This is one of Italy’s most architecturally impressive cities, and that alone can consume for for your entire visit – but there’s plenty more to see, too. David, anyone…?
Though we wouldn’t recommend it, it is apparently possible to see a good portion of Florence in about a day, and on a relatively strict budget. Here’s how to do it.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
The crowning jewel of Florence, the city’s central cathedral (you may also hear it referred to as the ‘duomo’, which means cathedral in Italian) is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Built in the 13th century, the facade of this incredible church is made up of pink, green and white marble patterns – designed to complement the 14th century bell tower. The iconic dome was added in the 15 century. Inside, you’ll find remarkable statues, mosaic pavements, artworks and frescoes – the most notable of which is the Last Judgement of Giorgio Vasari. It’s free to enter, but this also means you’ll likely be standing in a long line waiting to get in. I know you’re probably churched out by now, if you’ve been in Europe for any length of time – but this one is worth it, trust us.
Of course, being in one of the culture capitals of the world, you’re going to need to splurge on at least one gallery while you’re here – and why not make it the most cliche of all. Despite the fact that in the Accademia Gallery there’s not that much to see other than Michelangelo’s David, old mate Dave is rather impressive – and is more than worth the 12 euro to get in. Book either online or get ready for a long wait – this is the second most visited gallery in Florence, and basically no matter what time you go you’ll be stuck in a line. We got up and headed in about 30 minutes before opening time, and we were still stuck behind a line of about 30 or 40 people. Booking online will help you avoid all that, but there’s also a pretty ridiculous 6.50 fee for online booking, which I blatantly refused to pay.
Also, come prepared for many selfie stick-wielders and annoying tourists. As long as you go into this knowing you’re going to want to punch many obnoxious tourists in the face in the first five minutes, you’ll be able to get through it. The space in front of David rivals that of the space in front of the Mona Lisa for Awful Places to Be Trying to Take in Actual Art, and it’s abundantly clear a lot of people are just there for the Instagram picture. Deep breaths, people.
The most spectacular vista in all of Florence, and the best place to see the huge dome of the Duomo from above. On any given day, there will be a crowd of locals here, probably a number of tourists, some street musicians and performers and a few snack vendors, all combining into one incredibly fun little lookout spot. It’s a steep hike up, but reasonably short, but well worth it. The best time to visit is just as the sun is dipping below the horizon.
Perhaps Florence’s most famous site, this isn’t exactly a landmark you’re going to need to seek out – as you’ll probably use it to cross the river at one point or another. The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge that apparently dates back to Roman times, which is notable in the shops and such that still occupy the length of the bridge, as they would have back in the day. The present tenants are jewellers, art dealers and tacky souvenir sellers – none of which you should waste your time lingering around. It’s a beaut spot to look back over Florence and out over the Arno from.
However, if like us, it’s been a particularly damp few days – you might have a river full of mud and a none too appealing river running through all your photos. Nonetheless, a little bit of brown water can’t ruin the vistas.
Tip: Take in the Ponte Vecchio from Ponte alle Grazie, the next bridge over, to truly admire it in its entirety.
Wander the city
The architecture is just freaking amazing whether or not you know exactly what you’re looking at. There’s also a bunch of replicas of famous statues and artworks around the place, so if you’re unwilling to stump up – just wander about outside and pretend you’ve seen the real thing.
Other notable buildings: Fort di Belvedere, Palazzo Vecchio, the Santa Croce (stunning Gothic cathedral renown for the famous people buried within like Galileo and Michelangelo), San Miniato church (just outside the city walls but worth the jaunt), the Basilica of San Lorenzo (the burial place of the Medici family), Palazzo Pitti.
*Naples: Pompeii, Vesuvius and deep fried pizza
*Tuscany: Rolling hills and wine
* Venice: how to do the world’s most romantic city on a budget
* Pisa: free food and how to hire a car for $4 a day
A good spot for some authentic Florentine fare, head here to mingle with the locals as they pick up their lunch too. There’s great dishes at Pizza Napoli, and it’s a good spot to pick up some fresh produce. It’s also a good spot to try lampredetto (more on that below).
Okay, this is a bit of a cop out because it’s arguably the city’s most famous panini shop – but there’s good reason for that. Sandwiches, or ‘panini’, as the Florentines will have you call them, are something of a big deal in Florence, and this is the grand master of all sandwich shops. Try to avoid lunch or dinner times as there will be huge lines, but they move pretty fast – and if you can hold out until say 2.30pm or come for an early dinner at 5pm, you should have a fairly easy run. Here, you’ll pay 5 euro to either make your own masterpiece from a choice of their home-made spreads and fillings – or trust their judgement and have them build you one hell of a panini. The wine is only 2 euro a glass, too.
Tip: The artichoke spread and house made pecorino is absolutely mind-blowing.
This isn’t a place at all, but more of an ingredient, and it’s something you’ll be encouraged to try by Florentine locals just about everywhere you go. And to be honest, it’s almost better if you don’t know what’s in it. Lampredetto is apparently the fourth stomach of a cow, boiled, seasoned, and then served on a hunk of bread. Sure, it doesn’t seem like something you should be eating if you actually have a choice in the matter, but there’s got to be a reason this stuff has been eaten for the last several hundred years. There are lampredetto carts all over Florence, and it’s a cheap snack if nothing else.
We sampled it at the Central Market and, well, we’ll just say it’s interesting.
Hotels do not come cheap in Florence, so take this recommendation with a grain of salt: this spot was incredibly rough around the edges, but it was also 30 euro a night. It’s a bit of a jaunt from the central city, the bathroom is a bit bare bones, and the wifi just clear didn’t work most of the time, but this is a hotel to seek out if you’re really trying to save the pennies. I wouldn’t go as far as recommending people to stay in it, but again, if you want a room for two for less than a quarter of what you’ll pay right in the CBD – it’s certainly a viable option.