Visiting Florence for the first time? Here are 11 things you need to know!

If you're planning to visit Florence Italy, there are a few essential things the first time visitor should know in order to have an amazing time here.

Beautiful view of Arno river from Torre di ArnolfoThe beautiful city of Florence is great to visit any time of year

Tips for visiting Florence Italy for the first time

Florentines make it look so effortless.

Sipping espressos, cruising on Vespas, strolling through sunlit piazzas and pretty much always looking good.

One of the attractions of visiting this beautiful city, alongside the food and wine, the art (oh the ART!), the history and the extraordinary amount of famous monuments, is the lifestyle of the locals.

people on ponte vecchioLiving like a local is very doable when visiting Florence!

When we think of visiting Florence, we imagine getting up close and personal with Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery, we dream of tasting world famous wines at source, we see ourselves gazing at original works of Botticelli, but let’s face it, there’s also a part of us that wants to be a little bit ‘local’ while we do it.

Generally speaking, the only people seen rushing around (and often sweating) in Florence are tourists, and the first thing Florentines will tell you is to relax and take your time.

We know holidays are precious and there can sometimes be pressure to make every minute of every day count, but Florence needs to be enjoyed stress free, wherever possible.

There is a lot to get excited about here, so to help you get the best out of your vacation we are offering you some of our top gems of local knowledge, including:

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Arriving at the airport

Knowing what to expect from Florence travel on arrival will make your trip much smoother.

While there is a Florence airport, most people fly in and out of Pisa airport.

Pisa airport is just over an hour away from Florence, but it’s larger with more international arrivals and low cost airlines.

Just make sure you allow for adequate travel time to and from the airport.

Train station in florenceFlorence's main train station is centrally located and very easy to navigate

It’s easy to hop on the train with the regular Pisa Mover shuttle from the terminal to Pisa Centrale station, where you can get a direct train ride to Florence.

The main train station is Firenze Santa Maria Novella, or you can buy a bus ticket from one of several coach companies who offer regular, direct services between Pisa airport and Florence city center.

You might consider Florence airport if it’s an option from your departure city.

Flight prices can be higher but sometimes there are good deals when booking in advance.

If you arrive here, you can be popping open a Prosecco in the historic center within half an hour of walking out of arrivals, as the tram station at the airport (T2 line) takes you straight to Santa Maria Novella station in around 25 minutes.

Take a look at these pages to find out how to make the most of your time in Florence:

Using public transport in Florence

The Florence travel public transportation options are simple to navigate, covering the entire city and city center, but there is one essential thing you need to remember.

Validating your tickets

This is, in my opinion, one of the most important rules to remember when you visit Florence, and should be high up in any list of tips for visiting Florence.

Checks on tickets have become stricter and more regular, and even we’ve been (innocently) caught out a few times.

If you are caught with an un-validated ticket, you will have to fork out 50 euros on the spot, per person!

Before boarding a bus, tram or train in Florence you need to have a) purchased a ticket and b) VALIDATED it, which means inserting it into the designated machine on the train or tram platform or on board the bus, as soon as you get on.

No validation for the inspector means no ticket and this will result in a fine.

Tourists used to be let off, but signage in terminals has made it clear there is no more mercy and let’s be honest, if you’ve spent money on a train ticket and get fined for not stamping it, it’s going to sting a bit.

Checking opening times and seasonal timetables ahead of time

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Florence is also known as the ‘Cradle of the Renaissance’ and is said to be home to a third of the world’s greatest art.

The city attracts millions of visitors each year, but this doesn’t mean that everything you want to see is accessible 24/7.

Being in a country with favourable employment conditions, decent lunch breaks and annual paid leave means that some offices, attractions, restaurants and museums are closed, sometimes in the middle of summer, or in the middle of the day.

accademia ticket officeDon't assume sites and ticket offices like this one at the Accademia Gallery will be open all day every day - always check in advance before turning up. For example, the Accademia is closed Mondays.

Much of Florence also observes the 2.5 day weekend where things stay closed until Monday afternoons or even Tuesday morning so it’s always a good idea to check in advance.

Your Florence itinerary will be hugely impacted if you don't check the hours; purchasing tickets either online or at a ticket office and then finding you missed the opening hours does not make for a fun trip!

