Florence for First Timers

10 Best Things To Do On Your First Visit To Florence

Julie Italy 27 Comments

Florence is one of Italy’s most popular cities to visit, especially for first-timers. Not only is Florence the art capital of the world, it’s a gorgeous city with streets to wander, towers to climb, great places to go shopping, and lots of gelato to eat. Here is a list of our favorite experiences, a good starting point for your first visit to Florence.

#1 Visit the Duomo and Climb Brunelleschi’s Dome

The Duomo, also called Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, is the centerpiece of Florence. If you do one thing in Florence, it should be a visit to the Duomo.

Florence Italy

The entire cathedral complex has multiple parts to it: the nave, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the Baptistery.

Climbing the 463 steps to the top of dome is one of Florence’s best experiences. Along the way you will have marvelous views of the interior of the Duomo. These paintings are the “Last Judgement” frescoes showing heaven and hell. They are very graphic and Tyler and Kara were mesmerized by these, in particular the creepy portrayal of hell.

Duomo Dome

Duomo Mural

From the top of the Dome, enjoy one of the best views of Florence.

View from the Duomo

Duomo View

Pro Travel Tip: Reservations are now mandatory to climb the dome. Without a time slot you will be unable to climb the dome. These time slots tend to sell out days in advance. As soon as you know your dates of travel, I recommend booking your time slot to climb the dome. Read more about how to do this at the end of this post.

Cost: €18 (OPA Pass); included on the Firenze Card
Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 7 pm; Saturday 8:30 am to 5 pm; Sunday 1 pm to 4 pm

The OPA Pass: The OPA Pass is a ticket that includes all of the monuments of the Duomo: the dome, Baptistery, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Cathedral, the Crypt, and the Opera Duomo Museum. It costs €18 and is valid for 72 hours.


Should you get the OPA Pass or the Firenze Card? Complete details are at the end of this post.


#2 Visit the Baptistery

The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in Florence. It stands in Piazza del Duomo across from the Duomo. The giant bronze doors with relief sculptures are the main attraction but go inside to see the beautiful mosaics on the inside of the cupola.

Baptistery Doors

Cost: €18 (OPA Pass); included on the Firenze Card
Hours: Weekdays: 8:15 am – 10:15 am, 11:15 am – 6:30 pm; Saturday 8:15 am – 6:30 pm; Sunday 8:15 am – 1:30 pm
Website: Hours can change at any time, visit www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it to double check the hours on the day you want to visit

#3 Climb Giotto’s Bell Tower

Giotto’s Bell Tower, also called the Campanile, is the tall tower attached to the Duomo. For an awesome view of Florence, and a chance to look down on the dome, climb the 414 steps to the top.

Duomo Florence

Best things to do in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio

Cost:18 (OPA Pass); included on the Firenze Card
Hours: 8:15 am – 7:00 pm

#4 The Uffizi Museum

Journey back into the Renaissance with a visit to the Uffizi Gallery. This world famous art museum contains works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and many more.

Uffizi Gallery

Inside the Uffizi

Best Photo Spot: From the upstairs windows of the Uffizi you have a great view of Ponte Vecchio.

Ponte Vecchio

Pro Travel Tip: Lines can be long to enter the Uffizi. Skip the line by reserving your ticket in advance or using the Firenze Card to skip the ticket line.

Cost: March 1 to October 31: €20; November 1 to February 28: €12
Hours: 8:15 am – 6:50 pm; closed Monday

#5 Climb the Tower of Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence. Go inside to tour the museum, take a tour of the Roman Ruins, or, you can do our favorite activity, climb the tower.

This is one of my favorite views of Florence. From the top of the tower, enjoy panoramic views over the city. This is one of the best spots to get a great photo of the Duomo.

Overlooking Florence

First time in Florence

Bonus: Palazzo Vecchio is located in Piazza della Signoria. In this square you can visit the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air sculpture gallery of Renaissance art.

Piazza della Signoria

Loggia dei Lanzi

Cost: Museum €10, Tower €10, combined €14; included on the Firenze Card
Hours for the Tower: April 1 to September 30: 9 am – 9 pm, Thursdays 9 am – 2 pm; October 1 to March 31: 10 am – 5 pm, Thursdays 10 am – 2 pm; last admission is 30 minutes before closing
More Information: Visit the official website for full details on hours and tours

#6 Stroll across historic Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio, which means “old bridge,” is a medieval stone bridge that spans the Arno River. For centuries, shops have lined the sides of the bridge. Now, most of these shops sell jewelry.

Walk across Ponte Vecchio

Kara in Florence

Arno River

#7 Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace

The Boboli Gardens is a beautiful park in Florence. From here, you can tour Pitti Palace (a palace built in 1457 by Brunelleschi for the Pitti family), see more sculptures, and get a surprisingly nice view over the city.

