Why Florence is worth the visit (and the best advice you can get on making the most of it)
A myriad of lyrical views, countless beguiling sights, and engrossing history. What to choose, what to see in Florence, Italy, in 3 days? Planning a visit to a city that is nothing short of a marvelous open-air museum, and houses masterpieces that span the spectrum of art history from ancient times to the present day may seem a daunting task.
Indeed, many visitors making arrangements for a journey to the Tuscan capital feel overwhelmed and long+ for trustworthy advice on what to see in Florence, Italy in 4 days.
Great Florentine insider tips from the Studentsville staff
And that’s why we’re here, my dear Studentsville blog readers! To help you design a fabulously rewarding trip, by offering the insight you need to make the most of it, even if you have a limited time frame. Before getting into detail on what to see in Florence, Italy in 3 or 4 days, let me explain why Florence really is worth visiting.
What to see in Florence, Italy
Aside from the plethora of incredible art and architecture, Florence is a romantic, magical city, with a bewitching atmosphere and enrapturing vistas that can carry you through the centuries. It is also a temple of fashion and style, a haven of delicious cuisine, and a treasure chest of traditional craftsmanship. There’s no end to what you can see in Florence, Italy: it all depends on what kind of experience you’re after!
This said, drafting a basic daily plan and factoring in the main highlights can definitely help you make your journey worthwhile. So, here we go: read on for our best advice!
What to see in Florence, Italy in 3 days: the ultimate itinerary
What to see in Florence, Italy in 3 days – day 1, getting acquainted
Start with the city’s civic and political heart, Piazza della Signoria, and stately Palazzo Vecchio. Treat yourself to old-age grandeur and a frothy cappuccino at Rivoire’s, right in the piazza. Admire Palazzo Vecchio: you can access the courtyard, enhanced by Michelozzo’s frescoes, for free, or you can book a visit to the monumental apartments on the Musei Civici Fiorentini website. Roam through the Loggia dei Lanzi’s statues. Walk down Via de’ Calzaiuouli and reach a marvelous Florence must-see sight: Piazza del Duomo, Florence’s spiritual core, with the elaborate marble Cathedral and Baptistry from outside, or book access tickets to view them both inside and/or to climb up Giotto’s graceful Bell Tower or Brunelleschi’s Cupola (be aware: there are 463 steps to reach the top of the Cupola, and the passageway is extremely steep and narrow). You can buy tickets to the Duomo Complex on the official website, here. Buy a panino (sandwich) and/or gelato close by, walk down Via dei Servi and enjoy lunch sitting on the steps of Piazza Santissima Annunziata. After lunch: see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia, or head back to Piazza del Duomo to visit the less-renowned but extraordinary Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Among the museum’s highlights: heartrending Donatellos and the actual tools that Brunelleschi’s workers used to build the Cupola! Take an afternoon stroll along the Arno river, see Ponte Vecchio, and enjoy dinner in the less touristy trattoria you can find.
What to see in Florence, Italy in 3 days, day 2: Oltrarno
Cross Ponte Vecchio and explore Oltrarno, Florence’s hip neighborhood. See the botteghe (artist and craftsmen workshops), peek into the antique stores and boutiques, shop for local crafts. See majestic Palazzo Pitti (from outside) and walk down to fascinating Piazza Santo Spirito. Have lunch in one of the many enoteche (wine bar) or trattorie. If you want to factor in a museum choose between Palazzo Pitti’s masterpiece-loaded Galleria Palatina or the stunning Cappella Brancacci, in Piazza del Carmine.
What to see in Florence, Italy in 3 days, day 3 – Santa Croce and the markets
Start the day early at Santa Croce for an inspiring artistic experience: the Basilica’s polychrome neo-Gothic facade is nothing short of incredible, and inside it houses amazing frescoes by Giotto, and the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Ghiberti. Walk to the Sant’Ambrogio market: the stalls outside showcase the best of seasonal produce, inside vendors offer meats, cheeses and cured meats. Join the locals for lunch at the market’s rustic diner or at the trippaio (tripe vendor) stall adjacent to the Sant’Ambrogio church. Walk to San Lorenzo, visit the Church and dazzling Medici Chapels, or visit the Uffizi Gallery, for a breathtaking journey through the Renaissance. Crown your day with an aperitif and “itinerant” artisan-crafted dinner at the Mercato Centrale.
