I got the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy in my third year at community college. If we’re being totally honest, I really wanted to study in London. Florence was the only trip being offered at a time when I could go. I had a few semester left in community college before I could get my AS degree. I couldn’t go in Fall because I would be applying to transfer to University, and I couldn’t go in Spring of my last semester because I would need to prepare for my move to a new school. So, Florence it was.
Having spent 3 months in Florence, it’s difficult to narrow down what I should write about and how much I should say. But I think in this post I will focus on Florence as a place to visit and not live/study in. In the future, I will try to share some advice on studying abroad and tell you some of the things I learned from my experience. If there are any students currently reading this who have questions about studying abroad, feel free to ask me questions in the comments.
Top things to do in Florence
The best thing about Florence is it’s small and has a lot to do within close proximity. I only needed a taxi a few times during my three months in the city. I used a taxi to get to and from the airport and other times when I was too exhausted to walk 20 minutes to the apartment. You also won’t need a bus if you are staying in the center of the city. If you accidentally book a room or B&B that’s outside the city, you may want to use public buses to avoid walking an extra hour everyday. I have included hotels that are all in great locations near the end of this post.
The famous Florence Cathedral (formally Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) is the heart and center of Florence. If you’re ever lost in Florence, ask someone to point you towards the “Duomo.” It’s much easier to use this cathedral as a point of reference when lost since it’s clearly indicated on every map and walking distance from everything.
Next to this spectacular cathedral is an amazing baptistery and bell tower. There is a ticket office located near the bell tower where you can purchase tickets to climb up the Dome, climb the Bell Tower, plus go inside the baptistery and museum/crypt under the cathedral. The price was recently raised to 18 Euros at the ticket office but gives you 72 hours to visit all the places.
The walk up the Dome is very narrow, but will offer you fantastic views of the interior as well as the entire city once you’re outside. It’s the perfect place to take pictures of Florence if you don’t want to take the time to walk to Piazzale Michelangelo.
Pay attention to the large doors outside the Baptistery and the floors when you are inside. Both are easily missed but are works of art with rich ancient history.
I wasn’t originally planning on going to the top of the bell tower, but when I found out it was included in the ticket I decided to make another trip up more stairs. I’m so glad I decided to take the climb up. Just like to Duomo, there is no elevator, so if you are planning to go to the top you must walk up a long flight of narrow stairs. Making the climb up the tower isn’t enjoyable but the views at the top make it worth every step. It’s the perfect place to take pictures of the Florence Cathedral without any crowds in your shot.
More Must-See Churches:
Basilica di Santa Croce – Located in Piazza Santa Croce. It’s a great place to take pictures and walk around before or after walking down Borgo dei Greci (where you can go inside leather stores and shops).
Santa Maria Novella – Located in another beautiful Piazza by the same name. It will most likely be the first church you see if you arrive to Florence by train or bus since it’s next to the SMN Train Station.
Basilica di San Lorenzo – Located down the street from the San Lorenzo Market, it’s the perfect place to stop before souvenir shopping. Probably the most deceiving cathedral since the front is not as interesting as the inside. It’s the burial place for many members of the Medici family. It’s beautiful on the inside, although, none of my pictures did it any justice.
Santo Spirito – Located on the other side of the Arno river in Piazza S. Spirito, it’s a good place to look around after crossing the Ponte Santa Trinita or the more famous Ponte Vecchio. It’s also very close to the Pitti Palace and Gusta Pizza.
Orsammichele – A church and art museum located between Piazza della Repubblica and Pizza della Signoria in a major shopping area. Inside are beautiful sculptures and the famous Madonna delle Grazie.
San Miniato al Monte – The church and cemetery are beautiful and so are the views of Florence from this location. It’s a bit of a hike since it’s at the top of the highest point in Florence, even further than Piazzale Michelangelo (the famous spot for taking pictures). Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend taking the walk up if you are only in the city for less than a day.
