With my Firenze Card in hand and several tours scheduled, I was ready to take on Florence! A visit to the heart of the Renaissance art movement was our next stop on our 9-day in Italy trip. The Tuscan city did not disappoint!
Give yourself plenty of time to explore Florence. There is so much to see, eat and do. My 3 day itinerary for Florence focuses on good food, amazing art, spontaneity, and (of course) sunsets. I found the tourists to be less suffocating than in Venice, but still do your research to find truly authentic Florence places to visit.
Day 1 – Acquaint Yourself with Florence
Morning – Bike Ride & Firenze Card
We started our day early with an Airbnb Experience sunrise bike ride at 6am–my first time trying it out! The tour guide entertained us with stories of Florence from when he was young. He also gave us lots of tasty restaurant recs. We enjoyed cruising through the city before the crowds arrived and the town woke up. Florence was very quiet and tranquil. The bike tour hit all the main museums, churches, and monuments in Florence. It gave us the lay of the land for when we set off on our later adventures. We were able to take lots of pictures of the Arno River at sunrise. Biking across the Ponte Santa Trinita gave us some awesome views of Ponte Vecchio.
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After the tour, we tried to go to Mercato Centrale for some breakfast. Venders were still setting up, but we peeked in. Our host warned us that Mercato Centrale is a bit touristy, which we confirmed when saw a trendy food hall on the second floor serving everything from Eataly to burgers to poke. We skipped the market and grabbed coffee and croissants at a nearby bakery.
Heads up: the Italian way of enjoying breakfast is a standing at the counter and eating on the go. If you sit down, they’ll likely charge you a cover which can range from 1 to 3 euro.
The first thing on our Florence to-do list was to get a Firenze Card to get into all the museums. At first look it might seem expensive (€85), but it’s SO WORTH IT. With the Firenze Card you get 72 hours worth of access to all the top museums in Florence. Plus, the Firenze Card app is super handy to track your passes and see what museums are nearby. What’s most important when going to Florence is securing reservations (think: Disneyland Fast Pass perks) for some of the top sites. We were able to get reservations at the Galleria degli Uffizi for the Uffizi and the Accademia. Unfortunately, we couldnt get tickets to climb the Duomo. I would definitely recommend making reservations ASAP if you’re interested in seeing any of those sites!!
After finalizing our Firenze Card schedule, we completed our first Florence climb. We hiked up 414 steps to see the skyline views from Giotto’s Bell Tower. Completed in 1359, the tower provided amazing views of the city. Personally, I think this tower is more impressive to climb because you get to see the Duomo at eye level!
Next we headed to the Galleria delgi Uffizi, known for it’s extensive collection of fourteenth century and Renaissance paintings. We skipped the massive line with our Firenze Card reservation which was clutch. You’ll see works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raffaello, Caravaggio and more. You have to go.
My favorite part of the exhibit was seeing the Medici portraits (aka the family that unofficially, officially ruled over Italy for 3 centuries) and the stories that went along with them. I also spotted quite a few Harry Potter references from the descriptions on Roman statues — Minerva, Septimus Severius, Percy, etc. Depending on how intense you are about Renaissance art, you could spend your whole day here. The museum even has a lovely terrace overlooking the Florence skyline with snacks to keep you fueled up. We spent about 2 hours in the museum, but my father spent 4–to each his own.
Outside the museum is the Piazza Della Signoria and the Loggia del Lanzi, an outdoor sculpture garden. A replica of Michaelangelo’s David statue, an iconic symbol of Florence, stands tall.
Afternoon – The Most Famous Butt in Florence
One of our favorite lunch spots in Florence was Osteria All’antico Vinaio. While a popular tourist destination, our Florence Airbnb host gave it his blessing, so we happily indulged in the massive paninis. The Florentine paninis is not what you might expect in America (there’s no “panini press” in sight). Instead, crunchy Florentine bread called schiacciata all’olio is stuffed with fresh meats, cheeses, and veggies. They had a few menu items, but I was able to build-my-own vegetarian option with spicy eggplant, zucchini, stracciatella cheese, arugula and roma tomatoes. Most paninis are €5. The guys running the shop are very energetic and fun to practice Italian with.