Main sites to check timings for in advance

The sites you should not leave to chance are:

Despite these hugely popular sites in the historic center being visited by millions of people each year, they are still subject to changes in opening hours and days!

Ponte Vecchio and Arno river in winterThe Ponte Vecchio can be enjoyed year round without any restrictions!

If you do get caught out by an unexpected closure, you can always rely on the open air museum elements of this city to entertain you, such as Piazzale Michelangelo, the Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio along the river Arno.

Be aware that some museums take part in the Free Sunday event which will impact whether you can book tickets in advance.

Why you should climb the dome of the Florence cathedral

Ok so this is a personal favourite, but you do have to be okay with narrow staircases and heights!

There is no better place to see the whole of this magnificent Medieval city than from the top of Florence's most iconic monuments, in the Duomo complex.

View from DuomoThe incredible view of the Duomo from the Bell Tower is unmissable!

You can climb either Brunelleschi’s dome (463 steps) of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or Giotto’s Bell Tower next to it (414 steps), both of which will give you unrivalled views of Florence's historic center.

This is one of my top tips for visiting Florence.

Seeing the Tuscan capital stretching out all around you is an incredible sight.

View of florence from duomoClimbing the Duomo itself gives you a different perspective to the views from Giotto's Bell Tower

If you're feeling particularly energetic, you can climb both the Dome and the bell tower with a combined ticket, called the Brunelleschi Pass.

When purchasing this ticket you need to book a time slot in advance which reduces unnecessary queuing, especially in peak season.

This pass gives you access to all the monuments in the Duomo complex, including the Opera del Duomo Museum (which I highly recommend) and you have three whole days to visit the attractions.

Invest in local experts

If you plan to hit the top spots, assume that everyone else is going the same way which, in a word, means lots of queues.

Take the Uffizi Gallery for example, as one of Italy’s (if not the world’s) most famous art galleries.

It’s a must see but it is immense.

You could spend hours in a queue only to run out of steam before seeing the best bits.

Line to the Uffizi GalleryForget standing in line when you have a local tour guide with you to make all the arrangements!

I strongly suggest hiring a local guide who will arrange your tickets, reduce queuing time and, once inside, whisk you to the works of art that you never knew you really wanted to see!

Tours like this one which also includes a walking tour of Florence, or this one which takes up onto the terrace of the Duomo can show you a different side of Florence.

Good tour guides will also help you avoid typical tourist traps as well as helping out with general Florence travel tips.

We particularly recommend hiring a guide if you have kids, as many of them offer interactive tours that keep young ones engaged, entertained and enlightened (and parents too!)

Managing the heat during the peak summer months

When thinking about visiting Florence, it's easy to imagine ourselves wandering through sunlit streets in summer clothes feeling the warm air at our backs.

What most tourists don't realize however is that the summer heat can severely impact a trip.

Summer months in Tuscany can see temperatures around 40 degrees C/ 100 F, especially in the cities, sending locals indoors until after 5 or 6pm.

summer crowds of people outside the florence baptisteryTry and avoid the worst of the heat during the summer days by doing your sightseeing in the early morning and late afternoon

It’s a good idea to check ahead to see if your accommodation has air conditioning and mosquito nets so you can keep windows open at night.

Don't forget to pack some bug spray too. (Although you can also easily find it at any grocery store or pharmacy in Italy.)

Don’t plan lots of walking for the early afternoons and remember to hydrate, use sun hats and sunscreen, or simply sync with the Italian clock by taking a well earned nap after lunch.

Start the day again later in the afternoon, refreshed, when the intense heat has eased slightly, the streets start to bustle with life and the famous aperitivo is served which, in our book, is THE best moment of every day.

Florence is the home of the Negroni cocktail so head to a bar in the Oltrarno district, south of the Arno river, and start with one of those!

Drink in FlorenceThe famous Florentine Negroni - a must-try cocktail!

Explore Oltrarno with a local expert and taste some of the best food and drink Florence has to offer with this sunset food tour!

Making time to visit some of the markets in the historical center

The food markets in Florence are where you get to understand the heart of the city.

