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The Best Things to Do in Florence, Italy

Updated September 17, 2023

Journey to the romantic capital of Tuscany, Florence. Voted by travelers as the ‘Best City in Europe’ for its cuisine, culture, and landmarks, this idyllic city will captivate you with its classic beauty and history. The hotbed of the Renaissance period, Florence boasts some of the world’s best art and architecture of the era. In the heart of the city lies the historic center, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enclosed by 14th-century walls, the interior has remained virtually untouched over the years and houses iconic churches, galleries, and artworks. Foodies will also be tantalized by this small urban area. Florentines take pride in the quality of their locally sourced food and culinary techniques, so take time to taste the traditional fare from Tuscan kitchens. From the scenery to weather to food to overall value, it’s no wonder this small metropolis ranks third in the Il Sole 24 Or quality of life report. To help you get the most out of your visit our local travel experts, aka local Heroes, have listed their favorite spots and best things to do in Florence. 

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Table of Contents

1. Climb the Iconic Duomo Cathedral

Outside view of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Tour the crowned jewel of Florence the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore - more commonly known as the Duomo. When it opened in the 15th century it was the world’s largest church. And while today the magnificent church no longer holds this honor, the peak is still the highest point in Florence. Scale 463 steps to the cupola (the top of the dome) for a breathtaking view of the city. Some say the Duomo was designed from the inside out. The exterior of the cathedral does not hint at the elaborate interior within its walls. Ornate frescoes decorate the domes and walls, the largest being the Last Judgement designed by Giorgio Vasari and painted by Federico Zuccari. Before your visit to the Duomo, ViaHero's local travel experts recommend a visit to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The vast museum spans 25 rooms and three floors devoted to the cathedral and its artwork. It hosts more than 750 pieces created for and once housed in the church. The tour gives a window into the history of the dome and its connecting monuments.

Local tip: After a long day of walking grab a coffee and pastry at the nearby Caffé Gilli. Established in 1733 this Florentine coffeehouse is a household name in the city. 

2. Tour the World’s Largest Collection of Renaissance Art 

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the world’s most renowned art museums. It hosts an extensive Renaissance art collection curated by the wealthy Medici family during their political heyday. The building was originally constructed as administrative and judiciary offices by the order of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. Over the years the Medici stored artwork on the top floor as a private collection never intended for public viewing. However, in their will the family signed over their treasures to the state; and in 1769 Grand Duke Leopold opened up the gallery to the general population. The Uffizi became the first modern museum in all of Europe and today is the most visited of its kind. It hosts over 3,000 pieces including iconic works such as ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli, and ‘Madonna of the Goldfinch’ by Raphael. One of the top things to do in Italy, the museum fills up fast so our local Heroes recommend getting there as early as possible. 

3. View Michelangelo’s Most Famous Statue

Michelangelo’s ‘David’ | pieroor / Pixabay

While the Accademia Gallery hosts the art of many Renaissance masters, its claim to fame is being the home of Michelangelo’s ‘David.’ Sculpted from marble by the artist at the ripe age of 26. The piece was originally commissioned by the Opera del Duomo for the Cathedral of Florence, but when they saw the impressive statue in all its glory they decided to place it in the heart of the city. Often called the ‘Museum of Michelangelo’ the gallery houses seven of the artist’s works, the largest collection of his pieces in the world. Other notable artists found at Accademia include Bonaguida, Bartolini, and Cione. 

4. Shop for Perfumes at the World’s Oldest Pharmacy 

Enjoy a whiff of the fragrant perfumes and skin care products at Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella - the world’s oldest pharmacy. In operation since 1221, the sixteenth-century pharmacy was established by Dominican monks. The friars began to experiment with different elixirs they hoped would cure the Great Plague. And while they never found the cure their creations worked well as beauty products. Today the shop still uses ancient herbal formulas that are popular among Florentines and visitors alike. The luxurious cosmetics boutique is decorated with ornate chandeliers, Renaissance-style frescoes, and intricately designed wood cabinets. Even if you just want to do some window shopping, it is worth a visit. 

5. Taste the Flavors of Florence at an Indoor Market

Thrill your tastebuds with a visit to Mercato Centrale Firenze. Set inside a 19th-century iron-and-glass building, the two-story market is a wonderland of Italian foods. One of the best things to do in Florence for foodies, on the first floor you can find an assortment of Florentine cheese, meat, fruit, wine, oil, and spices. After stocking up on fresh local products, head to the food court upstairs for a bite to eat. Choose from pasta, burgers, fish, cold cuts, dumplings, and gelato. A popular spot for both Florentines and tourists, our local travel experts recommend visiting the market in between regular meal times to get seating. In addition to foodstuffs, outside the market, there are peddlers selling pottery, jewelry, leather, artwork, and various souvenirs. 

