Are you planning to spend 2 days in Florence? Keep reading for tips on the best things to do, see, and eat.
Oh, Florence. What a beautiful, charming city. I had heard so many amazing things about Florence (and read so many inspiring quotes about it) and was so excited to make a stop there on my Europe trip – and it definitely lived up to the hype!
Florence is the capital of Tuscany, and is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. It is a small city (population 365,000), but Florence is home to over a million pieces of Renaissance art, is the birthplace of several iconic Italian fashion brands such as Gucci and Pucci, and is known for delicious Florentine steak and Chianti wines. It is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It is a city rich and history and culture – did you know that the entire city center has also been declared a UNESCO world heritage site? So cool.
From the moment I stepped off the train from Pisa and started walking on those charming cobblestone streets, I immediately fell in love. Walking through the streets and being surrounded by so much art and beauty, you could almost imagine what life was like during the Renaissance.
There is always a bit of debate about whether Florence or Rome is the better city, and while I liked certain things about Rome, I definitely preferred Florence.
I spent 2 days in Florence, and definitely wish I had more time to spend here – but I definitely made the most out of the time I had. Here’s a guide to what to do, see, and eat in this amazing city.
BEFORE YOU GO:
When to go to Florence: April, May, September, and October are considered by many to be the best time to go to Florence, when the weather is pleasant, and the rich, rustic colors of Tuscany are at their best.
The most popular time to go, and therefore the city’s peak season are June and July – this is also when both crowds and hotel prices are at is highest. Many Italians also take a month in August, and family-run businesses are closed. The city empties out and can seem like a ghost town, however, many hotels have lower room prices during this time. These summer months are also known to be super hot and humid in Italy, so be prepared.
I went to Florence in early February, and while winters are known to be a bit chilly, it was a balmy 65 degrees during my 2 days in Florence. It was comfortable, hotel prices were on the lower side, and the crowds weren’t too bad.
How to get to Florence: Florence has its own airport that offers flights to destinations within Italy and Europe. It is about 5km northwest of the city, and it will cost you about €25 to get into city center via taxi. You can also take the “Vola in Bus,” which gets you to the Santa Maria Novella train station in 30 minutes and costs €6.
Another option is to fly into Pisa and take a train, which I found to be cheaper (since Pisa is served by many of the European low-cost carries). A train ride from Pisa takes less than an hour, only costs €9, and runs frequently. For more information, see the Trenitalia website. There is also shuttle service from the Pisa airport.
Florence is easily accessible via high-speed train from many other Italian cities. Service via Trenitalia is fast, easy, and comfortable – you can’t go wrong sitting back and relaxing while you roll past all the gorgeous views of the Italian countryside.
How to get around in Florence: Florence’s historic center, where many of the main tourist attractions are located, is small and easily walkable. This is how I got around in my 2 days in Florence.
There is also an efficient bus network in Florence, and the city center is mostly served by 4 lines of small electric buses that are sized to navigate the narrow streets. There is also a bus (line 13) that goes to Piazza Michelangelo. Most lines start and end at the ATAF bus stop at the southeastern exit of the Santa Maria Novella train station. Fares are €2 when purchased on board, or you can pre-purchase tickets at kiosks and at select shops and newsstands for €1.20. You can also purchase 4 tickets for €4.70, or a tourist day pass for €5.
Otherwise, there are taxis available – hailing one in the street is not allowed, but there are designated taxi stands throughout the city, or you can call for one through a hotel or restaurant.
Currency: Italy uses the Euro, like many other European countries. It is best to get cash out of an ATM rather than exchange for Euros at a currency exchange booth. Credit cards are widely accepted, and I mostly used them during my stay, but it is best to have a little bit of cash on hand for small purchases at hole-in-the-wall type places.
Language: Italian is spoken here, and while English is spoken at many hotels and restaurants that are frequented by tourists, some basic Italian phrases are useful when visiting smaller establishments.
Electricity: Italy uses Type L (three-prong plug) and Type F (two-prong plug) plugs. It is also said that sometimes the plugs are narrower than in other parts of Europe. If you are coming from the United States, you will need and adapter. This is the adapter I use in my own travels.
WHERE TO STAY IN FLORENCE:
You will find everything from luxury hotels, bed and breakfasts, apartments, and hostels in Florence. Most accommodations are clustered within the city’s historical center, which means you have many convenient options for choosing a home base for your Florence adventures.
