Florence is a city I love to love.
1. It’s big enough that there’s tons to do.
2. It’s small enough to be able to walk the entire historical center plus several neighbourhoods in a day or two.
3. It’s suitable all months of the year (read on to see which one month I recommend avoiding).
4. It’s romantic (so much kissing on the bridges!), beautiful (Renaissance architecture, lotsa money for artistic patronage), inspiring (look what your fellow humans painted, sculpted, created!), and fun (I was a student there and never slept…). Did I mention beautiful?
If you’re still not sold, here’s my list of the most inspiring things to do in Florence.
My hope for you is that you’ll love to love it too! (Trust me, it’s not hard.)
5 Things to Do in Florence That Have Nothing to Do with Museums (‘cause you can read about the Uffizi anywhere)
1. Head to higher ground.
The city is so, so pretty, but many make the mistake of never leaving the maze of streets that make up the historical center. For only a few euros of taxi fare, or some calories burned stair-climbing, your time in Florence can include THAT kind of view.
To do: Find height. Climb up a tower, to the top of the Duomo, up to Piazzale Michelangelo, up a hill, or book a table at a rooftop restaurant (there are a few good ones in the city). Florence is a whole other city when seen from on high.
2. The Tuscan grub is — dayuuuum!
I’ve eaten at hundreds of restaurants in Italy, from the top to the tippy toe of the boot. Florence is on another level.
I’m a “high/low” foodie — one day I’ll be in my pantsuit and silver heels, clinking champagne glasses with the business crowd at the fanciest eats in Rome, then the next I’ll be scarfing down a crispy, pesto-laden focaccia (I like the corner pieces) off a paper plate, barefoot and bathing suited, on the the docks of Portofino. So no matter where you fall on the foodie spectrum, take it from me — Tuscany has world-class eats. Worth-traveling-across-the-planet-for kinda eats.
Do NOT go to Florence without making reservations at at least one the best spots in the city, whether it’s fancy-pants or this-could-be-nonna’s-actual-kitchen. Expect to get a table as a walk-in at your own peril — we don’t want you left hungry or settling for a sub-par eating experience!
To do: Book ahead. The Italians do, and no hungry one of them is going to give up their table because you didn’t think you had to make a reservation. Ask if they have outside seating if you’re traveling in summer.
3. Location, location, location.
We all like fluffy pillows to lay our heads on at night, but don’t ignore the most important hotel metric: Location, with a capital “L.” If you’re scrolling through TripAdvisor reading comments from past travelers about “nice water pressure, good continental breakfast,” you’re not seeing the Biggest Thing for all the little things. (FYI: You’re in Europe. Good water pressure can be like the Holy Grail. It’s running through 1500-year-old aqueducts, you guys, just embrace it.)
Be more concerned with these things: Where is it located? Is there outdoor space you’ll have access to (like a balcony, inner courtyard, or loggia)? Ditch the thread counting — if you can’t pop out your door and enjoy the “scene” you’re in right away, don’t stay there. There are just too many incredible Florence hotel locations to settle for “meh.”
To do: Make sure you know which neighborhood you’re staying in. We love Oltrarno/Santo Spirito.
4. Expect quirky, cool, or just downright stunning.
Florence is one of those cities where you can afford to be picky. So BE picky and don’t be boring. This is a European city that enjoyed great wealth and prosperity for hundreds of years. That means impressive residences, palaces, towers and convents that you can stay at all over the damn place! So for the price of a hotel room, you’re suddenly sleeping where kings and queens, nuns and Renaissance merchants slept.
Think big! Not scale big, but ideas big. Book a fascinating hotel. Some of my fave Florence hotels have interesting roots: a 16th century merchant’s home (from one of the beds, a perfectly framed view of the duomo is yours.) How about a collection of residences along the Arno River owned by Salvatore Ferragamo, complete with impressive rotating contemporary art exhibits. Or a hotel filled with the owner’s treasures collected over decades of exotic travel. (Their in-room climbing wall is not one of these — that was just made to surprise and delight your kids… or your spouse.)
To do: Get a great hotel suggestion, book early, and be selective about where you stay.
5. Don’t go it alone.
With so many nuances that go into planning a great trip, make sure you hit up people who have “been there done that” — or better, who’ve actually lived in the place you’re going to. Why spend thousands of euros and precious vacation time only to rely solely on your own expertise (or lack thereof) to make the most of those two valuable things? (Do you also do your own car mechanics? I mean, that’s impressive if you do. My sister did her own brake job once and I thought that was badass. But you know what I mean.)
Instead of moonlighting as a travel agent after work trying to sort your whole trip out, get some good advice instead — from the experts.
To do: Check out our city guides for Florence. That will get you sorted with some great hotels, eats, and things to do in Florence. Pinky promise.
Oh, and like I said, I told you there was one month during which I would avoid Florence if I could help it — that month is August. Florence can be stiflingly hot and humid then, and lots of establishments shut down completely for weeks as Italians head to the coast for their holidays. You should do that too!
BONUS: Let us show you around!
Join us on one of our Day Tours in Florence. We’ll take you to some of the not-to-miss favorites, as well as our off-the-beaten-path must sees. With our local guides you’ll feel like you really know the place. Click here to find out more. We’d love to meet you!
Your turn! Would love to hear what you’re looking forward to most when planning things to do in Florence.
Images: Leela Cyd, except 4/5 by Casa Howard.