The Uffizi Gallery is an art lovers dream. I had a pass that let me go inside the museum as often as I wanted for a year. A week before I was going back to the US, I spent an entire day in the Uffizi. And STILL didn’t see everything. It’s arguable the best art museum in the WORLD. If you don’t know much about the art in the Uffizi, make sure to do your research or sign up for a tour. The tours will help you skip the long lines (which can save you hours).
The Uffizi is in a beautiful location right along the Arno near the Ponte Vecchio. You can see the river and bridges from windows inside the gallery. I recommend checking it out when you go explore the Piazza della Signoria, copy of David, Palazzo Vecchio, and of course Ponte Vecchio. It really is a great spot in Florence to look around. Even if you don’t have time to go inside the Uffizi, the outside is nice and the Piazza della Signoria is filled with famous statues and Fountain of Neptune. Just make sure to be aware of your pockets and purse. This whole area is very busy from April to August making it easy for your wallet to be stolen in a tight crowd. Especially on the Ponte Vecchio.
Across the Ponte Vecchio is the Palazzo Pitti, or Pitti Palace, which also houses an overwhelming amount of art. Inside you will see palace rooms, Museo della Moda e del Costume (a must if you love fashion), Modern Art Museum, and Museo degli Argenti. I easily spent hours walking around the palace admiring the huge variety of artwork.
If you have limited time in Florence, you may have to skip going inside. Or research which artworks and rooms you’re interested in seeing in person and only go to those rooms.
More Must-See Museums:
Galleria dell’Accademia – AKA the Michelangelo’s David museum. I feel weird saying this because I lived in Florence for 3 months, plus returned for a day, but I have never been inside this museum. & I will tell why I have not gone inside the museum that holds the most famous sculpture in all of Florence and possibly all of Italy. BECAUSE THE LINE IS TOO DANG LONG. It’s partly my fault for not going during off-season, not being able to find it (it’s invisible when there isn’t a line out the door), and not wanting to spend two of my eight hours in Florence standing in line. I can’t tell you if this museum is worth the wait since I have never been inside, but I can tell you that you will be in line for hours if you go during Summer. If you go with a group of people, you might want to take turns waiting in line. The other option is finding a tour that has the ability to get you inside quickly.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello (The Bargello) – This is usually a museum that goes under the radar for some, but the people that actually do take the time to go are glad they did. Once a prison, it now houses beautiful sculptures and various artworks.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi – A Renaissance palace and museum (like Pitti Palace) that was once a home to the Medici family. Inside is a lovely courtyard, garden, and marble museum. I recommend it for those that love Renaissance art and walking around palaces.
Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo – This museum is located behind the Dome of the Florence Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo. Inside are the original works of art that were created for the Florence Cathedral. If you bought a ticket/pass for the baptistry, crypt, to climb up the Dome and Bell Tower–this museum is most likely included.
Gucci Museum – Located in Piazza Signoria. This museum is beautiful and tells you all about the history of the Gucci brand. If you’re going to shop at Gucci, Italy is the place to do it. (I had to included this in Must-See because Gucci has been making a comeback in the mainstream fashion world.)
Parks & Gardens
Surrounding the Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens. This is a glorious place to wander around or spend hours relaxing on the grass. If you decided to have a picnic, go to one of the many discreet locations because you aren’t supposed to bring outside food into the gardens.
There is a lot to see in the garden if you know what to look for. I found a map here that can help you. My personal favorite is the Buontalenti Grotte (or Grotta del Buontalenti).
Inside Boboli Gardens is a small porcelain museum with a fountain and garden in the front that overlooks a different side of Florence. Make sure to stop here after viewing the Neptune Fountain since it isn’t far from it.
More Must-See Gardens & Parks:
The Rose Garden and The Iris Garden – Between the two gardens is the Piazzale Michelangelo (the picture spot) making these gardens the perfect place to stroll around and take incredible photos of flowers with a scenic view of Florence in the background.
