Top 10 Florence tips
The most important advice you need to know to get the most out of your trip to Florence
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As usual, these tips mix the practical with the philosophical, the big picture (book entrance to the Uffizi and Accademia ahead; avoid staying in this neighborhood) with the tiny details (be careful where you drive; don't miss a dinner at this one great restaurant).
In other words, these aren't the ten most important things about Florence (I have loads of other Top 10 lists for that), but they are ten things every tourist should know before they go.
1) Get the Firenze Card
Florence finally has a city card that covers most major museums, free rides on local buses, lets you skip the lines, is valid for 72 hours, and costs €50.
Amazingly, the museums it covers includes all the biggies: the Uffizi, the Accademia (where they keep Michelanglo's David), the Pitti Palace, the Bargello, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Medici Chapels.
Separate admissions to just those museums listed above would total €42.50. Add in a few other major sights like San Marco (€4), the Brancacci Chapel (€4), and Santa Maria Novella (€2.70) and the card will have already more than paid for itself...
The Uffizi is one of the world's greatest museums, but it's tiny inside. The Accademia is home to The David and a passle of other Michelangelos. At either—especially in summer—the lines to get in can last last for two hours. In winter it's more like 20–30 minutes—but still, do you want to waste even half an hour?
I highly, highly recommend ponying up the extra €4 a pop to book tickets with a timed entry (tel. +39-055-294-883 or www.firenzemusei.it)—or to avoid it altogether and book a guided tour of the Uffizi or a guided tour of the Accademia via our partner site Viator.com.
3) Avoid hotels around Santa Maria Novella
As in most European cities, the streets surrounding the train station are packed with hotels (most perfectly fine), but these streets are also often noisy and pretty uniformly boring—for Florence, at least. Also, with Florence being so tiny, no matter where you stay in the historic center you're within a 30-minute walk (or 15-minute taxi ride) of the train station, so there's no need to stick nearby just because you want to catch an early train or something.
The one station-area street that's not too bad for hotels is Via Faenza. It is only lightly trafficked, and is famous for being lined with small, inexpensive hotels—none fancy, but some quite lovely. However, because of this, it is something of a tourist ghetto, thronged with backpackers, its restaurants packed with visitors, not locals. Also, know this (especially if you're a light sleeper): many of the carts for the San Lorenzo market are kept near the far end of this street, so there is quite a bit of rumbling noise in the pre-dawn hours as merchants roll their wares down the cobblestones...
Or if you do, it is essential that you give your hotel your car's license plate number immediately. Most of the centro storico (historic center) is now closed to traffic—it's called the ZTL, or Zona Traffico Limitato—and you have to have special permission (residents, deliveries) to drive into it. This is not a joke.
Yes, ten years ago you could blithely ignore street signs and drive where you wanted to get to your hotel. No more. They have cameras posted on the roads into the central ZTL which take pictures of every license plate and send them to a central computer. If your car is not registered on that computer, it automatically generates a ticket (which will, indeed, find you via the rental agency—which will in turn tack on its own extra "convenience fee" to the fine). When you check in, your hotel can call in your license plate to the police, but that still only gives you two hours to get your car off the street (into a garage) and/or out of the ZTL.
My advice: Since you should have packed light enough that you can easily carry your own bags, your best bet is simply to park in one of the cheap public garages ringing the historic center upon arrival, then just walk into town to find your hotel ... » more
Florence is way smaller than you'd expect. Many visitors—accustomed to big cities like Rome—step off their arriving train and onto a city bus out of habit, aiming to reach the center. The problem is, unlike in most other major European cities, the Florence train station is already in the historic center. Ride more than ten minutes on that bus and you'll find yourself out in the suburbs.
Seriously. The cathedral is a mere five– to seven-minute walk from the train station. In fact, it only takes about a half an hour's stroll to traverse the city from one end to the other. Do yourself a favor, and let your feet carry you around Florence. You'll see much more that way (also, it'll help work of all that gelato, and that feast at Il Latini, which brings me to my next tip).... » more
If you are looking for that archetypal Tuscan feast, the one that lasts for hours and has more courses than you can count, make a reservation at Il Latini. You can tell this classic trattoria is good due to the scrum of people waiting patiently out front for it to open its doors at 7:30pm (I prefer to come for a later seating around 9pm). Even with a reservation, it might take a while to get you seated.
