Florence is a very easy city to love.
From Brunelleschi’s terracotta cathedral dome to the medieval Ponte Vecchio, it is home to some of Italy’s most recognisable landmarks. Echoes of the Medici and Michelangelo resound in its cobbled streets.
Whilst one trip is never going to be enough to visit all of Florence’s must-see sights, you can certainly give it your best shot. So why not make it easy on yourself and hit the ground running with a travel guide to the best things to do in this gorgeous Tuscan city?
Whether you are a first-time visitor or are on a return trip, have the best time ever with this ultimate Florence bucket list.
Some articles on this website contain affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read the full disclosure here.
The Ultimate Florence Bucket List: 25 Unforgettable Things to Do
1. Wander through Renaissance Florence
There are few better ways of getting to know Florence and its rich history than by taking a stroll through its historic centre (this is a good thing to do as soon as you deposit your bags at your accommodation).
Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, a movement that was characterised by a pursuit of knowledge spanning painting, sculpture and architecture. This reached its high point in the 16th Century with the High Renaissance, led by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo.
Start at the Duomo, Florence’s geographical and historical heart. Work your way down Via de’Calzaiuoli, one of the main thoroughfares in Renaissance times, past Orsanmichele Church to the magnificent Piazza della Signoria.
From here, the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio are a hop, skip and jump away.
2. Walk across the Ponte Vecchio
Even if you have only one day in Florence, you should not miss the beautiful Ponte Vecchio, the oldest and the most famous of Florence’s bridges. The butchers’ shops that once lined this bridge have long been replaced by those selling gold and jewellery (the story goes that the meat merchants were evicted because Cosimo de’Medici couldn’t bear the stench).
Above Ponte Vecchio is the Vasari Corridor, an elevated covered passageway that links Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti. Although this has been closed for restoration since 2016, it is due to open again in 2022.
3. Amble along the Arno
But the Ponte Vecchio is not the only bridge in town. There are other bridges in Florence just begging to be explored, each with a story to tell.
Strolling along the River Arno is also another fabulous way to get to know the city. The north side is where you’ll find most of the city’s famous sights; south of the river is the lovely Oltrarno district, literally the “other side.”
Starting upriver at Ponte alla Vittoria and working your way to Ponte San Niccolò will take you around 40 minutes without stops.
READ THIS NEXT: 7 Famous Bridges in Florence, Italy: An Amble Along the Arno
4. Fall in love with Renaissance art at the Uffizi Galleries
The Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi) is home to some of the greatest works of art on the planet. This is an all-that-you-can-eat buffet of Renaissance art so come armed with a shortlist of artworks to make the most of your visit.
Most of all, don’t try to “do” the whole gallery. Pick a handful of key paintings at the Uffizi Gallery and savour them.
READ THIS NEXT: 20 Famous Paintings in the Uffizi Gallery That You Cannot Miss
5. Visit Florence’s free outdoor art gallery at Piazza della Signoria
Did you know that there is a free open-air art gallery on the doorstep of the Uffizi Gallery?
Piazza dell Signoria is home to the best collection of free sculptures in Florence, including a fake David (more about him later) guarding the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio. The Loggia dei Lanzi – the platform at the Uffizi end of the piazza – contains some of the city’s most famous works of art, including Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women.
READ THIS NEXT: Where to Find Fabulous Free Sculptures in Florence, Italy
6. See where Savonarola met his fate
Piazza della Signoria is also the site of one of the most famous moments of the 15th Century.
An inconspicuous bronze plaque amongst the cobblestones marks the spot where the charismatic monk Girolamo Savonarola (1452 – 1498) was burned to death. This puritanical fanatic turned Florence into a theocracy, sponsored “bonfires of the vanities” and temporarily ousted the mighty Medici.
7. Take in the view from the Tower of Arnolfo
Gazing over Florence’s cityscape with its terracotta rooftops and iconic cathedral dome should be at the top of your bucket list.
There are a number of excellent viewpoints in Florence from which to choose, and the Tower of Arnolfo is one of the best. This is the medieval skyscraper of the Palazzo Vecchio, piercing the sky 308 feet above Piazza della Signoria.
Climb its 233 steps for show-stopping views of Florence’s cathedral dome and beyond.
READ THIS NEXT: Top 10 Viewpoints in Florence, Italy That You Cannot Miss
8. Scale Brunelleschi’s dome
Whilst I don’t think the views from the viewing platform of the cathedral’s dome are the best in town, you should climb it once in your lifetime, if only to get a close-up view of Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes that decorate the dome’s interior.