Le Cascine– This is a huge park where many local events happen in Florence. It’s outside the city center but worth the visit during one of the events if you’re staying nearby. On Tuesday mornings there is an open-air market. I walked along the Arno for about an hour to get to the market but I found it was worth it. You’ll get to see all the different bridges and take pictures where it isn’t crowded. The market is also HUGE and the prices are cheap. However, it’s not that far if you’re coming from the SMN Train Station.
My favorite places to eat in Florence
Gusta Pizza – Via Maggio, 46, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy. It’s famously called the best pizza in Florence so you know it has to be amazing.
All’ Antico Vinaio – Via dei Neri 65r. The sandwiches here are AMAZING. They really use the best and freshest ingredients. I haven’t looked at a Subway the same way since I’ve eaten here. It’s also steps away from the Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio so I recommend going here if you leave the museum hungry (which you probably will because it takes hours to walk through). If that doesn’t sway you, they have a large selection of wine.
Libreria Brac – Via dei Vagellai 18. No, it’s not a library. It’s just decorated like one on the inside. If you’re looking for an Italian vegetarian/vegan restaurant, this is a popular one that’s been around for years.
Pino’s Sandwiches/Salumeria Verdi- Via Verdi 36r. So I know I said the last sandwich place was amazing but this one is just as amazing. It’s also a little cheaper, has more alternatives if you don’t eat sandwiches, and has more seating. I could eat these sandwiches everyday (& I almost did). I dreamt about this place when I left Italy. I even tried making them at home in America, however, they weren’t the same at Pino’s. When I went back to Florence two years later, I was broken when my friend didn’t want to eat here. BROKEN.
Il Teatro – Via Ghibellina 128r. I ate here on my second night (and returned every few weeks.) I usually don’t eat everything at restaurants, but here, I finished the mushroom risotto, an entire pizza, and a dessert! The food is authentic, inexpensive, and very delicious. It’s also ideal if you’re with a large group and wanting to eat at the same table.
Trattoria Anita – Via del Parlascio 2. I ate here more than a few times since it was literally steps away from where I was living. It’s right on the corner of a quiet street which gives off the vibe that you’re truly in an authentic family restaurant. Probably because it is an authentic family restaurant run by three brothers.
Osteria de’ Peccatori – This is another one of my favorites because the menu has English translations, it’s inexpensive, and has lots of delicious options to fit anyones taste. Plus it’s next to The Bargello museum & Piazza della Signoria making it a great spot to grab a bite during a busy day of exploring.
The Diner – Via dell’ Acqua 3. I highly recommend The Diner if you need a place to eat breakfast. It’s Italy’s version of an American diner. I say “Italy’s version” because some things aren’t cooked quite like how we would in the US (I’m talking about the deep fried hash browns). However, the portions are large and the lattes & milkshakes are amazing!
Tijuana – Via Ghibellina 156r. Italy’s version of Mexican food is a little strange no matter what restaurant you go to, and maybe I think this because I live in California (aka the best place to get Mexican food). So even though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this place for food, I would recommend their margaritas. The presentation is beautiful and the drinks are LARGE.
Some dining tips:
Always judge a restaurant by the price of their margarita pizza. It shouldn’t be more than 10 euros if it’s casual dining.
You are not expected to tip your waiters (or bars & taxis). You can if the service was amazing, but most employees in the service industry in Italy are paid a reasonable wage.
If you notice you waiter isn’t giving you a check or picking up your card/cash, it may be a restaurant where you go to the register to pay. Check to see if there’s a register by the front doors.
If there’s a line out the door, it’s worth the wait. The most popular/famous places in Florence will always have a line during peak travel seasons.
Order aqua naturale if you want flat water with your meal or they may bring you aqua gassata (carbonated water).
Ristorante = expensive & likely to serve national or international cuisine. Trattoria = moderately priced & serves local dishes for a full meal of multiple courses. Osteria = cheapest & serves local dishes that can be ordered individually.
