Is Florence Worth Visiting? Top Reasons to Go and Things to Do

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Is Florence worth visiting? 

I have traveled to Florence from the USA on five different occasions, and it is a city that should not be missed when visiting Italy. Florence is renowned for its history, art (it’s also known as the birthplace of the Renaissance) and architecture. And yes, Florence is worth visiting for sure.

During each of my visits, I focused on something different because there is plenty to do and see in Florence. My first trip was to get a feel for the city – the atmosphere, and the culture. I’ve explored the museums, admired the architecture and indulged in the cuisine at local markets. 

In this post I’ll share the top reasons Florence is worth visiting, some of the best things to do there, and top tips for first timers to help you make the most of your own visit.

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Top Reasons Florence is Worth Visiting

Florence is a city brimming with art, history, and cultural experiences. Here are some of the top reasons to visit Florence:

Amazing Food

Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) in Florence

Italians love food, and they love to spend time together eating. As is the case with so many cities in Italy, Florence also has cuisine that is distinctly typical of the city and region.

As with many other Tuscan dishes, the dishes in Florence are uncomplicated and made with simple, high-quality ingredients. 

Florence is known for its Tuscan specialties like pizza al taglio (pizza sold by the slice), ribollita, papa al pomodoro (a tomato and bread soup) and gelato. In fact, Florence is said to be the birthplace of gelato, and it is still believed that the best gelato is found here.  

And of course, the king of all of Florence’s cuisine, Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (Steak Florentine). This 2-inch-thick steak is served rare, cooked for 4-6 minutes per side.

They do not take customizations for well-done steak so if your preference is for steak that is cooked longer, don’t order steak Florentine!

Local Culture and Traditions

out for a walk in Flroence

Another reason Florence is worth visiting is to have a chance to join in on local traditions and culture. Try having your coffee standing up at the coffee bar, like the locals do on their way to work.

Or, visit Florence while there is a local festival going on (if you do this, though, know that the city will be busier!).

Join in on the traditional “passeggiata” – a leisurely walk that locals enjoy during late afternoon or early evening. This stroll allows Italians to catch up with friends, socialize, and see and be seen.

In Florence, a city known for its fashion, the Italians dress for this occasion. It’s a lovely aspect of Italian life that perfectly embodies the saying “la dolce vita(the sweet life).

In Florence, dinner usually starts later, around 8:30 pm. The nightlife in the city is a unique experience you should not miss.

Even if you don’t plan on going to clubs or eating late, find a spot in one of the piazzas where you can watch the lively atmosphere and the young at heart enjoying themselves. 

Since Florence is a city where people eat dinner late and party until early morning, most stores do not open until later. Coffee shops, bakeries and pastry shops might be open early, but not much else. Use this as an excuse to sleep in. 

Or, if you’re an early riser, this could be the perfect chance to visit Plaza Mayor or other popular sites and take photos with minimal crowds. You can enjoy peaceful sightseeing with the company of birds and a cup of espresso.

The Local Artisans

Nothing is as good for my soul as a stroll through Florentine city streets. Instead of rushing from one sight to the next, I prefer walking through the side and back streets. 

I love discovering local artisan shops and talking with the artisans. I’m always curious to discover what they do, how long they have been there, and how modern life has impacted their art or craft.

It’s an easy walk from the main attractions to these back streets. On your visit, you can support these smaller independent artists instead of buying from chain stores. Without our support, this art form will soon be lost.

Best Things to Do in Florence

Staying in the old city of Florence feels like staying in a living museum. Even without a map or a guidebook, each street offers something extraordinary. Along the smaller side streets, you can observe the period’s architecture and get a feel for the “vibe” in the area. 

Included below is a list of museums and architectural marvels that make it to the top of the list of places to visit in Florence. The order below is based on my favorites from the many times we have visited the city. 

Visit Piazza del Duomo Complex

Duomo Florence

The piazza hosts the Duomo Cathedral, Baptistry of St. John and many artistic landmarks, museums and restaurants. Note that eating in this piazza is touristy, and food is priced with tourists in mind. Walk four blocks from the piazza and get some local cuisine, instead.

I recommend visiting the Duomo as the top site to see in Florence, of course. However, the long lines can be daunting, so I suggest buying tickets in advance to avoid the wait.

Take a guided tour of the Duomo. There’s so much history and art that grasping it all on your own is challenging. 

If you decide not to pay the entrance fee or for a tour, simply walking around the cathedral is a treat in itself – the back of the building is almost as stunning as the front. You will also get great photos of the “lesser seen” part of the Duomo. 

