A guide to Florence, the charming Tuscan capital
Last month I spent some time in the charming city of Florence, somewhere I hadn’t really thought of visiting until I started planning my Italian Escapade ! Three nights/ four days is a perfect amount of time to spend soaking up the typical Tuscan atmosphere, and you could even plan a day trip to a nearby city if you’re wanting to explore a little further afield. Here’s my ULTIMATE guide to visiting this beautiful city…
Arrive by train
Arriving by train is a really easy way to begin your journey to Florence. The city is well connected to other major cities in Italy, just 2hrs from Venice, 1hr30 from Rome and 1hr 40 from Milan, with up to 40 trains a day running between them. The Santa Maria Novella train station is centrally located and easy to navigate. Taxis are waiting to collect you as soon as you exit the station, so you’ll arrive at your accommodation in a matter of minutes, depending on where you’re located. We found all the trains to be high speed, very clean and quiet and extremely efficient, as well being a great stress-free alternative to flying!
Cross the Ponte Vecchio bridge
Perhaps one of the most iconic landmarks in the whole of Florence, the Ponte Vecchio bridge is one of only 4 bridges left in the world with shops built in to it on either side. Accessed only on foot, the medieval bridge is popular with locals and tourists looking to buy authentic souvenirs, expensive jewellery and quirky handmade gifts. At night when the shops have closed, the bridge is lit up beautifully and is fairly quiet, apart from the occasional band or busker playing on site. Famously, the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence to survive the German bombings in 1944, with Adolf Hitler claiming it was ‘too beautiful to destroy’. One of my favourite things to do during my time in Florence was to grab some proper Italian gelato (ice cream), soak up the sunshine and perch on the edge of the bridge gazing down to the River Arno below – bellissimo!
Jump on the Hop on Hop off bus
So this is a pretty touristy thing to do, and it might not appeal to everyone, but a CitySightseeing Hop on Hop Off bus is a really great way to explore Florence and beyond. It’s a large city, and not everything can be reached within walking distance, so using the bus allows you to see just about everything whilst giving your legs a rest! An adult ticket costs €23 and there are three routes in which to explore. Line A is a great one to start with as it lasts for just an hour and you can see everything you need to without getting off – it’s good just to get your bearings and see where everything is. Lines B & C run for 120 minutes each, but they cross over a lot in parts, so between all three lines you’ll see just about everything. I’d highly recommend getting off at Michaelangelo’s Piazza for stunning skyline views across the city, as well as stopping off at Fiesole, a pretty town high on the top of a hill, just a few kilometres out of Florence, which is worth a visit in itself.
Purchase a 5 in 1 church pass
Florence is quite a religious city, and there a number of important buildings that should be seen on your visit. Queues can be extremely long, so I would recommend purchasing a 5 in 1 combo ticket (€15) either from the ticket office in piazza San Giovanni, or online if possible. We actually just turned up on the day to purchase but had to queue for around 40 mins first! The 5 in 1 pass is great as it gives access to 5 fantastic buildings; The Dome, The Basilica (although entry for this is free), Giotto’s Bell Tower, The Baptistery & The Opera del Duomo Museum. You can climb both the dome and the bell tower for spectacular panoramic views across the city, but be prepared to climb a significant number of steps at both! We climbed the bell tower and were treated to some amazing views, including a close up of the dome itself which, in our opinion, was arguably better than the view from the top of the dome! No visit to Florence is complete without visiting these fantastic buildings.
Eat dinner in the piazza
Florence is all about the food, and what better way to enjoy the famous Italian pizza, pasta and Prosecco by sitting in one of cities beautiful piazzas and soaking up the Florentine atmosphere?! There are a vast array of restaurants to choose from in the city, many of which are centred around some of the most picturesque piazzas. You’ll often hear musicians playing in the squares, or see buskers performing their talents and offering some light entertainment whilst you’re dining. Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza della Signoria are great places to enjoy typical Italian dining and the prices aren’t extortionate either. If you’re not on a budget and you fancy eating in front of the beautiful cathedral head over to Piazza del Duomo, although it’ll cost you a little bit more, the setting is truly stunning.
Plan an excursion
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Florence is perfectly positioned to explore some of the finest hotspots in Italy, so why not wander out of the city and take a day trip somewhere new to satisfy your wanderlust cravings? Tour operators such as CitySightseeing and Viator offer some fantastic half and full day trips to a whole host of nearby destinations. Why not take a tour of Pisa and the Leaning Tower? Hike the Cinque Terre for some spectacular scenic views? Or enjoy a unique Vespa tour of the Tuscan hills? Italy offers so much choice, and there are a multitude of things to see and do in this beautiful country, so go and explore it while you’re in Florence!
So there we have it, my top tips on exploring Florence! Immerse yourself in the true Tuscan charm of the city, visit the sights and learn about its fantastic history. Hopefully this post inspires you for your trip to the city and helps with that all important planning!
Have you ever been to Florence? Tell me what you thought of it, I’d love to hear your comments!
Love Jess x
I’m so glad you loved your time in Florence! It’s a truly spectacular city. However, as a Floretine local, I can say with certainty that dining in any major piazza here (or in any Italian city) is not the best idea. There are so many wonderful restaurants that put pride into what they serve, but virtually all restaurants in main squares will charge you too much for food that has probably been frozen. Italians would rarely eat there. If there is someone trying to usher you in the door or the menus come with pictures, run away!
Hi Anna, thanks so much for your comment! I totally appreciate that and will take on board if I ever return to Italy – we avoided all the big Piazza’s in Venice and Rome as lots were quite pushy etc with menus and we liked eating in the hidden side streets, but I think with Florence I just really enjoyed the atmosphere in the Piazza’s and we liked that there were different places all scattered around, especially when we had walked quite a way from out hotel into the centre we kinda just wanted to eat at the first place we saw! But I totally get what you’re saying, for the full authentic dining experience I’d definitely check out the little side streets instead, like we did with Venice and Rome! Jess x