star. It was quite the archaeological feat, constructed without any supporting structures beneath it and requiring the invention of entirely new tools to do so. To visit, you must select a specific time slot when you buy your ticket. Otherwise, you will be turned away at the door. (I saw it happen, and trust me, it’s sad to see after such a long wait time!) Make sure knees and shoulders are covered, as climbing to the top necessarily requires entering the cathedral.
Campanile di Giotto
Really? More stairs? Yep! But trust me, it’s worth it! The Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower) offers lovely views over all of Florence, just like the Cupola does, but it also grants you that iconic vantage point of the Dome itself (the view in the previous photo). It’s an absolute must, in my opinion.
Battistero di San Giovanni
The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistry of San Giovanni) sits right across the cathedral and matches perfectly in it’s green, pink, and white exterior. But I was shocked when I entered to find a completely Byzantine-style interior filled all the way to the ceiling with stunning golden mosaics. With the late-morning sun rays beaming in through the windows, it truly was borderline magical, so I definitely recommend a visit inside. Pro tip: Tourist crowds will be snapping pics of the gold doors outside, but those are copies. The real doors are in the Opera Duomo Museum!
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Opera Duomo Museum) will help you appreciate and understand why all this Duomo stuff is such a big deal to Florence and to the Renaissance. Plus, it houses all the original works of a lot of outdoor copies, so it might be worth a quick visit since it’s included in both the Grande Museo del Duomo Ticket and the Firenze Card.
Cripta di Santa Reparata
The Cripta di Santa Reparata (Crypt of Santa Reparata) is included in both the Grande Museo del Duomo Ticket and the Firenze Card, which was the only reason I saw it. But once I got there, it was actually pretty interesting! It’s basically church ruins from 405AD just chillin’ right there underneath the main cathedral. The unfortunate thing about the crypt is that you have to wait in the same line as for the free Duomo entry. So definitely time these two activities together!
Piazza della Repubblica
The Piazza della Repubblica (Square of the Republic) is one of the main squares in Florence. It’s marked by the colorful merry-go-round off to one side and the Colonna della Dovizia (Column of Abundance) near by.
Piazza della Signoria
The Piazza della Signoria (Square of the Lordship) is another main square in Florence, and a much more impressive one, in my opinion. It’s simply got so much going on! There’s the Nettuno (Neptune) fountain, the David statue copy in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and Loggia de Lanzi. The Loggia de Lanzi is my favorite part of the square, as it’s basically an open air museum with dramatic sculptures that normally should be tucked away in a building!
The Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) was once Florence’s city hall, built to house the Florentine Republic’s government organizations. Today, it is a museum with an impressive medieval facade and tower. I chose not to enter, aside from the inner courtyard, but it’s supposed to have an epic view of the Duomo from inside.
The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is one of the most iconic sites in all of Florence, known for it’s cute little shops hanging off the bridge over the Amo River. It’s the oldest bridge in Florence, hence the name, and it’s truly impressive how much hustle and bustle goes on inside the bridge itself.
Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square) is famous as the best viewpoint in Florence. It’s likely the furthest out you’ll get during all your sightseeing, but it’s definitely worth the slight trek – and the stairs at the end! Once up there, you’ll find it’s a lovely spot to sit and stay a while, so bring some snacks and drinks (like everyone else does!).
The Galleria dell’Accademia (Accadamia Gallery) is honestly famous for one thing and one thing only – the David statue by Michelangelo. Yes, you could suffice with seeing the
fake copy outside the Palazzo Vecchio, but if you’re like me and you suffer from FOMO (or, ya know, you’re knowledgeable about art), you’ll have to see the real thing. It’ll set you back €12, plus a €4 online skip-the-line fee via the official site.
Galleria degli Uffizi
The Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery) is currently Italy’s top art museum, but it didn’t start out that way. Uffizi actually means “offices” in Italian, which makes sense because this building was originally the Medici family’s offices. The Medici’s definitely loved their art, which they collected here to impress their guests. Today, that collection and more (including the iconic Birth of Venus painting) is open to the public for €12, plus €4 for the skip-the-line online booking fee via the official site.
Mercato di San Lorenzo
The Mercato di San Lorenzo (San Lorenzo Market) is your one-stop-shop for leather
haggling shopping in Florence. I absolutely loathe haggling or bartering of any sort, so if you’re like me, I still recommend a visit to window shop and eat. This market is actually a two-in-one along with the Mercato Centrale (Central Market), which is a large indoor building with tons of food stalls. Yum!
Basilica di Santa Croce
The Basilica di Santa Croce (Santa Croce) is worth visiting simply for the beautiful area and buildings surrounding it. I did not enter the church (since entry was not free, and I actually just stumbled upon it en route elsewhere) but apparently it houses Michelangelo’s tomb.
The Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) was the official Medici family residence. Today, it houses several museums, which you can enjoy for €16, plus €3 for booking skip-the-line tickets online via the official site. Originally I wasn’t interested (once you’ve seen enough European palaces, you feel you’ve seen them all!), but I later regretted not budgeting enough time to see the palace’s Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens). The gardens are €10, plus €3 for booking skip-the-line tickets online via the official site. When I went in mid September in the late afternoon, there was no line.
The Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels) or Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes) is part of the Basilica di San Lorenzo (San Lorenzo Church). This was the Medici family’s official church and family tomb. Like with everything else the Medici’s did, they went all out! I only admired from the outside, but I’ll definitely enter on my return visit.
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Will you be exploring more than just Florence while traveling Italy? If so, skim through my ridiculously detailed two week Italy itinerary. I made it especially with first-time visitors to the country in mind, but it’s honestly lovely for anyone who simply has a lot to see in a little time. I’ve also made a printable, condensed version of that two week itinerary with every important detail you’ll need once on the ground. Just download the PDF, print it double-sided (so four pages total), and you’re good to go for your trip. It even has a map! Click below to get it emailed to you.
What do you think?
Are you planning a trip to Florence? Let me know any questions you still have in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you. Have you already been to Florence? Let me know any hidden gems I missed, so that I can know for my next return!