Not me posting my Florence guide five years after my last trip to Florence… 👀
This is one of my most requested travel guides (behind my Almalfi Coast guide) and I’m finally ready to hit publish. I know many of you are planning upcoming Italy trips, so I hope this comes at the perfect time!
Truth be told, I probably put off writing this guide for so long because I have SO much to say about Florence. I studied abroad here in college and it just hold so much meaning to me. For that reason, I knew my Florence guide couldn’t be rushed! (Hope it was worth the wait! 😂)
Florence, Italy guide
What I love about Florence:
So much of Florence truly feels untouched by time. There are no few allowed in the city center, so everything is explored by foot. There is so much history, so much culture, and it’s just so beautiful, with so much character. Another thing to love about Florence is its location, making it the perfect home base for lots of day trips, or a really convenient “city” destination to pair with a few leisurely days spent wine tasting in the countryside. You can be in Rome in 1.5 hours, Venice in 2.5, and Naples in under 3.
How long do you need to spend in Florence?
I would personally want two full days in Florence. You could easily stay longer and arrange day trips, or spend three nights and take your time exploring. It really depends on what kind of experience you want to have, and how much more on your trip you’d like to see.
Another thing to consider is whether you’ll be visiting in high or low season. In high season it gets really really crowded. We spent four nights there last time (because I hadn’t been back since studying abroad) and I wish we’d spent three (and spent another night in wine country instead) because we were so fed up with the crowds everywhere. However, I could EASILY spend 4 or even 5 leisurely days in Florence (and coordinate a few day trips) in low season, when the city is quieter.
If you prefer a smaller city (vs. somewhere like Rome) you may like to spend more time in Florence. However, obviously there is more to “do” in Rome than Florence, but Florence is the city I much prefer. If you prefer a lot more action and a faster pace, then you may be ready to move on from Florence after a couple of days.
What is the language barrier like in Florence?
If you don’t speak Italian, you won’t have a problem getting around, although I always think it’s always most polite to at least learn a few Italian phrases to make the extra effort! Also, Google translate is always there if you need it!
Tips for traveling Italy in general:
I wrote a whole blog post on that right over here! Will be a helpful read before you go.
Should you hire a travel planner or travel agent to plan your Italy trip?
I am always for this option! I’m very pro outsourcing whatever I can, as you probably know by now. 😂 There are so many ways you can plan your trip, so many options, that it gets so overwhelming in a hurry. I always love having an expert to tell me the things to watch out for, what to skip if it’s too touristy, to give me better local-loved options, to reign me in if I’m all over the place and can’t make up my mind. (And let’s be honest, I hate planning, so having someone do it all for me is huge.) Plus, with a travel planner, you get perks like free upgrades and more.
Additionally, it’s really nice to have if something does go wrong (inevitably, every trip has its hiccups!) and you need help coming up with a plan B at the last minute!
For all those reasons, I highly recommend hiring my friend Whitney and her team. (Yes, my friend Whitney of Atlas Adventures!) I can not only vouch for her character as a friend, but I have traveled with Whitney several times and she always knows the best places and insider tips. Additionally, she truly cares whether or not you have an incredible time and her team will always go above and beyond to make that happen! You can learn more about her services here.
What to pack for your Florence trip?
Where to stay in Florence:
We stayed at the Glance hotel and it was everything we wanted for our stay. It was modern, clean, cute, but not too expensive. Best of all: it has a rooftop pool! To be honest, I really didn’t think the pool mattered because we would be out and about all day anyway, but after a hot day of sightseeing it was SUCH a treat to be able to come back to the hotel, take a swim, enjoy a cocktail on the roof, and then take a little siesta in the cool AC. Truly, heaven. Highly recommend this place!
Comes highly recommended by my friend Whitney, who is a travel planner and travel agent who specializes in Italy, and this is her go-to 4 star hotel! If you book with her, she can get you free perks and upgrades! I recommend getting in touch with her here!
