Florence City Guide

Picture this: you are sitting on a porch overseeing a huge vineyard, sipping a glass of Chianti and snacking on some freshly made cantuccini (biscuits). The sun is shining upon the green hills, and for a moment, all is well with the world. Life seems slower, but at the same time brimming with joy. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this paradise, even if it’s just for a short period of time?

Located in the heart of the Tuscany region, Florence unites an intimate, small town atmosphere with the astonishing art and architecture. Here you can see the famous Uffizi Gallery, which houses numerous masterpieces of the names known all around the globe, such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and many others. On the other hand, if you are not an art lover but more of a food and wine connoisseur, fear not, for this is a perfect place for you as well. Due to its green hills and warm climate, Florence proudly exhibits countless vineyards producing some of the best wines in the world . While you are taking a sip, do not miss the opportunity to try some of the numerous local delicacies, such as their famous steak, or “bistecca alla Fiorentina” (pro tip: best to pair it with a local red wine, such as Chianti Classico, or a tad nicer Brunello di Montalcino).

Now that I got your mouth watering, let me briefly present you some of the most important information on how to reach Florence, what are the local transport options, and what you should not miss while you are in this wonderful city.

Getting to Florence

By Plane:  Florence airport Peretola, officially known as Amerigo Vespucci Airport, is the international airport of Florence. It mostly offers seasonal flights, however, there are  some flight connections to larger European cities during the entire year. It is only 4 km away from the city center. It is the second largest international airport in Tuscany. To reach the downtown, you can board one of the shuttle buses which are available every day, from 5.30 AM to 8.30 PM (every 30 minutes) then every 60 minutes to 11:45 PM. There is an extra bus from the airport at 1 AM. The price of one ticket is 6 euros and it can be purchased from the driver in cash, directly on the bus.You can find more information about the bus from Florence airport to the city centre here.

By Train: You can travel to Florence by train from numerous cities in Europe, such as Vienna, Munich, and many others. Since the main railway station, the Santa Maria Novella train station is located in the historical city center, the majority of the popular tourist attractions are within walking distance. At the entrance hall you can find the rail ticket office, a tourist office, a currency exchange desk, the luggage office, and a few shops and restaurants.

By Bus: You can easily reach Florence by bus from other European and Italian cities because it is very well connected by bus. The bus terminal in Florence  is located about 0.8 km from the town centre, which is only a 10 minute walk. The central train station is less than 0.5 km away from the bus terminal.

If you would like to visit Florence, you can check getbybus.com to find the best route from your city.

Public transportation, getting around in Florence

Trains and buses:

Public transport in Florence is mostly oriented on the bus network. There is a tram and a few train services to stations in Florence suburbs but these do not operate as often.  

In fact, I would advise you to reach the city centre by bus, and from there to explore the city on foot, because you can basically arrive from one end of the city centre to another in about 15 minutes or less.

There are two main components of the bus network in Florence: there is a city centre bus network called ‘Le City Line de Firenze” that comprehends only 4 routes covering a small area in the historic centre, and there are also suburban bus services that radiate out from the centre to all of the suburbs, run by ATAF and LI-nea.

Make sure to buy the tickets in advance, and to validate them at the validating machine (which prints the date and the time, after which you have 90 minutes of bus ride), because if you get caught without a ticket, you will be charged a penalty in the amount of 50 euro per person.

Taxi:

If you prefer to get around by taxi, you should note that in Florence, as in almost all of Italy taxis cannot be flagged down as they pass you along the street. Instead, they are “stationed” at special taxi parking stands in most of the major squares in any city and at the airport and they can be requested by phone. In Florence, the numbers for calling a taxi are: 055.4242 / 055.4390 / 055.4798 / 055.4499. Make sure that the taxi meter is on when you start your ride. The preliminary fixed charge is € 3.20, and during the night it rises up to € 6.40. If you take a taxi ride from the Florence airport to the city centre, there is a set fare of € 22.00.

Bike:

If you would like to explore the city centre in an inexpensive and efficient way, and you prefer not to walk the entire time, bikes can be a great option. There are many opportunities to rent a bike, are many bike varieties are available, such as regular city bikes, mountain bikes, touring bikes, e-bikes, etc. You can find more information on bike rental in Florence here.

Sights

If you are staying in Florence only for a brief period of time, here are some recommendations for the things that you definitely should not miss:

Piazza della Signoria

Once a political centre of the city, today the Piazza della Signoria is a popular meeting place, both for locals and tourists. It is one of the most impressive town halls in the region, evoking both power and tradition. Overlooking the Piazza there is a copy of Michelangelo’s famous David statue, as if it is protecting the square.

