The 18 best things to do in Florence

Florence, Italy - the best things to do
The Tuscan city positively brims with museums, galleries and medieval churches - Atlantide Phototravel

Is there a greater testament to artistic endeavour than Florence? The Tuscan city positively brims with museums, galleries and medieval churches, each one packed to the rafters with priceless works from the Renaissance masters. But for every hour spent traipsing the dusty corridors of history, there's another to be spent exploring the wonderful city itself.

From browsing the boutiques that line the Ponte Vecchio to boating down the Arno, below our expert lists her favourite things to do in the city.

For further Florence inspiration, see also our guides dedicated to the city's best hotelsrestaurants, shopping, bars and nightlife, plus how to spend a weekend in Florence.

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Duomo, Piazza della Signoria and San Marco

Discover the delights of Piazza del Duomo

Built over six centuries, Florence’s cathedral or Duomo is famous above all for Brunelleschi’s huge 15th-century terracotta-tiled cupola, still the biggest masonry dome in the world. Inside, look out for Paolo Uccello’s famous fresco of the 14th-century British mercenary, Sir John Hawkwood and climb the 414 steep, narrow steps of Giotto’s slim bell-tower for a bird’s-eye view of the city.

Insider’s tip: Restoration of the glittering mosaic ceiling of the Baptistery (said to be the oldest building in Florence) began in February 2023. The immense job will take around six years and will involve cleaning and replacing some ten million tiny mosaic tiles. You can book to climb to the top of the scaffolding to see the restorers at work and the mosaics up close; it’s a thrilling experience.

Price: Entrance free to interior of cathedral

duomo, florence, italy
The Duomo's cupola features an enormous painting of the Last Judgement - GETTY

Find Renaissance artworks in the Piazza della Signoria

If the Duomo is Florence’s spiritual centre, its civic hub is Piazza della Signoria, a wide square dominated by the medieval town hall of Palazzo Vecchio, itself packed with artworks glorifying the Medici dynasty. Today it is invariably crowded with a bustling mix of Florentines and tourists; an outside table at one the cafés or restaurants surrounding the square is a great place for people-watching.

Insider’s tip: On the south side of the square, the Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air museum housing magnificent sculptures such as Cellini’s victorious Perseus and Giambologna’s spiraling Rape of the Sabine Women.

Price: £££

piazza della signoria, Florence
Piazza della Signoria is a bustling square filled with cafés, restaurants and museums - getty

Browse the glittering boutiques on the Ponte Vecchio

Florence’s oldest bridge straddles the Arno at its narrowest point and has been lined by small shops since it was built (in its current form) in 1345. The original shopkeepers – a malodorous mix of butchers, blacksmiths and tanners – were banished by Ferdinando I in 1593, and a more palatable collection of jewellers and goldsmiths moved in; trades that are still there today.

Insider’s tip: Be sure to set the alarm and visit at dawn. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but at this time of day the sunlight dancing on the surface of the Arno is simply magical.

Price: Free

ponte vecchio, florence, italy
Ponte Vecchio is the city's oldest bridge - GETTY

Gaze at Renaissance paintings in the Galleria degli Uffizi

Italy’s most celebrated art gallery is housed in what was originally built as the Medici Whitehall – the governing dynasty’s administrative centre. Highlights include Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi, Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus, Piero della Francesca’s twin portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, and Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni. It’s difficult to take it all in on one visit, so true art aficionados should consider going twice.

Insider tip: Art buffs should consider investing in a Friends of the Uffizi card (€70 for one adult, €100 for two adults plus two or more children under 18): it allows you unlimited access via  a special queue to the Uffizi gallery, the Pitti museums, the Bardini museum and Boboli garden for one solar year (1 Jan-31 Dec).

Prices: £££ (extra charge during special exhibitions)

uffizi gallery, florence, italy
Galleria degli Uffizi is Italy's most celebrated art gallery - Getty

Visit Michelangelo's David

The world’s most famous nude statue stands in splendid isolation in the 'tribuna' of the Accademia Gallery; just follow the line of people snaking round the block and you’ll find him. Michelangelo’s David was famously carved from a single, five-metre high piece of Carrara marble, its top-heavy proportions due to the fact that it was originally intended to perch high on the Duomo.

Insiders tip: Don’t miss the Accademia’s other treasures, which include Michelangelo’s four Slaves along with a fabulous collection of musical instruments. Booking is essential in high season.

Price: ££

Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy
Michelangelo's David can be found at the Galleria dell’Accademia - Getty

Seek out spiritual treasures at Museo di San Marco

The 15th-century artist, Fra Angelico, lived and worked in this convent between 1438 and 1444 and left some of his most famous spiritual paintings here. Look out for his Linaiuoli Tabernacle and the Last Judgement in the Pilgrim’s Hospice, the frescoes on the walls of the monk’s cells and, at the top of the stairs, The Annunciation, one of the most famous of all religious paintings.