But this may not be for you if you suffer from claustrophobia or vertigo. There are 436 steps, some of them steep, and narrow passageways to navigate.
9. Climb Giotto’s Campanile
In my view, the bell tower designed by Giotto offers better views than those from Brunelleschi’s dome, largely because there are those of the dome itself. You just need to angle your camera lens through the openings in the safety grill.
Like Brunelleschi’s dome, this is a long climb that is steep and claustrophobic in places.
10. Gaze at the Doors of Paradise
Facing the Gothic façade of the cathedral is The Baptistery of St. John, the egg from which Florence’s golden age was hatched.
In 1401, Lorenzo Ghiberti won a competition to design the doors of the city’s new Baptistery, creating its North and East Doors. The latter were later coined “The Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo and altered the way that Renaissance people viewed the world around them.
Although it is worth seeing the real thing in the Duomo Museum, the Baptistery doors are clad in excellent copies of these bronze bas-relief panels.
11. Say “hello” to David
No Florence bucket list is complete without the Accademia (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze), home to the world’s most famous buff biblical shepherd.
Carved from the finest marble from the Carrara quarries and standing 14-foot-high, Michelangelo’s David never disappoints. Although you can see copies of the sculpture outside Palazzo Vecchio and at Piazzale Michelangelo, it is worth paying to see David in the Accademia.
READ THIS NEXT: How to See the Statue of David in Florence
12. Follow the Michelangelo trail in Florence
David is not the only Michelangelo sculpture in Florence. Although the “divine artist” created many of his masterpieces in Rome, many of his important works of art are in Florence and he is buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce.
Trace the life of Michelangelo in Florence, starting with an early crucifix in Basilica di Santo Spirito and ending with the immensely moving Bandini Pietà (1547 – 1555) in the Doumo Museum.
READ THIS NEXT: 8 Places to Find Michelangelo Sculptures in Florence, Italy
13. See amazing sculptures at the Bargello Museum
Housing some of the most magnificent statues in the world, the Bargello is to sculpture what Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is to paintings. There are key works by Michelangelo, Donatello and Giambologna as well as the Baptistery door competition entries from Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi.
14. Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
Hike uphill to Piazzale Michelangelo for that classic postcard view of Florence, with the city’s major landmarks laid out before you like a model city. Better still, it’s completely free.
15. Smell the roses at Giardino delle Rose
In my humble opinion, the tranquil and fragrant Rose Garden offers the best views of Florence. You’ll find it just below Piazzale Michelangelo and it is also free to enter.
16. Visit San Minato del Monte
Continue the uphill climb to San Miniato al Monte, another fabulous photo opportunity.
Dating from 1015, this is the oldest church in Florence and marks the spot where St. Minias met his maker after he was beheaded by the Romans. It’s worth popping inside the church to view its art-filled sacristy and ceiling of glazed terracotta panels.
17. Stroll through the Boboli Gardens
Welcome to the backyard of the Medici’s Pitti Palace.
The beautiful Boboli Gardens feature 11 acres of landscaped gardens, Renaissance sculptures and tinkling fountains. Not only are these gardens a respite from the tourist hordes of Florence, but they also offer awesome views of the city and the rolling Tuscan countryside.
18. See Masaccio’s masterpieces at the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine
It’s a tough call but if I had to namecheck my favourite paintings in Florence, these would be the Masaccio frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden is worth the cost of your airfare to Florence alone.
19. See the frescoes in the Church of Santa Maria Novella
Built by Dominican friars between 1279 and 1357, Santa Maria Novella is one of the most important Gothic churches in Florence.
Its artistic treasures include another work by Masaccio, The Holy Trinity (1427), and wonderful fresco cycles by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi.
20. Visit a Renaissance pharmacy
Take home a fragrance of Florence by visiting the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy.
Directly associated with the Basilica, the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. In 1221, Dominican monks founded the church with a garden, and in 1381 they started concocting perfumed waters to fight disease, including the Black Death.
Today’s Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is not a pharmacy but does sell wonderfully pungent, albeit pricey, products.
21. Be inspired by Fra Angelico at San Marco
Add the former monastery of San March to your Florence bucket list to view the finest collection of frescoes by the early Renaissance master Fra Angelico (1395 – 1455). His most famous work of art is The Annunciation (1440 – 1445), depicting the Angel Gabriel with glittery wings kneeling before Mary.