Galleria degli Uffizi museum

Near the Piazza della Signoria there is a famous Galleria degli Uffizi museum. One of the largest and best known in the entire world, this museum prides with a vast collection of works dating from the period of the Italian Renaissance (for example Primavera and La Nascita di Venere painted by Sandro Botticelli and Caravaggio’s Medusa). Other than its size, perhaps the most astonishing thing to know before visiting the Uffizi Gallery is that once upon a time the entire collection was a private property of one famous, art-loving family: the Medici. Luckily, the last heiress of the family, who died in the 18th century, insisted on the fact that her family legacy remains in Florence forever. Nowadays, besides hosting a variety of art collections, it has become a work of art in itself.

The church of San Miniato al Monte

The church of San Miniato al Monte is one of the highest points in the city, offering a spectacular view of the city centre. At the centre of the church there is mosaic depicting Saint Minias, the Virgin Mary and Christ. If you have never heard of Saint Minias, according to the legend, he was beheaded on the River Arno. Here is where things take a twisted turn: he was said to take his own head into his arms and carry it all the way to the top of the hill, where he later died. This is why the church that emerged on this hill carries his name.

San Lorenzo Market

San Lorenzo Market is the oldest and the largest closed food market in Florence. Since it is impossible to experience Florence to the fullest without tasting its cuisine, here you will have the opportunity to really soak it all in. You will be able to smell, see and touch the fresh, locally grown produce and perhaps even taste a little something that catches your attention. And if you want to relax after your grocery shopping, on the first floor of the market you can find several cafés and restaurants to choose from.

If you are wondering how to fit all of the most important sights in Florence in just one day, check out our recommendation on how to get the most out of your stay in this vibrant city here.

Ponte Vecchio bridge

When thinking about Florence, the Ponte Vecchio bridge, built over the Arno River, is usually one of the first things that comes to someone’s mind.

Besides a spectacular view it provides, the Ponte Vecchio also has an enormous historical value. During the Nazi retreat in 1944, all of the bridges in the city were destroyed except this one, which makes it truly unique.

Nightlife

If you are looking for a place to mingle with both foreigners and locals, the Blob Club is a perfect place for you. The music is suitable for almost every taste, playing mostly hits from all around the world. There are two main sections, the one where the dance floor is (if you wish to dance the night away), and the upper level of the club, for those who prefer more tame kind of fun, perfect for chilling and talking to your friends.

On the other hand, if you are feeling fancy, Flo’ lounge bar is the place to go. This exclusive club has one of the best views in the whole town. However, keep in mind that the party-goers here are required to abide to a strict dress code. Also, sometimes it is not so easy to get in, so make sure to arrive there early to secure your spot. This may seem like a lot of work, but it is definitely worth it. Besides being a lot of fun, here you can also find some very tasty and filling snacks if you get hungry.

For a truly unique experience, head to the place called the Public House. This is not for the faint of heart, or for those who simply wish to party. The eclectic and macabre interior attracts a specific kind of customers.  Weirdly enough, it’s particularly popular on game days, so you can cheer on your favorite team while enjoying this particular atmosphere.

And finally, if you still cannot decide where to go first, I recommend going to the pub crawl because that might be the easiest way to make sure you will have a fun and exciting night (even though your memory of it might be a bit blurry).

Outdoor activities

If you are interested in getting to know Florence and get some fresh air at the same time, there are plenty of opportunities to do just that, considering the mild climate and the beautiful countryside. For example, if you are willing to leave the city centre, you can explore Tuscany on a horse’s back and take a horse riding trip. On the other hand, if you don’t want to leave the city, you can sunbathe near the river Arno (Spiaggia sull’Arno), if you visit Florence during the hottest months.

Florence is also a very bike – friendly city, so if you are looking for a casual recreation it would be best to go to one of many bike rentals in town. You can also go on a cycling tour of the city, where you can visit all the main sights and attractions accompanied by the local guide. You can also take a cycling tour to Lucca or Pisa, and use this opportunity to explore other, smaller cities in the region.

For those who prefer a casual stroll in the nature, I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Bardini gardens, which can be found near the Bardini Museum. What is special about these gardens is that here you can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of the entire city.

If you are a wine lover who enjoys casual hiking, a walking wine tour is perfect for you. The tour usually includes walking through the forest and hills, and then you continue to the incredible Tuscan vineyards. Once you reach the winery, you will have the opportunity to taste some of the best local wines and enjoy a beautiful view at the same time.