After lunch, we headed over to the Galleria dell’Accademia for our final museum of the day and to see the most famous
butt statue in Florence. The Firenze Card was a lifesaver because we bypassed a massive line with our reservation. It was literally the equivalent of a Disneyland Fast Pass. The Accademia is home to Michaelangelo’s famous David statue and several other incomplete marble works. Over 1.3 million people come see the Florentine masterpiece each year!
Having never been super interested in Renaissance art, I was surprised that my favorite part of the museum was seeing the painted Russian icons. The exhibit is upstairs (and I expect bypassed by lots of people) but the video on panel painting technique should not be missed! The short film gave me so much respect for the artistic skill needed to create the details in the gold leaf halos. I also nerded out over seeing a Stravinsky violin in the medieval music section after having read Art of Color and seeing a similar version in the Leipzig Museum of Musical Instruments.
Evening – Eat Like the Locals
Our first evening in Florence, on the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we got dinner at Trattoria la Casalinga. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. We got in at the first seating at 7:00pm and had to be out by 8:30pm. I loved the fresh pasta, and my boyfriend enjoyed his meat main course (no we didn’t do the 2lb Florentine steak). If you’re getting a main, definitely order sides because a) they’re delicious b) your meat dish doesn’t come with any. The celery was an interesting choice! The star of the show though was the €8 liter of house wine. Seriously, house wine made me never want to leave Italy. It’s the best.
The restaurant totally seats the tourists on one side and the locals on the other, but plenty of Florentines were present. Italians typically eat on the later side at 8pm or 9pm. But we wanted to catch the sunset so we happily gave up our table for the 8:30pm reservation.
We went to the Hotel Grand Cavour for our next climb of the day. The bar had marvelous city views and I nearly cried when all the bell towers rang out at 9pm. It was so beautiful. Unfortunately after the fantastic wine I just drank at such a deal, I couldn’t justify spending €16 on a cocktail, so we left shortly thereafter. Enjoying Florence from a rooftop is a big deal though, and other places that I considered going included: 360 Rooftop Bar at Hotel Minerva, Cafe La Terrazza at La Rinascente and Se-Sto at the Westin Excelisor.
Day 2 – Go Where the Locals Go
Morning – Markets & Museums
In Florence, we booked a glorious Airbnb next to the Duomo. It had a spacious balcony in which I absolutely insisted on enjoying breakfast on several times throughout our trip. We woke up early and headed out to the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (open 7am – 2pm). Reminiscent of my farmer’s markets here in Paris, I was very pleased at their selection of local produce and lack of tourists. The typical bread in Florence is called sciocco and has a particular texture and taste because it doesn’t contain salt. We got San Marzano tomatoes, golden plums, apricots, oranges, stracciatella di bufala cheese, fresh rolls and olive bread from a bakery and headed back to the Airbnb to enjoy our feast with Italian made espresso.
With the Firenze Card, we were able to get into 76 museums and sites around the city. And while we barely made a dent, most things we saw were walkable and exquisite. One of our favorites was the Museo Nazionale del Bargello to see the Donatello statues, more Michaelangelo and Luca della Robbia. It was a pretty eclectic museum collection ranging from jewelry to Islamic textiles to dishes. I loved it! Plus the building itself dates back to thirteenth century and it’s not hard to imagine people wearing tunics in the courtyard.
Afterwards we got into the Museo Galileo with our Firenze Cards to balance out all the art we were seeing with some science. Having both studied engineering, my boyfriend and I nerded out over all the old science equipment, maps and telescopes that old school scientists used to discover things like laws of motion and that the earth rotates around the sun. The first floor of the museum hosts an interactive space where you can recreate some of the famous experiments yourself. Would highly recommend!
Afternoon – Pesto & Palaces
Lunch that day was at the amazing Ristorante del Fagioli –another 5 star recommendation from our Airbnb host. Few tourists, plenty of locals, amazing food and even more amazing house wine. My boyfriend and I have had several debates over which plate was the best–the pesto gnocchi, the roma tomato sauce (no cheese!), the white fagioli beans or the green beans and tomatoes. Tuscany is big on their beans and they did not disappoint. This lunch inspired me to host a cooking party when I get back to the states so I can relive all of this in it’s glory. Also, the wine was a drink-as-you-go situation. They just placed the liter on the table and charged us for what we drank out of it. Big fan of Europe — I’d also seen something similar done in Catalonia.