Important note: you’ll need reservations for all the abovementioned museums, and we strongly suggest that you get these on the official websites. To make life easier for you, we’ve drafted a full list of the links to the official online ticket offices of Florence’s major museums and churches, so just read on!
What to see in Florence, Italy in 4 days
If you’re lucky enough to have a total of 4 days to spend in Florence, go with the above schedule and add:
What to see in Florence, Italy in 4 days, day 4 – the views and hilltops
Start the day with a frothy cappuccino at Robiglio, in Via dei Servi, then walk to Piazza San Marco and take the number 7 bus to Fiesole, a small, charming hilltop town located some 9 km northeast of the city center. The bus ride itself is something: cypresses, manicured gardens, olive groves, and wisteria-clad Renaissance villas ripple before your sight, framing the city skyline. Get off the bus at the last stop, Piazza Mino, take a stroll and visit the splendidly groomed garden-like Archeological Site to admire the perfectly preserved Roman amphitheater and Etruscan temple. Check the Archeological Site’s opening hours here and buy tickets onsite. Have lunch, or a snack, at one of the pretty trattorias/cafés in the square, and walk up the steep hill to the Church of San Francesco for a spectacular view of Florence’s churches, cupolas, and towers. Take the bus back and set off to see the skyline from another vantage point: Piazzale Michelangelo, a stupendous open-air terrace from whence you can enjoy extraordinary vistas. If you’re in for the workout you can walk (about 15 minutes uphill from San Niccolò or Piazza Poggi), or rent an E-bike, alternatively just take the number 13 bus. Make sure you stay till sunset, it’s unforgettable.
Top 10 places to see in Florence, Italy
There are so many things to see in Florence that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and the number of Florence must-see sights and landmarks listed in guidebooks are, alas, almost countless. So, what should you see in Florence, Italy? To help you find your way through the dilemma, we’ve come up with a can’t-miss list. It includes the top 10 things to see in Florence, together with insider’s advice on what to do to make the most of your stay in this beautiful city, and partake in its heritage.
Top 10 things to do and see in Florence, Italy
Florence must-see sights definitely include:
- Piazza della Signoria, with Palazzo Vecchio
- Piazza del Duomo, with the Cathedral, Baptistery and Bell Tower
- Ponte Vecchio
- Santa Croce, with the namesake Basilica
- The Oltrarno neighborhood, with Piazza Santo Spirito
- The Pitti Palace, possibly with the Galleria Palatina
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- The Renaissance masterpieces in the Uffizi Gallery
- Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery
- San Lorenzo Church and the Medici Chapels
Things to see in Florence – insider’s tips on how to plan and official tickets
Keep in mind that you’ll require reservations for all main museums. You can easily book a slot and pre-pay tickets by visiting each one’s official website: see the links below for quick and easy online ticket purchases.
- Accademia Gallery (David) https://www.galleriaaccademiafirenze.it/en/tickets
- Cathedral (Duomo), Baptistery, Cupola, Bell Tower and Opera del Duomo museum https://operaduomofirenze.skiperformance.com/en/store#/en/buy
- Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens https://www.uffizi.it/en/tickets
- Palazzo Vecchio http://ticketsmuseums.comune.fi.it/1_museo-di-palazzo-vecchio/?ref=portale
- Santa Croce https://ticka.santacroceopera.it/index.php?lang_id=en
- Medici Chapels http://www.bargellomusei.beniculturali.it/musei/2/medicee/
- Cappelle Brancacci http://ticketsmuseums.comune.fi.it/4_cappella-brancacci/
Needless to say, Florence’s must-see exhibits are very sought-after, so make sure you get bookings in due time!
As concerns how to experience the above at best, we strongly suggest the following:
- Don’t try to cram too much in, and allow yourself some leisure exploring time (wandering through the city center aimlessly is wonderful too!)
- Florence must-see attractions are walking distance one from the other, but you might enjoy renting a bike and pedaling from one to the other.
- You will not be able to see the whole Uffizi Gallery in one visit, so choose the masterpieces/artists you are really interested in and focus on these.
Top 5 things to do in Florence Italy
When in Florence….do as the locals do!
Aside from the artwork, landmarks and things to see, Florence also offers a wonderful lifestyle and not strictly touristic sights that are definitely worth your time. So, to ensure you fully enjoy your time in the Cradle of the Renaissance, we strongly advise you to get a good taste of the local dolce vita and unwind in Florence’s somewhat hidden, hence all the more bewitching, gardens.