Local tip: Enjoy a meal elbow-to-elbow with locals at Trattoria Mario, just behind the Mercato Centrale. 

6. Go Museum Hopping Inside a Palace 

Witness the grandeur of Palazzo Pitti, a jaw-dropping palace that houses six premier museums within its walls. The palazzo, or Pitti Palace, was built in the mid-1400s by the Florentine banker Luca Pitti and has been home to three family dynasties - including the prestigious Medici. During the height of their political influence, the castle-like building served as a symbol of the family’s power in Tuscany. Today the property serves as an impressive grouping of museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes and the Museum of Russian Icons (with the Palatine Chapel), the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Costume and Fashion. One of the top things to do in Italy, you will want to carve out a whole day to see all the sights on the palace grounds. 

7. Dive into the History of Science at the Galileo Museum

Immerse yourself in the world of one of history’s most gifted scientific and mathematical minds - Galileo - at the Galileo Museum of the History of Science. Born in Pisa, he studied in Florence and was assigned as the First Mathematician and Philosopher to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Inside the museum are some of the scholar’s most significant artifacts, like the prized telescope he used to make his most remarkable discoveries. The exhibitions are not only an homage to one great thinker but to scientific minds from the Renaissance up to the 20th century. Check-out amazing inventions that changed the world forever, such as the first mercury barometer, invented by Galileo's own student, Evangelista Torricelli, in 1643. This fascinating and interactive archive is a great family-friendly activity. Consult our local Heroes for the best things to do in Florence for families. 

8. Visit City Hall in Florence’s Main Square

While you’re in the city center head to the vibrant Piazza della Signoria, a charming square filled with impressive monuments, for some outdoor sightseeing. Palazzo Vecchio (the old palace) is perhaps the most significant building in the square. The town hall of Florence, the castle structure is an important symbol of the republic. In the entrance is a replica of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and statues of Adam and Eve, and it is the perfect spot for a photo op. Make your way over to Loggia dei Lanzi, a free open-air museum that features numerous classic sculptures including Perseus with the head of Medusa. After exploring the square, rest your feet and enjoy some people-watching at a cafe next to The Fountain of Neptune, a stunning marble water feature. 

9. Enjoy a Nature Escape at an Italian Garden

Florence is more than castles, museums, and monuments, it also boasts some incredible natural scenery. Sat atop a hill, a short walk from the grand Pitti Palace, lays Giardino Bardini, a dreamy baroque garden. Near to the popular Boboli Gardens, our local Heroes say Bardini is the better option if you want to escape the crowds. Slip away into a maze of various flora and fauna blooming in this multicultural park. Bardini features more than 60 varieties of lilies, roses, hydrangeas, and wisteria. And in the orchard are planted plum, pear, and cherry trees. A true Italian-style garden, you will find mosaic-laden fountains that add a romantic touch to the landscape. Reward yourself with some wine at the end of your walk at the bar at the top of the main staircase. 

10. Explore the Life and Art of Shoe Designer Ferragamo 

Exhibit in the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo | Sailko, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Italy, Milan is not the only city with a reputation in the fashion world. Florence has been home to some of the most celebrated designers - one of the most eminent being shoe mogul Salvatore Ferragamo. Dedicated to the legacy and creations of the Italian designer, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo features over 10,000 pairs of his shoes, sketches, and photographs. The shoes on display even include some Hollywood footwear made for starlets Marylin Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. A visit to this museum is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Italy for fashion lovers. 

11. Grab Gelato at the Oldest Shop in Town 

Take a bite of history with a visit to Vivoli ice cream parlor. Founded in 1929 it is one of the oldest and leading gelaterias in the city. Located in the historic city center it is the perfect place to stop for a snack in between sightseeing. Fun fact, gelato is said to have been created during the Italian Renaissance. Legend has it that alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri created this cold treat in Florence back in 1615 at the court of Catherine de’ Medici. Whether or not this was the first of its kind, Florentines are still proud of this tasty tradition. 

Best Things to Do in Florence According to Locals

One of the World’s Top Cities for Culture and the Arts, Florence offers an abundant amount of things to see and do. And the best way to make sure you get the most out of your excursion is a well-planned itinerary. Our Florentine locals are here to guide you so you hit both main attractions and hidden local gems. Connect with a local travel planner and discover why this Tuscan city is so beloved by all who visit. 

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