Shopping

Florence is a great city for shopping, regardless if you are after high fashion items or handcrafted souvenirs. Everyone is sure to find a shop that fits their budget: sure, there are plenty of luxury boutiques with famous designers, however, there are also fashion outlets, and open air markets for those looking for a bargain.

If you are on a budget, I recommend visiting their Flea Markets (Il mercato delle pulci), where you can find souvenirs, clothing, and other second hand items on a very affordable price.

Another open-air market is San Lorenzo Market, located in the very city centre, in front of the Basilica. Don’t miss the opportunity to find some great value-for-money leather items here.

If you prefer visiting a shopping mall, there are plenty of options to choose from. The most prominent one is certainly the Florence Mall, a high fashion outlet located in the hills about 30 min away from the city centre. If you are a fashion addict, this is the place for you, since you’ll get 35-70% discounts on a large variety of designer brands. For a different kind of outlet, visit Vino Outlet, which offers a possibility to taste (and purchase) all kinds of wine at a discounted price. Wine lovers, rejoice!

If you only wish to know where you can do your grocery shopping, it would be best to go to Coop, Conad or Esselunga, which offer the best value for money. If you wish to do your shopping in the city centre, conad is your best choice because it offers a good variety of affordable products. If you are ready to go beyond the city centre for a greater variety of options, Coop and Esselunga are the places to go.

If you are looking for fresh produce, I recommend visiting the Central Market (Mercato Centrale) where you can taste some of the local delicacies and buy a variety of seasonal fruit, vegetables, and other goods. The Central Market is actually an indoor part of the previously mentioned San Lorenzo market. Make sure not to miss the opportunity to taste their special prosciutto, cheese and all kinds of infused oils.

Restaurants – eating out in Florence

If you find yourself getting hungry after a long day of sightseeing, Florence offers a large variety of restaurants for any taste buds.

Fast food & cheap eateries in Florence

Since Florence is famous for its “panini” (sandwiches), if you are looking for a quick snack you won’t regret visiting Panini Toscani, which is in my opinion, offers the best sandwiches in Florence. You can mix up pretty any combination to your liking, and if you are unsure on what to get, you will have the opportunity to get a little taste of the ingredients first to see if you like it or not. You shouldn’t be put off by the small, cramped looking space, because the food they offer is truly delicious and authentic. It is conveniently located right next to the Duomo, so you can take a break here and grab a sandwich before continuing your sightseeing. Some other options in which you can taste excellent sandwiches are I’ Girone De’ Ghiotti, which offers large portions and is a great value for money, and also Salumeria Verdi, which also offers some options for vegans and vegetarians.

Florence Cafes

It is known that italians like their coffee. If you visit Florence during the warm months, I suggest having your coffee outside and enjoy the view. Caffe’ La Terrazza is one of my favourite cafes in Florence thanks to the panoramic view it provides, with Santa Maria del Fiore on one side and Piazza della Repubblica on the other. It is a little bit on the expensive side, but it is well worth it.

If you stay in Florence during the colder part of the year, I suggest that you visit La Cité. Located in Oltrarno, it attracts a particular kind of people who usually consider themselves as a part of the alternative scene, or international creative students who can often be seen sipping their coffee with a book or a laptop in their hands. Both locals and visitors come to enjoy the cosy and homey atmosphere of this cafe. At night, it turns into a wine bar.

Florence restaurants: upscale & fine dining

If you want to have a full culinary experience, go to Gustarium, which is is a typical italian upscale restaurant offering some of the nation’s favourites. You can’t go wrong with their pizza or pasta dishes, such as lasagna or ravioli. It is located in the city centre, 5 minutes from the Duomo. Another place to visit to try some of the local specialties is Mangius. It offers a large variety of traditional italian dishes, sometimes with a more contemporary twist. Make sure not to miss their large wine selection.

Florence restaurants: International cuisine 

If you find yourself craving chinese, I suggest visiting Arte d’Oriente. Close to the city centre, this restaurant offers better value for money that most of the Asian restaurants in Florence, and it is also one of the more authentic ones. It offers a variety of the usual chinese dishes, such as dumplings and soups. Don’t miss the flavourful chinese pancake! If you are more of a sushi lover, then Tosukana Sushi Restaurant is perfect for you. The food is extremely fresh, and there is also an all-you-can-eat option for those who are especially hungry.  

