Florence is probably my favourite Italian city and one of my top 5 European cities, there is just so much to do and see, you could visit over and over again and still discover something new!
Home of the Renaissance, Florence is a mecca for tourists wanting to see classic art, eat delicious food, wander winding streets and check out beautiful views. And its location makes Florence a great base for exploring the Tuscan countryside.
On this trip, we only had two days in Florence as we wanted to spend time discovering other towns in Tuscany (which we will discuss in another post), so it was a busy few days but we still got to do and see everything that we had planned. Would we have like more time? Definitely, but I always like having a reason to return to a city that I love.
Continue reading for more advice on making the most of your quick trip to Florence.
Things to know before you go
Florence gets almost 10 million visitors a year and it goes without saying Summer is the busiest time so if you want to enjoy all that Florence has to offer try and visit in Spring or Autumn when it’s a little cooler, less crowded and when accommodation is that little bit cheaper! We visited Florence in March of this year and loved every minute of our trip, the weather was just perfect for exploring and we didn’t encounter any major queues.
Florence is easily accessible from all the major cities in Italy by train and the Stazione Centrala di Santa Maria Novella is only a 15/20 minute walk to the centre of Florence.
If you are flying into Pisa airport you can catch the Terravision bus from directly outside the airport to Florence S. M. Novella station for €4.99 one-way. Or you can catch the Pisamover bus from outside the airport to the central train station in Pisa and hop on one of the many trains going to Florence for €8.40 one-way.
We walked everywhere in Florence, it’s small enough to get everywhere on foot but if walking isn’t your thing there is a great bus network in Florence, with a journey costing €1.20.
If you are driving in Florence (and a lot of other towns in Tuscany) be aware that they will usually have a restricted traffic zone, this means that you are not allowed drive in their historic centres unless you are a resident, a bus or a taxi. You will see a lot of signs indicating that you might be entering a ZTL (a restricted traffic zone) don’t keep on driving, stop and turn if you can, there are cameras and you will be fined each time you go through a barrier. Another thing to note if you are driving around Florence is parking, on street parking is sparse and car parks can be expensive, costing up to €20 a night. If you are renting a car and need to leave it in Florence overnight, try parking it on Via Spartaco Lavagnini, you can park it there for free from 8am to 8pm, our AirBNB host suggested this street and it was perfect.
As I have already mentioned, Florence is a popular destination so if you don’t want to get stuck queuing for hours to see all the major sights, pre-book your tickets online, especially for the Uffizi gallery as queues can get really long.
If you think you are going to be visiting a lot of the major sights in Florence, then consider getting the Firenze card online, while it might seem steep at €72 for 72 hours it gives you priority access to all of the sights and museums. If you think you only want to visit a few like the Uffizi and Cupola (Dome) then give it a miss.
Where to stay
Accommodation in Florence can be expensive especially during the summer months, however, the beauty of Florence is its size it’s not too big so any place you decide to book will always be close to one or two of the major attractions. With this in mind look for places that are a little bit out of the historic centre, you can usually find cheaper options near the Santa Maria Novella train station, San Lorenzo and Santa Croce areas. Hostels can cost anything from €10 a night for a dorm to €40 for a single in the off season and €75 for a budget hotel room.
On our last trip we booked an Airbnb in San Lorenzo, we paid €60 a night and it was perfect for us, it wasin a perfect location and very close to the Mercato Centrale.
Where to eat
Florence has so many great places to eat, offering traditional Italian food (my favourite) and international cuisine. As I mentioned in my last post I like to try local food when in new countries another rule I try to follow is to eat where the locals eat, you can always guarantee great food, Trattoria Mario on Via Rosina in San Lorenzo is a perfect example of a local family run Italian trattoria with amazing food. Ok so it is mentioned in the Lonely Planet and it has excellent reviews on Tripadvisor but it’s not just a tourist destination, when we were there it was full of locals enjoying their famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It is only open for lunch from 12.00 to 3.30 so be sure to get there early.
Some other places we ate in include –
Da Nerbone – you will find this place right down at the back in the corner of the Mercato Centrale on the ground floor, their Paninis were amazing!
Mercato Centrale – upstairs in the Mercato centrale you will find a huge food court where you can find so many different options from Pizza to pasta to cakes and truffles. Downstairs you will find stalls selling all kinds of Italian delights from cheese to parma ham, so pick up some ingredients and head up to Piazzale Michaelanglo and have lunch or dinner al fresco.
Trattoria Za-Za – this eclectically decorated restaurant in San Lorenzo has a huge menu that caters for everyone. It is a busy spot so be prepared to queue up or ring ahead and make a reservation.
Café Gilli – come and sip a coffee while eating a delicious cake at one of Florence’s oldest cafés on the corner of Piazza Della Republica.
Things to do in Florence
- Climb to the top of Giotto’s Campanile for a fantastic view of Florence’s most famous sight Il Doumo.
- Visit the Uffizi gallery and stand in awe at the stunning pieces of work by the Renaissance masters.
- Walk along the Ponte Vecchio.
- Sit at a café sipping coffee and people watching in one of the many piazzas that are dotted around Florence.
- Climb the 463 steps to the top of Il Duomo and enjoy panoramic views of Florence.
- Visit the Baptistry, one of Florence’s oldest buildings.
- Have a picnic and watch the sunset over Florence from Piazzale Michaelangelo, this is definitely my favourite spot in Florence.
- Eat gelato while wandering through the streets of Florence’s historic centre.
- Visit one of the many art exhibitions at Palazzo Strozzi – which is open late on a Thursday evening.
- Go see Michaelangelo’s David at Galleria dell’Accademia.
- Take a walk through the Mercato Centrale.
- Explore Florence’s major churches – Santa Maria Novlle, Santa Croce and San Lorenzo.
- Admire the outdoor sculpture museum at Palazzo Vecchio.
- Wander through the outdoor market and pick up some souvenirs in San Lorenzo.
- Go see the Doumo lit up at night.
- Oh and one thing I’d suggest is catch at night cap at Sabor Cubano in San Lorenzo, the mojitos were delicious.
So there is our guide to visiting Florence on a budget. Have you ever been? Do you have any other recommendations? Please feel free to leave your comments below.