Insider’s tip: Look carefully at the Linaiuoli Tabernacle and you will see that it is bordered by delightful images of musical angels that have appeared on many a Christmas card.

Price: ££

the annunciation, museo di san marco, florence, italy
Museo di San Marco contains Fra Angelico's most famous fresco: The Annunciation - Bridgeman Art Library

Take a boat trip on the Arno

For a very different perspective on Florence, you can sign up for a trip on one of the traditional wooden barchetti that used to ply the Arno as transport for building materials. The boats have a capacity of around 12 passengers and each 50-minute tour (accompanied by an English-speaking guide) passes many landmark buildings and monuments en route, including the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio and the very grand Palazzo Corsini. Tours run May to mid-Oct, check the website for more details.

Insider’s tip: If you book the VIP Sunset Tour package, an aperitivo with snacks is included in the price.

Price: £££

florence boat tour, italy
A boat trip on one of Florence's traditional barchetti offers a different view of the city - Getty

Santa Croce and the East

Visit the tomb of Michelangelo

Many of Florence’s most notable citizens are buried in the huge medieval Church of Santa Croce, including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Ugolino della Gherardesca (who famously ate brains in The Divine Comedy) and Galileo. But don’t neglect the magnificent frescoes; the ones  in the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels are by Giotto, while the Baroncelli and Castellani chapels were decorated by Taddeo and Agnolo Gaddi respectively.

Insider’s tip: Don’t miss the quiet cloisters and the Pazzi Chapel; this is one of Brunelleschi’s most famous works which, with its serene grey pietra serena and white interior, is a masterpiece in early Renaissance design.

Prices: ££

Church of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy
Church of Santa Croce is the final resting place of many of Florence's most notable citizens - Getty

Seek out Renaissance sculpture at Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Famous as the repository of Florence’s most important collection of Renaissance sculpture, the imposing, fortified building containing the Bargello museum has been, at various times, the town hall, the magistrate’s official residence and a prison complete with torture chambers. Today, the treasures inside include celebrated works such as Giambologna’s Mercury and Michelangelo’s Drunken Bacchus, as well as Donatello’s two Davids and his statue of Saint George.  

Insider tip: In the summer months, the courtyard hosts an eclectic programme of arts and cultural events, including performances in music, theatre and dance.

Prices: ££

Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence
Museo Nazionale del Bargello houses Florence’s most important collection of Renaissance sculptures - This content is subject to copyright./Atlantide Phototravel

Santa Maria Novella, San Lorenzo and the West

Find hidden delights at Santa Maria Novella

The Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella dates from 1246, its stupendous swirling marble façade created by Alberti in 1465. Often bypassed for the more famous Santa Croce (big mistake), the interior – all stripy columns and lofty, empty space – houses several of Florence’s most important artworks; Masaccio’s 1427 Trinità fresco (a masterful study in perspective), Giotto’s great wooden crucifix and Ghirlandaio’s superb frescoes behind the alter.

Insider’s tip: Don’t miss out on the cloisters to the left of the church; Paolo Uccello’s visionary lunettes decorate the Choistro Verde while paintings by Andrea di Buonaiuto cover the Cappella degli Spagnuoli.

Price: ££

santa maria novella, florence, italy
The Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella dates back to 1246 - GETTY

Gaze at Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper

Blink and you’ll miss it; one of the loveliest paintings in Florence is hidden away within the ex-convent of Ognissanti ('All Saints'). Domenico Ghirlandaio’s painting of The Last Supper dates from 1480 and is housed in the refectory accessed off the beautiful cloister. Opening times are very limited, so a lot of tourists just don’t bother; you may even find you have the place to yourself.

Insider tip: Leave time to see the artworks – including two paintings by Ghirlandaio – housed in the adjacent church. Saint Jerome in His Study (with a lion) is particularly appealing.

Price: Free

Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper, Florence, Italy
The Last Supper painting can be viewed at the ex-convent of Ognissanti - GETTY


Learn the gruesome details of human anatomy at La Specola

At the time of writing, Florence University’s natural history museum –founded in 1557?? And the oldest science museum in Europe – was closed for a major overhaul and is due to re-open in early spring 2024. The immense collection of botanical and zoological specimens, including a hippo that was given as a present to Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, will be housed in new cases as will the infamous and unique series of gruesome wax anatomical models, sculpted in eye-popping detail between 1775 and 1791 intended to teach the public about what lies within.