Florence restaurants: vegetarian and vegan restaurants 

The majority of restaurants in Florence offer vegetarian and vegan options. One of my favourites is Brac, which offers not only creatively prepared vegan dishes, but also a lovely atmosphere. Their hummus and sun-dried tomatoes are incredibly delicious. For a quick snack, visit Crepapelle, which offers a large variety of both sweet and savory crepes. All of their dishes are vegan, and offer a great value for money. Universo Vegano is another restaurant that will be sure to accommodate different diet limitations, regardless if you are vegan, gluten-free or lactose intolerant. Their chefs are extremely versatile and will make sure to prepare a delicious meal, all using fresh and healthy ingredients.

Emergency contact information

  • Hospital: In case of a medical emergency the number to call is: 118. The person on duty will inform you about the nearest ambulance and offer you any medical advice and instructions you may need.
  • Dentist: If you require an emergency dental intervention, call Urgent dental care (Out-of-Hours): (859) 801-4036 and the operator will determine what next steps to take and where is the nearest out-of-hours practice.
  • Pharmacy  / 24 hour pharmacy: There are three pharmacies in Florence which are open 24 hours. One is Farmacia Comunale, located inside the Railway Station.  There is also Molteni, located in Via Calzaiuoli, and All’Insegna del Moro, near the Duomo.
  • Police (Numbers to call, police stations): If someone attacked you, or if you saw a crime being committed, the number to call is: 113

Exchange Money and using credit cards

If you’re travelling from outside the Eurozone, then you will need to know the mid-market exchange rate for your home currency. When you arrive in Florence, there are plenty of exchange offices to change your money in, however, I recommend exchanging your money in a bank for the best rate. Also, you will save more money if you pay by your credit card than if you use ATM to withdraw cash. When using ATMs, avoid being charged in your home currency. When an Italian ATM offers to charge in your home currency, it normally means you’ll be charged more for the conversion. Get charged in the local currency instead, to ensure a better rate. If you still decide to go to an exchange office, make sure to take into consideration not only the exchange rate, but also the commission fee. Sometimes this is a flat rate, and sometimes it’s a percentage (from 1% to 10%) of the amount being exchanged.

Parking in Florence

If you prefer to travel by car, there are several things to keep in mind. Fist, parking in historical centre is restricted by the enforced ZTL (Limited Traffic Zone). Therefore, it is advisable to leave your car outside the city centre. If this is not an option for you, there is a pay parking which averages about 1– 2 euro per hour.

The cheapest option would be street parking which can be found along the streets surrounding the historical centre of Florence. If you park here, it will take you about 10 minutes on foot to arrive in the city centre. Make sure to look for the blue parking spaces, because white are for residents only, and yellow are reserved for handicapped parking. All you have to do is to find a ticket machine, buy a ticket and put it on your dashboard.

Please be aware that if you leave your car unattended and parked at the wrong place, there is a big chance that your car will get towed away.

FAQ Florence

Q: Is Florence safe?

A: While most of Florence is very safe, there are some areas that are considered to be a bit shady, especially if you are travelling solo or with children. This mainly refers to the area around the main train station, so you may not want to spend more time there than necessary after dark. Also, as in all other big cities, pickpocketing can be an issue in popular tourist zones. All you have to do is to take sensible precautions and follow common sense (keep your valuables in your money belt, act like you know where you are going even if you don’t, avoid staying at the shady areas alone during the night), and you should be fine.

Q: Where to stay in Florence?

A: If you want to be near the most popular attractions, such as Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi gallery, you can stay in some of the numerous hotels around the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. Since there areas are popular with tourists, the accomodation around here can get a little pricey. For middle price range, I suggest staying in Oltrarno, which is one of the most charming neighbourhoods in Florence, if you ask me. It is not in the immediate centre so you are a little bit further away from the buzz of the city centre, but you can also reach the centre in just 10-15 minutes. Here you can find many crafts shops, wine bars, and cosy cafes. Staying a little bit outside of the city centre may not only be wallet – friendly, but also may be perfect for those who wish to experience the everyday life of the locals.

Q: Which souvenirs to buy in Florence?

A: My favourite way to go souvenir shopping in Italy is to go to the nearest supermarket and search for some specialty groceries to bring home to and enjoy with my family and friends. For example, last time that I visited Florence I brought home bags of pasta, pecorino cheese, and cantuccini (cookies). If you visit a leather school in Florence, you can not only watch craftsmen at work, but also find great, handmade leather souvenirs, such as handbags, bracelets or purses, which are perfect for gifts. Another great gift for you artist friends are the paper products and souvenirs with classic Florentine designs. For more upscale gifts, look for Florentine cameos, which are delicately carved shells, turned into jewelry.

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