It’s difficult to calculate how many works of art are exhibited in the UNESCO-inscribed historic center of Florence – compiling a comprehensive list of things to see and do would be an encyclopedic endeavor. The collection of world-class museums such as the Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia draw in thousands of people daily, but these comprise only a fraction of the Tuscan capital’s heritage. 

Attempting to take it all in can be overwhelming – especially if you are visiting for a short time between spring and autumn when entering museums often means facing long queues and dealing with crowds. Rather than trying to complete a must-do list, allow yourself a few days to experience the city from different perspectives.

Get to know the work of some of your favorite Renaissance artists, but then leave behind the museum halls to discover the city’s living culture. Here are some of our favorite experiences in Florence.

An aerial shot of the famous red tiled dome of Florence's Duomo, which stands tall above a sea of other red-tiled roofs
Enjoy the city views from the top of the Duomo © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

One of the world’s most renowned Renaissance artists, Michelangelo Buonarroti has left many traces of time spent in Florence, starting from the iconic David housed inside Galleria dell’Accademia. Michelangelo was born in Caprese, near Arezzo, in 1475 and moved to Florence at a young age with his family, starting his career as a sculptor at only 13 years of age. 

Casa Buonarroti, in Via Ghibellina, traces Michelangelo’s accomplishments through some of his early drawings and engravings. Inside the Basilica di Santo Spirito, the church designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, you’ll find the wooden crucifix Michelangelo produced as a teenager in 1493, when he was studying anatomy while living in the convent.

Important works such as Bacco (1497), believed to be Michelangelo’s first marble sculpture, and David-Apollo (1530–32) are housed inside Museo del Bargello and Michelangelo’s only panel painting to survive to this day, Tondo Doni (1504–1506), is found in the Uffizi Gallery.

The artist’s architectural accomplishments include the vestibule of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana and the Sagrestia Nuova found inside the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee, place of rest of many of the Medici family's most prominent members.

View of Boboli Garden in Florence
Commissioned by the Medici family, the Boboli Gardens at the Palazzo Pitti © TT / Getty Images

Commissioned by the Medici family to landscape architect Niccolò Pericoli in 1549, the Boboli Gardens pioneered a new style of European court gardens, creating an environment that would influence aristocrats across the continent. Designed following the humanistic principle of the Renaissance, Boboli – an extension of Palazzo Pitti – blurs the lines between nature and art. Walk through the artificial grottos, fountains and sculptures that adorn the symmetrical gardens of the city’s former rulers.

Boboli isn’t the only monumental garden found in the city. Continue your green tour of Florence by visiting the English-style Giardino Torrigiani, the largest private garden to be found within a historic city center in Europe, then climb up Giardino Bardini for some of the best views of the Duomo.

Two Florentines have long been competing for the title of “father of gelato". According to one version of the story, a butcher living in the Medici’s court named Ruggeri came up with the recipe in the mid-16th century after Duchess Caterina de’ Medici organized a contest for the most unusual dish ever created.

The second version attributes gelato to architect Bernardo Buontalenti, who was also working for the Medici and is said to have first combined frozen cream, sugar and eggs to make a dessert with unprecedented taste.

The Buontalenti flavor is still popular today in Florence, although dozens of gelaterie produce their own unique interpretation of this summer classic. Stop at Vivoli to taste their legendary (but pricy) affogato, or opt for the artisanal scoops of Sbrino, La Sorbettiera or Gelateria della Passera.

Eat your way through Florence with this list of the best places to dine out. 

4. Visit the Medici’s palaces

Ruling over the city for nearly 300 years, the Medici have transformed Florence like no other family. Begin your tour of the Medici’s palaces of power from Palazzo Medici Riccardi, in the San Lorenzo district – this was the first Florentine residence of the dynasty of bankers-turned-dukes. Admire Benozzo Gozzoli’s Magi Chapel, before continuing onward to Basilica di San Lorenzo, the family church housing two marvelous pulpits by Donatello.

Get to Piazza della Signoria to enter Palazzo Vecchio, where Cosimo I de’ Medici moved with his wife in 1540. Take a secret passages tour to gain exclusive access to Francesco I’s Studiolo, the Duke’s son’s personal wunderkammer hidden between the palace’s walls and staircases. Continue to the spectacular Salone dei Cinquecento, then exit Palazzo Vecchio to reach Palazzo Pitti, on the other side of the Arno, which functioned as the grandiose residence of the Medici in the second half of the 16th century.

Negroni cocktail on an old wooden board.
Sip a negroni where the world-famous cocktail was first invented  © Marian Weyo / Shutterstock

Around the end of 1919, Florentine Count Cammillo Negroni asked the bartender of Caffè Casoni (later Caffè Giacosa) in Via della Spada to twist his usual Americano cocktail – a blend of Campari and sweet vermouth – by adding gin to the mixture. That odd request produced one of the best-known Italian cocktails around the world, the Negroni.

The bar where Count Negroni used to drink shut down in 2017, but a new Giacosa opened in 2023 in Via della Spada, inspired by the 19th-century cafe where the legendary cocktail was invented. It’s not the only cocktail bar where you can get a Negroni and its many variations – Rivoire, Manifattura, MAD are just some of the places worth stopping during your aperitivo wanderings for a creative take on this timeless classic.

Seven centuries ago Florentine poet Dante Alighieri changed how Italian language was written and spoken in ways that are still felt today. The popularity of Dante’s Divine Comedy, written in the Florentine vernacular, set the foundation on which the Italian language developed and pushed the poet into literary stardom.

