Florence Guide, Italy

The Duomo (cathedral) Baptistry ceiling in the centre of Florence, Italy

The Duomo (cathedral) Baptistry ceiling in the centre of Florence.

Florence Tourism

One of Europe’s most beautiful, walkable city centres and the capital of Tuscany, Florence (in Italian: Firenze) contains a mass of incredible structures, statues and a real best-of-medieval feel, if you can ignore the eternal scaffolding and tourist overload.

A big player historically, Firenze contains many artistic wonders in both stone and oils, inside and out, endless quirky details and spectacular interiors. It’s a must-see, but not in the summertime if possible, though the Bugcrew arrived there in July (by chance! ) and enjoyed the experience enormously in spite of the crowds.

Florence weather

Best: May – September.
OK, but: July, August means massed, mooing herds of tourists and some heat, though museum and church interiors make a great escape. Summer average temperatures range from 17C – 31C (63F-88F).
The wettest months generally are October, December, March, April.
December – February are the coldest months, with average lows of near zero and highs of about 10C (50F).

Things to do

Florence is one of those cities that is so packed with sights that you shouldn’t try to absorb it in one go or you’ll never be able to look a gilded cherub in the face again. So relax, take little steps. . .

Number one sight has to be the amazing, pink white and green Duomo cathedral (no charge to enter the interior) along with its glorious Baptistry doors and ceiling; Giotto’s beautifully decorated Campanile tower – (with great city views if you can handle 400 steps+); Piazza della Signoria with its multitude of frequently grotesque statues such as Cellini’s Perseus; Palazzo Vecchio; the adjacent and world famous Uffizi gallery; and nearby the 14thC Ponte Vecchio bridge with its jewellery shops.

Then there are more great churches – with more sensational interiors, led by Santa Croce, with San Lorenzo not far behind in the awesome stakes, and palaces galore, from the largest and most colourful, the Strozzi, to the Pitti, with an interior as lavish as its art collection, and backed by a stunning park, the Boboli Gardens, where you’ll need to lie down for a while before going back for more. . .

A Florence tourist route suggestion (1-3 days)

The best overview of Florence is from the hilltop Piazzale Michelangelo, and the best time to be there is in the morning with the sun behind you. This is an excellent starting point for a day’s trot around the city’s main attractions, and especially brilliant if you are driving as the car park there is big but more importantly free (but no camping cars)!

Then it’s an easy walk along the river to incredible Ponte Vecchio (with a short zag left if you want to see the Palazzo Pitti). Cross the bridge and almost immediately you’ll be in Florence’s best square, loaded with bizarre statuary, della Signoria, with Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio museums right there.

Next it’s either a zig right to visit Santa Croce church and its tombs of medieval celebrities or a 5 minute stagger up Via de Calzaiuoli to the Duomo (cathedral) area – Piazza di San Giovanni, to admire the awesomely elaborate exterior, and the interiors of both the Duomo (free) and the Baptistry (pay, though the doors are free!)

If you have the time, inclination or get too hot to trot then dive into a museum or gallery.
Buses 12/13 are supposed to run regularly to Piazzale Michelangelo for an evening return to watch the sunset and/or pick up your wheels.


Above all sits the Uffizi gallery and its stunning, world famous art collections. The place opens Tues-Sun 8. 15am-7pm/10pm depending on the season and rooms are arranged in chronological order. Uffizi Information and Skip the Queues.

After that what can you do but have a few beers in the piazza? . . . and then totter off to the 13thC Bargello Museum, housing superb Renaissance sculptures, the Accademia including Michelangelo’s David (tho’ there’s a fine reproduction in Della Signoria square), Palazzo Pitti’s modern art, and the towering Palazzo Vecchio.

Visit the excellent Firenze Musei site for more information on Florence museums.

Night Club/Live Music

This is not a clubby destination and wild night moves are discouraged by the city council.
However, Central Park is an interesting club in the summer, set in a huge outdoor area enclosed by bamboos and bars, and Anfiteatro is another good summer-only place, though transport is a problem. Le Murate, also summer only, is set in an ex-prison, good value and hip.

For classical music in classical settings, the Tavernelle Val di Pasta concerts take place in a lovely monastery from June, and Vaglia concerts happen in Villa Demidoff, also in June.

Puccini Opera Festival happens on the shore of Lake Massaciuccoli July – mid August.

n. b. Beware pickpockets, it’s another Florentine art form.

Short Trips Out

There are many beautiful views and villages out in the Tuscan countryside, exemplified by the Mugello region northeast of the city – popular with hikers, climbers, canoeists and horsefolk.

If, unbelievably, you need to see more baroque buildings, head out to the Medici’s Villa della Petraia or Lorenzo’s Villa di Castello, both just to the north.

Alternatively, 8km south is the tranquil city of Fiesole, with great sights and cultural relics but without the teeming hordes of Florence. The Estate Fiesolana performing arts festival takes place July, August.

Pisa, Lucca and Siena are around an hour away by train or car.


Feb/March, Carnival.
Easter Sunday, Scoppio del Carro, festively exploding a cart in Piazza del Duomo. What madness is this?
March, Cricket Festival (insects, not bats)
June, Festival of Saint John, parades, dances and more.
June, Calcio Storico, a violent 15thC costumed football match in Piazza Santa Croce.
June, Dance Festival.
Sept, Rificolona Festival, kids & lanterns.

For some precise dates or more information see: European Festivals or Arts Festivals.


Staying in the centre of Firenze would be ideal but the cost is frequently prohibitive and even many large hotels, especially the chains are quite a way out, even near the airport!
Note that accommodation near the station is cheaper but the area is a bit seedy and not very safe at night.


Naturally touristy locations are stuffed with poor value, mediocre food, so for a decent meal look for a place where locals are eating and try traditional dishes – which should be decently priced.
Beware ripoffs. A certain trattoria beside the Ponte Vecchio, for example, posts an attractive menu outside then presents a totally different one inside.
For a real $$$ blowout try Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri, or Il Pizzaiuolo for good value Neapolitan pizzas, and Da Ruggero trattoria for local food at local prices.

A terrific shopping city, especially leather goods (gloves, bags, shoes, jackets), spectacle frames (made in Italy) with the famous Italian brands at accessible prices, fake Italian brands at astounding prices and a gorgeous environment in which to window shop.

The starting point has to be Ponte Vecchio’s jewellery shops, then, for designer shops just wander around Via Tornabuoni, Via Roma, Via della Vigna Nuova and Marcato Centrale along with all the Japanese tourists.

Map of central Florence, Firenze, Italy

Getting there

• Fly to Pisa and take either train or bus to Florence. Trains run from Pisa Centrale station, cost under €10 and the journey takes about 1 hour.
• Fly to Florence’s own little airport, Peretola, with either Air Italy or Meridiana.
• Driving? A bit chaotic but possible. Day-tripping tourists can park for free in Piazzale Michelangelo if they get there early enough.