Florence for First Timers

10 Best Things To Do On Your First Visit To Florence

Julie Italy 8 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

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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Planning a trip to Italy? Read all of our articles about Italy in our Italy Travel Guide.

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Comments 8

  1. Hi Julie,

    Is Firenze card only way to skip lines? Or if I book the tickets in advance online, is it possible to skip lines?

    Thank you. Your blog is something I always visit when ever I plan to visit a place.

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes, you can book individual tickets in advance to skip the lines (for certain sites…I know for certain that Accademia and the Uffizi tickets can be purchased in advance). This is a good idea if you only plan to visit a few places in Florence. Just make sure you buy your tickets as soon as possible. For some places, they can sell out as soon as they go on sale. If you know which sites you plan to visit, do a little advance research to see how far in advance you can buy your tickets, then mark the date on your calendar. I don’t think Florence is too bad, but to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan, tickets sell out within minutes of going on sale. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hi. We will be in Florence for a day from the cruise port. I purchased an independent cruise excursion which will take us first to pisa then to Florence. We will only have approximately 4 hours to explore Florence. I am planning on visiting Accademia and Uffuzi with Firenze card to skip the line. Do you think 4 hours will be sufficient time to do both?

    BTW, we will are also going to London and we are planning on following your Day 2 & 3 itineraries:) Your sight is really helpful!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Pam. Yes, four hours should be enough time to visit both museums. If you only have plans to visit 2 museums, you could save some money by NOT buying the Firenze Card and instead buying individual tickets in advance. On the official Uffizi website, you can purchase your tickets in advance, choosing a date and a time. You pick up your tickets at the ticket window and enter through the fast track lane. You can also buy tickets for Accademia in advance on this website (the official website for the Florence museums). This can save you money, but if the individual tickets are sold out, then you will need to buy the Firenze Card. I would buy your tickets as soon as they become available. Seeing David at Accademia can be quick. You’ll need more time to visit the Uffizi. Both are awesome! Have fun in Florence and London!! Cheers, Julie

  3. Hi Julie – Your site is so helpful – thank you. We will be Florence (first time) in Sept for two days. Not sure if we will be able to get our money’s worth on the Firenze Card (want to cover Uffizi, Academia, Duomo complex, Pitti & Boboli) but is it still worth getting to avoid lines at the Uffizi and Academia. I would at least buy pre-booked tickets but heard you still have to wait in line for those. Thank you!

    1. Post
      Author

      I think it’s absolutely worth spending a little extra for the card or taking the time to buy pre-booked tickets because they could save you from standing in line for hours. Having the Firenze card saved us from waiting in the 3 hour line for Duomo tickets. That right there made the card worth it. I think your time is so valuable when you’re on vacation (well, time is always valuable) and you’ve already paid for the plane tickets and hotel, why not spend a few more euros and skip those lines, right? Have fun! Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi Julie

    My bestfriend and i are planning an Italy trip for next year and i was wondering how u guys got around while u were in Florence?

    Bell and Anna

    1. Post
      Author

      We took the bus from our hotel (Hotel Ungherese) into the city center. Once in the city center, everything is within walking distance. Cheers!

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