Insider's tip: Smaller children may be traumatised, but should you or your family enjoy being grossed out then head over to the collection’s coup de grâce: three grisly wax tableaux of plague victims.

Price: ££

la specola, florence, italy
Florence University’s natural history museum is famous for its wax anatomical models - GETTY

See the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel

One of the most important fresco cycles in Florence is hidden away in a tiny side chapel off the Baroque church of Santa Maria del Carmine. These were started in 1425 by Masolino and Masaccio and completed some 50 years later by Filippino Lippi. The scenes portray a naturalism that was revolutionary for the time; the images of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden are positively harrowing. It’s worth taking a pair of binoculars as some of the frescoes are quite high.

Insider’s tip: At the time of writing, the chapel was closed for restoration, until at least June 2024. While the scaffolding is up, it’s possible to climb to the top and see the frescoes close-up, a unique experience. Advance booking is essential.

Price: ££

brancacci chapel, florence, italy
Brancacci Chapel is home to some of the most important frescoes in the city - GETTY

Take a walk in the hills

Florence is surrounded on three sides by tree-clad hills, so it’s easy to escape the urban sprawl and find yourself immersed in a rural idyll of olive groves, cypresses and birdsong within minutes of leaving the tourist hordes. This is best done south of the river, where the city climbs up the slopes and gently segues into the Tuscan countryside.

Insider's tip: From the Ponte Vecchio, head along Costa de’Magnoli, up steep Costa San Giorgio and carry on along Via San Leonardo; this really feels like a country lane. Cross over busy Viale Galileo Galilei and just keep going.

Price: Free

florence, hills, tuscany, italy
It's easy to escape urban Florence and head out into the beautiful Tuscan countryside. - Getty

Beyond the city walls

Go on a day trip to Fiesole

The hilltop town of Fiesole used to serve as a summer retreat for wealthy Florentines, and today this leafy suburb still makes a pleasant day trip (catch the No. 7 bus), especially in summer when temperatures are lower than in the city centre. You can visit the Roman amphitheatre (still used for performances) and small archaeological museum, but it’s also pleasant just to sit and have coffee or lunch in one of the shady cafés overlooking Piazza Mino.

Insider’s tip: For splendid views over Florence, wander up the steep hill to the old monastery of San Francesco.

Price: Free

fiesole, tuscany, italy
Fiesole's Roman amphitheatre is a must-visit for history enthusiasts - GETTY

Take a sunny stroll through the park

The Cascine park hugs the northern bank of the Arno to the west of the city; it was a dairy farm (‘cascina’) under the Medicis, then subsequently a hunting ground and venue for public spectacles. Today, it’s popular with families, picnickers, dog-walkers and skateboarders. There’s a swimming pool and tennis courts (entrance: £), but it's just as nice to bring a book and stretch out under the trees.

Insider's tip: The huge Tuesday morning market attracts droves of bargain hunters and the summer programme of theatre and live music events plus club nights brings in the night owls.

Price: Free

Climb up to the city’s most panoramic square and church

Piazzale Michelangeo, a wide open square dominated by a copy of Michelangelo’s David, is set above the south bank of the Arno and is famous for its views over Florence, which are particularly impressive at sunset when the river turns to molten gold; the stone balustrade is a classic site for wedding photos and selfies. A short climb from here brings you to the beautiful Romanesque church of San Miniato with its glittering 13th-century mosaic and intricate marble pavement. From up here the views are even more impressive.

Insider’s tip: If you come at 6.30pm, mass is sung by the resident monks in Gregorian chant. It’s a magical experience. Times may vary, so check on the website first.

Price: Free

piazzale michelangelo, florence, italy
Piazzale Michelangelo is famous for its sunset views over Florence - GETTY

Learn to cook like an Italian

What better antidote to all those art galleries and museums could there be than getting your hands stuck into a bowl of flour and water? One of the best places to learn about Italian cooking is the convivial Mama’s, where they teach you how to make pasta, meat and  fish dishes, pizza and gelato and lots more besides. There are kids courses too. Guest chefs include such stellar names as Valeria Piccini, Maria Probst, and maestro pizzaiuolo, Giovanni Santarpia.

Insider's tip: There’s a wide range of excellent wine courses too with extrovert, internationally-known expert Filippo Bartolotta, co-owner of the school.

Price: £££

mama florence, italy
Classes in Italian cooking at Mama's are suitable for both beginners and experienced cooks alike

How we choose

Every attraction and activity in this curated list has been tried and tested by our destination expert, to provide you with their insider perspective. We cover a range of budgets and styles, from world-class museums to family-friendly theme parks – to best suit every type of traveller. We update this list regularly to keep up with the latest openings and provide up to date recommendations.