Boboli Gardens

Cost: €10 for Boboli Gardens; €16 for Pitti Palace; €38 for combined ticket; included on the Firenze Card
Hours: opens at 8:15 am; closing time varies depending upon the season
Website: Visit the official website for updated hours and pricing for Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace.

#8 Go Shopping at San Lorenzo Market and Mercato Centrale

San Lorenzo market is outdoor market where you can go shopping for leather goods, pottery, and souvenirs. Go inside of Mercato Centrale for a culinary tour of Italy. We loved walking around the small shops and gathering food for a picnic lunch. Along the way, we got an anatomy lesson we weren’t expecting!

San Lorenzo Market

Mercato Centrale

For sale in Mercato Centrale

Bull Penis

Do you know what this is? A bull penis. And no, this did not make it into our picnic lunch.

#9 Say Hi to David at the Accademia Gallery

The statue of David is a masterpiece, one of the most famous works of art in the world. Seeing the sculpture in person is an awesome experience and the amount of detail is astounding! We could clearly see the veins on David’s arms, the definition of all of his muscles, and the expression on his face.

There’s nothing like staring up at a naked man for Tyler and Kara’s first exposure to art in Florence (this was the first place we visited in Florence).

Michelangelos David

Pro Travel Tip: This is another place with legendary long lines in Florence. Skip the ticket line with the Firenze Card or by making your reservation in advance.

Cost: €8
Hours: 8:15 am – 6:50 pm; closed Mondays
Website: Get more information and the link to purchase your tickets in advance on the official website.

#10 Watch the Sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo

Piazzale Michelangelo is the best spot to watch the sunset in Florence. As the skies grow dim, watch as the lights come on and illuminate the city in a magical glow.

Piazzale Michelangelo

See Them All on a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers. You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.

If you click the star, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Is the Firenze Card Worth It?

Very recently, the price increased for the Firenze Card, climbing from 72 euros to a whopping 85 euros. If you want the added 72 hours of unlimited public transportation, you have to add on 7 euros (for a grand total of 92 euros) for the Firenze+ Card.

Worth it? Probably not.

If you visit all of the museums we have listed, it adds up to 66 euros. That’s about 20 euros less than the cost of the Firenze Card. From a strictly financial point of view, there’s no savings in purchasing the Firenze Card. However, there are some added perks which might make it worth it.

There are designated lines at Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery for Firenze ticket holders, so with the Firenze Card, you can bypass the lines here and not have the hassle of making advance reservations.

Until recently, the Firenze Card also allowed you to bypass the line at Giotto’s Bell Tower, but a there is a new notification on the Firenze Card website that this priority access has been suspended.

If you want to climb the dome of the Duomo, having the Firenze Card creates a hassle. In order to climb the dome, you must make a reservation in advance (with or without the Firenze Card). With the Firenze Card, you cannot make your reservation until after you have collected your free Duomo ticket in Florence, and then you must visit the ticket office for the Duomo to schedule the climb. This is a big hassle and a brand new change, made just in the past few months (from the time I am updating this in September, 2018). And the Firenze Card even has a warning on their website that access to the cupola is not guaranteed with the card. During the busy summer months, it can be almost impossible to get a time slot on the same day that you pick up your Duomo ticket.

So, is there another way to reserve your dome tickets? Yes! You can purchase your Duomo-combi ticket online in advance and schedule your dome climb before you arrive in Florence. Just make sure you do so as soon as you know your dates of travel. These time slots sell out days in advance.

The Firenze Card is worth it if you plan to visit every museum we list in the post (plus several more museums covered with the Firenze Card that we don’t have listed) and want the convenience of skipping the lines without having to make a bunch of reservations in advance.

However, you can reserve tickets online in advance for the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery, and Accademia. This will allow you to skip the ticket lines at these sites. You’ll save money by not purchasing the Firenze Card but will do a little more work in advance.

If climbing the dome is high on your list, I recommend purchasing your Duomo ticket online as far in advance as possible and skip the Firenze Card (unless the procedure changes).

The rules for the Firenze Card always seem to be changing. I do my best to keep this article updated as I learn the changes, but I highly recommend reading through the FAQ on the Firenze Card website before making a decision.

Tips For Visiting Florence

If you only have the time or energy for one tower climb in Florence, I would recommend climbing the Giotto’s Bell Tower (the Campanile) over the tower of Palazzo Vecchio. I love the vantage point of being able to look down on the dome of the Duomo.

I’m going to say it one more time: it is mandatory to reserve a time slot to climb the dome of the Duomo. Click here to make your reservation online in advance. If you have the Firenze Card, you will not be able to reserve your time slot until you visit the ticket office in person.