What the locals buy, what makes them tick, the stories from the farmers, the butchers, the fishmongers and the bakers - it’s a carnival of smells, flavours and characters.

And if you're staying in an apartment, eating in can be a great way to save money.

Make a stop at the historic Sant’Ambrogio market in this vibrant district to the east of the city (before 2pm Mon-Sat) and taste what’s in season.

It’s also a great spot for gifts to take back home!

The central San Lorenzo market has now been transformed into an impressive attraction with restaurants and wine bars upstairs showcasing the best of the produce from the Tuscan countryside.

Downstairs, the various produce stalls serve locals and tourists alike and it gets busy, as does the famous San Lorenzo leather market lining the streets outside!

Florence leather shopping - marketYou will be hard pressed to avoid the leather stalls in Florence!

As you probably know, leather is big in Florence so if you get a chance, pop into the Leather School in Santa Croce, just behind the Basilica.

Here, you can see master craftspeople at work and browse stunning collections of unique, hand-stitched works of art.

No matter when you visit Florence, here are four things never to leave at home:

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How to eat like a Florentine

This is harder for some and easier for others but probably the piece of advice I would trade in all the others for, is to eat like a local wherever possible.

Florentines know what they are doing when it comes to food.

Their very essence is founded on it. Trust them!

Eat steak (and any meat) as they cook it – you can do it, just once.

They are FAMOUS for it and you can actually TASTE what a steak TASTES like!

They even have a T-bone named after the city ‘Bistecca alla Fiorentina’.

Fiaschetteria di Cambi display with bisteccaLook at all those lovely steaks ready to be cooked to perfection!

If pink or red meat doesn’t sit well with you, go for a slow cooked wild boar stew or peposo, or try something new like an artichoke carpaccio, a primo with puntarelle, anchovies and burrata, or the Tuscan ribollita, tortelli alla mugellana, truffle pasta or a recommendation from your waiter that you’ve never tried.

Listen to their recommendations of contorni (side dishes) and look at what the locals on the next table have ordered and get curious!

fuori porta crostone selectionGetting a selection of things based on your waiter's recommendation is never going to be a bad call

Florence is also famous for tripe and ‘lampredotto’ which you’ll come across served in buns with punchy salsas from street vendors around the city.

We’re talking parts of a cow’s stomach so, although we also recommend you get involved in this unique Florentine experience, we will forgive you if you don’t!

Traveling with children in Florence Italy

If you’re travelling with younger kids, don’t expect to be able to eat dinner out at 5:30pm everywhere.

Many restaurants don’t open until 7:30pm so make sure you do a bit of research beforehand on eateries that stay open throughout the afternoon.

Alternatively, if it works for you, slip into the Italian rhythm and work with a later bedtime for everyone, and enjoy a Spritz or two!

Checking public holidays before you travel

Before you plan your Florence travel, take a look at the public holiday calendar, including regional variations, which could affect closures, transport and other public services.

The big national holidays to bear in mind are:

These are in addition to the Christmas, New Year and Easter festivities.

Christmas lights in FlorenceChristmas is a wonderful time to be in Florence but it does mean some sights and museums are closed at times

There are also many regional holidays, such as the feast day for Florence’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist, which is celebrated on 24th June.

Both local and national holidays draw large numbers of Italians to the major cities like Rome and Florence, so if you are planning Florence travel around these holidays, be prepared for busy sites, higher accommodation prices and potential closures of restaurants and shops.

You shouldn't be put off visiting during holiday periods however, as there's still plenty for you to do away from the crowds!

Why not take a food tour, or go wine tasting, or take a day trip to some of the nearby charming Tuscan towns like San Gimignano.

Why listening to the locals will help you explore Florence

Always remember that when visiting Florence, asking a trusted local where their favourite place is to eat the perfect steak, to taste the best wine, to admire the best view or to escape the heat, will often lead you to the best kept secrets and most treasured experiences.

And finally...

You don't want to return home without bringing back a little taste of Florence with you!

Be sure to leave space in your luggage for taking home bottles of wine and irresistible foodie treats, alongside the clothes and leather bags.

If you're planning on bringing back items, pack some bubble wrap or similar to protect any precious cargo!

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