This was another hotel option we were looking at but ended up going with the Glance because we could book it with less points. This place has really great reviews and is so close to the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Novella that you could touch it–an excellent location. It also has a rooftop pool!
While I can’t recommend any specifically, there are plenty of AirBnB options in Florence. Any location within the city center is a good location! Florence is so walkable that it’s really hard to go wrong. Look for spots anywhere near/around the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, San Lorenzo, or Santa Croce.
Rooftop views from the Glance Hotel
The best Italian sandwich: chicken with rose sauce from Antico Noe
Where to eat and drink in Florence:
First thing’s first, do you need reservations?
YES. If you like to eat at peak hours, absolutely. If you’re totally cool eating at 10pm, probably not. But I would always make them just to be safe, especially in high season! That being said, if you don’t get around to making them, there are so many great places to eat–just be prepared to eat at late, with the locals, after the hoards of tourists are gone.
Now, before we get into my reccos, let me preface here that a lot of these places are near and dear to me heart because they were my favorites when I studied abroad. I can vouch that they are still wonderful based on my last visit (and because I’ve sent many of you there and you have messaged me with rave reviews!) however, I know the restaurant scene in Florence has essentially exploded since then. There are so many more contemporary restaurants to choose from now–places like Conde Nast and Eater will be good resources for that–so for sure do your research on those. Also check out Girl in Florence, she has so many amazing reccos from a local perspective!
For my absolute tried and true classic Italian favorites that have been standbys for a long time, see below! (Also including a few of Whitney’s reccos because she always has the best ones!)
they make a pear ravioli that is to die for—sounds a little weird, but trust me. One of the most romantic restaurants in Florence–the only lighting is string lights and candles. They have an English speaking side and an Italian speaking side. Do. Not. Miss. La Giostra.
Another one of my all-time favorites. We went here all the time studying abroad and it still holds up. So much that we went twice in our four days in Florence last time we were there. The truffle pasta (get everything truffle) truffle chicken and ribollita soup are not to be missed. They have a patio out front, and the eclectic space inside is busy, boisterous, with tiny tables and a whole lot of charm. You can’t beat the food and the welcome, cozy vibes.
Acqua al due:
famous for their blueberry and balsamic steaks! (I believe you can still get a steak sampler and a pasta sampler to try a bit of everything!)
A must for sandwiches–I dream of their rosé chicken sandwich. Don’t go to the sit down side of the restaurant–you want to wait in line at the sandwich shop. Get any of the sandwiches with the special rosé sauce!
A landmark trattoria in Florence (the name comes from the old location which was so small it literally had three benches). They moved to a new beautiful rooftop location overlooking the city which I haven’t been to, but it looks stunning!
A classic trattoria specializing in tuscan cuisine, known for its delicious pasta and charming service.
Kebabs late night:
late night kebabs are not the same in the states. When you’re walking home from a late night out, get a kebab. Trust me. I miss them so much!
Il Gatto e la Volpe:
another frequent haunt we used to love when I was a student, and it’s still just as delicious. They make their balsamic glaze in house and it’s absolutely to die for. (Buy a couple bottles to take home if you can!) The buffala mozzarella salad is a must order. Their pasta and risotto is also delicious! Ask for Fatjon and tell him I sent you!
an Irish pub that has a tiny balcony (with one table) that has the best possible view of the cathedral/duomo! If you ever see it empty, go and snag the table! The best place in Florence for a pint and people watching!
Trattoria 13 Gobbi:
Come to this charming, homey spot for Florentine steak (Bistecca Fiorentina) which is famous in this region!
An adorable, cozy, eclectic spot recommended by Whitney. She says “the creme brûlée cheese starter is HEAVEN.”
Another one of Whitney’s reccos if you’re wanting something a bit more modern and upscale! A beautiful space.
Osteria Cinghiale Bianco:
Final Whitney recco–this spot is high on my list for next time! Famous for their boar steak and boar bolognese but they have lots of options on the menu if wild boar isn’t your thing. (Cinghiale is “boar” in Italian, and wild boar is famous in Tuscany!)
