In the heart of Italy, Florence is a beautiful medieval city. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance and throughout the city, the architecture, sculptures, & paintings show this rich history. Being in the city takes me back in time and it always inspires me reflecting on the intellectual and architectural marvels that occurred in the city. This Florence travel guide helps outline where to stay, how to get to the city, & what to do in the city …
Where to Stay in Florence …
We chose to stay at the Hotel Spadai during our recent trip. This 4 star luxury hotel was very modern and located right in the heart of the city, next to the Duomo. As I’ve mentioned in previous travel guides (such as Venice’s Travel Guide and Seattle’s Travel Guide), location is one of the main factors we use to choose our hotels. This hotel could not be in a better location given it’s proximity to the Duomo and amazing local restaurants. The rooms were clean and very modern in design. The staff was also really helpful in helping make restaurant reservations at amazing local places!
On prior trips, I’ve also stayed at the Hotel Bernini Palace, near Palazzo Vecchio. This 5 Star Hotel is also in a great location, but can be a bit more expensive depending on the time. The staff is equally as helpful though and you are minutes away from the Palazzo Vecchio & the Uffizi Gallery. As an added bonus, the hotel places a local bed time story in your room for when you turn in for the night that was really fun to read!
How to Get to Florence …
There are two main ways to get to the city. You can fly into Florence from most major airports in Europe. This small airport is on the outskirts of the city and very easy to get to the central city by taxi. The other way is by train. If you are coming from other cities in Italy, the trains are the best option. The train station is located in downtown Italy so it’s very convenient being only a short walk away from all the hotels & attractions.
What to Do in Florence …
Being one of the major centers of Renaissance art, Florence is spalling with history and beautiful art at every turn! There is so much to see and do in the city. These 10 things are not to be missed …
1 | The Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore)
No trip to Florence is complete without a visit to the Duomo. Completed in the 15th century, this cathedral stands at the center of Florence. It’s brick dome is the largest in the world and it was an architectural marvel at the time it was built. Due to the double dome used in it’s construction, you are able to climb to the top (463 steps). This offers amazing views of the city, the dome, and also the incredible frescos.
Another must-do while in Florence is the Galleria Dell-Accademia to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece – the David. This is well worth the visit, but due to the David’s popularity, I would recommend pre-ordering your ticket online. Long lines form throughout the day so the easiest way to get in is buying a specific time slot through the Galleria’s website (~22 euros/person).
3 | Basilica of Santa Croce
This church built in the 15th century is located just outside central Florence. Known as the temple of the Italian Glories, this church is the burial place for Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, among others. It has beautiful frescos within the church and the sculptures surrounding the tombs make this church a work of art. Surrounding the church are outdoor cafes and local leather shops.
4 | Palazzo Vecchio
The main square in Florence is Piazza della Signoria with the Palazzo Vecchio at the center of it all. Whether you marvel at the palace from the square, enjoying the surrounding statues, or head inside to see the splendid artwork, the Palazzo Vecchio is stunning. Built in the 13th century, this castle has served under the Republic of Florence, as well as being the palace of the Medici family. No trip to Florence is complete without visiting this square and enjoying the medieval castle.
We stumbled upon this amazing sculpture museum by accident. Located in one of the oldest buildings in Florence (dating back to the 13th century), the Bargello was once the main headquarter’s for the city’s police. Today, it’s a beautiful sculpture gallery featuring works by Donatello and Michelangelo, among many others. Often overlooked, this gallery is a beautiful addition to experience all the medieval art in the city.
6 | Uffizi Gallery
One of the most popular gallery’s in Florence (only getting surpassed by the Galleria Dell-Accademia) is the Uffizi Gallery. Built in the 16th century, this gallery was commissioned by the Medici family. It houses artwork from the middle ages to the 19th century, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation. Not only is the artwork amazing, but each room has beautiful frescos and statues throughout.
7 | Ponte Vecchio
You can’t visit Florence without seeing or crossing the Ponte Vecchio. Spanning the Arno River, Ponte Vecchio is a medieval bridge that houses local gold smiths. In medieval time, the bridge housed local butchers; however, throughout history, it transitioned to being a merchant haven for gold. It has a secret passage way, called the Vasari Corridor, that connects Palazzo Vecchio and the Pitti Palace that you can see at the top of the bridge.
8 | Leather Shopping
Florence is known around the world for its leather. There are many options to buy leather throughout the city, from street charts to luxury boutiques. The best place to buy leather goods are the streets between the Duomo and Basilica of Santa Croce.
9 | Piazzale Michelangelo
Just outside downtown Florence is the Piazzale Michelangelo. It has amazing views of the city. Plus there is a great park to walk around with a replica of Michelangelo’s The David statue.
10 | Day Trips – Tuscany & Pisa
Only a short drive away is the beautiful wine country of Tuscany. Known for its Chianti Wine, this region is beautiful to visit and makes for the perfect day trip from Tuscany! It’s well worth the trip, but make sure to make advanced reservations if you want to visit any of the local wineries.
Also, no trip to Tuscany is complete without visiting the leaning tower of Pisa. This short trip from Florence is worth the views of the leaning tower (worth going up the tower if you are able to get a ticket), as well as a tour of the Church and Baptistery.