Julie Italy 50 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 Florence

Duomo Mural Florence

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

View from the Duomo Florence

Duomo View Florence

Pro Travel Tip: Reservations are 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.

If time slots are sold out for your dates of travel in Florence, join one of these skip-the-line tours to visit the dome.


#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 Florence

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 Florence

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 Florence

Inside the Uffizi Florence

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

Ponte Vecchio Florence

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

If time slots are sold out for your travel dates, consider joining one of these skip the line tours.


#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 €12.50, Tower €12.50, combined €17.50; included on the Firenze Card
Hours for the Tower: April 1 to September 30: 9 am –11 pm; October 1 to March 31: 9 am – 7 pm; last admission is one hour before closing
More Information: Visit the official website for full details on hours, tours, and to purchase your tickets

#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; €18 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: €12 + €4 online reservation fee
Hours: 8:15 am – 6:50 pm; also open from 7 pm to 10 pm from June 4 to September 26; closed Mondays
Website: Get more information and the link to purchase your tickets in advance on the official website.

You can also join one of these tours of Accademia.


#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?

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 76.50 euros. 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 at the end of 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, the Palazzo Vecchio tower, 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.

More Information for Your Trip to Italy:

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

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Comments 50

  1. Hello!
    For the bookings of Uffizi gallery if we book the tickets in advance online the website says that we need to go to the museum ticket office and present confirmation email, either printed or on smartphone or tablet, and we will receive our admission ticket/s.
    If there are queues at the ticket office how can we skip the line? Does that mean that there is no benefit of booking the tickets in advance?


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      Hello Ayushi. Yes, there still is a benefit to purchasing your tickets online in advance. To pick up your tickets, the line should be very short and fast (there is a dedicated ticket window just for advance purchases). Plus, you are booking a time slot, so you should get in at this time with no additional wait. There is a separate line (usually a very long line) for those people who just show up the day of their visit without advance tickets. Cheers, Julie

  2. I simply want to thank you for publishing the really important site for people first travelling to Italy. My wife and I plan on going in the Spring, 2020, and this is one of those trips of a lifetime for both of us. Is there a way to support your site, I would want to help.

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      I’m glad you like our site!! Your words of appreciation are thanks enough. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful trip to Italy. Cheers, Julie

  3. Florence is one of the best cities in Italy as last lear I visited there for 2 days but at that time due to lack of time I couldn’t explore it so going back again there next Monday so I was looking for some best recommendations of best things to do there thanks for letting me know what to do there on priority basis.

  4. Hi Julie, your blog is amazing I’m actually using them to plan how to plan my travel in Florence and Tuscany/Siena. Initially I thought it would be hard to travel to Siena from Florence because of the public transport but your blog has explained them all. And I’m looking for accomodations around Florence, 4 nights and 1 day tour from Florence – Siena. I had tried the link you shared on mid-range and budget b&b but they are all sold out on our dates. I’m wondering if you could help suggest a few more that you think would be a good value/price and stay. We have tried airbnb as well but haven’t came to see any to our liking. Appreciate any suggestions.

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      Hello Jay. I’m glad you like our blog! Sorry, I don’t have any other specific recommendations for Florence. We use Booking.com to search for hotels/B&B’s when we travel and have had a very good experience. When using Booking.com, we try to book hotels that get a rating of at least 8.5 overall. If we find a hotel we like, sometimes we will also check out the reviews on Trip Advisor, just to double check that we will be staying in a reputable place. Good luck on your hotel search! Cheers, Julie

  5. I do not see the hotel names for the Luxury and Mid Range hotels that you mention in “Where to stay in Florence”. Could you let me know those hotels, thanks.
    My husband and I are traveling to Italy for the first time, end of October. We fly in and out of Rome. We will have ten days to explore. I am thinking, Rome, three days then train to Venice for two days, train to Florence for two days and a day in Tuscany(rental car) then Cinque Terre for two days and train to Rome.
    I have spent hours with Rick Steve’s video’s and various other online bloggers but I find your format so user friendly!! I would appreciate any suggestions regarding the logistics of my itinerary. I have only booked flights thus far.


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      Hello Candace. I’m sorry you can’t see the hotel names…that’s odd. Do you mind letting me know what device you are using to look at our site, maybe other people are having a similar issue (I can see them when I look at the article). The luxury hotel is Portrait Firenze – Longarno collection and the midrange option is B&B La Terazza Sul Duomo. Your itinerary looks great. Using a rental car for Tuscany is a great idea to give you lots of flexibility. If it were me, I would take the trains early in the mornings to maximize the rest of your time for sightseeing. Your hotels should be able to hold your luggage for you even if it is too early to check in (we do this a lot). Cheers, Julie

  6. Hello,
    My husband and I are traveling to Florence in May 2020 and I was hoping to purchase the OPA pass as the Firenze card wouldn’t benefit us. I clicked the link that you have provided but it doesn’t call it an OPA pass. It says IL GRAND DUOMO. Is this the OPA pass or do I purchase that somewhere else? It does say 18E but I wanted to double check so I don’t accidently buy the Firenze card and miss out on the opportunity to reserve our slot to climb the dome. When I do purchase, will I print my ticket off and bring it to Florence with me or how does the process work? Finally, how far in advance can I purchase my OPA pass to reserve my time slot? Are the restrictions different for purchasing and reserving slots? Thank you so much in advance!

    1. Post

      It is exciting to hear that you will be visiting Florence! For the OPA pass you are in the right place, it will say “Cumulative Ticket” and “Access all the monuments of the Grande Museo del Duomo”. You would have to get any further details from that same website. And going through the process of trying to add the ticket to your cart will give you an indication of how far in advance you can purchase your tickets. Happy Travels! Tim

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  7. 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!

    1. Post

      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,

      I realized that I wasn’t completely clear in one of my questions. We are not planning on climbing the Duomo, just the Bell Tower. Wondering if we will be able to tour the Duomo area (not climb the dome) and climb the Bell Tower on the day/evening we arrive (we arrive in Florence around 14:30). And if so, should we make reservations ahead of time? Some of the research I’ve been noting looks like we cannot buy a ticket to the Bell Tower separately.

      Thanks again for all your help!

      1. Post

        Yes, you should be able to do those 2 things after you arrive. From our experience and what I have found online, you cannot make reservations for the bell tower ahead of time, or buy a single ticket for it. Once there, you could see if you can buy a ticket for the bell tower separately, since it can’t be reserved ahead of time anyway. Cheers, Julie

  8. 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!


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  9. 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,

    1. Post

      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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