Get an iced cappuccino or shakerato:
You’ll see signs for these in cafes–they are SO GOOD. Nothing hits the spot on a warm morning like a Florentine iced cappucino!
Best views of the cathedral: from the Irish pub, JJ’s Cathedral
Stunning frescos on the ceiling of the duomo
View from the top of the Duomo. (Worth the climb!)
Things to do in Florence
worth the climb up the hill for the views! Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds, but also beautiful at sunset, especially if you grab a drink at the restaurant to take in the views. (Yes, it’s expensive but you’re paying for the experience!) Most of the beautiful photos taken of the cityscape in this post are from Piazza Michelangelo.
Florence’s famous bridge lined with local jewelry stores! If you want to shop for some jewelry, this is a fun place to do it.
Piazza della Signoria:
My favorite piazza, which you’ll know by it’s replica of the statue of David. It’s the one you walk through from the Duomo on the way to the Ponte Vecchio. There will often be super talented street performers who sing in the piazza in the evenings. Grab a pizza and a bottle of wine and enjoy them on the steps. (It is likely too busy now to do this in high season but a nice treat during low season if the weather is nice!)
there are two big leather markets in Florence: San Lorenzo and Porcellino. Both sell similar goods but I prefer the San Lorenzo, close to Mercato Centrale as it’s a bit bigger. This is a great place to buy inexpensive (but pretty!) leather gloves, scarves, etc, but I prefer Massimo for jackets as they’re much higher quality. Be prepared to barter!
not far from the San Lorenzo leather market is Massimo. A great place to stop in to buy a quality leather jacket! My favorite item in my wardrobe is STILL my leather jacket from Massimo that I got when studying abroad here.
the central food market in Florence. Stock up on dried fruit (mango and pineapple are my favorite) olive oil, wine, meats, cheeses etc! It’s busy with tourists but also with locals doing their weekly shopping, grabbing lunch or coffee, etc! They’ve also converted the top floor to be full of local restaurants, so it’s more like a trendy food hall up top!
Walk up the Duomo or the bell tower:
I highly recommend buying skip the line tickets for either–it gets very crowded! I’ve climbed the Duomo multiple times but never done the bell tower, although I’ve heard good things!
The pro’s of doing the bell tower are that you can see the gorgeous dome up close, but the downside is that you don’t get to see the absolutely breathtaking frescos painted in the ceiling of the duomo! (Maybe you’ll want to do both!?) I will warn anyone who isn’t ready to climb a million tiny steps or anyone claustrophobic that the Duomo climb is not for you. At parts it’s VERY tiny, narrow, and dark, but the views are 1000% worth it.
Visit the Uffizi:
Florence’s famed art museum where you can see works like the Birth of Venus up close. (Which I loved).
See the David:
For all art lovers, seeing Michelangelo’s famous statue of David at the Accademia Gallery in person will be high on the list. Definitely pay for skip the line tickets or a tour, as it will be very crowded in high season. It’s a small museum, so it’s a quick visit and a nice way to start the day!
Shop at the Gucci flagship store:
If you’ve ever wanted to buy any Gucci, this is the place to do it! 😍
Take a trip to the designer outlets:
I’ve never done this, but know many who have (if luxury designers are your jam) there are many different outlets to choose from–more info here.
A beautiful Renaissance villa you can tour with the most STUNNING gardens. (A perfect place to have a picnic, or for kids to run and play!) A must when the weather is nice
For the best leather jackets, a trip to Massimo is a must!
Views from Piazza Michelangelo
Apertivo from Piazza Michelangelo
View from Piazza Michelangelo at sunset
Sunset over the Ponte Vecchio
A trip to Mercato Centrale is a must
Visiting Fiesole with my mom back in 2009. I love this picture of her ♥️
Day trips from Florence:
Take the bus up to Fiesole:
You can hop on a city bus from the Santa Maria Novella train station to the little hilltop town of Fiesole, which used to house a monastery and is also full of Etruscan ruins. (The amphitheater is so cool!) You can take in the stunning views of Florence. There are a couple trattorias there where you can enjoy lunch, a little snack or something to drink. It’s only about 20 minutes from the city center and a perfect way to spend the afternoon!
