Our Travel Guide To Florence
Florence is Italy’s Renaissance jewel and one of Italy’s most popular cities. With gorgeous architecture, world-class museums and incredible food, the beautiful Tuscan city is a must-see for any first time visitor to Italy. Here’s what to see, do and eat to enjoy the history and culture of beautiful Florence on a first-time visit:
What to See and Do
Check out the city’s major attractions:
Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral
Most commonly known as “il Duomo”, Florence’s gorgeous cathedral is the heart and soul of the city. Its massive red dome can be seen from throughout the city, helping lost tourists find their way back to the city center. Go inside to see the beautiful artwork or climb to the top to get a birds-eye-view of the city.
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the foremost Renaissance art museums in the world. Originally an office complex for Florentine statesmen (hence the name, Uffizi), today the museum is one of the largest in the world, holding priceless works of art from masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and Caravaggio, among others.
Here you’ll find Michelangelo’s original David sculpture. A 5.17 meter marble statue of a standing male nude – the ideal man of the Renaissance – the Galleria was built exclusively to hold this masterpiece.
This medieval stone bridge connects the Florence city center with Florence’s Oltrearno neighborhood. Covered in jewelry shops, you’ll also find musicians entertaining tourists all day long.
All the churches
Florence is absolutely filled with gorgeous, historic churches to visit. See Giotto frescoes and the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo in the Santa Croce Cathedral, enjoy a rare Gothic moment in the Renaissance-heavy city at Santa Maria Novella and visit the burial grounds of the infamous Medici family in the San Lorenzo Basilica, among others.
These magnificent 16th century Italian gardens were actually once the private gardens of the famous Medici family. Now you can walk around the picturesque park and see the fountains, lemon trees and the great views. Go just to enjoy some grass and shade on a beautiful day – if you’re going to find a moment of peace in such a visited city it will be in the Boboli Gardens!
Piazzale Michelangelo, and the San Miniato church located there, sits above the city. It’s about a 30-minute walk from the Arno in the Oltrarno neighborhood but it’s well worth the hike – the view from the top overlooks all of Florence.
What to Eat
As with most of Italy, it’s difficult to choose from the trattorie, gelaterie and ristoranti that fill Florence, but I’d recommend staying away from the bars and cafes around the city center as they can be expensive and specifically catered to tourists, read: not that good.
Instead, head to the San Lorenzo Market for a plethora of food stalls to choose from or try a perfect lunchtime trattoria at the Trattoria da Garibaldi in Piazza del Mercato Centrale. For dinner enjoy Florentine classics at il Gatto e la Volpe or go for a classic pizza at Gusta Pizza in the Oltrearno district.
While in Florence be sure to try the local food, usually simple dishes with rustic flavors. Start with an antipasto of crostini di fegato, thin slices of lightly toasted bread spread with a chicken liver pate. Popular local pasta dishes include ragù al cinghiale, pasta with wild boar sauce or tagliatelle al tartufo, pasta covered in a truffle sauce. Meat lovers can split a bistecca fiorentina with a friend. This enormous T-bone steak is so thick that it’s cooked on its front, back and side and usually weighs three to four pounds.
What to Buy
Florence has everything from chain stores to designer brands.
By far the most elegant street of Florence is via Tournabouni, a long street jammed pack with Florence’s high-end fashion. Tournabouni is home to boutiques from designers like Gucci, Emilio Pucci, Versace, Pomellato, and Roberto Cavalli, among others, but it’s not the only shopping in the city. Those on a tighter budget can look to one of Florence’s many outdoor markets
Florence is awash in markets selling anything from food to flowers to antiques, but one of the best markets is the Ciompi Market in Piazza dei Ciompi. Ciompi is open Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. and the last Sunday of the month. Here you’ll find antiques, vintage clothes, old maps, picture frames or post cards.
If you’d like something more local and particular to Florence, look to the leather. Leather is big in Tuscany and you’ll never run out of jackets, purses, shoes or belts to choose from. My favorite stores are the studios and shops of the artisans and in Oltrarno just over the Arno river from the heart of Florence.
Author, Gina Mussio, is an American living in Monza, Italy where she teaches in an elementary school and writes about travel, culture and food in Italy. Read more of her writing at her personal website, From Italy, With Love.