I first fell in love with Florence when I was in college. I visited with a group of girls I was studying abroad with and we saw it as a quaint city escape from the hectic streets of Rome. I’ve had the pleasure of going back over the years to enjoy the warmth of the late summer and the Christmas markets of December. There’s something to do in every season in Florence.
In this travel guide, I’ll be sharing my favorite places to eat, the best things to do, and where to stay. I’ve also included some Florence travel tips like where to shop for leather, day trips and transportation advice.
My best photography advice? Get up early. I mean, can you believe this morning light?
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How to get to Florence
I have always taken the train to Florence from Rome. The train ride is just under two hours on a high speed train. Always book train tickets ahead of time on Trenitalia or Italo for the best deal. The main train station sits in the northwestern corner of the city and it is walking distance to most hotels. Although, you might want to get a taxi if you have a lot of luggage.
Peretola is the main Florence airport located about 15-20 minutes outside the city center. It’s served by major airlines and budget European airlines alike.
Where to Stay
We scored a really amazing apartment rental right near Ponte Vecchio. Unfortunately, it isn’t being rented out anymore. It was right next door to the posh Portrait Firenze and Hotel Continentale. Hotel Berchielli would also offer similar views.
Saint Regis Florence is also a luxury property with excellent amenities, decor, service and location. I’d also stay here in a heartbeat, if I could swing the price tag. I’ll have to settle for having a drink in their trendy cocktail bar Irene downstairs.
For a mid-range option, check out Hotel Duomo Firenze for a standard hotel with an extraordinary view.
Where to Eat and Drink
All’Antico Vinaio is the place to get a panini. Expect a line, but the price and quality are worth it. Is the line way, way too long for you? Walk a few minutes around the corner to Ino. They also make quality sandwiches with salads and other options on the menu.
We strolled a few minutes north to Fuoco Matto one night for dinner. We had just moved to Italy and we mistakenly did not make a reservation. It was packed and they couldn’t seat us (like at all). I had my heart set on the pumpkin risotto so we returned the next day for lunch. Eat here! It was wonderful. Call to make a reservation.
I will never forget the stylish woman that sat next to us for lunch at I Buongustai. She was wearing a leather jacket, of course, and ordered a plate of pasta in a hurry. She was served a steaming hot plate of pasta minutes later and absolutely devoured every last noodle soon after. I ordered a simple plate of grilled vegetables and cheese while my husband opted for the pasta. Both were excellent. I can see where she was coming from.
Head to the second floor of the San Lorenzo Market for numerous dining options. This market stall style dining option is nice for groups where everyone might want something different. We went for drinks and shared small bites with a group.
La Prosciutteria for an impressive charcuterie board and a cute vintage sidewalk set up.
Ditta Artigianale is one of the few places in Italy that serves eggs and other traditional breakfast items. Naturally, they also serve quality coffee to go with it.
Caffè Gilli is one of those old school caffès in a piazza. Best to drink your coffee at the counter here as it is about double to sit down.
Have a fancy cocktail at La Terrazza on the rooftop of Hotel Continentale for stunning views of Florence.
La Ménagère for a cute concept store, flower shop, cafe and trendy cocktail bar.
Just need a cold beer without all the froufrou? My father-in-law was really missing his craft beer, so we stopped in to King Grizzly for a beer fix.
Gelateria La Carraia is a more popular gelateria, but Vivoli and Gelateria La Sorbettiera are also good choices. I know Venchi is a chain, but they still make some really good gelato (IMO). Be careful about some bars near the main piazzas and tourist sights selling gelato. It’s usually very overpriced and terrible quality.
Need gluten free food in Florence? I have celiac and made a beeline for Starbene.
Things to Do
Uffizi Museum is home to priceless works of art from the Italian Renaissance and is one of the most visited museums in the world. It can also be a bit of a mad house with lines so be prepared. Buy tickets ahead online directly with the museum and skip the line.
See the statue of David in the Accademia Gallery carved from one single piece of marble by Michelangelo in 1504. It was originally in the Piazza della Signoria, but it was brought inside the galleria for preservation in 1873. Today, there’s a replica of the David in Piazza della Signoria that you can see for free. To see the real David, buy tickets ahead of time directly through the Accademia Gallery or book a tour.
Visit the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and adjacent piazza of the same name.
Take a long walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo for incredible views if Florence.
Piazza Santa Croce hosts a Christmas market in Florence if you are interested in visiting during the holidays.
You can’t visit Florence and not visit Piazza del Duomo. You might be able to see the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore from different points in the city, but you really need to see it up close.
The same is true for the Ponte Vecchio. I know, it’s crowded, but get up early or go late in the evening to stroll across this icon of Florence.
Take a day trip to the Tuscan countryside. Having trouble deciding which one? Read my post on the top towns you can’t miss in Tuscany for some ideas.
More Florence Travel Tips
Buying Leather in Florence
After an authentic leather souvenir? Navigating the leather markets in Florence can be tricky. If you are after a quality piece that will last for years to come, it’s going to be priced accordingly. When I was studying abroad in Rome, a very young and naive version of myself purchased some “leather” boots. The next day, I trotted around in my new boots, slightly smug at the absolute deal I got them for…. Until it started to rain. The soles of the boots might as well been made of a thin sponge. My feet were soaking in a matter of minutes.
On the other hand, I recently bought leather gloves from one of the stalls in the market and was happy with them (relative to the 25 euro price tag). Considering I lived in Naples at the time (and now San Diego), they will likely not get a lot of use. If I lived in a climate that actually sees real winter, it might be worth investing in a higher quality pair.
It’s like the difference between H&M and designer. Sure that H&M handbag will hold your stuff, but is it really going to hold a candle to the comfort and durability of a designer bag? It all depends on your budget, preference and style. Take a trip to the leather school Scuola del Cuoio for quality pieces and read Italy Magazine’s complete guide on shopping for leather in Florence.
How long should I spend in Florence?
This really depends on how many museums and monuments you want to see. However, I’d say 2 to 3 nights is sufficient to see the highlights of Florence. If you want to do day trips and see other cities in Tuscany, you’ll want to stay for longer. Lucca, San Gimignano and Siena are all about an hour away.