Sure, there are loads of tourists inside, but there are loads of Florentines as well, everyone puzzled together at long communal tables under pendulums of prosciutto hamhocks. They all come for the Latini feast—appetizers of crostini, hearty plates of pasta or bowls of ribollita soup, heaping platters of grilled meats, veggies, biscotti, and all the wine, water, and grappa you can drink—all for one set price that's a bit of a splurge but won't break the bank... » more
7) Be prepared to be nickle-and-dimed to death
Florentines have always had a reputation within Italy for being shrewd with money (which is the polite phrase for "stingy"), and while one hesitates to truck in stereotypes, such gross generalizations are often rooted in a kernel of fact.
- Fact: the Florence tourist office was the first in Italy to start charging for its handout materials (beyond the basic, free map).
- Fact: Florence was the first major city in Italy to charge admission to three of its four main churches (yes, I know, Venice put a price on some of its churches long before, but it was for a collection of secondary churches, not the ones that were the big tourist draws).
- Fact: Florence is notable for its dearth of cumulative tickets, discount sightseeing passes, and other tourist money-savers that most other European cities offer.
So, yeah, you will cracking open your wallet pretty frequently in Florence. Take comfort in the fact that this amazing city if worth it. (And, to give the Florentines credit, at least the public garages are a bargain).
Yes, the boutiques will generally have higher quality goods, and, yes, the San Lorenzo market is such a tourist staple that you aren't going to find some steal of a bargain, merely a good deal (if you haggle properly). Still, at the market you can still get fine quality goods at a decent price—plus it's just so much more fun, and it makes for a better story when you show off that buttery leather jacket back home... » more
9) Eat gelato
Seriously, do I need to expand on this one? I mean it. Forget your diet. Calories don't exist in Italy anyway. March yourself right into one of Florence's umpteen ice cream parlors, plunk down a few Euro, and choose from the kaleidoscope of flavors available.
Gelato is one of the highlights of a trip to Italy, every bit as important as seeing The David. (Actually, there's a fantastic gelateria just two blocks down from the Accademia, so you can even have your ice cream while waiting in line to see The David. Perfect!) » more
10) Don't spend your entire time in Florence in the museums and churches
Florence is a city so dense in art, history, and culture that even a short visit can wear out the best of us. After a few days of rushing from the Uffizi to the Accademia, across the Ponte Vecchio with its jewelry shops to the Pitti Palace and its half dozen museums, and into countless churches to marvel at fresco cycles, 14th-century Crucifixes, and tombs by Michelangelo, you just might find yourself on the verge of collapse.
Florence, as Dylan Thomas put it, “is a grueling museum.” This may be the only city in the world that actually has a name for the effect a synaptic overload on its pleasures can have: the Stendhal Syndrome. It’s named in memory of the day in 1817 when the French novelist literally collapsed from a surfeit of art and had to take to his bed to recuperate.
Don’t necessarily pass up the Uffizi or give the David a miss, but don’t feel required to visit every last museum and frescoed chapel until you drop from exhaustion and the art becomes just one big blur in both mind and, even worse, memory.
Take the time to wander the medieval streets in Dante’s old neighborhood, imagining medieval family feuds and peering closely at all the seemingly innocuous buildings to discover which ones might have once been defensive towers in the bad old days when Guelfs and Ghibellines roamed the streets looking for trouble.
Spend a morning immersed in the greenery of the Baroque Italianate Boboli Gardens, or an afternoon wandering the countryside roads that begin just a fifteen minute stroll from the major sights.
Buy tickets to Sunday’s soccer game, or go find a wine bar and nurse a bottle of Chianti one glass at a time.
Forget getting to the famous “Museo di Great Art” as soon as it opens again at 1pm, and instead take a two-hour lunch at a traditional trattoria where the longer you stay, the more you’ll be treated like family. Or buy a bottle of wine and stuff some bread, fruit, and cheese into your day pack to smuggle into the Boboli Gardens for a picnic.
Even better, skip a day in town and get away from the crowds and long lines by hopping a city bus up to the ancient Etruscan village of Fiesole on its tall hill for its cool streets, quiet antiquity, and great panorama over Florence, city of the Renaissance below.
To pull yet one more line out of the dusty tomes of past visitors, take heart from what young Lucy, heroine of A Room with View, discovered when she found herself in Santa Croce without her Baedeker’s to tell her which frescoes were by Giotto and what tomb she was meant to admire.
At first, she was panicked, then, in the words of novelist EM Forster, "...the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.”
It's your vacation. Have fun.
- Florence itineraries - What to do if you have 1 day, 2 days, or 3 days in Florence
- Hotels in Florence
- The best restaurants in Florence
- More top 10 lists
- Getting around Florence
- Florence FAQ
- Florence guidebooks
This material was last updated February 201. All information was accurate at the time.
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