The Bell Tower, with its famous red-tiled dome, is a sight to marvel at. Climb to the top of the Cupola: the city views are breathtaking. It’s an experience that gives you a whole new appreciation and perspective of this beautiful city. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Florence; it’s an unforgettable experience. 

Be aware that the staircase narrows closer to the top. If you are claustrophobic, this could be a concern.

👉 Book a Guided Tour

See The Baptismal of St. John

You really shouldn’t miss the baptistry right across from the Duomo (included in this guided tour). The art on its doors is something I find simply breathtaking every time I see it. The ceiling inside the baptistry is a true masterpiece, but remember, there’s an entrance fee to view it. 

Even if you choose not to pay for entry to see the inside of the baptistry, please take a moment to admire the 28 quatrefoil panels on the outside. I spent 30 minutes looking at the details the first time I saw it.

Each panel depicts scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, and they’re just incredible in their detail and artistry. It’s one of those experiences in Florence that always stays with me.

Rub Elbows with Locals at Mercado Central

view of produce at market in Florence, Italy

Take a break from visiting museums and art galleries to dive into Florence’s local food culture at the Mercado Centrale.

On the ground floor, wander among the stalls filled with fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and fish. It’s also a great place to find dried and cooked pasta, balsamic vinegar, oils and wines. 

Keep an eye out for where you see locals buying their produce and groceries – these stalls have the best food and prices.

The real treat is on the upper floor, where you’ll find numerous small restaurants. I usually order small bites or dishes from different vendors and sit at one of the large communal tables. 

This setup allows you to share your experience with others, which can be especially fun when you’re visiting Italy solo. Take this opportunity to converse with the person next to you. If they’re local, they might share the best tips on what to see and do in Florence and where to find the best food. 

This is also a great spot to try out your Italian. It’s one of my favorite ways to immerse myself in the city’s vibrant culture.

👉 Book a Local Food & Wine Tour

Cross Ponte Vecchio

View of Ponte Vecchio over Arno River in Florence

The Ponte Vecchio has always fascinated me as an iconic symbol of Florence. This historic bridge was originally built to connect the Uffizi with the Pitti Palace through the Vasari Corridor above it.

Intriguingly, it was designed to allow the Medici family to move between their workplace and residence without mingling with the locals, reflecting their sense of superiority.

Today, Ponte Vecchio has a different vibe. It’s mostly occupied by jewelers showcasing their exquisite pieces. Be vigilant while walking here, as it’s a well-known spot for pickpockets.

Despite this, the bridge offers incredible photo opportunities, especially at night when the city lights cast a magical glow over the Arno River. For a truly unique way to experience the magic of Ponte Vecchio, get on the river and go stand up paddle boarding!

👉 Ponte Vecchio Stand Up Paddle Board Experience

Wander Aimlessly 

aerial street view in Florence

Florence is a smaller city, and the old town is relatively flat. This makes it perfect for taking leisurely strolls. Look up and enjoy the architecture surrounding you.

Sidestep the main tourist attractions and sit outside in a smaller piazza for a while. Lose yourself in the many side streets. 

One of my highlights in Florence was finding a small pizza al taglio shop by chance. It was cold, rainy and too early for dinner. But when we popped our heads into a small pizza place, the owner was happy to seat us, with the understanding that we could not order food – only drinks.

We spent an hour chatting with him while he finished preparing his pizza al taglio for the dinner crowd.

Take a Cooking Class

Florence has so many cooking classes. We enjoyed a cooking class where the chef met us at the local market, and we shopped together. That was followed by prepping, cooking and eating. 

We also love to add a local wine pairing with these cooking classes; that way, you get the best of both worlds. Somehow, these cooking classes always end up as one of the trip highlights. It might be because we come home and try to recreate what we learned. 

👉 Book Tuscan Cooking Class & Market Experience

Where to Stay in Florence, Italy

When in Florence, I recommend staying close to or in the old town. Here are my top recommendations:

🏨 Luxury Recommendation: Palazzo Vecchietti Hotel

pizza repubblica in Florence, with view of carousel

The Palazzo Vecchietti Hotel is a five-star hotel and cannot be beaten in terms of location, service and historical significance. The hotel is housed in the historical Palazzo Vecchietti, just steps away from Piazza della Repubblica, in the heart of Florence’s shopping district.

Attractions such as the Galleria Accademia, the Galleria degli Uffizi, and the Duomo are all located within a 10-minute walk from the hotel. 

👉 Check Prices & Availability

🏨 Mid-Range Recommendation: Laurus al Duomo Hotel

Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy

The Laurus al Duomo Hotel is also centrally located. It does not have the historical significance of the hotel above but is well-appointed with friendly staff. 

