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BlogDestinationsThe Go Ahead Travel Guide to Florence
Destinations

The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Florence

Sep 24, 2020 by Wesley Dancy

This destination guide was created for you by our global team here at Go Ahead Tours! Whether we’re designing new trips or writing guides like this one, everything we do is handcrafted. Read on to get our staffers’ insider tips from their travels.

If we had to narrow down our favorite things to do in Florence, Italy, our list would look something like this: eat, drink, explore, shop, eat again, drink more wine... you get the idea. Of course, meeting the locals and capturing the perfect photo of the Duomo would be there, too! And those unforgettable moments are a given on our Florence tours. Read our Florence travel guide for our team’s expert suggestions for uncovering the best of the Renaissance City on tour.

Currency: The euro

Language: Italian

UNESCO-listed sites: Historic Center of Florence (where everything from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio are sitting pretty).

Best way to get around: On foot! Florence is a very walkable city, and only residents, police cars, and the like are allowed to drive in the historic center.

Etiquette tip: Want to snap a photo of a street performer—say, someone dressed as a statue outside of the Uffizi? It’s expected that you drop a few euros in their tip jar in exchange for the picture. A fair trade for a captured memory, if you ask us.

Phrase to know: Prego (pronounced pray-go). You’re going to hear this word a lot in Italy, so it’s a great one to have in your back pocket while on tour in Florence (and back home to work into your everyday vocabulary so everyone knows all the Florentine leather goods you’re rocking are the real deal). Prego can mean:

  • “You’re welcome”
  • “That’s quite all right”
  • “Don’t mention it”
  • “How may I hope you?” or “What would you like?” when said by a shopkeeper or waiter
  • It can also be used to invite someone into a space, as in “After you,” or “Make yourself comfortable”

See more phrases to know before you go to Florence in our Italian phrase guide

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WHEN TO TRAVEL TO FLORENCE

Fall for the truffles, spring for the smaller crowds—any time is a good time to travel to Florence. Here are some of the best seasons to visit Florence on tour.

  • Art lovers, October and November are the seasons for you—honestly off-season travel is perfect for any type of traveler. “I was in Florence in early November, and while there was a chill in the air and a chance of rain here and there, it only added to the romanticism in my eyes,” says staffer Wesley. “It also allowed me the opportunity to get last-minute tickets for the Accademia Gallery and Uffizi with fewer visitors inside, and to really enjoy the sculptures and architecture outdoors at a leisurely pace.” Check out 3 reasons to visit Florence in the fall >

  • Spring and early summer are two of the best times to visit this glorious destination. Many of the city’s festivals are scheduled around these times, and crowds tend to be a bit thinner compared to the larger groups that arrive for summer holidays.

  • Wintertime for holiday charm! If you are willing to brave the colder weather, staffer Sally recommends visiting in December. “Florence does have adorable Christmas markets,” she says.

  • Like high temps? Summertime is for you. Average temperatures can be in the mid-80’s at the height of summer in Florence, but, “If you reside somewhere warmer, like my home state of Florida, this might be welcome,” says staffer Wesley.

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WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO FLORENCE

Wondering what to pack for Florence? Our experts have you covered in this Florence travel guide. Start with good footwear to get you over the cobblestone streets, and read on for more packing tips for your tour of Florence.

  • A great pair of walking shoes. While you will see many Florentines in stunning footwear, we recommend erring on the side of comfort instead of trying to keep up with the local fashionistas. You will be doing a fair bit of walking, (and if you choose to, stair climbing!), often over cobblestones. So to best enjoy your stay and save yourself from some blisters, comfy walking shoes will be the way to go.

  • A light jacket. Definitely layers!” says staffer Sally. Having layers on hand is one of our best Florence travel tips, but it’s always a great idea no mater where you travel in Italy.

  • Something to cover shoulders and knees, since some religious sites may ask that you be covered before entering. If you’re trying to beat the heat in the summer, it’s good to have a long-sleeve shirt or shawl to throw on just for those church visits.