I stayed at the Grand Hotel Minerva which is a family-owned boutique hotel, just around the corner from the train station and right next to the Santa Maria Novella church. It was very centrally located and within walking distance to all the places on my list, and it was the perfect place to stay during my 2 days in Florence. They recently renovated the property, and it is gorgeous. The rooms were stylish and comfortable. There is also a rooftop bar – it wasn’t open while I was there, but I did go up and check out the view and it was pretty amazing. The staff was also very helpful with directions and with arranging dinner and museum reservations. Highly recommend!
For more accommodations in Florence, see here.
WHAT TO DO IN FLORENCE:
The Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)
The most iconic landmark in the city – it also defines the skyline. This is hands-down the number one thing you should see/do in Florence (seriously though, if you don’t go see the Duomo, you didn’t go to Florence, just sayin’). This grand Brunelleschi-designed building, with its terra-cotta dome and pastel marble-tiled facade will leave you in awe. I passed by this at least 5 times during my 2 days in Florence, and each time, I had to stop, marvel, and take in the grandness of it all.
To avoid the crowds, I would swing by early in the morning to truly get to appreciate the beauty and grandess of it all, in addition to making a trip to go inside the Duomo and up the cupola. It is a truly impressive structure that will leave you breathless. The church began construction in 1296 and took nearly 150 years to complete. You will stand there in awe and wonder how in the world they built this without any modern machinery. I made a stop here on the way to the Galleria Academia on my last morning around 8am, and it was amazing to be able to take it all in without a swarm of people all around me (and without all those damn street vendors hounding me to buy a selfie stick. Ugh).
The Duomo itself is free to enter, but you will need a ticket to climb the Cupola. The €18 combined admission is valid for 72 hours after you first use it, and will get you to the top of both the Cupola and bell tower, and also covers the baptistery, crypt, and museum (you may only go to each monument once). Keep in mind that advanced reservations are required to go up the Cupola – I showed up around 10am to purchase my ticket, and the first available time slot for the Cupola was 2pm. It is highly recommended that you purchase tickets and make reservations several days in advance if you are visiting during a busier time of year (keep in mind that I was there in February, which is a slower season).
If you only pay for one experience in Florence, this is it. Going up to the top of the Cupola is a unique, although sometimes unnerving experience. You will climb up 463 steps to get to the top, and you will encounter some super sketchy, narrow, and steep stairs to get there – it will be one-way only through some of the passageways, which creates some awkward moments when you encounter people who are trying to get back down (and vice versa). However, the climb is worth it – the views of the city from the top are pretty phenomenal.
I didn’t get to go up the bell tower, and I am kicking myself, because the view there gives you a unique vantage point, being right next to the Cupola. The museum gives you an interesting insight into the history of the church and city, and the crypt houses remains of a 5th century church that was excavated between 1965 and 1974. Keep in mind that the crypt is closed on Sundays, and the museum is closed the first Tuesday of every month.
The Uffizi Gallery is the second largest museum in Italy, and houses a large collection of Renaissance art. The museum is housed in a 16th century building that used to house government offices (the name “uffizi” translates into “offices”), and the collection was a gift from the prominent Medici family on the condition that it never left Florence.
The museum’s galleries are arranged in chronological order, and feature everything from ancient Greek sculpture to 18th century Venetian paintings. Of course, the highlight here is the Renaissance art – some of the prominent artists showcased in the Uffizi include Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, and Raffaello. Some of the most famous works here are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera, and Fra Filippo Lippi’s Madonna. There is also a rooftop garden and cafe, if you need a breath of fresh air (and to take in some gorgeous views of the city).
The Uffizi’s website recommends keeping visits no longer than 3-4 hours; I thought 2 hours was a good amount to see the most prominent works but to not get overwhelmed or tired. I would highly recommend making a reservation to skip the line – it is an extra €4 on top of the €12.50 admission, but well worth it, especially if you are visiting during a busy time of year (even in February the lines were longer than I would’ve care to wait in). You can book this online, but the hotel concierge was able to arrange this for me (you pay the fee when you pick up and pay for the ticket).
You are basically going here to see one piece: The David. And yes, it is worth going to the Galleria Academia just to see this one piece – it is a phenomenal work of art. I liked walking around the perimeter of the sculpture, admiring how the light hit it from different angles, and looking at the subtle details of the piece. It is one of the coolest works of art that I’ve ever seen.