👉 Check Prices & Availability 

🏨 Budget Recommendation: Hotel Hermitage

view of the old bridge over Arno river in Florence italy

The Hotel Hermitage is close to the Ponte Vecchio. The hotel gets excellent reviews, but remember that this can be a very noisy part of town until the shops at Ponte Vecchio close. 

👉 Check Prices & Availability

Tips for Visiting Florence for First Timers

If you are a first-timer to the city, here are some tips to help you have the best experience in Florence:

  • If you have limited time in the city, I recommend taking the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. This will enable you to visit the main attractions, learn some history of the city, and get familiar with your surroundings.
  • If any attraction on your list is a “must-see,” it’s best to book it in advance. Many popular attractions can have long ticket lines, and can also reach maximum capacity for the day so it’s important to plan ahead. This is often the case at the Uffizi, and many people miss it because they did not buy tickets in advance.
  • Florence museums often close down to tourists for one Sunday of the month, when they allow locals to attend for free. This is a great tradition, but could be an issue if that is the one day you planned to visit. Check closure dates before visiting.
  • While exploring Florence, take breaks in between visiting museums. Seeing too many museums on a single day or back-to-back might cause them to lose some of their charm. 
  • Plan to visit attractions in the same area on the same day. This will reduce the time you spend walking between attractions or the cost of taking a taxi.
  • Enjoy the local cuisine. Walk away from the main piazza into some of the smaller piazzas or back streets to get a more authentic experience.
  • Florence is filled with churches and other holy sites; be respectful and dress modestly.  Most churches require that a woman’s shoulders should be covered. If you visit in the middle of summer, it is wise to carry a light scarf or wrap to cover your shoulders when needed.
  • In Florence, it is quite common for people to speak English. However, it is polite if you learn some basic Italian phrases. Don’t worry too much about mixing up the tenses, as people will appreciate your effort to learn their language
  • Florence is filled with great leather stores. However, I’ve learned to be cautious, as the requirement for something to be labeled “made in Italy” is surprisingly low. In some cases, simply attaching a tag to a bag claiming it was made in Italy satisfies the governing bodies. 
  • I’ve also become wary of items sold as couture, often just cheap imitations made in China. Tip: consider the old saying…if it is too good to be true, it is probably not true.

Frequently Asked Questions

As you decide whether or not Florence is worth visiting, you might also be wondering:

How many days should you spend in Florence?

The short answer is at least three days, although the answer depends on how long you plan to be in Italy. With three days, you could spend a half day just walking without a plan, getting a feel for the city. It will also allow enough time to see many of the main attractions.

Is Florence better to visit than Rome?

In terms of cost, Florence is slightly cheaper than Rome. While both cities cater to a variety of price points, if you’re budget-sensitive then Florence would be a better option for you between the two cities.

Rome is your ideal destination if you are more interested in centuries of history and architecture. However, if your focus is on art, especially Renaissance art, then Florence is the answer, as it is the birthplace of the Renaissance and filled with museums for every taste.

Is Florence a walkable city?

I’ve always found Florence to be an incredibly walkable city, with its small and compact old town. Staying anywhere within or close to the historic center allows you to explore most main attractions on foot; however, reaching some areas does require more effort. 

For instance, visiting the Boboli Gardens or going to Piazzale Michelangelo involves a bit of a hike. The Piazzale Michelangelo not only offers access to a replica of Michelangelo’s David but also presents panoramic city views and is a favorite spot to capture sunset over Florence. 

Final Verdict: Is Florence Worth Visiting?

After multiple visits to Florence, yes – it is a destination deserving of a spot on every travel enthusiast’s bucket list. The charm of Florence lies not just in its famous landmarks and artistic heritage but also in the myriad of personal experiences it offers. 

Whether it’s strolling through its streets, interacting with local artisans, or indulging in the culinary delights at Mercato Centrale, Florence provides a rich tapestry of cultural experiences.

What I cherish most about Florence is its ability to blend the grandeur of its historical significance with the simplicity of everyday Italian life. It’s a place where every corner has a story, and every street leads to a new adventure. 

For those contemplating a visit, embrace the opportunity. Florence is not only worth visiting; it’s a city that invites you to return, time and again, each visit unfolding new layers and offering new insights into this beautifully complex tapestry of art, history and everyday Italian charm.

About the author: Aletta van der Walt is the established author behind several travel blogs, including Together with her husband, they have explored more than 22 countries. Their journeys have taken them to Italy on five different occasions, a country they have grown to love deeply.