Few experiences can rival waking up to a view of a city that has changed very little since the days when Dante strolled its alleys. Florence has served as inspiration and a playground to many a great Italian artist, while today it inspires travellers coming from far and wide.
The city is so enchanting that besides finding the perfect accommodation, complete with the perfect view, you don’t need to plan much to have a breathtaking trip. Still, just so you don’t miss on anything exciting, such as seeing the Duomo at the best time, check out our list of things you absolutely must do while in Florence.
1 Stroll the historic centre
Sightseeing in Florence is fairly easy and the only mode of transport you will ever need to take you around the heart of the city is your own two feet. You don’t need a car because only local residents and business owners are allowed to drive into the historic city centre while hopping on a bus is something you only do when travelling further afield.
The historic centre is really tiny and packed with the majority of the most popular attractions, all only within a few minutes’ walks from each other. Simply take a stroll and enjoy the thrill of seeing something spectacular every time you turn a corner. While urban noise and prices are drawbacks, staying in the historic centre of Florence has its perks and its charm.
2 Visit Duomo at sunset or sunrise.
The biggest attraction in Florence is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or simply Duomo. Visit Duomo early in the morning, around 8am, for a chance to climb the dome and avoid the crowds.
As you clamber up the winding stairs you get glimpses of the bright frescoes that adorn the interior up-close, but the ultimate reward is the view over the roofs of the city from the very top.
To see the exterior at its most splendid, visit the cathedral at sunset when the intricate marble facade turns pink as the sunlight brings out the ornate details.
3 Explore the Oltrarno
To experience Florence beyond its historic core, simply cross one of the bridges over to the south bank of the river and you find yourself in the Oltrarno (literally beyond the Arno), an area filled with quaint residential neighbourhoods, lots of artisans’ workshops and plenty of delightful restaurants catering to locals.
This part of Florence has its grand attractions, too, the Pitti Palace and the Boboli gardens, which are part of the impressive heritage of the Medici dynasty.
Daily life takes on a much calmer pace in the Oltrarno, far from the tourist throngs across the river. The nightlife, however, is as vibrant as it gets, with lots of bars and nightclubs where you can hear live music gigs. The calm, the character of the place and the excellent local outlets also make the Oltrarno a much better choice for an extended stay in Florence than the bustling north bank of the river.
4 Plan your Mondays
The museums, galleries and some of the historic houses of Florence are not open on Mondays, a practice common throughout Italy. If you plan extensive gallery tours and museum crawls, keep this in mind, especially if you only have a little time to spend in the city. Plan some other activities for your Mondays. There is plenty more to see and do in Florence beside admiring long halls filled with artworks. After all, this cradle of the Renaissance is an outdoor artwork in its own right, so take your time to admire it.
5 Take a boat tour on the Arno
Venice has its canals and gondolas but Florence has barchettos and the Arno. Taking a cruise down the river on one of these traditional, historic boats offers a completely different perspective from which to experience the city, see its splendid architecture and glide right under its stunning bridges. It’s also a good way to kick your feet up and rest from all the sightseeing you have done on foot, while escaping the crowds for an hour or two.
6 Have an aperitivo
The culture of having an aperitivo, is something you will encounter all over Italy, and not just in Florence but while you are here give it a try.
The aperitivo is a way of working up an appetite for dinner by having a snack with a glass of good wine or a cocktail. Simply put it is one more way to enjoy sumptuous Tuscan food and drinks, while mixing and mingling with locals in the city’s many bars. Buon appetito!.
7 Feed the Porcellino
Fontana Porcellino at Mercato Nuovo is to Florence what the Trevi fountain is to Rome. Less grandiose but far cuter, the porcellino, a water-spouting statue of a wild boar, is worth seeing before leaving Florence. Rub its nose with one hand while putting a coin in its mouth with the other. The water flowing from its mouth will carry the coin down and if it falls through the grate, that is an omen of good luck. What better way to say ciao to the city!