How is it already mid-December and almost 2019?! It’s as if I blinked and the year disappeared. Two weeks shy of the new year, and three weeks until our first big trip to Asia — it’s about time I write my city guide to Florence!
When my mom and I were planning our trip to Italy, we knew Florence was an absolute must! From the rolling Tuscan hills and endless flow of Chianti, to the many masterpieces of Renaissance art, Florence should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list.
Florence surpassed my expectations from the moment we arrived. To this day, I wake up wishing I was back in Tuscany, snacking from a charcuterie board and sipping an aperol spritz, as I overlook the majestic buildings, medieval palaces and impressive churches. If you’re planning a trip to Florence, this all encompassing guide is for you!
How to get to Florence
First things first: how to get to Florence! Despite having an international airport, there are no direct flights from the United States to Florence. (Crazy, right?!) All the flights I found had multiple connections with long layovers or prices were crazy expensive. We ended up booking a nonstop flight to Rome, and lucky for us, Italy has an extensive railway system making it super easy to get to Florence.
If you’re flying into Rome and heading directly to Florence, take the Leonardo Express Train from Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport to Roma Termini. From Roma Termini — the central train station in Rome, take the train bound for Santa Maria Novella. In about an hour and a half, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Florence!
Depending on your travel plans, you may (or may not) want to pre-purchase train tickets. If you’re flying into Rome and heading directly to Florence, I would recommend not purchasing tickets ahead of time. We waited what felt like hours (…and hours) to get through Customs, and had we pre-purchased tickets, we would have likely missed our train.
Once in Florence, you can walk just about everywhere! There is no need to hire a car or taxi, but make sure to pack light and have a good suitcase with wheels. (I love my Away bag!)
Florence from Giotto’s Bell Tower
Exploring Florence by foot — just watch out for all the vespas!
Where to Stay in Florence
I cannot stress this enough — if you’re visiting Florence, you absolutely, positively must stay in Oltrarno!
Oltrarno, which literally means on the other side of the Arno, is Florence’s best kept secret. Off-the-beaten-path and hidden from the masses of tourists, Oltrarno is the perfect glimpse into the “real” Florence. Here, you will experience some of Italy’s best bakeries, eateries and open markets, and each night, you’ll find yourself returning to the beautiful, medieval piazzas, all of which are bursting with energy.
If you’re worried Oltrarno is too far removed from the center of Florence, don’t you stress! Not only is Oltrarno a short walk across the Arno (10 minutes max to Giotto’s Bell Tower), but it also has it’s share of historical sites (and some of the best, if you ask me!), including Pitti Palace, Santa Spirito di Firenze, Belvedere, and Giardino di Boboli.
So, if you’re in the market for the perfect AirBNB, I’ve got you covered! Located on the corner of a piazza with the best aperol spritzes, a block from the cutest boutique shop (Giulia Materia), and two blocks from Pitti Palace, we couldn’t have asked for a better location.
Exploring the many beautiful streets of Oltrarno
After a long day under the Tuscan sun, this kitty needed a nap!
Keep your eyes out for street art by anonymous artists!
S Forno Panificio — a hidden gem in Oltrarno! Definitely stop here for breakfast or a late morning snack
Cicchetti at Bulli & Balene, one of my favorite eateries in Oltrarno. They also make the best aperol spritzes!
After a long day of exploring, enjoy an aperol spritz in one of Florence’s many piazzas. This is the perfect way to watch the world go by. In case you missed it, I’ve written all about the best food and drink in Florence!
What Not to Miss in Florence
There is an incredible amount to see and do in Florence! Even after spending four full days here — and seeing and doing more than I could have ever imagined — I could honestly spend an entire month exploring. We purchased the Firenze Card, and while it is expensive upfront, it grants you admission to every museum, exhibit, and garden in Florence. Plus, you get priority entrance, which saves you sooo much time. The Firenze Card is totally worth the expense, especially if you’re visiting during peak seasons.
Here are my absolutely-do-not-misses in Florence!
Ponte Vecchio by day…
…Ponte Vecchio by sunset…
…and Ponte Vecchio by night!
Exploring the grounds of Pitti Palace
Giardino di Boboli
Giardino di Boboli
The Orange Garden in Giardino di Boboli
The Tuscan Hills behind Museo delle Porcellane
Giardino delle Rose
Giotto’s Campanile overlooking Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore. If you’re planning to climb the dome, make sure to make reservations ahead of time! If tickets are already sold out, don’t stress! Giotto’s Campanile offers the best view in my opinion — you look down onto the Cathedral, plus admission is first come, first serve!
Another view of Florence from Giotto’s Campanile
Climbing the 414 steps up Giotto’s Campanile
The Statue of David at the Galleria dell’Accademia
The Best View of Florence
If you’re anything like me and you are a sucker for views, keep walking past Piazzale Michelangelo — no matter what anyone tells you! Further up the hill is Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. Standing atop one of the highest points in the city, San Miniato al Monte has been described as one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany and one of the most scenic churches in all of Italy. With unsurpassed views of Florence, and far fewer crowds than Piazzale Michelangelo, you won’t regret the hike!
Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte
Italy has some of the most beautiful cemeteries in all of Europe
No where else in Florence can you beat this view!
No trip to Florence is complete without a visit to Tuscany. Short on time but not wanting to complete forgo Tuscany, my mom and I were ready to search high and low for the perfect Tuscan tour. Fortunately, we didn’t have to search too long because my good old pal, Rick (Steves!) recommended Tours by Roberto, and let me tell you, everything about our Tuscany day trip was perfecto!
Our English-speaking tour guide picked us up bright and early from our Florence AirBNB before driving through the countryside to the Clay Hills of Tuscany. Along the way, we visited a 14th century monastery and a small hilltop town with the most amazing views of the Clay Hills. We then visited Tornesi, a small, family-owned winery in the Brunello di Montalcino region, and ohhhh my goodness, after visiting Tuscany and drinking the wine, I can now die a happy woman.
We spent several hours at the winery tasting the wine, enjoying a delicious lunch of homemade pasta, and meeting Marco — the vintner himself! If in Florence, do yourself a favor and book a trip to Tuscany — no matter if you go for the afternoon or an entire week, you won’t regret it!
The rolling Tuscan Clay Hills
14th Century Monastery
Tuscan hilltop town
Exploring the Tuscan hilltop town
Exploring the Tuscan hilltop town
The views from the hilltop town, overlooking the monastery
Tornesi Winery — they produce several red and white wine, as well as grappa and olive oil
Tornesi Winery cellar
Meeting Marco, the owner of Tornesi Winery