The BEST Gelato in Florence
GROM – Via del Campanile, 2, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy. This gelato place is kinda famous worldwide and has many locations. The Florence GROM is steps away from the Duomo making it a popular stop for tourists and locals.
Cantina del Gelato – Via de’ Bardi, 31. You’ll often see people taking pictures of/with their gelato from this place when walking by because it’s right along the Arno. They have traditional gelato flavors as well as seasonal and exotic flavors. This is one of the only gelato places on my list that also has acai bowels and juices.
Gelateria dei Neri – Via dei Neri, 9. I stay far away from gelato places that have their gelato displayed through the glass in large decorated mountains (because the gelato isn’t fresh and sits in there for days or weeks). But Neri is my exception. The gelato taste fresh, the flavors options are great, and the prices aren’t bad. It may be that this place is popular enough that the gelato doesn’t get much of a chance to sit for too long.
Gelateria della Passera – Via Toscanella, 15/red. Gelateria della Passera isn’t as well-known as the other because it’s a bit hidden and small. However, it is my favorite out of all of them. The flavors are different everyday because they’re made fresh with real fruits and nuts. You really can’t beat 1 Euro per scoop for high quality artisan gelato
Gelateria Artigianale La Strega Nocciola -Via de’ Bardi, 51/red. Not far from Cantina del Gelato, is La Strega Nicciola. They actually have a few locations in Florence, but I like this one the most. This is another one of the gelato places where you can ask what the ingredients are and they can list them off (i.e. milk, cream, egg, sugar, chocolate, chili powder).
Hotels in Florence
When booking a hotel, I recommend comparing the hotels official website price with deals on Skyscanner and Booking.com. After narrowing down what hotels you’re willing to pay for, check previous guest reviews and photos on Tripadvisor before booking. Make your decision months in advance because these hotels do sell out.
Hotel Santa Croce |$| Via De’ Bentaccordi, 3, 50122 Firenze Tel: +39 055 21 70 00 – This is a good place to stay if you want to explore the city on a budget since it’s walking distance from everything (except the airport). All rooms are ensuite, but breakfast is not provided.
Hotel Bavaria |$| Borgo degli Albizi, 26, 50122 Firenze Tel: +39 055 2340313 –The rooms are large, inexpensive, and incorporate original frescoes in the decoration. Breakfast is included but not all rooms have private bathrooms. It’s a 5 minute walk from the Duomo which means it’s a short walk from almost everything.
Hotel Accademia |$$| Via Faenza, 7, 50123 Firenze Tel: +39 055 29 34 51 – Extremely close to Basilica de San Lorenzo, the San Lorenzo Market, and a short walk from the SMN Train Station. It’s a lovely hotel with newly remodeled rooms. Breakfast is included.
Hotel Silla |$$| Via dei Renai, 5, 50100 Firenze Tel: +39 055 234 2888 – Situated south of the Arno in the beautiful San Niccolo neighborhood near the Piazzale Michelangelo and the gardens. It’s run by a family and has a lovely terrace. It’s too far to walk if you’re coming from the train station.
Hotel Perseco |$$| Via de’ Cerretani, 1, 50123 Firenze Tel: +39 055 21 25 04 – Literally seconds away from the Florence Cathedral and Baptistry making this a great location if you want to be in the center of everything and don’t mind noise or crowds as soon as you step outside the hotel. It’s a bit of a climb to the 4th floor but the rooms are clean and affordable. Breakfast is included.
Hotel Calzaiuoli |$$$|Via dei Calzaiuoli, 6, 50122 Firenze Tel:+39 055 212456 – In the heart of Florence located between the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio and between three major Piazzas. Hotel Calzaiuoli is pricey, but worth the price.
Hotel Brunelleschi |$$$$|Piazza Sant’Elisabetta, 3, 50122 Firenze Tel: +39 055 27370 – If you’d rather stay in a luxury hotel near everything, Hotel Brunelleschi is for you. It’s in one of the most ancient buildings in Florence but still has lovely bedrooms and bathrooms.