Off-the-beaten-track: top 5
- Take a long, leisurely walk along the Arno river banks when the sun is setting, and stop in one of the riverfront wine bars/cafés for an aperitivo!
- Discover the Bardini Museum, the former home of an art dealer and antique collector that houses an eclectic collection of impressive treasures, and nearby Giardino Bardini, a superb garden few visitors get to. You can buy tickets to the Bardini Museum here.
- Visit the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the most ancient pharmacies in the world, founded in 1221 by Dominican monks. Explore the fascinating richly decorated store, and shop for high-quality home-produced scented soaps, signature herb and flower-based cosmetics, candles, etc. See the Officina Profumo’s official website for opening hours.
- Pack a picnic lunch and go to the Boboli gardens. Encompassing circa 111 acres of rich, opulently groomed grounds between Palazzo Pitti and the Forte Belvedere, the Giardino di Boboli is one of Europe’s most stunning monumental parks. Roam the Italian Renaissance-style gardens, see the statues and discover Buontalenti’s eerie grotto. You will need tickets to access the gardens: buy them online in advance to avoid queuing at the Pitti Palace tickets office!
- Immerse yourself in history and learn what life was like in the 14th century visiting Palazzo Davanzati, a perfectly preserved historical palace that hosts the original furniture, paintings, tapestries, and domestic objects owned by the noble family who inhabited it. Check the museum’s opening hours and purchase tickets online here.
3 things to do in the morning in Florence
Florence is simply marvelous at daybreak, so early birds are in for spectacular moments.
Among the best things you can do:
- Get into the Uffizi before everyone else does! Booking the first early morning slot allows you to avoid lengthy security queues and enjoy a crowd-free viewing experience. Once you’re done, walk up to the museum’s rooftop café and have a delicious Italian breakfast with a view. Get your tickets here: Uffizi Gallery.
- Go for an early morning run or walk along the banks of the Arno, crisscrossing the river via the bridges. Feel the breeze, appreciate the crisp air and silver-tinted views.
- Take a leisurely walk away from the main historic center and have breakfast with the locals in a non-touristy neighborhood, for instance, San Frediano, Gavinana, or Le Cure. Have an espresso, or cappuccino, and a sweet treat standing up at the bar or at a table, to enjoy a genuine local experience.
Best places to see the sunset in Florence
Crimson, fiery, sensational – that’s why Florence is the cradle of the Italian Renaissance. Watching the sun spread its last warmly-hued rays over Florence’s enchanting skyline is nothing short of extraordinary.
Here are 4 splendid Florence must-see sunset spots for you to pick from:
- Piazzale Michelangelo – certainly the most popular, this open-air terrace boasts amazing views of the bridges, river and palaces below.
- Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden)- less renowned, and just as spectacular. Located slightly lower down than the Piazzale, this delightful garden is perfect if you’re looking for a more intimate, and flower-scented, viewpoint. Take care: the garden closes at 8pm
- San Miniato – located on the same hillside, but further up, this lovely church is a remarkable example of Florentine-style Romanesque architecture and offers splendid sunset vistas.
- Orti del Parnaso – on the opposite side of town, near the splendid Giardino dell’Orticoltura. Definitely an off-the-beaten-tourist path location, this charming park offers comfy rustic benches where you can sit and relax. Take care: the garden closes at 7pm.
What to see in Florence at night
Ok, now that you know why Florence is considered the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, we can move on. Like many cities, Florence changes completely once dusk sets in, becoming all the more captivating. What should you see in Florence, Italy, at night? Well, choosing how to spend your evenings during your vacation in the Cradle of the Renaissance largely depends on you and your preferences, i.e., if you want to party or be mellow.
This said, here are 4 tips on what to do in Florence at night that are bound to pleasantly surprise you.
- Ride the brightly colored vintage merry-go-round in Piazza della Repubblica and feel like a kid again.
- Take a moonlight stroll along the Arno river and through the medieval streets around Santa Croce.
- Enjoy a Negroni and people-watching at a fashionable alfresco café in the historic center.
- Party the night away in the hip bars, cafés and clubs in the San Frediano and Santo Spirito neighborhoods.
Whatever you choose to do and see, in the morning or at night, enjoy Florence!