The Academia opens at 8:30am – go as early as you can to avoid the crowds. There was already a giant crowd in front of it by 9am. It is much better enjoyed without a swarm of people in front of it. The rest of the galleries here are small but worth a quick walk through – there are works by Lippi and Botticelli on display here, as well as a collection of Italian art from the 13th to 18th centuries. You will need no more than an hour to admire the David and walk through the rest of the museum.
If you can’t get here early in the morning, then you can also make a reservation to skip the line.
AKA: The bridge with the houses. This is Florence’s oldest bridge – it was the only bridge in the city until 1218, but the current version was built after a flood in 1345. It is also the only bridge that the Germans did not destroy in the city during World War II. Building shops on bridges was common back in the day, and Ponte Vecchio has houses businesses on it since the 1300s. Today, the bridge is still full of jewelry shops, but it is said that some people still live in the apartment above the shops.
You should definitely walk across the bridge because it is such a unique experience, and you get some beautiful views of the Arno river and the city’s other bridges. You should also definitely walk over one of the surrounding bridges to take it in properly (seeing it and photographing from right in front of it gives it a weird perspective). However, I found that the best view of Ponte Vecchio was actually from the second floor of the Uffizi Gallery.
This is the best place to take in a classic view of the iconic Florence skyline – did you know that for years, city regulations did not allow buildings to be higher than the base of the dome of the Duomo, hence Florence has a pretty uniform and beautiful skyline? Piazzale Michelangelo is about a 30 minute walk from the historic center, and you will huff and puff up some gnarly hills (or, if you’re feeling lazy, you can take the line 13 bus), but the incredible view you are rewarded with at the top is well worth the climb (plus, it’s a good way to work off all that pasta).
It is definitely at its best at sunset, but it is also a super popular spot to watch the sunset, so expect it to be crowded AF. It is still spectacular, despite being swarmed with 3489280492 people, seemingly all with their selfie sticks. It was an amazing sight to see the sun set over the rolling Tuscan hills, and to see those iconic red-roofed buildings, and the grand dome of the Duomo be cast with a golden glow. It’s also one of the best and most budget-friendly things to do in Italy. It definitely left me speechless, and was a highlight of my 2 days in Florence.
EAT & DRINK
– Osteria Santo Spirito: This is a popular dinner spot, with delicious yet affordable dishes and wine list. They do half portions of pasta for ~€6 and that was basically a full portion! I had a simple tomato & basil pasta and it was phenomenal. This was my favorite restaurant in my 2 days in Florence. It is very popular with both locals and tourists, and reservations are a must.
– Trattoria Za Za: Another popular restaurant specializing in Florentine classics, but it has an extensive menu with lots of other Italian specialties (pasta, pizza, meat dishes, and more – something for everyone!). The concierge at our hotel said this was his wife’s favorite restaurant, and it did not disappoint. I had the walnut pasta here – it is a Tuscan specialty, very creamy and delicious.
– Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina: This is a popular, well-reviewed wine bar, with an amazing selection of Tuscan wines. The bartender was super helpful and suggested some amazing (yet affordable), hard-to-find Tuscan wines.
– Trattoria Mario: You go here for meat (their specialty is the Florentine steak)- but I got pasta (because I wanted to EAT ALL THE PASTA), which was equally amazing. Trattoria Mario is family owned, and has been around since the 1950s. This is a tiny, popular place (it is packed even when you show up right after it opens) – be prepared to be cramped and packed like sardines in communal tables. But the food is delicious, and well worth it.
– Gelateria dei Neri: Being that it is in Italy, Florence is filled with an abundance of gelato shops – I sampled several of them, and this was hands-down the best (probably my favorite gelato, ever). There is quite a selection of flavors here, both super traditional and unique, modern ones – loved the salted caramel. Gelateria dei Neri is located near the Uffizi Gallery, and makes for the perfect post museum snack – grab one to go and eat it as you stroll through the nearby streets.
– I Due Fratellini: This is a tiny, literally hole-in-the-wall wine bar that has been in operation since 1875. It is a walk-up counter, with amazing wines by the glass – and delicious panino (30 different kinds to be exact)! Great spot for a quick, affordable lunch and a glass of wine (the sandwiches are ~€4 and the wine is €1.50 – such a steal).
– Trattoria Sostanza: Arguably Florence’s most famous, most popular restaurant. Admittedly, this was at the top of my list, but I did not get to go during my 2 days in Florence – because I didn’t realize that they are only open Monday-Friday! This came highly recommended by a variety of sources. They have been open for 150 years, and their specialty is the Florentine steak. Please go an have some for me! 🙂
Have you been to Florence? What are your favorite spots there?
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