  • A small day bag that can comfortably sit on the front of your body. Many churches and museums will not allow you to bring in large backpacks for security purposes and will ask you to check them at the door. However, small day bags like fanny packs or cross-body travel bags can be brought in if they can sit on the front of your person. This is also a good idea for crowded areas, where it’s a good idea to pull your bag in front of you for security.

  • An umbrella and raincoat for autumn trips. Florence tends to see the majority of its rainfall in late-October and early November. “I personally always bring a small umbrella or disposable poncho in my cross-body bag when traveling no matter the time of year,” says staffer Wesley. “Luck tends to favor the prepared.”

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WHAT TO SEE IN FLORENCE

If you’re looking for things to see in Florence, good news: The options are endless. The Renaissance City is full of renowned art, amazing local shops, and staggering architecture. Here are some of the famous attractions in Florence to put on your bucket list while on tour in Italy.

  • Florence’s Duomo, formally known as Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. This is one of the top sights in Florence, and for good reason. When this icon comes into view for the first time, it truly does take your breath away. The cathedral took over 140 years to complete and boasts Filippo Brunelleschi’s famous dome, or Duomo.

  • Giotto’s Campanile, which is situated next to the Duomo and is another masterpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture. If you’d like the best photo op of the Duomo itself and the surrounding Tuscan countryside, its well worth the 414 steps up to the top of this bell tower.

  • The Uffizi, one of Italy’s most important art museums and home to a collection of priceless works primarily from the Italian Renaissance. “Some personal highlights were Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera, and Caravaggio’s Medusa,” says staffer Wesley. “The impact of seeing these pieces in person is difficult to put into words. The Uffizi is an incredibly large space, so I would recommend purchasing tickets in advance from the Uffizi’s website, and reserving at least two to five hours for your visit.”

  • The Basilica of Santa Croce, which is the burial place of famous Italians like Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile, and the composer Rossini. Quite a distinguished list! No wonder it’s one of the top attractions in Florence.

  • The Accademia Gallery, where the star of the show is Michelangelo’s statue of David. “The David made such an impression on me I got it tattooed to remind me of the experience forever,” says staffer Wesley. The museum is home to a very interesting collection of paintings and plaster sculptures as well. Your best bet is to purchase tickets in advance from the Accademia’s website, and go earlier in the morning to beat the crowds.

  • The Baptistery of Saint John. This site is most famous for its doors designed by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti, and the interior boasts a beautiful mosaic celling. Sounds pretty, right?

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HOW TO SPEND FREE TIME IN FLORENCE

Florence may be a relatively small, walkable city, but you’ll find something new to explore every time you turn a corner. Here are some things to do in Florence during your free time.

  • Have some vino with a view. “Get yourself a bottle of red wine and go up to the Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset over the city,” says staffer Gustavo. “It is a bit of a hike so make sure you have the right shoes for it. I did not do too well in my flip-flops!”

  • Walk around!” says staffer Sally. “Go to the galleries. Visit the Christmas markets if you’re there in December.” Staffer Wesley has to agree—there are so many things to see in Florence. “The best advice I can offer is to simply soak up the city,” he says. “There’s a little bit of history and a few surprises around every corner.”

  • Shop on the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge that spans the Arno River. It was once occupied by butchers, tanners, and farmers, but is now home to fine jewelry stores. The prices may be higher here than in more out-of-the way jewelry shops, but it never hurts to step into history and poke around.

  • Visit the Opera del Duomo Museum. It holds many of the original sculptures created for the Duomo, as well as the original Gates of Paradise, which are the Baptistry doors designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. “A hidden gem and personal favorite is Donatello’s Penitent Magdalene, which is a unique and realistic wood sculpture that is incredibly moving,” says staffer Wesley.

  • People-watch in Piazza della Signoria. This 13th-century square is a popular gathering place and is home to the Fountain of Neptune as well as the Loggia dei Lanzi, a striking, open-air sculpture gallery.

  • Climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo for views that will stop you in your tracks. Entrance to the cathedral itself is free, but there is a separate ticket and reservation required if you’d like to take the stairs—and it’s a tight squeeze, so if you’re claustrophobic, it’s best to skip this climb! Pro tip: One 24-hour ticket can be purchased that allows admittance to Giotto’s Campanile, the Opera del Duomo Museum, the Baptistry, and the Duomo’s staircase.

  • Visit the Oltrarno neighborhood. Located just across the Arno River, this working-class area is dotted with artisan workshops and historic sights like the Pitti Palace and Forte di Belvedere. This is the place to find some of the best things to do in Florence (hey, Boboli Gardens and Uffizi Gallery!), so check out our neighborhood guide to the Oltrarno, and put it on your Florence to-do list.

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WHAT TO EAT & DRINK IN FLORENCE

The only thing on par with the art scene in Italy? The food and wine! When is comes to what to eat in Florence, you honestly can’t go wrong—every dish really is that good. Here are some of our team’s favorite noshes from their tours of Florence.

  • Bistecca alla Fiorentina. “You usually don’t think of a large, juicy steak when you think of Italian food but, in Florence, this is the meal to have,” says staffer Gustavo. This bone-in steak—cooked rare!—is made from prized Chianina beef, and is one of the city’s best-known dishes.

  • Ribollita, a traditional Tuscan bread-and-vegetable soup. With a little extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top, it’s the perfect comfort food after a long day of sightseeing. “Sitting down to a bowl of this hearty soup is the perfect way to warm up on a fall day in Florence,” says staffer Jamie. For a bowl of the best, head to Trattoria ZaZa, one of staffer Ellie’s favorite places to visit in Florence.

  • Schiacciata, a traditional Tuscan flatbread, which staffer Brittany says is one of the best bites in Florence. “We waited in a long line that stretched down the street for our chance to get our hands on some sandwiches made with this bread at All’antico Vinaio—and it was so worth it,” she says. “I got the schiacciata del boss, which had prosciutto, pecorino cheese, and truffle cream.” Yum.

  • Definitely get gelato in Florence, it is amazing!” says staffer Sally. There are plenty of places to try delicious flavors when you travel to Florence, but staffer Ellie swears by Gelateria Edoardo, and staffer Jamie loves the stracciatella flavor from Perchè no. Need more gelato recs? Check out Tour Director Sabra’s favorite places to get gelato in Florence.

  • Chianti Classico. Great wine is the name of the game in the Renaissance City, and Chianti Classico is no exception. There are a few things to know about Italian wine, and one of them is this: To find a really good bottle, look for the DOCG stamp on the neck. This denotes a top-notch vino made under strict guidelines, and you’ll spot this distinction on every bottle of Chianti Classico.

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SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN FLORENCE

What would a Florence travel guide be without a few shopping recommendations thrown in? While your memories from the city will definitely be the best things to bring home, here are a few trinkets to pick up to remember your tour of Florence.

  • Leather from the San Lorenzo Market,” says staffer Sally. “The city is well known for its expertly made leather goods, and San Lorenzo is one of the best places to visit in Florence for the real deal. I purchased a blue leather wallet that I adore.” Pro tip: Some nicer shops may emboss your item with initials free with your purchase.

  • A replica of the statue of David,” suggests staffer Wesley. “You can pick up high-quality copies in many museum gift shops, but I waited until I found a street vendor to buy a larger replica for about a quarter of the price. While the proportions aren’t exactly perfect it still makes me smile when I see it on my windowsill.”

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Have you ever visited Florence on tour? Share your favorite things to do in Florence on our Facebook page!


Destination guides
About the author | Wesley Dancy
Wesley has a background in Art History and Museum Studies, so when the opportunity arose to move into travel and help others experience the art, culture, and history of the world, it felt like the perfect next step. Outside of the office you can find Wesley diligently tending to his many houseplants, adding to his personal tattoo collection, exploring his newfound passion for vinyl, and hunting for his favorite paintings at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

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The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Florence