If you are traveling with kids, don’t go crazy with the art museums. Tyler and Kara glaze over within a half hour of entering an art museum so we keep it as quick as possible.

Our final tip, eat much as gelato as possible. The more towers you climb the more you can eat! Ciao!

Where to Stay in Florence

Luxury: Portrait Firenze – Lungarno Collection. Do you want a breathtaking view of Ponte Vecchio from your hotel room? With spacious rooms and attentive staff, this is one of the most luxurious places to stay in Florence.

Mid-Range: B&B La Terazza Sul Duomo. It’s hard to beat this location since you can have a view of the Duomo from your room. Rooms are large and comfortable and breakfast can be served in your room. As a bonus, you get to enjoy views over Florence from the terrace on top of the hotel. If we visit Florence again, I’d love to stay here!

Budget: Hotel Ungherese. We stayed at this 2-star hotel during our visit to Florence. Looking at online photos, it looks as if the rooms have been renovated since our visit. Hotel Ungherese is located 1 km from the heart of Florence. It’s a 25-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride to get to the main sites. If you are looking for a decent hotel at a reasonable price, this is one to check out.

Are you planning a trip to Italy? Comment below if you have any questions about Florence or if you have advice for our readers.


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Comments 27

  1. Hello Julie,
    This website is great! I am using it, along with Rick Steve’s guide, to plan a trip to Italy in September.
    We are going to arrive in Florence around 14:00 Wednesday, have all day Thursday and will be leaving Friday around 14:00. Wondering if the following itinerary is doable:
    Duomo area on Wednesday and hoping to climb the bell tower, Uffizi Thursday and Accademia ( and markets) Friday before we leave. We also want to see other sites but these were the 3 we were planning on reserving ahead of time.
    My questions are:
    1. Should we buy tickets to the Duomo before we arrive?
    2. With all the lines, do you think we will be able to climb the Bell tower?
    3. On the second day, would it be best to make a reservation for Uffizi in the morning or afternoon? (I’m thinking morning because of lines but also thought afternoon might be a good break)
    4. Do you think we will be able to buy tickets, day of, for places like the Palazzo Vecchio, Boboli, Pitti, etc. on Thursday?
    5. When I do make advance reservations, do I have to make one for my daughter who is under 18? When I went on the website I wasn’t sure how to do that.
    Sorry for all the questions. Really appreciate any input!
    Thanks!
    Candi

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Candi. I’m glad you like our website! 🙂 Yes, reserve your dome climb tickets ASAP…they do sell out in advance. Our visit to Florence was in July 2014. The line to climb the Duomo was very, very long, as was the entrance into Accademia, but everything else was fine. However, crowds have increased in recent years. Yes, you should be able to climb the Bell Tower and this would be a good thing to do at opening time. If you really don’t want to wait in line, get here early, maybe even 30 minutes before opening time? When to go to the Uffizi is your preference. If you reserve your tickets in advance you should not have to wait in line. There might be a line to get through security but it shouldn’t be too bad.

      I think you should be able to get tickets day of for Boboli, Pitti Palace and Palazzo Vecchio. And yes, you should make reservations for your daughter. I know that you can do so on the Accademia website, but there is a fee for booking your tickets in advance…however, it’s worth it to save yourself hours in line. You’ll have to scrutinize the other sites for more details…how different museums handle youths can be tricky. I hope this helps!

      Cheers, Julie

  2. Hi Julie:
    Just returned from our first visit to Italy, including Florence. Your blog posts have been very helpful and we had a great time. Thanks!

    subra

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      Author
  3. Hi Julie,
    Your website has been fun to navigate and so very help. We will be in Italy in June for the 1st time. We are finalizing our 2 days in Florence. Is it worth while taking any tours while there? We have a 13 and 11 year old and have private tours scheduled of the Colosseum and the Vatican in Rome like you suggested. Any insight would be helpful. We plan on renting a car for a day in Tuscany to see some of the towns. Do we need any advance reservations for anything besides the car? We are hoping it’s just a fun relaxing day.
    Thanks so much,
    Jennifer

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Jennifer. I’m glad you like our website. 🙂 I don’t think it’s worth taking any tours while in Florence. Just book your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in lines. We are big fans of the Rick Steves guides if you want any additional info or walking tours. He gives just enough information to learn cool facts without being too detailed. As for Tuscany, if you just plan to hop from town to town, you don’t need any advance reservations, unless there is a particular restaurant you would like to try. The day that we rented a car in Tuscany, we visited 3 towns (Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano) and it didn’t feel too rushed. Have fun in Italy! Cheers, Julie

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