The Ultimate Florence Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know 

The Ultimate Florence Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know 

Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, needs no introduction. As a city with a rich heritage of architecture, paintings, sculptures, and historical and scientific artefacts, it is universally recognised as one of the world's most significant centres of art.

This city has an abundance of offerings, including a thriving culture and art scene, excellent food, exquisite handcrafted goods, and a vibrant young nightlife. The options are endless.

This guide has gathered all the essential information you need to maximise your holiday to Florence and experience all this city has to offer.

Florence History and Culture

Firenze Duomo

Florence is never disappointing, thanks to its unique cultural and artistic heritage, which has its roots in the Middle Ages and its maximum splendour in the Renaissance.

Here writers such as Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarca and Machiavelli, have created Italian culture and language, and artists of the level of Botticelli, Michelangelo and Donatello made it one of the artistic capitals of the world.

Florence (Firenze) was an Etruscan city at first, then a Roman colony - repeatedly besieged by the Goths and Byzantines when the Empire fell -  a Charlemagne's territory afterwards, until it finally became an independent municipality in 1115. During the Middle Ages, despite several internal and external wars, Florence became more and more powerful. The city, however, experienced its peak of military, economic, cultural, and artistic power during the Renaissance, thanks to the Medici family.

The Medici power lasted almost uninterrupted for 300 years: it started in 1434 with the city lordship of Cosimo the Elder, until 1737 with the death - without heirs - of the Grand Duke Gian Gastone de' Medici.

Among the dynasty, Lorenzo de Medici - known as Il Magnifico, the magnificent - is famous for its love of arts and has been one of the most important patrons of the Renaissance.

What to Visit in Florence

Florence view from Piazzale Michelangelo

This city is so full of amazing things to visit that it would be impossible to cover everything in a single day, even if most of its main sights and museums are in the city centre, close to one another.

Florence's churches, palaces and museums are crammed with enough fine art to last a lifetime, but if you are short on time, you can also admire the main landmarks from the outside. Just to name a few:

  • Piazza del Duomo, with the Cathedral, the Giotto Tower and the Baptistery.
  • Piazza della Repubblica, one of the main squares and an important crossroad with the main streets of the centre (and the main shopping area).
  • Piazza della Signoria, where lies the famous Palazzo Vecchio (city hall), the Loggia dei Lanzi and (just around the corner) the Uffizi Gallery.
  • Ponte Vecchio, full of antique goldsmith shops. The bridge, as it is currently seen, was built in 1345.
  • Palazzo Strozzi, a beautiful palace in the heart of the city that is an institution for contemporary art.
  • Piazza Santa Croce, one of the most spacious squares in Florence, where the Calcio Storico is played.
  • Piazza Santo Spirito, a lively square with lots of nice bars and restaurants and a church designed by Brunelleschi.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo, the perfect panoramic spot to fully appreciate the beauty of Florence from above.

There is something for everyone in this city, and if you would like a more in-depth look which are the best museums to visit in Florence, please read our dedicated guide.

Food in Florence

Typical cafè in Florence

When in Florence, there are some dishes that must be tasted.

The protagonists in the Florentine cuisine are the meat dishes, but the traditional recipes based on bread, legumes and vegetables are no less. So first, we have the worldwide famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina - steak dish, the Crostini Neri - bruschettas with liver sauce, and the Peposo - meat slow cooked in wine.

Trippa and Lampredotto are a very typical street food (and, to be honest, not for everyone's taste), that consists of beef innards and stomachs, slowly cooked and often served in a bun. If you want to try this unique food experience, several Trippai are dedicated to cooking these dishes; a few of the most known are L’Antico Trippaio and Trippaio del Porcellino.

On the other hand, we have the traditional vegetarian dishes and soups: the Ribollita - a vegetable soup with black kale, the Pappa al Pomodoro - bread and tomato dish, fagioli all’Uccelletto - slow-cooked beans (sometimes with sausages in them), and, of course, the Schiacciata - salty flatbread, that can be stuffed or eat by its own.

Being an international city, Florence also offers cuisines from around the world and gourmet restaurants, like the 3 Michelin Starred Enoteca Pinchiorri.

             | For a complete list of the best places to eat in Florence, please see our dedicated article.

Craftsmanship and Shopping in Florence

Handmade leather shoes in Florence

The craftsmanship has made Florence famous throughout the world: gold, leather, fashion, paper, perfumes, and more. Many artisans still work in the Botteghe (artisan shops), the beating heart of Florentine manufacturing, and shops are scattered in the city. However, there are some main places where you can go to find specific products.

You can find all sorts of leather goods - from bags to shoes to belts - in San Lorenzo's open-air Market. If you decide to shop here, we suggest you haggle before buying something. In San Lorenzo, there is also il Mercato Centrale, which is a covered food market (on the ground floor) and a perfect spot if you want to try some street food, as the first floor is all dedicated to this.

Ponte Vecchio is one not to miss, if you are interested in gold and jewellery. Furthermore, you can find all the best fashion firms in Via Tornabuoni and Via della Vigna Nuova.

The Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is a very magical and unique place. Founded in 1221 as a Dominican friars convent, it is considered today the oldest pharmacy in the world. Today’s Officina is famous all over the world for its perfumes, candles, and “traditional preparations”.

Finally, if you are curious to know more about the paper craftsmanship and the marbling technique - a typical colouring technique - we suggest you visit Parione, a paper’s Bottega and bookbinding.

The Surroundings - Fiesole, Mugello, Val d' Arno, Chianti

The countryside close to Florence

The area between Florence and other main cities is relatively vast, but we can highlight some main points of interest, such as Fiesole, Mugello, Valdarno and, of course, Chianti.

Fiesole is in the countryside immediately outside Florence. From the 14th century onwards, the city has always been regarded as one of Florence's most exclusive suburbs. From here you can enjoy a beautiful view over the city. The place is also known for being the frame for Boccaccio's Decameron, one of the most important works of fourteenth-century European literature.

North of Florence, we find the Mugello valley, where the landscape is characterised by a broad belt of mountains and hills that slope down to the flat area, where runs the Sieve river. The site is known worldwide because of the Mugello International Circuit, which hosts the MotoGP.

Valdarno is the valley where the Arno River lies and is located in a strategic position, in the centre of Tuscany, between the beauties of Florence, Arezzo and Siena. The area is populated by historic villages, characterised by mediaeval structures and monuments: towers, parish churches and castles. Places rich in archaeological finds and traces of ancient settlements, like Etruscans and Roman constructions.

At the border of the Valdarno, we have the Chianti area, famous for its wine production and iconic landscapes. While in this area, one of the best things to do is, without a doubt, a wine tour. We have put together a detailed guide on the best Chianti vineyards to visit.

If you decide to visit Tuscany, Florence is really a must. Here you can immerse yourself in art and history, walking in the streets of one of the most culturally rich cities in the world.

If you are still looking for the perfect villa to rent in Florence, visit our website, or contact our team. We will be happy to help you explore our Tuscany Villas and tailor your dream Tuscan vacation.

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