22. Pay your respects to departed Florentines at the Basilica of Santa Croce
The 14th Century Basilica of Santa Croce Church is the final resting place of many of the Florentine greats, including Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Rossini. This Franciscan church is also famous for its fresco cycle by Giotto in the Bardi Chapel, depicting stories from the Life of St. Francis,
At the time of writing this article (October 2022), the Bardi Chapel at Santa Croce is undergoing restoration and the frescoes are hidden by scaffolding.
23. Discover the church of the Medici (and their tombs by Michelangelo)
The Medici Chapels are part of the odd-shaped Basilica of San Lorenzo, one of Florence’s oldest churches.
This is the final resting place of many of the Medici and is home to celebrated sculptures by Michelangelo, dedicated to members of the family.
24. Take a half-day trip to Fiesole
Set on a hilltop overlooking Florence, the Etruscan town of Fiesole is just a short bus ride from the city. It is a wonderful refuge from the heat and crowds of Florence, especially in the summer months, and its Archaeological Area has interesting Etruscan and Roman remnants.
25. Have one of the best sandwiches of your life
If there’s one thing that Florence is not short of it is great places to eat. But for the best lunch stop head to All’Antico Vinaio, whose sandwiches are made with schiacciata, a local bread. Cheap and delicious wine is also on offer.
There are two centrally-located shops, one on Via dei Neri a two-minute walk from Piazza dell Signoria, and a second on Via Ricasoli, near the Accademia.
Florence Travel Guide
How many days should you spend in Florence?
If you plan and book tickets in advance, three days is enough time to visit Florence’s main sights. However, you will need to accept that you will not be able to see it all in a weekend (and neither should you try).
What are the best months to visit Florence?
For fewer crowds, lower prices and the best weather, visit Florence from March to May, or from September to late October.
Florence is busier and prices of accommodation are higher during the peak season of late May to the end of August. These are also the hottest months of the year.
November and December can be wet, and January and February are cold.
I have been in Florence in August when it was volcanically hot and in November when it was raining stair-rods. Neither was much fun.
How to get to Florence
Peretola Airport (FLR) is six miles from Florence’s city centre and is served by a regular bus service. However, it is not served by many airlines and fares tend to be on the high side.
Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport (PSA) or even Rome Fiumicino (FCO) and Milan Malpensa (MXP) may be better bets. From these airports, you can connect to the Italian rail system, which will bring you to Florence’s main Santa Maria Novella station.
Florence has excellent rail connections to major Italian cities, including Rome, Naples, Bologna, Milan, Venice and Turin. Services are operated by Trenitalia and Italo.
Getting around Florence
Florence is a dream to explore on foot.
The majority of the city’s landmarks are on the north bank of the River Arno, within walking distance of the iconic dome of the cathedral. Everything is within a 20-minute walk from the cathedral, the main train station or the Ponte Vecchio.
The only time that you might be tempted to jump on a bus is if you cannot face the uphill climb to Piazzale Michelangelo or wish to visit Fiesole.
Where to stay in Florence
Florence is not a cheap city and where you choose to stay will be largely determined by your budget. Unless you are staying in a hostel, it may be a struggle to find somewhere decent for less than £100 a night.
READ THIS NEXT: Where to Stay in Florence, Italy: The 7 Best Areas
Here are my recommendations for where to stay in Florence:
Luxury hotel – Hotel Lungarano
Are you dreaming of having that room with a view? If so, book a room at Hotel Lungarno, a 5-star hotel in the Oltrarno.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES & AVAILABILITY
Mid-range hotel – Hotel Globus
This modern 4-star hotel is close to the Church of San Lorenzo and just a 5-minute walk from the train station. It has well-priced single rooms for solo travellers.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES & AVAILABILITY
Apartment – F1RST Suite Apartment & SPA
If you are searching for self-catering accommodation in Florence, take a look at this apartment in the Santa Croce district. It has a washing machine, and a hot tub in which to soak those aching limbs after a busy day seeing ticking off the sights of your Florence bucket list.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES & AVAILABILITY
Luxury Hotel – Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
There are not many hotels with swimming pools in Florence but Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is the best. Splurge on this luxury hotel set in lush gardens with spacious rooms and suites for a holiday in Florence that you’ll never forget.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR MORE PHOTOS & TO CHECK PRICES
None of these places takes your fancy? Take a look at other great accommodation choices in Florence here.
READ THIS NEXT: Top 10 Hotels in Florence with a Pool