Day trip into wine country:
I highly recommend working a night or two in wine country into your itinerary while in Tuscany, but at the least, you can do a day trip from the center of Florence!
You have a few options here: rent your own car and do a trip on your own (which I don’t think is worth the hassle for a day trip), or if you prefer to not worry about the hassle of driving and planning, there are many small group day tours you can take to keep costs down (I did this with my mom when studying abroad), or you can hire your own private driver. (Which is actually cheaper than you might think!) Whatever you choose, there are plenty of companies that do this if you google, or this is something a travel planner can arrange for you. (I highly recommend hiring Whitney and team!)
If you have a couple nights to spare, and want to treat yourself, I can’t recommend staying at Borgo San Felice enough, which is an ancient town turned five star resort and winery. It was absolutely dreamy. (I need to do a whole different post just on that–see photos below!) There are also tons of beautiful agriturismos in Tuscany to choose from.
Day trip to San Gimignano: (Below) and Siena
San Gimignano is an incredibly charming, tiny midivil town in the heart of Tuscany’s wine country, not far from Siena, which is also worth a visit. I highly recommend stopping at Podere La Morranaia and doing a tasting! I randomly found them on TripAdvisor on our last trip and we had the most magical time there. Planning a tasting and then a couple hours to explore the city/hang out after is perfect.
If you don’t want to rent a car or arrange a driver, there are lots of wine country tours that you can book as a day trip–this is what I did with my mom and it was so much fun! (This is something a travel planner can help you with or if you google, you’ll find lots of options!)
My cute Mom visiting San Gimignano when she came to visit while I studied abroad
San Gimignano many years later with a much better camera! 😂
Cooking class with Nonna Ciana:
Another absolute GEM of an experience is doing a cooking class with Nonna Ciana, who is a spicy grandmother who invites you into her kitchen to learn how to make pasta the old-fashioned way. It’s a small group setting (and Nonna’s family all helps out) and not only will you pick up some great cooking tricks, you’ll meet some interesting people, too! This was recommended to me by friends and I’m so glad we did it. I tell everyone I know it’s a can’t-miss if you’ll be near Siena.
I couldn’t uncover any pics from my Cinque Terre day trip in 2009 but here’s a really pretty photo my friend Victoria took! (She sells her beautiful prints on Etsy!)
Day trip to Cinque Terre:
You can easily hop a 2.5 hour train from Santa Maria Novella to Cinque Terre, which is a cluster of 5 small cliffside fishing villages with the most stunning views. You can hike from one to another, take a small local train from one town to the next, or a combination of both (which I’d recommend).
If you want part adventure, part leisure, this is a great option. The views are so, so stunning with the colorful buildings spilling over the seaside cliffs. Think White Lotus vibes without having to go south. I only did Cinque Terra as a day trip when I was studying abroad. I’d love to go back and spend more time! (If you just want some leisurely beach time, you could easily spend a couple days here!)
While it’s possible to do in a day, I do know it does get extremely crowded during peak tourist season, so I would be less inclined to do a day trip then, rather, it might be worth spending the night so you can experience the towns after the rush of day trippers go home. Just food for thought! Another time when a travel planner can help you weigh your options!
In front of my old apartment, Via Dante Alighieri 14 ♥️
More resources for planning your Florence trip:
I am obviously not a local, and I haven’t spent a lot of time in Florence in many years, so for an expert opinion, I love Girl in Florence and have been following her for years! Her website is SO helpful and she has tons of reccos on her blog and instagram! You can even hire her to help plan your trip if you’re only interested in planning in and around Florence specifically! (She’s an American expat, so her perspective will be especially helpful for Americans!)
Did you make it to the end of the post!? I hope this was helpful in planning your trip to Florence and that you love this special place as much as I do! ♥️