Dante’s statues and portraits are scattered around the city, but the best place to learn about the origins of the influential author is in the neighborhood where he is believed to have lived. Enclosed between Piazza della Signoria and Orsanmichele are the preserved medieval district housing Museo Casa di Dante and some of the last stone-built case torri (tower houses) that aristocratic and merchant families constructed to show off their prestige.

People shop at Mercato Centrale market in Florence, Italy. The market is an ultimate Italian shopping experience
Mercato Centrale, which first opened in 1874, is the place for food shopping © tupungato / iStock

Whether you are looking for street food, vintage clothing, a unique souvenir, second-hand books, or a piece of antique furniture Florence has a market for it. San Lorenzo’s Mercato Centrale is the center of the action. Outside, you find the ever-crowded leather market, where bags, belts, jackets, and notebooks populate the stalls. Inside the 1874 iron-and-glass building marking the heart of the neighborhood you find a first floor dedicated to fresh produce and traditional products and an upper floor working as a food court, with contemporary, local and international cuisine served in over 20 outlets. There is also a cooking school, in case you want to bring home some pasta-making skills.

Mercato Centrale is not the only market in Florence. Leather goods are also on sale at the open-air Mercato del Porcellino (or Mercato Nuovo), steps away from Ponte Vecchio, while Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio is the oldest covered market in the city, with a section for antiques and second-hand goods extending on Largo Pietro Annigoni. Every second Saturday of the month you also find an antiques market in Piazza Santo Spirito, while if you want to shop like a local you should head to the Cascine Park on Tuesday morning.

Florence in 5 Shops: Tuscan leather, hand-painted ceramics and sculpture souvenirs

Wine has been a staple in Florence since the Middle Ages, when vinattieri (wine producers and merchants) came to the city from the Chianti region to sell their wine. Many old-school enotecas still dot the market area – stop by at Zanobini, Casa del Vino, or Vino Divino for a taste of local productions in exchange for just a few euros. If you’d rather go for a trendier atmosphere, head to Enoteca Bellini in Piazza San Pancrazio or Il Santino in the Santo Spirito area, for a contemporary take on the old tradition.

Take a break from the Renaissance and fast-forward to the contemporary era by visiting the museums and galleries highlighting the works of local and international artists defining the time we live in. Palazzo Strozzi is Florence’s leading contemporary art institution, offering a rich program of changing shows year-round. Among the recent guests are Anish Kapoor, Maurizio Cattelan and Jeff Koons.

Museo Novecento, in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, showcases paintings and sculptures by both local and foreign artists produced over the course of the past century, while Museo Marino Marini exhibits the quirky equestrian sculptures of Pistoia-born artist Marino Marini (1901–1980).

When strolling through the streets of Florence, look up at the traffic signs and you may notice that many of them have been “altered” with stickers that add new meaning to the symbols dotting Florence’s urban landscape. The often ironic modifications are the work of street artist Clet Abrahams – better known as Clet – who has been adding both humor and political commentary to the city’s signs for the past two decades. Clet’s studio, in the San Niccolò area, can be visited and if you are interested in learning more about the local urban art scene it’s also worth stepping into Street Levels Gallery in Via Palazzuolo, the first Florentine gallery to be entirely dedicated to urban art.

Florence is globally marketed as an art city, so it’s easy to neglect the many scientific institutions that have shaped that culture during and after the Renaissance. The La Specola museum, one of Europe's oldest natural history museums, has reopened in 2024 after years of renovation, showcasing the precious anatomical waxes dating as far back as the 18th century.

There is also Museo Galileo, named after Tuscan scientist Galileo Galilei who was invited by the Medici to Florence in the early 17th century, which collects over 1000 exhibits tracing the evolution of scientific studies in Florence and beyond. Kids will be especially grateful for visiting the Museum of Geology and Palaeontology run by the University of Florence – here are the skeletons of elephants that lived in Tuscany around 1.5 million years ago, together with the remains of other creatures, including a whale, that populate the region in the distant past.

Italy, Florence, River Arno and Ponte Vecchio with two boats in the river
Join a small-boat tour and see the Ponte Vecchio from a different angle © Westend61 / Getty Images

Built in 1345, Florence’s Ponte Vecchio is one the city’s best-known icons, connecting the two sides of the city across the Arno River. The 48 jewelry stores perched on the bridge survived the 1944 bombing of the city – all other bridges in central Florence were destroyed – and the major flood that hit the city in 1966.

To admire this architectural wonder from a unique perspective, join one of the barchetto cruises run by the Renaioli during summer months. In the early 20th century, the renaioli were city workers who extracted rena (sand) for construction projects from the riverbed using special barchetti (small boats) and skills passed on through generations. As technology progress the renaioli disappeared, but the Renaioli Association has renovated the last surviving barchetti, repurposing them to allow visitors to see the city from water level.

13. Bite into a proper schiacciata

Social media sensation All’Antico Vinaio has made the Florentine flatbread known as schiacciata a global phenomenon, as the long queues in front of the brand’s first sandwich shop in Via dei Neri testify. Waiting half and hour for a stuffed schiacciata doesn’t really make sense considering that there are dozens of bakeries selling equally – or more – delicious bread around the city. For a taste of the salty, oily, crunchy schiacciata try Forno Pugi, Forno Becagli, Cioccolateria Ballerini or Sapori Toscani.

This article was first published Nov 5, 2021 and updated Apr 5, 2024.

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