The capital of Tuscany and arguably the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is a very popular European destination. Some people visit for the art, while others go for the food or the fashion. Everyone can find something to love in "the Athens of the Middle Ages." It's important to plan ahead and familiarize yourself with the city before arriving.
Arriving in Florence
Tourists traveling to Florence typically arrive by air or by train.
The main airport serving Florence is Florence Airport, Peretola with the IATA short code of FLR. It is also known by its Italian name, Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola. The international airport, located four kilometers (about 2.5 miles) northwest of the city, is small and has just a single runway. It is served by such airlines as Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa Regional and Vueling. Visitors can get to and from the airport via bus, taxi or rental car.
The main national and international railway station in Florence is Firenze Santa Maria Novella, located in the northwestern section of central Florence. One of the busiest railway stations in Italy, this station connects to seven different train lines, including those that travel to and from Bologna, Rome and Pisa. Adjacent to the station is a major bus terminal, from which visitors can reach nearly any other part of town.
Getting Around Town
The city of Florence is roughly divided into the northern half and the southern half by the Arno River. The main pedestrian bridge connecting the two halves is the iconic Ponte Vecchio, which represents the approximate halfway mark between the eastern and western halves of the city.
By far, the easily and most convenient way to get around Florence is on foot. The main city center is not very large in size and most major attractions are within walking distance. It is possible to walk from one end of town to the other in less than half an hour
The very center of town is closed to through traffic and it is referred to as the Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL). Only select vehicles, like taxis, are permitted in this area.
For slightly longer distances, the main public bus service operated by ATAF is easy and convenient. It is highly recommended that you purchase bus tickets ahead of time from authorized tobacconists, newsstands, and coffee shops. Bus tickets are available on the buses themselves, but they are more expensive and bus drivers do run out.
A standard single-use fare is good for 90 minutes of travel, more than adequate to get to any part of Florence. When boarding the bus, insert your ticket in a validation machine to have it marked with the date and time.
The Tramvia multi-line tram network is currently under construction. Only the first line is currently operational as of September 2015. It connects the Santa Maria Novella train station with the Scandicci suburb in the southwest.
Where to Stay
Particularly because of the pedestrian-oriented nature of Florence, location is of utmost importance when booking accommodations. Several options are available, including hotels and private home rentals.
Florence Holiday Homes
Operating several private home rentals within the main part of town, Florence Holiday Homes offers rustic charm at an affordable price. Nightly rates start as low as as 53 euro for an apartment, the largest of which can accommodate up to six guests and all of which include complimentary Wi-Fi access. Host Paolo Scheggi will charm you with his local knowledge and approachable personality.
Palazzo Tolomei Residenza d'Epoca
A historical residence that now serves as a bed and breakfast, Palazzo Tolomei was once home to Renaissance painter Raphael for a period of time. Located steps from the Duomo, Palazzo Tolomei provides guests with free Wi-Fi and a buffet breakfast while surrounded by ornate interior design befitting a palace. Typical nightly rates are around 350 euro.
Grand Amore Hotel and Spa
Among the highest-ranked hotels in Florence on TripAdvisor, the Grand Amore Hotel and Spa is located steps away from the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and the Piazza delle Belle Arti. A decidedly higher end hotel, the Garnd Amore exudes luxury with personalized services, upscale decor, and free WiFi. There are only 11 guest rooms. Nightly rates are typically around 700 euro.
Major Attractions and Things to Do
Even though Florence is a relatively small city, it is packed with places to see, museums to visit, and stores to shop.
- Duomo: Also known as the Florence Cathedral, or more formally as Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore di Firenze, this is the main church of the city and a must-visit for anyone coming through town. The Cathedral itself is free to enter, but it costs 10 euro to ascend the staircase into the dome to view the painted ceiling and to get an amazing bird's eye view of the city's iconic red rooftops.
- Uffizi Gallery Museum: The 'Galleria degli Uffizi" features amazing works from such iconic Italian artists as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello. The majority of the collection comes from the period between the 12th century and 17th century. Regular admission for adult non-EU citizens is 18.50 euro and it is recommended to buy tickets online ahead of time to reserve your time of entry.
- Accademia Gallery in Florence: The 'Galleria dell'Accademia' is the other major art museum in Florence and it is home to Michelangelo's David statue, as well as many other works from the 16th to 18th centuries. Like the Uffizi, it is recommended to book ahead for your visit to the Accademia Gallery. Regular adult tickets are 23 euro each.
- Piazzale Michelangelo: If you would rather not pay admission to see the real David, a replica of the statue can be found at Piazzale Michelangelo. This public square is located in the Ottrama district in the southeast part of the city and it can be accessed via a scenic walk up the hill. From there, you are also offered a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.
- Cinque Terre: A day trip outside of town, Cinque Terre literally translates as "the five lands" and consists of five villages. Cinque Terre can be very difficult to access by car, so it is recommended that visitors take one of the local trains or book a tour. Traveling between the villages is best done via a passenger ferry.
- San Lorenzo Market: Florence is well known for its leather goods and the indoor/outdoor San Lorenzo Market is one of the best places to shop for wallets, belts, purses and more. The market is within walking distance of the main train station. It is an experience in and of itself, even if you don't buy anything.
Restaurants and Eateries
Eating well in Florence is surprisingly affordable. Authentic Tuscan cuisine includes Florentine steaks, refreshing gelato and many other wonderful options. Highlights include:
- Cantina del Gelato: It may not look like much from the outside, but this gelateria on the southern bank of the river offers a great variety of gelato options starting at just one euro for the smallest cup.
- Trattoria Bordino: Located not far from the Ponte Vecchio, this is your typical trattoria in the most wonderful way. The bilingual menu includes a range of gorgonzola ravioli, porcini mushroom risotto, roasted sea bass, grilled trout, beef carpaccio, and Chateaubriand. A multi-course meal can be enjoyed for less than 30 euro per person.
- All'Antico Vinaio a Firenze: Looking for a fantastic panini to go along with a one-euro glass of wine? Look no further than this establishment that is mostly geared toward the quick lunch takeaway crowd. Most sandwiches are around 5 euro each, including such options as cappicola, porchetta and proscuitto, plus cheeses and spreads.
- Irene at Hotel Savoy: Looking for a place that might be a little more chic and less rustic? Irene is a hip new bistro that still offers fresh, Tuscan cuisine with a light modern twist. Menu highlights include octopus salad, lobster linguine, veal Milanese and more. Main dishes during lunch are around 20 to 30 euro.
La Dolce Vita a Firenze
A remarkable European tourist destination that retains a small town charm, Florence is a wonderful place to visit any time of the year. Between Michelangelo's David, delicious panini sandwiches, breathtaking views, and some of the finest leather goods in Italy, "Firenze" packs a lot into a relatively small, pedestrian-friendly space.