That afternoon we wandered over to the Palazzo Pitti. With the Firenze Card, we had access to all the many museums and gardens inside the Palazzo Pitti such as the Palatine Gallery, Royal Apartments, Modern Art Museum, Fashion and Costume Museum, and the Boboli Gardens. I’ve never met a palace I didn’t like, so naturally I loved all the decadent af decor with gold-gilded everything. The Medici’s were a bit full of themselves because the palace has lots of rooms in which they’re low key painted into scenes with Hercules or biblical characters to assert their power and likeness to gods.
Strolling through the Boboli Gardens provided yet another magnificent skyline view of Florence. The gardens were quite large (smaller than Versailles I think), with statues, ponds, and manicured tree groves decorating the park.
Evening – Sunsets
After going to the Garden, when you’re in the Oltrarno neighborhood on that side of the Arlo river, it’s the perfect opportunity to get a picnic and watch the sunset at Pizzale Michelangelo. We grabbed fresh focaccia topped with olives, tomatoes, and vegetables, chips, a sweet bread with sugared grapes, and a bottle of Chianti (local to the region!) and hiked up the hill. At the top of the Piazzale is a staircase, a David statue replica (of course), and breathtaking views over the city. On the other side of the staircase is the Rose Garden. When we went, it was quite crowded but enjoyable. A musician played music, additional beer and wine was sold nearby, and we stayed well after it got dark to see the whole city light up!
Day 3 – Culture and Cooking
Morning – More Firenze Card Mileage
With a view like ours, I couldn’t help but enjoy another breakfast on the terrace of our Airbnb. We still had goodies from the Sant’Ambrogia market, but the other market I would have liked to get to is Le Cascine, which is open only Tuesdays from 7am to 2pm. I also heard from a local that Ditta Artiginale makes a mean cappuccino.
Florence literally has so much to see, it’s hard to get to it all. Luckily, we could see what was nearby with the Firenze Card app and could skip the line at many places. Palazzo Vecchio was one of my favorite places to visit in Florence. For over seven centuries it was the center of the Florentine Government and is now the city’s symbol. Filled with antique furniture and works by Donatello and Michelangelo, the palace gave me a glimpse into what it was like to be near-royalty as part of the Medici clan. One highlight was climbing the tower and getting some spectacular Florence views!
Afternoon – Shopping
While we didn’t make it, another place on my list of Florence restaurants was the terrace of Oblate Library (hello more views!!) as well as these recommendations from my Airbnb host: Sasatino and Fagiou.
Florence has plenty to see just by walking. We enjoyed window shopping at the jewelry vendors on Ponte Vecchio. Florence is known for its gold. San Lorenzo Market had many leather stalls set up–another product Florence is famous for.
Evening — Italian Cooking Class
One of our highlights of Florence was scheduling a cooking class with Matteo on EatWith (the predecessor to Airbnb experience). Matteo is a professional chef who invited us into his home to cook a traditional Italian meal.
For starters, we made farina which is a chickpea cake (common to Cinque Terre) with a fresh zucchini topping. Next, we made fresh pasta by rolling out the dough and creating a scratch tomato sauce. Dessert was homemade tiramisu. We had fun learning about balancing flavors, how to cut herbs and how to whip eggs properly for the dessert filling. He was very knowledgeable and shared lots of stories about Italian cooking, weddings, and restaurants. My only regret is that we didn’t book the cooking class sooner in the trip, so that we could have gotten more local restaurant recommendations!
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Having never been super passionate about Renaissance art, I was a bit hesitant about packing my trip so full with museums. But I fell in love with everything in Florence. The museums are miraculously curated and tell the powerful story of the rise and fall of the Medici family as well as the history of many artists that benefited during their reign. I wish I had more time in this Tuscan city, so definitely don’t cut your Florence time short – there’s so much to see, eat, and experience!
Florence Travel Tips:
- Get the Firenze Card app and schedule your reservations early!
- Book events and tours with locals during your first days of the trip so you can pick their brains and get authentic recommendations
- Beware of bakeries that charge €4 for a croissant for you to sit down
- Don’t go to Eataly or Amorino (come on guys you can do that in the US!)
- Trattoria Zaza caters to tourists. If there’s 11,000 reviews on Trip Adviser you know locals probably don’t go there bc they can’t get a table. For reference for my Houston readers, the highest rated El Tiempo in Houston only has 422 reviews in Trip Adviser. Menil Collection only 892; Space Center is Houston 8600 (highest I could find)…